Friday, July 29, 2011


Day 7- Our first day in Cz, a city I've been curious about since age twelve. It felt amazing to finally be there. Our apartment was near the famous monastery so we spent part of the morning walking around and exploring it.

It was interesting but also very hot and crowded. The highlight had to have been going into one of the many museums on the monastery grounds (this one was devoted to the many kinds of musical instruments that had been played as part of religious ceremonies there over the last 600 years) and getting yelled at by a nun.

Yes, that's right. A nun came up to your humble Friar and began castigating him in Italian. Sensing a perhaps surprising lack of shame or contrition, she checked to see if I even spoke Italian, then testily got someone in her tour group to translate into English. "Your camera-- need be closed." I looked down. My camcorder? Which was turned off, had the lens cap on, and was turned backyards facing my chest? Just how badly did this woman think I wanted to document their 14th century French horns? I smiled and said it was already off, even showing them that the lens cap was covered, but the nun was uninterested in such minor details and continued to harangue me. Luckily, however, it turns out it is quite hard to yell at someone who doesn't speak your language and refuses to react to you. I smiled and nodded about 20 times in the course of a minute, totally unperturbed, until the nun grew bored with me and took off with her tour group. Hooray for cultural exchange!
Did I mention it's really, really Catholic here?

I had a friend in town who I'll call Pavel. Pavel was from Cz and had attended the same high school as some of Mama Yid's distant relatives before WWI. Back in high school, many years ago, I had googled the name of the school in question and some student webpages had popped up for kids to practice their English. I had picked the one whose English was best and who said he liked history and asked him to help me learn more about the city. Pavel had been a wonderful sport and we had kept in contact ever since. He met us with his 5-year-old daughter Yulia and took Abbot Yid and I on a quick tour around town and to the mall to get some supplies. Cz is a small city by US (and even Polish) standards but this mall was gigantic, three stories and at least a few miles across. Everything there was very slick and modern, including a Polish version of Whole Foods (a sad must for those of us with food allergies) and of course McDonald's. Pavel said lots of Poles spend their time chasing the American dream, whether they can afford it or not.

A little later my parents and I met Pavel at his home for dinner with his family-- him, his daughter Yulia and their wife Olga. Olga was a teacher by trade and quit when their daughter was born but was now that she was about to start school had started looking for work again, with mixed results. Pavel worked in the communications department for a nearby city doing promotions and event planning. Their apartment building looked ancient, Soviet and utilitarian from the outside (lots of concrete and harsh corners, a style quite popular in town) but the inside was warm and homey, with lots of bright painted colors and attractive modern furniture. Though Olga's English was shaky (she understood much more than she could speak), we all had a lovely time. One highlight was me using an English fairy tale book to learn Polish vocabulary from Yulia and Olga and in turn teaching them the English words for the same objects, animals and colors. Another was getting a chance to discuss some Polish politics and history with real, average young people and get their thoughts.

I said I was very pleased to be in Poland and to get a chance to see how my ancestors lived and not just focus on how they died. Pavel and Olga said they were glad to see people like us were in America and that we had helped smash some stereotypes of theirs about Americans, particularly the idea that we were all rich and never had any problems. While it was clear our standard of living was light-years beyond theirs, we agreed that people were people and all people had problems. Toward the end of the evening, Olga commented (through Pavel) that I reminded her of a friend of theirs, a priest interestingly enough, who also has a beard as well as a "very kind heart." As we left, my parents said, without exaggeration, that the evening had been the highlight of the trip.

Though randomly seeing this in the middle of a traffic circle was also pretty awesome.
(I was going to make a joke about how this must be St. Christopher, patron saint of drivers, only then I actually read the inscription and it turns out reality beat me to it.)

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