Wednesday, May 25, 2005

To the Carpathians...

May 15, 2005 (Sunday)

Last night -- my last evening in Warsaw before heading south and east for a while -- I sat on the floor in Richard's flat, in a circle of students and teachers and friends who'd come to hear me read some poems, and to eat and drink and talk. And I tired to explain what I'm doing here, why I've come back to Poland again and again.

I keep thinking about what might have been different if this city hadn't been bombed into rubble, if it hadn't been rebuilt under communism to look more like a prison than a place where people gathered to live; if you could do some kind of time-lapse projection, how it looked then and how it might have evolved had those disasters never occurred, how might Warsaw look now?

This morning the classical station woke me very gently: music and light; Richard stepping quietly from the room. And I washed, had my coffee, and packed. Then we walked to the station; I got on the train.

In Krakow, Sarah appeared on the quai, as she always appears, wearing something bright, striding toward me, looking a little surprised, as if she's found someone she thought was lost. We drank coffee, we shopped and talked, we flew through the streets -- filled with tourists now, bright umbrellas over the tables of sidewalk cafes, little girls in communion dresses slipping down the narrow streets off the market square. We ate at the first place I ever ate in Krakow, the cafeteria called "Chimera;" had big plates of salads and spinach tort and aubergine and thick slices of bread.

In the evening, we had a wild mini-bus ride from Krakow to Krosno, the two of us dozing side by side because keeping our eyes open would have made the trip too terrifying. When I opened my eyes again, it was dusk. Sarah said she'd thought she'd heard me saying, "Oh, god," in my sleep, but I think it was her. Mist rising up from the fields, from the road.

Lukaz and Nasim met us with the car at the Krosno bus station, full of stories of their Sunday. Lukasz had had to spend the whole day judging a local beauty pageant for 14-year olds, interviewing them about ecology, listening to what they had to say about recycling. "It was HORRIBLE," he proclaimed, "It was so ABSURD." We laughed and Nasim joined in, because she likes being in on the jokes, whether she understands them or not.

Stopped at a garage for coffee and chocolate, then drove the dark, muddy roads to Rzepnik. There are some tulips blooming in front of the house and some night bird has just called from the blackness. No stars.

So I've had my wine, I'll have my bath. My bed's been made and Nasim's gone to sleep, her rabbit back in its cage in her room. So here I am again, whatever this means: the Carpathians.

May 16, 2005 (Monday)

"What you've just eaten," Lukasz announced -- after I'd salted the thin brown broth, broken the clump of noodles with my spoon until they were soft; after I'd eaten it all and dipped my bread -- "was soup made from an organic rabbit."

"No," I said, "I don't eat rabbits!" (Nasim's pet bunny was right in the next room.)

Sarah laughed and corrected me: "No, you don't LIKE to eat rabbits. But you already have." She was standing over the woodstove, cooking up something else for herself: vegetables and noodles and 'chips.' "Something spicy and strange," she said, "You can write about it in your blog." I tried some of that, too.

"I didn't tell you before," Lukasz said, "because I didn't want to alarm you." He knew I wouldn't have eaten it. I'd seen the raw joint in the pot all day but thought I was safe with broth. He brought the meat to the table later, sat there gnawing the rabbit's haunch. What the hell, I had lemon cake, too, which Nasim had insisted be baked for me. And a glass of our "Rzepnik blend:" Lukas's homemade wine mixed with the wine from Bulgaria; the one too sweet, the other too sour. From the only three glasses, we drank.

May 17, 2005 (Tuesday)

The first time I stirred this morning, I could have sworn the sun was shining. I closed my eyes again and rolled over. An hour later, I really woke, finally.

My bed is in "the big room" of the Rzepnik house, but I still think of it as "the seed room," because that's what it was a few springs ago, when Lukasz used the space to dry and sort wildflower seeds, and my bed was in the far corner, away from the door. This year the room is full of the wooden frames of the windows for the new house that's being built, on a hillside a few minutes away; and my bed and Sarah's and Lukasz's bed are side by side, separated by a low table that holds the candles by which I read at night, after they're asleep -- after I've sat in a kitchen chair in the doorway at the front of the house, under the eaves, just out of the rain, writing in my journal and having my last cigarette of the day.

Their bed was already empty, of course, when I woke. And the house was quiet. And it was pouring outside.

