Friday, July 25, 2008

New Look

Let's just say I don't look like a feminist anymore. I rather look like your average, donkey-talking, Polish hooligan. Well, I actually hope I can maintain a sufficiently intelligent look on my face to get over that, but it's still interesting.

Of course, I want you to read this before you see the pictures, so I'm going to write a little bit of fodder to fill the space and put the pictures (hopefully) down the page.

In an effort to be more healthy, I have decided to stop eating. In Poland, the substitute for meat is mushrooms, and they make me sick. Last night, for example, we were served a sparsely populated plate of boiled dough balls with mushroom gravy. MMM! So, I had my serving of dough balls with sugar, then butter, then plain, then sugar again, and it constituted a few calories. So I'm retaining my staple of bread and jam, and they were actually nice enough to give us more jam last night, so it's not all that bad.

However, I have gone to Subway twice this week, and one day I didn't even bother to go to the cafeteria.

Today in McDonald's there's a crowd of German boys that are dressed in, to my best guess, fireman overalls--it's like a really freaky dream. And they are laughing like my haircut looks. I really shouldn't complain, and I'm not actually complaining because I'm really enjoying the new style. I asked for European and that's what I got. And my hair was too short to do anything major with anyway. After all, I didn't pack my straightening iron.

Anyway, I've held you in suspense long enough. Or else all this filler hasn't been enough to push the pictures far enough down in your window, and it's all a waste of effort anyway. It's alright though: I didn't have to think about anything I've just written, so I've been able to enjoy a crappy Avril Lavigne video.



because I can't resist posting my face all over the internet.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

I forgot to think of a title

First off, thank you everyone for the great comments. The positive reinforcement has been really good for me, and it makes me want to write more, so, very seriously, thank you.

So very much has happened since I last posted, I'm still trying to gather my thoughts. It's a good thing I committed to this blog thing, because otherwise my journal of Poland would be a lot more patchy.

I'll start with the highlight, because otherwise I'll just be itching to get it out. We took an outing to Kraków this weekend, and I'm sorry Megan and all citizens of Kraków, but the coolest part of the trip happened on the ride home.

There's a woman here from China who speaks Polish. She's a psychiatrist and a gynecologist (at Dan's urging we came up with several jokes along that scenario, and if anyone's interested I'll tell you sometime...but not here) and she worked here in 1995 and she's come back to the summer school several times since then.

So, on the bus ride back from Kraków I ended up sitting next to this woman, and I'd been wanting an opportunity to talk to her more for a long time. (If you learn one thing from this blog, I hope it's that Polish with a Chinese accent is about the coolest thing I've ever heard in my life!) I asked about her profession and why she knew Polish, which city in China she's from (Peking) and if she spoke English (poorly).

Then I got brave and asked her about Chinese politics. She taught me how to say Hu Jintao (President of the People's Republic) properly, and we compared notes on totalitarianism and democracy and other light dinner topics. She asked me what I think of President Bush and then told me her opinion, and she told me about her visits to America and Canada and how she'll prefer the Chinese system forever.

Then I got really brave and asked her about Tibet. (I must say that she didn't treat any of these topics as taboo--she was willing to talk about anything.) She told me some things that I think pretty well fall along the lines of the official party position, but I didn't really try to argue with her, because we were both speaking poor Polish and a bus isn't really the place to evangelize democracy.

But nonetheless, the point of all that detail is that I had a conversation with a Chinese woman, about politics, religion and all the heavy artillery, in Polish, on a bus, in Poland. It was an exalted experience.

That same night I told Chauntelle (sp) (from the vegetarian table) that a certain candy bar (Biały Lion, if you're interested) is orgasmic, and I got a lot of shocked, uncomfortable laughs from my BYU compatriots. I defended myself by saying it's a word we use in my family. Hi Mom and Dad!

In other news, Kraków was really fun. On Saturday we had a tour guide who led us around the old town, including the churches and Jagellonian University, then up to Wawel and through the cathedral and the castle. She spoke excellent English, and it was an incredibly educational experience.

Kraków is a really nice city. There are a lot of tourists, but it's big enough that it doesn't seem too terrible. It's a lot more advanced than Lublin as well, and the restoration of all the old architecture is incredible. A true miracle of tourists' money. I recommend visiting.

