Praying to Gods in Warsaw

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The day was sweltering. Thirty-seven degrees. That’s ninety-eight for the folks back in the U.S. of A.  In my humble opinion anything between thirty-four to forty is terrible. That all converts as nineties to one hundred which translates to hot-as-f*#k. It is meant to be like this all week. I suppose we can all thank the climate change that too many continue to deny or ignore. It troubles me that I am going to live through this horrific process. I would like to be as selfish as the rich and the ignorant,  and just expect it to all take place when I’m dead and gone. My nordic blood can’t take this shit. If I have nordic blood. Where ever the blood is from it’s somewhere where it was colder, and it isn’t adapting rapidly enough, but nothing is because unbeknownst to some the planet, and it’s inhabitants, are not software- not yet anyway. I suppose I should fall of this soapbox.

A fly dies at my feet, and I can hear the last buzz of it’s life as it’s legs bend in rigid rigor mortis. It appears to be a natural death, but I blame the heat. The other flies buzz in a funeral procession.

This day I have wandered to a Palace on an island, and a huge park in Warsaw. I left early in the morning in order to have some time outside before the heat. This is my fourth time in Warsaw, but I only have a day or hours to spend in the city so I have to see parts of the city in sections. I don’t regret the choice of going to the park. It wasn’t too difficult to wake early because of my hostel mates.

I’m staying at a shoddy but acceptable little hostel in a four room dorm. I had this ridiculous idea that maybe the four rooms which are a higher price would have less of a chance of having some party people. I was really tired after the first Angloville and in need of rest, but it was foolish of me. If I didn’t have to try and make my money last for six weeks- including accommodations and transportation- then I would have spent the money on a single room. Air-conditioning would be nice too.

When I opened the door to the room I knew immediately I was in trouble. The people were not in the room but the room was a disaster as if teenage girls had blown up in the room. I wasn’t too far off. Three young Polish girls- maybe twenty were having a party weekend in Warsaw. I forget about the weekenders. As if everyone lives like I do. I have to imagine myself as a twenty something going to spend the weekend in the city (which would be San Francisco) it isn’t all just for backpackers and travelers, people do live here. I foolishly continue to live my life as if it is in the center. In a way it is, but I pass through other’s centers, and judging by the glare and scowl of one of the girls on seeing me unpacking my bag in her room I had invaded their girl weekend. Feeling’s mutual love, I thought, our centers just collided.

Since they were young women on the mission to party I prayed to the Gods of Vodka and wished that the girls would hit the city at night and stay out until at least five in the morning, and the Gods answered my prayers, only I didn’t trust in the Gods at first. As I was returning to the hostel after wandering around the city, I passed the women on the street. They were heading out into the night. I smiled with a jubilant glee. If I could just fall into a deep sleep I should be able to get a couple of hours of sleep. Unfortunately, it was hot and I slipped in and out of restless sleep feeling anxious about not falling asleep before they came home. I kept dreaming about being woken up by drunks and I even had a dream that another bed was shoved into the room. I did finally fall asleep, but woke to the sound of someone struggling to open the door. Even sober the door was difficult to open so I knew they must have been having a hell of a time trying to get in. There was a dusty light in the room meaning that it must have been around six in the morning. Good job girls, I thought to myself, that was an hour longer than I had hoped. Only two had return and immediately they both feel asleep and I feel fast asleep too. I woke again at eight a.m. as the third girl came home. She tried to wake her friends, but they were not having it, and it forced her to go to bed. She climbed onto the top bunk and caught eye-contact with me. It was the scowling girl. She gave me half bewildered half scowl glare and I returned it with a smile. She had no idea how proud of her I was that she returned so late. The girls had allowed me the sleep I needed. The Vodka Gods answered. I got up soon after the scowler passed out. And prepared to leave for my day. I looked back at the three young women tangled in their bedding. They’ll be up around two I thought. I knew all this from personal experience.

As I walked out of the hostel toward the park I decided that I would make an offering to the party Gods; pour a shot out to the Vodka Gods, and pray that the girls have another all night away-rager. If only I could pray away the heat.

Another fly dropped dead as I typed. I looked down at the fly carnage. There were three dead flies. It’s the heat, I thought, or there is something deadly in the air. A small bird landed on a candle and began to eat the wax. I didn’t think this wax eating was good for anyone, but I had to let these things go and just pour the Vodka on the floor.

