Leaving Warsaw, Arriving Warsaw

The sun is shining my last morning in Warsaw, a brisk 9 degrees F. outside. My bag is packed (I think my dear husband, the “master of space and snacks” would be proud of my packing job) and I even have a little time to attempt a last blog post before leaving for the airport, flight to California.

Yesterday’s meeting in the flat of a journalist friend, is what first comes to mind. Climbing the old wooden stairs, the heavy door opening to Kostek’s smile, his Buddha cat, the book lined shelves of his study. High ceilings, folk art, kilims on the floor, kettle on the stove, a shot of welcoming vodka to warm up.

Kostek is a great storyteller and I am happy to sit with my tea, to listen. He grabs a volume of poetry off the shelf, a poet named Wladyslaw Szlengel, who died in the Warsaw ghetto uprising… he reads to me, first in Polish (so i can hear the rhythm of the language), then his own translation. I close my eyes to listen to Kostek’s sonorous voice. It is a poem about the enforced move to the ghetto, the compression of life, the clattering of the wagon laden with possessions which one by one fall away. The objects animate, follow their owner, the table, the chairs, the dishes all are roaming the streets of Warsaw.

Szlengel’s poems were discovered after the war, they’d been secreted inside a table and when the owner of that table started to chop it up for firewood, he found paper, these poems, this testimony.

Yesterday I walked the perimeter of the handsome new building that will house the Museum of the History of Polish Jews, right on the site of the former Warsaw ghetto. It is scheduled to open in 2012 and it will animate the history of a thousand years of Jewish life in Poland. I had dinner last night with the core exhibition team leader, Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, who has spent the last three years in Warsaw researching, overseeing this incredible creation. Specific stories will anchor the narrative, drawn from diaries, testimonies, much else. What about the medieval Jewish traveler whose carriage breaks down on the Sabbath, what kind of choices did he face? Her passion for this work (check out her marvelous intro to MY NAME IS MAYER JULY, book of paintings by her father of his hometown of Opotow, Poland) is contagious. Barbara and I ate dinner at the marvelous U Kucharzy restaurant, which occupies the kitchen (the size of a cruise ship) in what was once one of Warsaw’s most beautiful hotels. (The SS liked it so much they didn’t blow it up.) Beautiful Polish food– duck and apples, cabbage and mushrooms and potatoes. I am well fortified for the journey home. I took a last late night walk down Nowy Swiat, avoiding the black ice, enjoying the holiday lights, the lit-up shops, the murmuring hand-holding couples, the accordion player. Finished the night reading a few chapters of Jacob Glatstein’s 1934 chronicle. I fell asleep just after Glatstein arrives in Warsaw after an absence of twenty years in America. On the last hour of his train ride, he is fevered by an extraordinary dream: “Thanks to my dream, I was returning home after twenty years not only with a strong sense of home, but also with its sad tonality. I now felt as if my pockets were stuffed with the homey goods of my dream which I had preserved through twenty years of estrangement… I have not forsaken you, O Jewish Poland, with your terrors and sad celebrations. Do not forsake my right hand as I have not forsaken you. Early morning Warsaw hadn’t welcomed me yet, the city still slept.”

6 Responses to “Leaving Warsaw, Arriving Warsaw”

  1. anne kalik Says:

    oh, wonderful.
    you are flying home now.
    may your holidays be bright and full of love.

    love,
    a

  2. Louise, we had dinner in the same restaurant in July (it was about 110 degrees Fah that night!) with Barbara who along with her wonderful man, Max, is a dear friend. Fascinating work she’s doing. My partner Francine is doing research for a doco on the revival of the Jews of Poland. Looking for funding, usual story.

    I have to say i am LOVING your blogs. I had no idea your writing was so lyrical, so poetic. Punch Me in the Stomach my solo play (and film) has similar threads to your journey, picking up history and replacing it with the present. SO resonant for me, your words. FANTASTIC. It feels like perfect fodder for a book no?

  3. Wonderful end to the journey (for now…)

  4. Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett Says:

    Love reading your blog. Great seeing you in Warsaw. Come back!

  5. Louise: Lovely story and how wonderful that you know BKG.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: