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Archive for the ‘Places I Love’ Category

More pictures and stories have made me even more worried and sadder.

http://www.boston.com/bigpicture/2008/09/the_short_but_eventful_life_of.html

The cemetery I know too well. The burning house I’ve driven by countless times on my way to work.

The images are scary and baffling. I talked to a friend who’s safe in Houston, whose father is trying to find out what happened to their waterfront Ramada. Between 12pm to 6pm residents of Galveston will be allowed back to see what happened. And then what? Will they get the help they need? The resources? What happens next, as the situation in Galveston spirals downwards and the Mayor insists that no one return. How does one just leave their home and wait, without any proper news? I’ve been annoyed by the little information I can find on Galveston…its all about Houston. Sure, buildings there were affected badly, but can you really compare that to the island hit hardest and most directly? Sheesh.

Another friend’s house sounds like its in a bad state. I’m worried about all the people I haven’t heard from: how are they? How are their homes? Did they save their precious pictures? Some memories? What happens to their lives now? For the next week? For the next month? Do they just stand still and wait for the debris to be picked up?

๐Ÿ˜ฆ

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I left Galveston a long time ago. And my family moved out from the area a year ago. Ties still exist, obviously, with friends and their families, with my high school, with the place I worked and learned. Hurricane Ike started off with a “another storm, huh?” and then slowly the fear and anxiety mounted, and I found myself thousands of miles away worried for the people and places back home. I worried for our friends, their homes, for our first home in the US, for the city which I knew so well.

Most of them I’ve heard from and the ones I haven’t I know must be safe but just evaluating the terrible damage. Galveston and surrounding cities are in a state of curfew…no electricity…water problems…and debris all over. It is frightening to realize that Ike has really smashed through it. Having lived so long in Galveston, I know that hurricanes are part of the deal. You get used to them, and that is part of the problem. I know why so many people didn’t evacuate, I can understand, because if we had still been living there, that may have been us. You get so fatigued of the warnings, the exaggerations, the stories, that never seem to amount to anything, so that when the real thing comes along, you don’t believe it (classic boy cried wolf case). I know thats why people didn’t leave, but I’m afraid of the consequences.

Whether they evacuated or not, the damage is the same. And its considerable. For the first time I realize what the city actually meant to me. I left such a long time ago, and in time came to love so many other cities, but I didn’t realize that in my heart, the town had become my hometown. I just didn’t know it. Watching the videos of the destruction feels surreal and strange…I can recognize the streets and identify the buildings that lie in debris, I know what the seawall was like before and see how it has changed. I am an outsider, but I know the city too well. I know the Palais Royale sign that is now damaged, I’ve passed by the now broken Flagship hundreds of times, I saw the new Hooters come up (which no longer exists), I always planned to go into the Bailanese cafe (which is also in terrible shape). The graveyard, calm and beautiful with flowers in the spring, is now covered with water, with tombstones sticking out, and trees lie here and there.

I recognize all this, I know these streets, these buildings, and that makes it very, very troubling to watch this unfold like somebody unrelated. Miles and miles away, I can’t even call up regularly and check up on the people. I can’t follow the stories. Yet, this is my city. This is the city that welcomed me to this country, the place where I went to high school, where my first job was, where I first drove, where my best friend and I sat at our favorite cafe and discussed life, where the hot and humid weather gave way to lovely clear days against the sea. This was a city that I loved and that I hated with equal passion, but it is my city, and it is my hometown, and I am sad. I am sad that it has changed so much, and not by choice. I worry that like my hometown in India, which has become in many ways alien to me because it has changed so much, this hometown will have changed too much. Because now I’m realized that I have a connection. This is, indeed, my hometown. I am proud of it, and I am sad that Ike went through it with such fury.

I’m worried and unhappy.

God bless all the people there, and I pray that everyone stays safe and sound and manages to get help when they need it. It’ll be a long road to recovery, but may everyone have the strength and the perseverance.

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Not this post, ‘course. You can bet on that ๐Ÿ˜‰

Sha La La, Full House OST

‘Coz how can you not listen to this and remember Song Hye Kyo posing around on her trip, and wish you could pose around and look as pretty on your trips?