Christmas in Poland

I spent my Christmas in Poland, and of course I completely neglected to take any photos, so I’ll have to just share with you a picture of snow from the train, and hopefully my words can describe the food well enough for you to picture it.

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I met Agnieszka in November through a volunteer program called Angloville (a program I still have neglected to write about at this point) located in Poland. Agnieszka was one of the students in this very intensive five day program. Once the program ended we said our good-bye, but through social media we were able to stay in contact. This christmas was my first since my mom had died, and so it was a particularly hard one, or I anticipated it to be emotionally difficult. Agnieszka and her family invited me into her home, and I was treated so warmly, and had many kisses (the Polish kiss three times on the cheek as a hello). I barely thought about mom, until I got back to Prague, and then I cried (like I do almost everyday, but this is grief it makes you cry). It was a very nice Christmas and as a special treat it snowed on the 25th which is the day my mom and I used to celebrate.

I want to share a few things that I observed and in which I participated.

Poland is a Catholic country, and for them the most important day of Christmas is the 24th. The family gathers for an early supper, and afterwards presents are passed out, then they go to Mid-Night mass. On the 25th there is more eating with the family, and church, then the celebration continues on the 26th with more food and church. In Agnieszka’s family we also had a dinner on the 28th because some of the family was in Austria skiing on the 24th.

Agnieszka and her sister Anna (or Annya) emphasized to me with great enthusiasm (because I made them go through the entire three meals with me as I wrote it all down) that every family is different, and traditional food is based on the region and the family. So, with that in mind- this is the traditional Polish dishes from Angnieszka’s family in the Mazowsze region. Their home is about an hour and a half outside of Warsaw.

I took a bus from Prague to Warsaw, and I arrived on the 23rd. After a quiet meal and meeting Anna I went to bed.

The Food

December 24th

First we start with kisses! Okay, actually best wishes. Agnieszka’s mother passed around a tray of Christian wafers called Oplatek. I’m not Catholic or Polish so this was a very new experience for me. The wafer is thin and nearly transparent, it is white in color and has a bland flavor and tended to stick to the roof of my mouth. It is large like the size of a graham cracker, not round like the communion wafers I’ve seen in the movies, and the image of the Virgin Mary or the nativity scene is embossed onto the wafer. First everyone breaks a piece of the wafer off, and then goes to each person in the room to offer them a small piece of your wafer as they offer you a small piece of theirs. With the breaking of the wafer comes a wish for life, the new year, words of hope and love, then you kiss on the cheek (three times of course) and you hug. You do this before eating.

Traditional there are 12 dishes to eat, and there is no meat on the 24th. People tend to eat carp like they do in Czech Republic and in Slovakia. We didn’t have carp we had herring which I am told is a lot better tasting than carp. We also had less dishes because the family was smaller this year, and 12 dishes are a lot of food for a limited amount of people.

The first dish was a borsch (barszcz in Polish). This is a beet root soup with tiny dumplings called uszka which means ears. The uszka is a flour pastry stuffed with boiled mushrooms, and onions that were fried in butter, and seasoned with salt and pepper. The uszka is placed into the soup bowls first and then the hot beet root soup is poured over the dumplings. This was one of my favorite dishes. The combination of the hot sweet beet with the zing of the onions and mushrooms was delicious.

Next we had the fish. Szuba which is a traditional Russian dish, but they incorporated it into their own Christmas Eve dinner because it is a family favorite. This is a layered dish like a casserole and it is served cold. The first layer is potatoes that are boiled, finely cubed, then salted and peppered. The second layer are onions that have been sautéed in butter. The third layer is the herring. The fourth layer are eggs that have been boiled and chopped. The fifth layer is beets that have been boiled and chopped and the final layer is a thick slather of mayonnaise (yes mayonnaise). The dish must be prepared a day before serving because the flavors all need the time to marinate. The mayonnaise turns a bright pink, and I had absolutely no idea I was eating mayonnaise. I had really liked this dish too, much to my surprise, and before I knew about the mayonnaise. Herring is an interesting and slightly fatty tasting fish. The beets and eggs cut the fatty taste and it was savory with a sweet after taste.