Another highlight was seeing my dear friend Megan, who's currently a sister missionary in Kraków. We had planned to meet in the early afternoon and go to lunch, which we did. Though, they told the elders that we were meeting, and I think the elders thought that I was on the prowl or something (oh if only they knew me), so they tagged along. I'm not too bitter, but some missionaries are definitely hard to be around.

We had lunch at a fantastic little basement restaurant and then we went to a park for sport Saturday, a weekly opportunity for missionaries to blow of steam and spend quality time with investigators and members. Several of the BYU crowd came and joined us, and it was actually quite a good time. Hanging out with a missionary necessarily limits conversation topics (their lives don't vary much from day to day), but it was just good to see Megan and chat a little bit.

I think that's all from my end. I've been invited to a party this Thursday, and I haven't yet decided how spirited I feel. At the very least, we're going to see Wall-E tomorrow night, so that's "out on the town."

Just because I know you're interested, the vegetarian table has been in a slump. Last night we had mushroom bigos for dinner. As bigos (sauerkraut and sausage) is nothing to drool over, it was especially disappointing. This evening I went to Subway and got a half-price sandwich ("happy hour!") to complement my baked-apple-rice-abomination. As a pathological optimist, however, I know that I won't die before I get home, barring serious accidents or natural disasters. Always the optimist!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Crows, etc.

Up in my organ room, on the tenth floor, I leave the windows open because air conditioning is a thing of the future. This week there's been a murder of crows circling the air around the building, and it's been kind of eerie hearing them argue. I'm really afraid that someday a bird is going to fly through a window, either in the dorm or at the university, but I suppose that would make a good blog post. At least, a better one than this one.

Grammar and vocabulary building is long, tiring work. I kind of struggled through the first half of my class this morning, but then in the latter half we played a guessing game, describing famous people from our respective countries, and that made for much more entertaining work. I chose William Faulkner, because I'm like that, and the only person in the class who guessed was my teacher. All the Americans were surprised and asked why on earth she knew William Faulkner, and she said that it's important to know such people. I agreed.

Meals have gotten better, as the kitchen has really been coming to terms with the vegetarian concept. The highlight of the last week was the mushroom gałąbki. We didn't have to be jealous of the carnivores at all.

We're still avoided, though. I'll never get tired of seeing the smile drop from people's faces when we tell them that it's the vegetarian table. It is nice to know, however, that they like us up until they find out what we're eating.

Last Saturday I sat down in a park for a complicated reason that I don't want to take the time to explain, and a random, but nice, man named Andrzej asked if he could sit down. I said he could, and we chatted for 20 or 30 minutes about politics and Poland and whether or not Polish girls are pretty. It's something I really wanted, just good solid conversational practice. He asked if I played chess, and I said I know the rules, but that I'm no good at all. Anyway, I hope to see him sometime playing chess, because I'd gladly talk to him again.

The highlight of the week was on Sunday when we went to Kazimierz Dolny, a little town on the Visła about an hour away by bus. The city itself was a veritable cesspool of tourists, which detracted from any photo opportunities. I did, however, buy one of the famous rooster-shaped bread-creations, and I walked down to the Visła and dipped the very tip of my shoe in the water.

But then! then! I went and met Professor Whipple in the church where he was waiting for the organist. Every year, on the Kazimierz trip, Professor Whipple goes up with the organist and plays a little part of Mass and a little bit after. This year was no different, except I got to go up too.

As it happens, Kazimierz Dolny claims the oldest playing organ in Poland, and I got to play it! It was a totally new experience, and I played some sour notes, but Professor Whipple said my artistry was superb, so I didn't complain. I won't bore you with details only an organist would love, but oh it was so cool--so cool!--and I got plenty of pictures.

On a more somber note, a large group of us went to the Majdanek concentration camp today, and it was, as always, a complex experience. I don't really think the internet is a great place to publish my feelings on the matter, but I will take the time to recommend that everyone visit a concentration camp if they have the chance. This is my third one, and you can't trade the experience for anything. I was actually quite honored by my friend Daniel when he invited me to come with him when he visits it later this month, so I'll be going back, and I think it's totally worth it.