Nasim had gone to school, Lukasz had gone off on errands, and Sarah was in the kitchen, at the table, a scarf wrapped around her neck, grading the English compositions of her Polish students. I could tell by the warmth that the woodstove was going, and I waved to Sarah on my way to the bathroom, knowing she'd have coffee on the stove by the time I emerged again. Maybe it's the wood fire, maybe it's the little espresso pot, but coffee made in this kitchen tastes better to me than coffee anywhere else on earth. I took my mug and headed back toward the seed room. But Sarah burst into peals of laughter just then, and she knows I can't resist. I had to go back and find out what it was about. Something to do with badgers that I can't really explain here, something about the king of the badgers ...

I opened the curtain over Sarah's desk in the seed room. It hasn't stopped raining in forever -- so says Sarah, so says Lukasz -- and outside everything looked green green green and drenched drenched drenched. I remembered once, from this same window, watching birds play on the tin roof of the bus stop shelter, which is just at the end of the Luczaj's driveway. It looked to me as if the birds were using the roof as a water slide, sliding down the little gullies to the edge of the roof and then, whoop, lifting off into flight. This morning I think it was too wet even for the birds.

I was on my second cup of coffee when Lukasz came home, dripping, loudly bemoaning "this Carpathian rain." "The potatoes are all going to rot because of this rain," he said. "Potatoes HATE this rain!"

But some time around mid-morning, the rain stopped. I stepped out the door and the air smelled freshly-washed, felt soft, so I decided to go for a walk before the rain started again. A nice misty walk, I thought. But it turned out to be a sparkly walk, instead. By the time I was five minutes up the road, walking uphill, the sun had come out and everything was glittering: a breeze blowing drops of rain from the trees overhead in little crystal showers into the puddles, almost invisible drops of shine plink-plinking and splashing back up again; streams running glassy and brown and so hard that they made a sound like waterfalls; dandelions and buttercups poking out of the high grass at the side of the road. I walked all the way up to the next bus stop, where the road levels out, and then beyond, where the road becomes a dirt road again. From the top of the hill, I could look out over the fields and the woods, see smoke rising from the chimneys of the farmhouses in the valley. A bird -- what is that bird with the broad blue stripe mid-wing? -- flew right past my head. That made me so stupidly happy that I did a little dance, right there in the middle of the road. Then I raced all the way back down the hill.

Sarah practiced her violin while I stretched, then she got lunch going -- curry and cous-cous and salad, no rabbits. Nasim got off the bus in front of the house at 12:30, though we hadn't expected her until 2 p.m., as she usually stays after school for a special "dancing class" on Tuesdays. But she "just didn't feel like it" today. I asked her about the teacher, and the dances, and whether she got to wear a tutu when they performed. She looked at me as if Id lost my mind, but she's always very patient with adults. "No," she said, "we just wear something that suits. Like, when we did the dance about the cows, we just wore black trousers and white shirts. And all the girls -- well, there's only one boy -- put their hair up like this" -- and she pulled her pigtails into two small loops at the back of her head -- "so they look like cow's ears. Well, not really like cow's ears." I told her I understood, and asked her if she'd do the dance for me, but she explained that, "You need a lot of children for that. Ten children is best." And I wished my grandnieces and grandnephew and nieces and nephews were here to dance.

Sarah and I left for Sanoc right after lunch; she was seeing clients at her office there in the afternoon, and I was going to find a nice cafe to sit in and write. The sun continued to shine, so everyone was out in the streets in town, eating ice cream --us, too. And I found a sweet little place to write for a while, a sidewalk table at a cafe attached to a "decor" boutique. And when it clouded over and got too cold to be outside, I went back to the place where Sarah and I had planned to meet, and discovered a lovely back room there, furnished with antiques, and that's where I was when Sarah found me. "You look happy," she said.

We drove from Sanoc to Krosno in the early eveing and went to see Wacek in his apartment above the pizzeria that's run by his son-in-law. Pizza was brought upstairs to us, and drinks, and we spent a couple of hours hanging out and talking -- exhausting for Sarah, who has to translate everything -- mostly about poetry.

Then we drove home to Rzepnik, and now I'm back in my chair by the front door, listening to the streams running and the frogs singing, loud and green tonight. And Lukasz is inside cooking a worm, but says I can't write about it unless I try some.


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