Right after I made my first post about my recent trip, I planned to make another describing everything I didn’t in my mousy mood. Because it was also one of the best and most important event in my life, returning home after such a long time. Its something I’d wanted so much it hurt, and then when I was there it was suddenly so strange to be there, so unreal. Things usually hit me much later anyway…the cause and effect time line is somewhat skewed in my system…so for some time it was like I’d always been used to this. Hadn’t I? I had always jumped away from traffic threatening to run me over, walked while minding the potholes and sewage water, and tried to make my way through the crowds. I think, in essence, that was me getting used to being back to who I was. None of this was shocking, because I wasn’t a foreigner, it just took getting used to to get back in the rhythm.

The best part, of course, was to reconnect. Re-adjusting was part of the reconnecting, and I was surprised at how well I did. At one point, I managed to live without electricity, with mosquitoes, and in questionable hygienic situations, being sick all the while, without any signs of the reaction I would have expected. Eight years ago maybe it wouldn’t even be a matter of consideration, but I was still somewhat pleased with myself that I could adjust. However, re-connecting with the people was the best. Sure, we had our gaps, our moments of awkwardness or ‘um, now how do I move past this uncomfortable situation without treading on toes?’, but those were few and far between, and with very few people. Mostly, it felt like time had failed to create a rift between the people we cared for the most. Like my childhood bff, D, said, it was like no time had passed between us. Hadn’t we always laid around like this? Gossipped about old classmates? Discussed movies and food and the city and the torture of waxing, all in one conversation?

I won’t discuss the family part so much (this being a public blog and all), but enough is said to convey how beautiful it was to just see everyone we could, relive the memories, and just discuss and catch up on where we were. It wasn’t always perfect, and we didn’t get to see everyone (and managed to offend many, but isn’t that always how it goes? ;)), but it was good enough :). And of course, one of the most exciting parts of the trip, which will go undescribed, was the meeting of people you’d always wanted to meet, and welcoming in beautiful, new parts of the family.

And then there was just the sense of realizing I was back in my own country and appreciating that to the fullest. Where service and being served is just a given. It was strange to have people open doors, serve your food and water, do your laundry, having a waiter stand next to your table the entire time as you tried to hide your disconcernment and continue your casual conversation. It was strange to realize that you weren’t expected to cook, clean, do any of the chores you usually did (and yet there was so much to do, but thats different!). Some of it was difficult to get used to (esp the constant waiter! eek, i’ll serve myself!), but other stuff I was too happy to oblige with (you can guess which). It was relaxing, and it was kind of a reminder of how hard we work here. Its not marshmallow smores here…in fact, its more sweet and chocolatey when you have somebody doing all the mundane things so you can focus on the important things in life. Like shopping.

And shopping was…well, fun. Styles change with the flick of a celebrity’s wrist, but thats okay with me because everyone’s going to be out of style here ๐Ÿ˜‰ After being embarassed (but refusing to be ashamed) after my outdated wardrobe at the wedding, I stocked up on suits and whatnots, and ran after and shouted and urged and pleased with tailors as they kept failing to get it right (I still don’t understand why…), and then finally did (and that was the really fun part). I didn’t get to shop as much as I wanted to (or ‘needed’ to), but shopping and getting stuff tailored is an experience in itself. Don’t miss it. And no matter what anyone tries to tell you: stuff isn’t really that expensive. Sure, prices have tripled, even quadrupled, from eight years ago, but if you know where to shop and if you know how not to act foreignerly (or if your skin gives you away, take someone brown in a sari ;)), because its the people who get phoreigned who lose out.

Touring? Who has time for that? Granted I’ve barely seen most of the country. I’ll say it outloud: I HAVEN’T SEEN THE TAJ MAHAL. There. But touring takes a back seat when everyone’s inviting you to dinner and feeding you and you’re trying to visit everybody so you can stay in their good books. Its a lillll bit difficult. I was lucky, however, to have excuses to be in a lot of different cities this time. And we did make a little byway to Mysore, the city of breathtaking temples and palaces. Just a sneak peek at a picture post I hope to make again later. And I’ll have to make a whole different pictures post for the fantastic trip I had with P’s AWESOME FAMILY ๐Ÿ™‚ to Shivaji’s Fort in Pune. We had THE best time (probably the most fun I’ve had in ages), and we saw the most beautiful things…birds, flowers, the most beautiful sights of the rustic land…and had the yummiest fresh food under the shade of some trees. Yup, that was quite some day. (Thanks!)

