Thursday, August 18, 2011

Shopping and Conversation

Day 12- Last Day in Poland.

Our last day in Krakow was also going to be our last day in Poland so we wanted to make the most of it. We got up early and left before 10. We took a taxi to get to Old Town and saw the ancient clock tower, the last surviving remnant of the original Town Hall built in the 1200s. It was huge!

We went inside Sukiennice ("Cloth Hall"), a large ornate rectangular building. Inside was a giant market with around 80-100 booths. Merchants were selling leather goods, wooden carvings, dolls, boxes, glasswork, Polish clothes, and various tourist items. One booth had replicas of medieval Polish weapons and miniature wooden carved heads of famous Poles that could be hung on a wall. (One of them was clearly modeled on Pilsudski; I made a crack about mounting heads of state on your wall but as Abbot Yid knows nothing about Polish history, my brilliant wit was wasted on him.)

There were also, of course, lots of places to buy jewelry, especially amber. Mama Yid was in Heaven. Abbot Yid and I, not so much. Mama Yid insisted on seeing every booth and was incapable of "scanning," even when the booths were selling things she didn't want. We spent about four hours there, which was about three and a half hours more than Abbot Yid and I needed.

As a way of killing some time, I decided to walk around with my camcorder and film the place. One of the things I noticed, over and over, were the Jewdolls. For a town with not a lot of Jews left there sure were a lot of different kinds of Jew-dolls.

After finally finishing in Sukiennice, we ate lunch by a statue in the square. On the bench next to us a teenage girl sitting with her family decided she was tired of her sandwich and started scattering it to the birds, attracting a large flock of pigeons. Oblivious to our death-glares, she continued feeding them for about fifteen minutes, even laughing and encouraging her sister to take a picture when a few of them hopped into her hand. I wasn't sure if I was looking at a cultural phenomenon or just a moron who didn't know anything about disease transmission: were Polish pigeons not considered rats with wings?

During lunch I discovered my watch had stopped. We left the square, dragging Mama Yid away from the outer ring of shops around Sukiennice (though I did pop into one place to get a pair of pewter shot-glasses for Deacon Yid and me). We walked south through Old Town, marveling at the incredible buildings. Everywhere you looked there were old churches, houses, flats. Interspersed with them were the ugly modern structures (and of course lots of garish signs advertising shops, restaurants, money-changers and the always entertaining ALKOHOLE stores).

Next we headed to Wawel castle. Though I was sad we didn't have time to go inside, my parents were very good sports and consented to a quick walk around the outside wall. Outside I found a model replica of the castle. I wasn't a fan of the silly snow globe with a cartoony dragon inside it that came attached to it, but decided that I'd rather have something to remember the castle than not.

We went back to the flat for a rest and to start packing before taking a break for dinner. At this point my watch started up again, which was a real relief. (It also gave me a wonderful opportunity to tease Mama Yid that shopping with her actually made time stand stil.)

For our last night in Krakow we decided to go back to Kazimierz one more time. On the way we stopped at the Tourist Center to get a few more Jewdolls, angry American ladies be damned. Mama Yid bought for so she could have some fun table settings for Hanukkah. I got a couple as gifts for friends. I thought they were cute but was also disappointed that the sculptors' imaginations were so limited. If you had never met a Jew and all you had to go on was information gleaned from these dolls, you'd think all Jews did was count money, play klezmer or carry giant menorahs and the occasional book around. Since the only available dolls were men (we looked high and low for a lady Jewdoll for Mrs. Yid), one would be forgiven for assuming that Jews produced asexually, too. Or maybe Jews were like Tolkein's dwarves and men and women couldn't be told apart.

We ate dinner at an outdoor restaurant in the small square behind the bookshop and between three of the Kazimierz synagogues. I had cholent again, beef this time, and it was very good, though I think I still preferred the chicken one from the first night. Over dinner and an Israeli wine from the Golan Heights, my parents and I had a very nice conversation.

"I'm glad I came," said Abbot Yid.
"That's high praise coming from you," I said.
"I think my father would have enjoyed this. I think he would have been happy we came here."

This made me think about Mama Yid's father, who had been twenty years older than any of my other grandparents and died when she was only seven years old.

"If you could tell your father anything, what could you say?"
"I'd want to tell him that my sister and I turned out all right, that we both got advanced degrees and that we were successful."
"And is there anything you wish you could ask him?"
"I think just, 'Who were you?' I was so young when he died..."
I nodded. "It's crazy to think that he was born over 100 years ago. How different things are, all the things we have that he didn't. It's interesting to wonder what he would have thought about the world today."

I turned to Abbot Yid. "Is there anything you wish you could ask Zayde?"
He waved the question off. "I would have liked you to have a chance to spend more time with him. You could have asked him all the good questions."
It was a sad but happy moment at the same time.

I was sad to be leaving Poland but very glad we had come. In a way, I would have preferred to go home right then and had time to process everything that had happened. At the same time, how often did we go to Europe? We had been in touch with Mama Yid's British cousins for years and it was important that we finally have a chance to meet in person. I was also hoping London would be a little less intense and stressful than Poland had been. Maybe we could actually have a little bit more of a vacation there and it would give us some time to think and recover post-Poland.

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