5. Sitting Down In My GGGrandfather’s House.

We went up the mountains to Zakopane. We were to take the tram to the top but it was wet and foggy so we settled for beer and a meat medley dish which included lamb sausage, which must be the food of the gods. I was hesitant, but found it to be one of the most delicious foods on my trip. Zenon and I alsodid Polish Vodka shots and to quote that Dutch salesman from North Dakota, ‘It was smood!’ I was sorry I could not sneak this vodka back to VT.

I spent one day in Warsaw by myself, visiting the old town. I got lost three times but everyone is eager to help you.  (Beware, don’t drive in Poland.)

I visited to the Warsaw Uprising Museum with Zenon and his son, David. We even walked the sewers which the uprisers used to pass information to one another. While we were standing there, Zenon said, ‘That man over there was here; he is an upriser.’ (So, having a driver/translator is a good idea! Without Zenon I never would have had this opportunity to meet and praise the courage of this old man.) Zenon had overheard a conversation between the man and probably his great grandchild, who was steadying him as he was explaining his experiences. I asked to be introduced and he accepted. I told him how honored I was to meet a real hero. He agreed to have his picture taken, BUT I forgot to ask him his name.

A survivor of the Warsaw Uprising

So that’s a short summary of my trip to Poland.  None of it would have been possible without the services of Zenon. He is a gem!

If you decide to go to Poland, I suggest that you try to learn the language. It is difficult. (Zenon said that after knowing Polish, English is easy!)  I only got to Unit 2 Lesson 3 on my Rosetta Stone Polish language CD, but I am committed to finishing all 8 units, each having 10 -11 lessons. Even the little Polish I learned, helped.

I recommend that you at least read Poland by James Michener. But, if you really want to get a glimpse into the ‘Polish soul’, read the Sienkiewicz trilogy: With Fire and Sword, which covers the Polish Commonwealth’s fight against the Cossack and Tartar troops in 1648 – 1649; The Deluge, covering the Swedish Army from 1655 to 1657 and the Russian and Cossack Army between 1655 and 1658; and Fire in the Steppe against the Turkish Army from 1668 – 1673. I finished the last book in Krakow on September 20th! This trilogy is the national epic of Poland and is required reading for all Polish students. To read these books is a serious commitment, as the novels are 1135, 842 and 717 pages respectively.  Get the W.S. Kuniczak translation as it captures the Polish language much better than previous translations. (Zenon agreed with my research on this.) There is also The Trilogy Companion which is a reader’s guide to the trilogy which I found helpful. You will laugh and cry through these books, but I am convinced they will reveal that there is something special about the Polish soul which is complex, joyful, humorous, unyielding, heroic and most of all, beautiful.

Add to this, Genghis Khan’s invasion in the 1200’s, killing all the males and small children, raping the women and selling them into slavery, how Poland was partitioned three times by Russia, Prussia and Austria between 1772 and 1794, again still another partition in the 1860’s.  Add to that, all the death and destruction during WWI after which Poland was finally restored, then raped again in WWII, the Russian occupation until the 1980’s and all what our ancestors had to suffer and endure even if we no longer know their names—all this will tell you of the Polish soul which suffered for so long, yet survived. I found reading these three books ‘Sursum corda’ (‘lifted my heart’).

Today Poland is growing and developing, working on their infrastructure and they are laughing. I found much of their humor to be sarcastic (Zenon thought that was a ‘leftover’ from the Communist era) and often satirical. I found out that they delight in puns which of course, I could not enjoy.  Yet,  that which I thought might be funny, they also laughed at and vice versa.

You will fall in love with Poland and Zenon can make that happen!
p.s. (Don’t ever drive in Poland.)

Louis D. Welna

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