Srirangapatnam:

At Srirangapatnam

Mysore Palace (probably THE most beautiful palace I’ve EVER seen. It was just astounding)

Have you said hello to Mahishisura?

The famous Chamundeshwari Temple

(The Goddess Chamundi killed the wicked Mahishisura Rakshas (lovely pic above). The temple is in the Chamundi Hills)

The Goddess herself. Women (and Goddess) Power!

Last, but oh definitely not the least (how can it ever be the least), THE FOOD! Which is what everyone goes home for. Every foreigner. No matter what they tell you. Because can you get the same taste at any restaurant in the world? Can you get the same tandoori chicken, the same sweet corn soup, the same aloo tikki, the same saag and makki roti, the same peda and phetha and laddoo and gulabjamun? And the uncle chips, pudina flavor, which you’ve loved since you were about three? Can you get fed with the same love, care, pressurizing? Can you be filled to bursting point each meal, and then be offered some chai? Where else will your didi feed you sabji-roti with her hands, and where else will you eat the juiciest, sweetest, red carrots? Where else can mausis make your favorite foods and sweets and you almost cry because its just all so good and yummy and touching.

Now I’m hungry, and nostalgic and sad. And I didn’t take any pictures of the food. Oh darn.

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Yeh Tara Woh Tara, Swades

For the first time ever, I’ve been really jetlagged. For the past couple days I’ve been in a zombie state, and crashed randomly come 8-9pm. I think its the joint effect of being sick for most of the trip and getting little/no sleep, plus traveling constantly which makes for a terrible schedule. I don’t do well with randomized schedules.

While I don’t like writing about the personal bits of any trip, I will comment on the overall feeling of being back. Firstly, it wasn’t as shocking as I had expected it would be. Not until I got back to my home town, which was actually the only place which would be familiar anyway. And while it was very strange to be unable to identify the roads for a day or two, it was sad more than shocking. Sad in a ‘well, yes, ofcourse’ kind of way. It was expected. And then, when I did start looking beyond the new shinyness and development and saw those same roads and places I knew it was somewhat comforting and nostalgic for a little while.

But see, this has what has changed the most everywhere I went in India: there’s a lot of development. There are supermarkets, which sell everything from everywhere nowadays. There are malls and electronics stores and car dealerships, pizza huts and mcdonalds, all the sure-fire signs of a society becoming rich and growing Westernized with a zeal. There are a lot of things that I didn’t grow up with, that bring a lot of comfort to life and which are good to see. Everyone has a cell phone (and everyone means everyone. Even the rickshaw drivers. I think someone once saw a beggar with one).

But while this is great change in eight years, and while I’m really glad for it, it isn’t exactly what I imagined when everyone talked excitedly to me about how wonderful life has become in India. How everything is dramatically different. How its all comfort and sugar and spice. Because it wasn’t. You might not agree with me, completely understandably, and you might have your own reasons for it, but my eyes (ofcourse, jaundiced with activism), saw a somewhat different picture.

And I wasn’t looking at things pessimistically or critically. This is my country as much as anybody else’s, and I went with hope and eagerness. I hoped to be able to exclaim proudly at the wonderful changes and throw around compliments. But I didn’t get the chance to do that, because underneath all the fancy, dressy facade, nothing had really changed. Nothing that had formed the reason for my adaptation to this country. I didn’t leave because I wanted to shop in malls, or eat at Pizza Hut, or get a burger and then go to a giant multiplex. And those are also not the reasons I love America. Opportunity, respect (as a person not in the upper ranks of society and as a woman), the desire to not be faced by the hopelessness of life every day, the chance to be active in society and actually watch my actions create change…those factors are why I have adapted here.

