Above is the Wisla River in Plock (pwutsk), Poland, the town where my grandmother Mollie was born. At the bottom of the blog is a map of Poland.


On the way

Tuesday, May 10th is the 21st day of the Omer

This morning I awoke at 6:40 and made yet another valiant and finally successful effort to pack everything into the suitcase, backpack, and briefcase. It would have been easier if I had not been transporting 20 packets of instant oatmeal, 3 pint-sized zip-lock bags of dried tomato slices, a gallon bag containing smaller bags of powdered egg-white protein powder (actually tastes good) and powdered soy milk (vile stuff), not to mention the 1.1 lbs. of kosher jelly beans I am bringing to a Warsaw synagogue which will then be mailed to a 22 year old in Gdansk who wants to keep kosher but is tempted by Polish pork-infused jelly beans – and is the first hint that every food in Poland is similarly tainted by that terribly vilified animal?

After declaring victory, I emptied out the spoilable food from the refrigerator and brought it over to my neighbor Jesse. Noam and Romy were in fine form. Romy was all smiles as she engaged in her latest trick: she takes three or four steps before plopping onto her cushioned butt. Noam was trying to figure out how to engage me in conversation. He had earlier tormented his exhausted mother with his demands and was in the doghouse, but he seemed not to be bothered in the least by her pique. It was clear he was in one of those contrary moods that drive parents to distraction, because he could not tolerate the attention I gave to his little sister and tried to ever-so-slightly push her down as she walked. Nevertheless, they all managed to pose for this photo.

The cabbie who drove me to the airport was from Ethiopia. He spent three years of high school in Prague. Both countries at that time were Communist and it was easy to move from one to the other, and then during some thaw he got into the U.S. as a refugee. He has a wife and a daughter, but the rest of his family is in Ethiopia, stuck there unless he can produce the huge wad of dollars necessary to be eligible for family reunification. He was sad, contemplating his longing for them, and he has put his hopes on his daughter – who is completing her degree in biological sciences and bound for a career as a scientist – for one day earning enough to bring the rest of the family here. Our government, he said, supports the horrid tyrant who has ruled Ethiopia these past 20+ years, and when people are shot in the streets it is with American military equipment. We also talked about lighter matters: the happy growth during the 1990s of the Ethiopian gathering places on Fairfax Boulevard, why the teff “pancake” that is the centerpiece of the meals is so sour (because the grains are first fermented for three days), and the elasticity of the young brain that allows the quick learning of foreign languages.

So when I finally boarded the plane, I took out my Poland tour book and wrote out flash cards for myself with words like prosze (please, or you’re welcome), dziekuje (thank you), przepraszam (excuse me), and the all important jarzynowa (vegetable).

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