And the music videos at McDonald's are still about as pleasurable as an IV. I couldn't get a whole post out without complaining.

Speaking of which, I've been reading about the fundamentals of Buddhism, and I get the feeling that sometime in my life I should stop moaning. Something to work on...sometime soon.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Dinner Lament

Vegetarians aren't welcome in this country.

I've been sitting at the vegetarian table since they established it, because virtually every meat dish has pork in it, and I've really enjoyed myself; we have some great vegetarians at the summer school.

But our meals have gotten rather depressing. First off, the kitchen just can't wrap their heads around the no-meat principle. They brought soup yesterday that had sausage in it, and this evening one of the salads had little ham cubes.

And that's not the worst of it. Today, the main dish was noodles with strawberry sauce. That's good enough on it's face, but how much noodles and strawberry sauce (unsweetened of course) do you think you could eat? Not very filling.

The greatest tragedy of all was this evening, as all the other tables were served plates of enormous sausages with onions. We, on the other hand, had our thoughtless ham salad, bread, butter, jam, soy pate and raw cabbage. I tell you what, I am just stuffed. I couldn't eat another cabbage leaf if you paid me to. So filling!

So, yeah, I ate a lot of bread and jam, which was really good. But I'm by no means satisfied.

We're also bordering on social outcasts now. Our table wasn't in its usual place tonight and people would sit down only to dash away, quite literally, when we pointed out that we were vegetarians. "I'm going to go eat real food," one said. Lovely.

A bunch of malnourished lepers we're becoming. But I always have my protein bars.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Week One

First off, allow me to complain. The music videos they're showing in McDonald's today are really crappy. I may not be able to dance, but that's why I don't try to dance on TV, and I expect the same courtesy from fellow invalids. Just gross. I'm going to bring my headphones from now on, because then it's easier to ignore.

Anyway, it's Friday, and my brain is tired. Three hours of grammar a day isn't too tiring, but five days of three hours of grammar a day is.

Granted, I only learned something partially new one day this week. The rest of the time it was pretty much practicing things I already knew and minor vocabulary building.

Our teacher, Pani Oldakowska, is really nice and easy-going--lets us leave the door open so air moves through the room, lets us share chocolate covered plums if someone happened to buy a lot, and so on. She also speaks very clearly and very correctly.

I'll admit, though, that I've been a little bored, as basically everything is review. My very soul is divided on this issue, because on one hand it's most welcome when school is easy, but this course cost enough that I feel like I'm not getting my money's worth. (By the way, I tried to translate the phrase "get one's money's worth" and was met with an utterly blank stare. Perhaps I'll learn enough humility here to get my money's worth...)

Anyway, in my moderate boredom, I've practiced the organ for two hours both today and yesterday. I'm close to having the new piece I brought down, so Professor Whipple is sharing some of his music with me. The organ I've been practicing on is on the tenth floor of the building, and the windows look out across Lublin, so it's a far cry from practicing in the bowels of the HFAC, and I like it.

I've also made some friends at the vegetarian table, because I'm effectually a vegetarian in this pork-addicted country. There's a girl each from Australia, Slovenia and Croatia, then a Jewish man (also an effectual vegetarian) from Canada and another David from America. Today I tried sitting at the meat eating table, because of fish on Friday, and I missed the vegetarians, so I'll be back tonight.

It's kind of interesting how the various food prohibitions interact. Daniel, my Jewish friend, has his laws to follow, I can't drink the ubiquitous tea and coffee, and the Catholics keep me healthy on Friday. It's so much more exciting than BYU.

Speaking of Daniel, I'm going over to his room tonight when he lights his Sabbath candles. Another opportunity I'd never get at BYU.

I'm also being reminded daily of some of the quirks inherent in Polish nationality, like the unabashed staring (and for no other reason than my apparent American look). My favorite, however, is when someone walking in front of you stops and turns around and acts like they're looking at something just long enough to let you walk by, then they continue behind you. The English-speaking people must maliciously follow them everywhere, or else someone needs to keep an eye on us. I have no idea why they do it, but I find it hilarious.