While it may seem unfair and while its hard to hear and write about, these are the factors that are yet to change back home. I did not expect poverty to be eliminated, but I also did not expect the gap to have increased. While the middle class can now afford gigantic palace-like houses, the slums haven’t changed one bit. While the middle and upper classes may be getting better care in the hospitals (though that may be questionable with the reservation system, but thats for another time), the lower classes are still catered to by inadequate, dirty, and makeshift government clinics by overworked doctors and nurses (I should know this, I had to be rushed to one mid-journey and even while I was half-conscious, I was painfully aware that this was not where I should be). Beggar children still clamored and hung onto my arms. The rich still got away with murder (a car ran over four people at 5pm in the city. The driver was drunk, and presumably, from a rich family. The police came too late and I doubt any action was taken). The apathy has become stronger than ever, settled in like pollution and become a part of the environment. Natural human conscience, just plain goodness, is still biding its time somewhere else: my mother and I observed a large middle class family joyfully and greedily stuff themselves and their children while their children’s young caretaker (probably 7-8?), starkly brown and destitute against their rich, whiter, skins, sat right there morosely and hungrily. Not only was it unthinkable to buy her some food of her own, but the family was cruel enough to have her sit right there with their gluttunous family. I wished them all cases of severe appendicitis.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not sitting here pointing out all the deficits I noticed, whining or complaining like the typical ‘NRI-foreigner’. Though it may come off like this right now, I actually hate the kind who sit around and describe the negative side of India and all that BS, like they dropped from heaven and don’t belong to the same place. I am from there, and I’m proud of it…so much of who I am is because of my culture, my traditions, my ethnicity, the values I was raised with in India. Like I’ve said, there’s a lot of good change. There are new roads and highways (Mumbai-Pune highway: amazing), there are new sources of employment, there are greater opportunities than there were eight years ago. The people who can afford it have the chance to live a fantastic life. I’m proud of all of this. But as a child of that nation, I also have the right (perhaps the duty), to observe that there’s a long a way to go. Everything isn’t fine and dandy, and as people who have it in our power to make changes there, we should be well aware of this.

I love America simply because there is unabounded opportunity for anyone who wants it and wants to work for it, and because there is an ingrown desire to cause change and better life. I’m upset at India only because there are all the tools for these same qualities–the nation is rich (don’t believe otherwise, its just corruption thats sucking it away) the economy is booming, a significant portion is getting richer and growing in many ways, the education is probably the best in the world, even the entertainment sector is growing and maturing–and yet with all this, there’s not enough where it needs to be. More importantly, there isn’t enough drive to make it change. I know (too well), that change doesn’t happen overnight. But I also know that you need the drive, the feeling, the sacrifice of apathy, to initiate change. When does that happen?

In one way, what everyone tells me is right. If you’re rich, if you can afford a house, a car (preferably with a driver), and servants, and have a nice chunk of income (all this isn’t hard to get), then life is absolutely great. Actually, better than America, since you don’t have to worry about cooking, cleaning, laundry, driving, any of the mundane and tiring chores of life. You can live life the way you want, you can socialize, relax, shop, travel, enjoy the simple pleasures. You just have to close your eyes to the woman begging at your window, and forget about the slums a minute walk from your house, and stay in your social circle. But I have great respect for the people I know who live this comfortable life, yet, have quietly but actively begun to cause change, participate in or create movements to improve the life of those who are far from this life. Who are actively trying to pull street children off the streets, who are trying to lobby for the betterment of life with housing projects, who may live the good life but haven’t closed their eyes to their maidservant’s much different plight.

In the end, I wasn’t impressed by the mega marts and the malls and the restaurants and the cell phones. I appreciated the comfort of life there, the time to relax and slow down, the chance to be catered to, to not have to worry about the dishes and the laundry. I was appreciative of all the positive changes (especially the Metro. That was pretty freakin’ amazing. Just to have any place in India lasting this long without betel stains and garbage on the tracks is laudable and its so convenient!). I was proud of the media and the youth which is clearly less tolerant than it was eight years ago. News isn’t hidden and suppressed anymore with money and threats, and the youth are the propellants of this new phase. The media gets to where the injustice is, makes it known, and joins the fight where the police force doesn’t. And while biases always exist, I feel the urge to trust media there much more than the suspicious sources that are trying to feed the nation fabrications here. I was happy that my friends have more opportunities and more ways to direct themselves to than there were when I was a child.

