Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Wrapping up Warsaw

Day 5: Abbot Yid was on the mend, now it was Mama Yid's turn for Pilsudski's revenge. I decided, being the reasonably competent city dweller I am, that I could take on Warsaw and see the sights for myself. So I did.

First stop was I.B. Singer's house, which was back in Mirow. I decided to forgo the bus and walk, since I am a pretty fast walker and I'd been chafing to walk at my regular pace since we got here. I managed to get there in about 40 minutes from Old Town. All the old buildings around there are long gone, replaced by square and rectangular Soviet-style apartment houses and unfortunately there wasn't even an address plate for number 10- but I took a picture anyway, just to have.
I.B. Singer's old street intersects with John Paul II Avenue. I can't make these things up.

I ate lunch in a park across the street and then tried to find I.L. Peretz street. It took a while but I finally found it- Perec, as it's written in Polish, is a tiny alley between the Westin Hotel and Deloitte headquarters, near a store that sold high-end telescopes.

From there I checked out Nozyk synagogue. In typical Polish style, the original classic building is connected with a pretty gray, square, utilitarian one that serves as the front entrance. Old and New, pretty and... not. It started to rain and so I ducked into the Judaica shop in the basement, where I got a couple of souvenirs.

After that I wandered around the neighborhood a little-- the problem with the old streets is a lot of them don't connect or dead-end randomly, and meander around, rather than going right through, to the large avenues. I got a little turned around (bonus- did you know that Warsaw has the first Erotic Museum in Poland? I do now.) Finally I made it to the last spot on my itinerary, Prozna street.

Prozna is the last standing block of the Warsaw ghetto, and the dilapidated brick buildings are totally dwarfed by the modern high-rises all around them. Adding to the eerie ghost town feel is the fact that the buildings are covered with giant blown-up sepia pictures of Warsaw Jews.

 One side of the street, strangely enough, has a bunch of working businesses on the bottom floor-- cafes, shops, etc. At the end of the block, the last brick building had several satellite dishes coming out of apartments-- which I suppose means that one of them is occupied. I wondered how much of the place's history the residents know about and how much it affects their lives. What does the Warsaw ghetto mean to the people who live and work on Prozna street? To kids who grow up looking at giant pictures of ghosts outside their window? Is it traumatic? Or, even worse, do they become jaded and immune to it? How do the parents explain it to their children?

On my way back through the city to our flat I decided to go through the Saxon Gardens. They were very pretty and very European-looking. Lots of very manicured lawns and some really awesome statues. It's interesting that while the popular image of Poland is of being culturally located in Eastern Europe, we've also been learning about and seeing a lot of French and Italian influences, too. The Gardens reminded me quite a lot of the Champs Elysses. I keep having to re-adjust my brain to everything that I'm seeing and processing that all of this is Poland-- the crumbling pre-war buildings, the towering and harsh Soviet architecture, and the super-modern condos and skyscrapers made of glass. Its all Poland, and it signifies that its all very complicated.

In some ways, seeing the pretty stuff is harder than the sad stuff. Being in the Saxon Gardens was lovely, but also haunting. How could a place of such beauty also be the site of so much death and misery? I've realized while here that Poland has a "black-and-white" problem, and I don't just mean that people see it in a simplistic, good guys and bad guys way. When a lot of people think of Poland, I think their image is of black-and-white news reals from the Holocaust and WWII. Or it's Schindler's List.
Behold, colors!
But either way, it's never of Poland in color, never of it being a real country part of the 21st century. For them, that's all Poland is. That's an unfair view and I think eventually it will change, just like it presently is changing. However, at the same time, sitting in that beautiful park, thinking of my family, who walked and played there-- I couldn't help wondering how, and why, fate and men could be so cruel as to deny them the right to live.

Yes, Poland is beautiful. Which makes it all the more tragic that so many Polish Jews were not allowed to enjoy it. Why were so many Polish Jewish children never allowed to walk where I walked? That should have been their birthright, as Poles and human beings. While I'm happy to honor their memory by learning more about where they lived and the lives they had here, I can't enjoy it "with a full cup." They should have lived. They should still be here.

We should have more than a single remnant here. They should be here, enjoying it with me.

Truding back home I was pretty happy. I had spent a whole day by myself in a foreign country, totally self-sufficient, and everything turned out fine, thanks to good planning (food, water, map) and some willingness to follow my gut and explore a little. If I hadn't ducked into the synagogue shop I wouldn't have found those fun souvenirs and if I hadn't decided to go through Saxon gardens I wouldn't have found restrooms or some quiet green space.

After going back to the apartment Abbot Yid and I went out foraging. We grabbed some cash and other essentials at a small shop and then passed an Asian market I had forgotten to tell him about. Boy was he excited! We popped in and got him some gluten-free stuff.

For my fifth dinner in Poland I had the extremely traditional home-made Pad Thai. Go authenticity!

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