Wow, these sucky music videos sure drain you. It's worse than grammar. Anyway, I can't come up with any more coherent things to write, so I'm done. Happy weekend.

Monday, July 7, 2008

The (Failed) Tunnel Video

Well, my video is going to take a long time to upload, so I'll write a little bit more here.

We had our placement exams this morning, and I don't think I did too poorly. The written exam was straightforward, and since I didn't want to do better on it than I deserved (one of those rare but welcome exams), I didn't try to guess on the questions as to whose answers I had no idea, and I didn't have to check through my answers at all.

After that I had an oral exam, which was basically a conversation with a couple of professors about living in Poland, learning Polish and what I like to do in my free time. One of the professors didn't speak at all, but the one I spoke with was very nice. I actually met her last night when we were in the park watching the dancers.

Lublin was in the throes of a folk dance festival this weekend--that's why the Burley crew was here--so we went last night to see the final show. They had dancers from Turkey, Puerto Rico, Slovakia, Ukraine, and Burley. Some of the groups were quite good, though the clogging from America was rather floppy, and I mean that literally.

It was interesting to see a lot of dances and costumes that the BYU folk dancers recreate exactly to style, like the Slovakian and Ukrainian dances. But all the groups had live music from little bands they brought with them, and that was fun to hear. Folk music has a certain style when it's played by natives, and I enjoyed it a lot.

We find out the results of our test this afternoon, then we have our first class tonight. We generally have class in the morning, but they want to get things going on the first day. I expect I'll be in an intermediate or advanced class, and I'm interested to see what that's like. I have no idea how one studies Polish in an advanced way. Probably a lot of writing...

Ah, we started meeting some of the other students this morning, and I'm excited for that. I walked to school with an Italian woman who speaks Polish better than English, so that's how we communicated. She had the most startling eyes I'd ever seen, really dark and deep (and that was the shallowest description I've ever given).

At breakfast we sat next to three nice French girls who smiled and nodded but weren't much on conversation. If only I spoke French. Then we met some of the other people from the States. There's a mother and daughter from Connecticut (or it might have been Kentucky), a girl from California, and a group of about 10 from a university in Wisconsin. One of the kids from Wisconsin told me I absolutely have to go to the discoteka, so we'll see what comes of that. When it comes to it, I'm a very meek person, after all.

Well, it looks like my video isn't going to upload before we need to leave to go back, so you'll have to watch it later.

I'll leave you with my life metaphor (we've been thinking of them as a group, and I got mine last night). Life is a one-act opera: one would think it should be longer, but most of us probably couldn't stand it anyway.

Sunday, July 6, 2008


Me in a fjord!

Me and Siv-Iren on a train.

Baran the sculptor.

A Romanesque cathedral built in the 12th century.

A mind-bogglingly large palace from the 17th century: Krzyżtopor.

The town square in Zamość.

Belarus and Ukraine


There's just so much to write about!

The information I must include is that we were lied too: there will not be Internet in our bedrooms; there is only a computer room in the basement with six machines. And the basement is a steaming pit of laundry and smoke, because that's where the wash-room and smoking-room are. So, we're at McDonald's, and, unless they kick us out, we'll probably be here often. I just wish it were a groovy coffee shop. Oh well.

I also haven't taken caffeine for three days! I've been going to bed at 9:00 or 9:30, yes, but I'm sleeping enough.

Today we got the very good news that I won't have to move again. I had moved down into the other room in Professor Whipple's suite and we'd moved the man who was supposed to be there up to the 3rd (in America, the 4th) floor. Well, turns out that man is 76 years old, so the summer school people were mad at us, but Professor Whipple finagled it so I can stay where I am. As I am basically an old person, it's perfect for me. I don't have to deal with noisy roommates who stay up late.

Last week has been a mixed bag of excitement and disappointment. I'll get the worst over with, because I hate talking about it.

On Friday we went to see one of the greatest organs in Poland. Professor Whipple has played it once, as he chanced there last time just as Mass was ending and the organist was really kind, so we went there with some trepidation, hoping we'd get lucky again. I tried to be a staunch pessimist so I wouldn't have my hopes dashed.

Well, we got there just as Mass was ending, and Professor Whipple and I sneaked up into the organ loft. The organist was new and young, but very nice, but he wouldn't let us play without permission from the Father Superior.

Well, the Father Superior turned out to be a (swear word). "No foreigners are allowed to play unless they are giving a recital." The nice organist said that there was a tour group waiting to hear a 30 minute recital at that very moment, so the Father Superior agreed to let Professor Whipple play that, but no students were allowed into the loft.

So, I stood next to one of the greatest organs in Poland, let myself get excited about playing even one simple hymn, and had my hopes dashed by a fat, probably indigested monk.

On the other hand, I got to see Belarus and Ukraine across the Buk river, so that was cool enough.

We've also eaten really well. In Zamość we sat in a restaurant right on the historic and beautiful town square, with the town hall in view. Last night, we ate at a superb little restaurant in Lublin right in the old town.

Lublin is a nice enough city. Our neighborhood is something of a hair-clogged drain, where the swill of society congregate. The building across the street is basically ruined, and hooligans and bums and aspiring race-car drivers (it's not even a through street) make for a nervous atmosphere.

But, we're only five minutes away from the old town, on foot, and since its summer they have evening concerts and fun to-dos. I'm getting used to walking a lot more, even though I still think I'll ride the bus to school (as soon as I have time to figure out the routes), because I don't want to spend the time walking. I don't know, I should walk an hour a day, but I'd rather walk and see new places, rather than the same street over and over.

I still haven't bought sunglasses, because I don't have anyone to go with me and tell me whether they're damn sexy. I will settle for no less than damn sexy.

If you couldn't tell by word choice, all the irreverence in my soul is at a steady boil.

Today at church we had a crew of folk dancers from none other than Burley, Idaho--middle-schoolers and leaders. Since there were two Poles there, it meant that sacrament meeting was in English, so I was recruited to translate for a nice Polish woman, and I had to do a running translation, because no one cared to speak slowly.

As it was my first time translating, and it was continuous at that, I felt I did pretty well. I got totally flummoxed when the leader of the Burley group started talking about BYU's folk dance team and how they decided to form the group and tour the world because it would be too hard for the kids to get into BYU. Try explaining all that to an elderly Polish woman in the space of a single sentence.

We had some really unique experiences this week with folk artists. Because Professor Whipple is such a connoisseur of Polish folk art, he has some friends in the trade. We visited one whom Professor Whipple hadn't even met, who is in his seventies and lives very primitive circumstances. Three others who we visited have a big presence in Professor Whipple's collection, and they were all very gracious hosts and it was a side of Poland few people get to see.

All of them carve and paint wood, and it's quite a craft they've developed. I wished I had more money so I could take more of the beauty home with me and show you. I did get plenty of pictures.

Speaking of which I shall now figure out how to post some pictures and videos, and those will be posts unto themselves.

Starting tomorrow, I have to start studying Polish in earnest, but I'll still try to find time to write.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Follow Through

I'm continuing my goal, just so you all don't think I'm a quitter.

We still don't have the internet at our dorms, so we're at McDonald's using the WiFi. For that reason, I don't have a great deal of time to spend on this post, because I want to go home and maybe do some laundry and go to bed.

Really, I don't want to catch up, so I'll describe Norway in one word. EXPENSIVE. A McChicken meal at McDonald's (something of an obsession in the post, thus far) cost $16. Jeans cost, at their cheapest sale price, $200. Cheapest, remember. But then, everyone makes more. People just out of college are making $60,000 or $70,000 a year. Oh but it was painful for a poor American student.

But, I saw the fjords. My friend Siv-Iren very generously drove me five and a half hours across the mountains to see them. On the way we drove through a tunnel that is 24.5 kilometers long. I got a time lapse video that's at 30x speed, so I'll see if I can figure out how to post that here. I couldn't believe how long it was. It took 20 minutes to drive through.

Gosh, I'm too tired to do anymore tonight. Our dorm rooms are on the east side, and that means the sun lights them up at 4:00 every morning. And we're sleeping on what is, for all intents and purposes, polystyrene foam. Poland never was too comfortable. By the time I get home, I'll be a caffeine addict, and I mean that quite seriously. Oh well.