I also came back aware of what was lacking, and with heightened respect for all those working to fill these gaps in that kind of environment. I came back driven to join forces one day when I have the means and knowledge to do so. And I think thats why it was necessary to stay honest to myself. If I refused to acknowledge these deficiencies, I’d stay happily away from actively working for a solution (however small my contribution), and I want a chance to do that.

And I came back grateful for the life I had here. It isn’t easy. I’ve worked hard for it and I keep working hard, just like everyone else here. And this country can be crazy and difficult, with deep seated issues in its young psychology. But I’m proud to live here. It has taught me how to be a person who has ambition, aim, and the drive to help, so I can serve both where I came from, and what I’m a part of, and I’m glad for that.

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From Oswiecim the train to Krakow costs about 11 zlotys, and the ride is about and hour and a half. We reached Krakow around lunchtime and headed straight to our hostel. The hostel, which we reserved beforehand, was wonderful. Highly recommend it to anyone who’s planning to make a tourist stop at Krakow. Krakow, being a very popular tourist destination (probably one of the most popular in Eastern Europe) is home to many unique and comfortable, and very cheap hostels. We did some searching and came up with Kadetus, which was the most affordable for the time period we were there (29th December-30th December). Kadetus is right in the center of the city, minutes from the city square (which came as a pleasant surprise to us). It’s in a very safe location on the main street, snuggled in one of the buildings. You enter on the second floor to a comfortable lounge/kitchen area. The rooms range from 2-3 people to 6-10 people. Decoration is bright, cheerful, and the whole place has a homey feel to it. Our room was a six-bed room, with three beds booked for us. Luggage can be stored in lockers they provide, and small lockers are given inside the room for important stuff (leave your passport locked here!!). There’s free wireless internet, free breakfast, coffee/tea all day long, laundry services and many other amenities, all for the low, low price of 51 zlotys or $17/night (I know…wow!). There are also other themed and eccentric hostels around Krakow that are worth checking out online too.

K and I headed out for a quick tour of the city to use the couple hours of sunlight we had left. This was the second time the sun came out during my entire stay in Poland, and I was grateful to see Krakow by sunlight, although it was terribly cold. We took a quick walk around the city square (LOVELY) and walked into this building whose name I can’t remember anymore, which is lined with numerous souvenir stalls. It reminds me of little lanes in Paltan Bazaar in Doon and such. The souvenirs are mostly those hand-made by the mountain tribes in Poland, and it is beautiful work. My favorite were the small, light boxes with wonderful handiwork, that ranged from 5-35 zlotys. I also loved the hand-carved chess sets, and small wooden plates that had been decorated very carefully, and other unique gift pieces and jewellery.

krakow

(Ooh…I caught a pigeon in flight! There were pigeons everywhere, as seen below)

pigeonsinkrakow

By the end of our little excursion, our feet were getting numb with the cold and we were exhausted so we headed back to Kadetus for some re-energization with tea and cookies. Then, the three of us headed out to a little jazz bar for some dinner, where I had a traditional cabbage and kielbasa dish (very yum but heavy). We followed that with a delicious stop at the E. Wedel chocolate shop…and had hot and yummy chocolate (mine was gingerbread hot chocolate…mmm). Polish chocolate is AMAZING and there is just so much creativity and variety, and E. Wedel is one of the major chocolate companies. The store was a little like chocolate-lovers heaven, and just the perfect place to be on a cold winter night. Ahh…..

(Love the presentation of this apple pie a la mode. And the heart gingerbread cookie. Mmm…ginger. Gingerbread was one of my favorite parts of the trip. So much, and so many different kinds!!)

wedel hotchoco

After sleeping in great comfort and warmth (and like logs) we proceeded to explore the Wawel Castle the next morning, which is also about 5-10 minutes from Kadetus. Wawel Castle served as the royal residence and the site of the kings of Poland from 1038 A.D. to 1596 A.D. People have lived in Wawel Hill as early as 50, 000 years ago. The place is bursting with its complex, lavish history. I love historical places, and I especially love castles. We walked through the tour of the Royal Apartments, which are decorated with wonderful pieces of tapestry and paintings that are ludicrously old, and furniture that dates to many centuries ago. The oldest item we saw was a sculpture of a Roman emperor, dating back to the 1st centure B.C. I get shivers of amazement and wonder in such places, where the walls could tell such fantastic stories, where the objects have survived centuries of human civilization, and where we walk in the same places where a young prince once did, where a king once plotted his wars, where greed and lust and religion controlled the lives of so many, where games of passion, pride, power were played…how wondrous to observe the beauty in the architecture, the loveliness of the designs, the uniqueness of everything. Especially amazing were the detailed tapestries and paintings, usually depicting scenes from the Old Testament or Greek mythology. There was one very interesting room where the ceiling was marked with sculptures of heads! Each had a angry or unhappy expression, and they were strange, almost cartoon-like heads, ranging from a blindfolded lady to a man with horns. We couldn’t figure out why they had been made and placed up there, staring down at you creepily. My theory is that they represent people beheaded by the royal peeps ๐Ÿ˜‰

