Monday 15 July 2019

Herring and Mead

The sun shone on Wrocław when I first arrived. I had had an uneventful journey, spent mostly in looking up words in my Polish dictionary. Amusingly, the excellent highway in East Germany abruptly went bumpy at the border, but after some kilometres inside Poland, it improved. Then it worsened. Then it improved. I could see the village of Legnickie Pole from the highway, which was a thrill, and the twin towers of St. Hedwig Church were very impressive.

Polish Pretend Son and Daughter-in-Law turned up in the Wroclawia mall's ground floor Etno Cafe to fetch me, and we had a good Polish conversation while we drank coffee, and then we went to the historic centre to walk around the beautiful, multi-coloured Rynek (Market), stopping for drinks and snacks before settling on a Georgian restaurant for lunch. My favourite drink-and-snack place in Wrocław is "Przedwojenna", which literally means "Pre-war" but practically means "Between 1919 and World War II."  Eugeniusz Bodo (1899-1943) was singing "Już Taki Jestem Zimny Drań" over the speakers, and Józef Piłsudskiej (1867-1935) glowered down from a wall. I had a beer and delicious herring fillets on bread. 

Berlin struck me as a little sad, although this may actually say more about me than Berlin. On the other hand, there are dozens of monuments commemorating very sad events in Berlin, so maybe not. Berlin 2019 is the kind of place where people strive to be anti-racist and super-welcoming and yet continue to use picturesque images of Africans and North American Indians to sell things--and stare daggers at foreigners who applaud at the end of a suite. 

In contrast, Wrocław struck me as cheerful, unpretentious, and unabashedly Catholic, in part because a public rosary was being held in front of a statue of St. John Paul II when PPS, PPDIL and I ducked, shamefully late, into the "Church of Most Blessed Virgin Mary on the Sand" for the Traditional Latin Mass. It wasn't our fault we were late: service was slow at the Georgian restaurant. Mass was said by this priest; he looked in good shape, I am happy to say.

PPS's first choices of restaurant were shut, by the way: Sunday closing is a big deal in Poland now. It's not just stores and other businesses; some Wroclawians decide to close their restaurants. This may be for the owners' summer holidays, of course.  

When Mass had ended, we discovered that rain was bucketing down. We hurried to the car, and then drove to PPS's home village, which was not too far away. Mr and Mrs PPS live in a little house,with a loo and an office on the ground floor and a bedroom and a massive salon on the first (i.e. top) floor, which resembles a luxurious attic. 

PPS, who always professed to hate hipsters, put a Glenn Miller record on the turntable and made some splendid coffee after grinding the beans himself. Glenn Miller was followed by Mieczysław Fogg (1901-1990) and then, the rain having paused, we went outside to the large garden to pick red currents, black currants and truly exquisite black cherries. When the rain began again we went back inside. 

PPS drank champagne and I drank mead at a round table in the middle of the big room, and Mrs PPS drank neither as she is having a baby in December. I admired a photo of PPS and PPDIL at the local races and risked the eternal wrath of PPS by bragging about the supremacy of British hats for women and encouraging PPDIL to look up Philip Treacy. As a matter of fact, though, PPDIL already has a splendid British-level pink hat.  

PPS put on Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet, which the young couple saw in Wrocław not too long ago. PPS read, and told PPDIL, that in that modern production R and J would survive, but he had been misinformed, and PPDIL cried buckets when they died. (In contrast, I sighed with relief when R and J   perished in a super-hip Kraków production of the Shakespeare play because it seemed to go on forever and the declension of Romeo--especially the genitive, Romea--was dancing on my nerves in hobnailed boots.) 

PPS and PPDIL are particularly fond of the scene in the ballet where Lady Capulet dances her rage and grief at the death of Tybalt, so we heard it two or three times, and then PPDIL went to sleep and PPS and I went for a walk around the dark, damp village. We saw the greatest hits: the railway station, the pizza parlour where PPS had his bachelor party, the one bar, the parish church, the TB sanatorium, the fantastic restaurant with the glorious duck pierogi, and the building PPS lived in as a child. I also admired the various examples of native architecture, which includes high, steeply sloping rooves, jutting gables and quaint balconies. The streets are lined with trees, and if there is any bomb damage in the last war, it was certainly not obvious to me.   

So that was my day in Lower Silesia, which the Poles call Dolny Śląsk, and today I have been carted off to an even smaller village in the countryside to write while PPS carries out some family business. My vacation is over, and I am back at work today. Fortunately it is the kind of work that can be done anywhere where there is an internet connection although I am somewhat hampered by the lack of a phone.  

Alas, my strict linguistic fast from English only lasted a few hours. However, I don't think I did too badly, and we all go back to Polish from time to time. 

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