The third dish were the pierogis. Pierogis are a very traditional Polish food, and these ones were specially made for Christmas. The dough is made from flour, salt and water. It is the same dough that is used for the uszka. The pierogis are stuffed with sour and fresh cabbage and mushrooms. They are then boiled, and served immediately after boiling.

The final dish for this meal was a noodle dish made with bow tie noodles. The sauce is made from cream and butter and honey then mixed with nuts and raisons, and poppy seeds. Poppyseeds are a must on Christmas. I don’t know the significance of the poppyseed for Christmas only that is has to be served. I didn’t like this dish. I have discovered that I don’t like pasta in a sweet sauce, and I’m not a huge poppyseed fan.

We ended dinner with kompot a hot drink made from smoked plumes, apples, and pears that are boiled into a hot tea and then mixed with sugar, honey and raisons. I really liked this tea. The smokiness was very strong and it had an earthy taste.

Dessert was a choice of poppyseed cake, fruitcake, or gingerbread cake covered in a thin layer of dark chocolate.

After dinner santa came to visit and gave some presents to the twins and to their baby brother.

December 25th

It snowed.

Breakfast was around 9:00. Supper was around 2:00. Meat is served.

Chicken noodles soup was the first course. I’ve had chicken noodle soup before, but it wasn’t the meal itself that was interesting to me, but how the meal is served. First the cooked noodles are placed into each individual bowl, then you add your own desired amount of dill, then lastly you pour the hot chicken broth over the noodles.

The meat was all cured and smoked by Agnieszka’s father. It was various preparations of pork and wild bore. There were also pickled mushroom, pickled peppers, pickle pumpkin, and pickled plums. The main dish was a roasted duck stuffed with apple dill stuffing. For the second and third day we ate much of the same food that was served on Christmas eve.

In the evening after dinner we had wine and Agnieszka’s parents and sister brought out their homemade liquors and we had a tasting. I’ll list the liquors in the order of my favorite to least.

Ginger-raspberry- This was spicy and sweet, but not too sweet that it was overly syrupy.
Current- sweet and tart
Quince- sweet and sour
Cherry- sweet
Raspberry and quince- sweet and mildly tart
Gooseberry
Ginger- spicy almost hot.
Mirabelka plum- this is made from a small white plume.
Then we had a smidgin of cognac

The 26th and dinner on the 28th was a repeat of many of the same dishes and desserts from the 24th, but the main dish was roasted pork medallions in a dark gravy served with rice.

Portions are served on small plates, as compared to the nearly gluttonous American tradition of piling everything all at once on a plate. Dinner is also much much earlier than it is in the U.S. There is a supper which is large with multiple dishes and served around 2:00 p.m., then there is a small dinner served around 5:00 or 6:00 p.m. For dessert or snacks (after the ginger bread cake and coffee or tea) is usually some fruit.

My stomach was full and my heart was calm as I left Poland and took a long train ride back to Prague. I left behind a new friend, and a new family, and traditional dishes, but I was able to bring one small family tradition back to Prague with me. Every morning when I wake up I make myself a hot cup of honey water with lemon. And, just like they taught me, I place the honey in cold water the night before to dissolve and to maintain all of the healing and healthy properties.

Many thanks to my Polish family for a lovely Christmas.

Good-Bye to 2014

At the time of writing this post there are six hours left until the New Year begins; for me that is. My friends in Australia and New Zealand have already seen the date change.

I think that if it were not for one event in my life, and a major event it was, I would chalk up 2014 to being challenging, but pretty thrilling, and damn- for lack of a better adjective: interesting. But, there was the main event that just broke my heart in a so-far-irreparable way: my heart was shattered. No one wants their parents to die (almost no one) and no one wants to know that that precious parent was found dead alone on a bedroom floor, and no one wants to know that that parent died of a drug overdose; prescription or otherwise. Yet, at the end of the year no matter how that loved one died, death is death. That life is over and you just have to let it go, and keep living.

In all honesty, I haven’t really dealt with it too much. When the thoughts of my mother rise, my brain goes into emergency mode: “You can’t think about it. Don’t think about it. You are not in a safe place. There is no passage here. Avoid it. Avoid those thoughts!” And so I mostly do.

Well, this is the New Year. I’m in Prague and the snow has fallen. Time is ticking and my year is nearly over- not that life is really gauged in years, but it’s a great way to write out a list.