All my pictures of Wawel came out really white and bright, and none were very special, so I won’t bother posting any. It was a great visit, and strongly recommended. Maybe you can also catch the Crown Jewels, which we didn’t have time for. We walked around a bit and reached the square again, where we feasted on delicious pizza from a Pizza Dominion, and then headed to explore St. Mary’s cathedral. The cathedral is right in the center of the square, it is opulently lavish and beautiful inside, richly decorated and absolutely shining with gold plating. For about six zlotys you get to go right up the altar. I truly enjoyed it, and could easily have spent several hours just gaping at the ornate designs. Cathedrals and churches in Poland was clearly where all the money flowed through the centuries.

stmarys dsc03300.jpg

I realized in Poland that God is given a face, atleast in Catholicism. He’s an old bearded guy, resembling Jesus. I realize Jesus is the son of God, and so giving him an image is fine, but if you give God a face, isn’t that idol worship? I wasn’t sure how it was different from idol worship, and we had an interesting (marked with sardonic bits) discussion on that.

jesus

We walked back through the square, which was extremely busy (which is probably the case all year around) and lighted beautifully in preparation of the New Year’s Eve party stage and headed back to Kadetus. The concert was apparently going to be graced by Shakin’ Stevens (whose style is reminiscent, I read, of Elvis Presley’s style) and…wait for it….drumroll…Lou Bega! Because no New Year’s celebration can be complete without Mambo #5 and I Got A Girl (don’t deny it, you remember those classics, and I bet you still sing along :)). Krakow is beautiful by night. The old square, reminiscent of Poznan’s city square, is lined with lovely ancient buildings, restored well and used by shops, cafes, and restaurants. The streets are paved, just like in Poznan, and lined with little stores (we went into a little tea shop that has been at the same place since 1859–wow!). Krakow is beautifully preserved, especially since it served as Nazi headquarters during the war, and so was not wrought havoc on as other cities in Poland were. There are also very few of the ugly Communist style buildings. Overall, it is a city rich in history and absolutely lovely in its architecture and its overall aura, brimming with life and culture. I wish I had had more than a day to spend there, but that day was extremely pleasant, interesting, and beautiful! Dziekuje, Krakow! ๐Ÿ™‚

krakowbynite

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Yay pictures!!

I just thought I’d upload a couple here. A bunch of other pics, including all the ones with people in them, are uploaded on my Flickr account. ๐Ÿ™‚

Here is a picture of the Old Square in Poznan, at night. Its decorated for Christmas, with lovely lights and music, and a festive spirit prevailed the entire square the other night we were there.

poznansquare

The Old Square, again. K said the buildings are from the 15-16th century. Wowsa! We went to a pharmacy near this place which was built in 1564.

poznansq2

There was an ice-sculpture and art festival going on when we reached. Amazing ice sculptures, like this one below.

icesculpture

This is the gigantic Stary Browar, the mall I mentioned in my last post.

starbrowary

K and I are both sick…I’m guessing the change of weather…and so we’re just staying in and protecting ourselves from the chill today. Pity, because we were supposed to go shop in Poznan, but I can’t make myself move outside! Being sick on holiday: what luck! Hopefully we’ll be hearty and healthy by tomorrow!

More pics…Poznan by day and some of Puszsczykowo will be coming up soon. Stay warm everyone!

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Dzien Dobry! (Good day to you in Polish)

I reached Poland after a long, long trip, being sweaty, filthy and smelly by the end of the last leg. I had myself originally planned it that way so I’d see bits of other countries and their people from the airports, but I had forgotten that Iceland has six months of darkness in the winter, and even by the time I reached Copenhagen it as all dark. So it didn’t exactly work out as planned, and I was running to catch my plane at each airport, but in the end it was okay. It was an interesting journey, well worth it, and it made me so, so delighted to see K’s face at the Warsaw airport.

Poland is a very interesting country, so far. Puszsczykowo is a very small, quaint little town (about 9000 people?), with small little shops and little unique parts. There is a small bakery with such DELICIOUS cakes and donuts and yum pastries that I wanted to eat it all. We only tried the polish donuts (rum filled, yum) and a custard pastry which was also very good. Polish sweets are not as sweet as American cakes and pastries, and everything was so fresh here, and beautifully iced and decorated…mmmm.

We went to a beautiful church yesterday, very Roman Catholic, with lovely stained glass and figurines. To get there, we took a walk through a forest that reminded me of the forest in The Village (not in a scary way). All the trees were green with moss, and everything was damp and green everywhere. We didn’t see any animals, but K said there are deer and foxes and wild pigs, and squirrels that are so flitsy no one has ever seen one!

We also went to Poznan yesterday evening, the big city. Poznan is a beautiful city. The city square has buildings from the 16-17th century (wow!), that are used as apartments or for other purposes, and are very well preserved. There are stones in the grounds that are 5-6 centuries old. Yesterday there was some kind of artist’s fair going on, so there were all kinds of little bright stalls everywhere. And a series of beautiful ice sculptures (very pretty!). The town was very alive, buzzing with life and talk, like any big city, except it had the old-worldly charm to it…like Ottawa, in that sense. There are sweet narrow roads paved with stone, with fancy shops lining them (H&M, Samsonite, etc). There are elegant coffee shops (NO Starbucks anywhere! Its a miracle! We had a cardamom chocolate at the Cafe Nescafe…yum…and they use real heavy cream here, not the sugary whipped cream). We walked to a HUGE mall, which K said has developed in the last two years to be really amazing and big. There are name brand stores, and some small ones too, but its very Galleria. Its decorated with these random pieces of modern art, which gives it a very cool, un-mall like look. There was this one freaky anime character right in the center of the top floor, totally out of place! There’s also an art gallery that you can just walk in, and this beautiful walkway with lots and lots of lights (and an American restaurant called ‘Rodeo’ heehee). Definitely an interesting place.

From there we walked around the square and through a permanent farmer’s market to K’s parents’ aparment. Her family is wonderful, very kind and cheerful, and despite the language barrier I felt very comfortable. A’s mom, who I’m staying with, is fluent in English (and teaches English classes) and she is a wonderful woman, very kind, elegant and lovely to talk to. I’ve been enjoying staying here. The house is very, very old and extremely beautiful, filled with antiques and exquisite designs. Its very European in design. I have a sweet little guest bedroom, and it has a cabinet with a sink! I’ve never seen that. A’s mom has decorated everything beautifully and she has also refinished and restored a lot of the furniture and design. Its an impressive house.

K’s mom served us some bean soup (with potatoes and carrots) and some home-made chicken broth (cooked with leeks and carrots and other veggies). It was very nice, comforting food, warm after a long day in the cold. The cold here is very damp, its late fall K says, and it rains a lot in November. It has been gray the entire time, and I hope it brightens up soon. The weather and the cold is similar to Doon, I think, atleast in Nov/Dec. Very damp that’ll go to your bones, and a little dreary weatherwise, but not as cold (definitely not as cold) as Massachusetts! MA takes the cake for being much colder than Poland! K says its not always this gray, so hopefully I’ll get to have some sunny days here too!

That’s essentially been everything so far ๐Ÿ™‚ I think I’m a little under the weather so now I will retire to my room (taking an off day today) and stay cozy in the feather-filled comforter (its SO warm!) with a book. Speaking of which…did anyone know that Masoom is blatantly, shamelessly ‘inspired’ from Erich Segal’s Man, Woman and Child? So much so that even the dialogue is similar (the chitter-chatter between the girls, the mother’s coldness towards the little boy (played so well by Shabana Azmi and Jugal Hansraj), the way he tells his wife…all of it!)?? Very interesting….

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