2014

New Year’s Eve in Zhengzhou, China. The night starts out at Maddie’s with Bobby. We have too many drinks and go to Muse, a little smoky dance club next to Maddie’s apartment. Maddie leaves at a reasonable hour, but Bobby and I stay the whole night, have to climb stairs in the morning, and we wake up on Maddie’s couch. Bobby is covered in Gummie Bears. He fell asleep on them.

January
I travel to Ho Chi Minh City and meet a new friend who I had been communicating with via Facebook. We were on similar journeys. Took a trip on the Mekong River: One of my favorite moments in Vietnam.
Met up with a dear friend in Australia. We met new and great people in Sydney and Melbourne.

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Sydney

 

February
The 13th read a message from my mother. She was excited to hear about my trips to Vietnam and Australia. I wrote her back saying I would write on the 16th.
14th back in Zhengzhou.
16th forgot to send an e-mail to mom.
19th around 10:00 p.m. in Chico, California: Mom dies.
20th around 2:00 p.m. after school, Zhengzhou, China: Get a strange message to contact one of mom’s friend’s. Skype to find out my mother died.
21st Fly to San Francisco, CA. Stay a night with a friend before another, my best childhood friend, Rachelle, comes to pick me up and drive me to Paradise, California.
22nd another of my best friends, Rosi, comes from Seattle to help me with mom’s funeral arrangements.
23-24 We pick up mom’s things from the police. Have her cremated. I don’t see her body (not sure if this was good or bad since I haven’t seen her since August of 2013). We clean her apartment with mom’s best girlfriends. She had really loving girlfriends just like I do.
25th- My birthday begins with cleaning mom’s apartment: she had so much shit. A regular little horder. My best friend Rosi and my mom’s friends kick me out of the apartment. Rosi says, “what do you want for your birthday?” I say, “I want to go to the psychic, Madame Ruby, who lives across the street.” I’d seen her neon palm in the window since I was a little kid.
Rosi leaves, and Sara N. comes from Portland. We pick up mom’s ashes and Rachelle and her husband drive us to Eureka to spread mom’s ashes. My only knowledge of the place is that it was her only place of positive childhood memories. We spend the night in Eureka and then drive to Trinadad. We hike up the mountain and throw some of her ashes into the wind above a dramatic pacific ocean. I don’t know what she would want. She didn’t plan on dying so soon. Some things are hard to plan.
Dad comes to visit and drives me around Chico to the places where mom and him met and the first place they lived.
I give some of mom’s ashes to her girlfriends, and put a few ashes in Chinese stacking dolls for me.

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Last day of school

 

March-July
One last night in San Francisco before returning to Zhengzhou, China
Shao Boa, and Xiang Kia take me to Hua Shen, and we hike one of the most dangerous mountains in China. I toss some of mom’s ashes off of the sacred mountain. Now that she’s dead she can travel.

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Hua Shan

 

Apple takes me to Luoyang and we visit the Longmen Grottoes and hike in a gorge outside of the city after being stuck in what may have been the craziest country Chinese traffic jam ever.
School ends.

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Longman Grottoes

 

My students take me to Kaifeng for a three day trip. Me and five 16 year olds on e-bikes.

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Kaifeng with some of my students

 

July- August
I work at a new school.
Trip to Xi’an and meet a new friend: Leslie a fabulous scientist! See one of my childhood dream sites: The Terracotta Army.

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Terracotta warriors

 

August
Leave China.
One day and night in Seoul, Korea.

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Seoul

 

Arrive in Prague, CZ.

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Prague

 

September
TEFL training and certificate.
Visit Viktoria in Switzerland.

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Switzerland

 

October
Go to Cesky Krumluv and Ceske Budejovice
Can’t decide if I want to stay in Prague

November
Decide to stay. Begin visa process
Go to Poland for Angloville- 5 days

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Warsaw, Poland

 

Go to Berlin for Visa application- 3 days meet another amazing woman.
Back to Prague and begin new job
Go to Brno, CZ for first teaching job

December
Malacky, Slovakia for work.
Trenčianske Stankovce, Slovakia for work.

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Trenčianske Stankovce, Slovakia

 

Poland for Christmas.
Prague for New Year’s.

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Prague

 

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Snow on the Zizkov tower babies

 

The End of 2014