LIZY IN EUROPE

Found My Great-Grandfather’s Grave

Looking back, I think I should have taken more photos over the past few weeks and that I should have recorded more conversations than I did, but then again, nothing is perfect and recording real life changes the way that real life pans out and the way that it manifests later on, at least in my opinion. I’m going to comfort myself by telling myself that if I stuck a camera and a recorder into everyone’s face they wouldn’t have been as open with me. I’m also going to tell myself that I’ll see all of the people I met in and around Krakow again. I also wish I had attended more Shabbas dinners, but alas, I, of course, caught a cold mid-festival.

The Jewish Culture Festival is over and I have few photos to show for it, though I can honestly tell you that I had a great time–I attended my first Cantor concert with my aunt, or, more accurately, my dad’s cousin who I call ciocia, an amazing woman who made me strawberry perogies, my favourite kremowki, and matzo ball soup, among many other concerts and lectures I attended.

My mind is still trying to wrap itself around the strange and wonderful world that is the Jewish Renaissance (or the Jewaissance) in Krakow–a place where non-Jewish Poles volunteer their time at the JCC and Children of the Holocaust are members of the Senior’s club and professors from all over come to study and take part of what is happening around them and historical relics are for sale in the market stalls of the Nowy Plac. A place where young Jews are “coming out of the closet”, a place that is open and welcoming, a place where you won’t have anyone telling you that you’re “Jewish on the wrong side” if your mother isn’t Jewish.

During this time I was also able to find my great-grandfather’s grave. My naive philosophy mentioned in the last post–the idea that my intuition would guide me to this grave–taught me an important lesson. The lesson was that I shouldn’t be too stubborn or too nervous to simply ask someone who knows better than I do. I finally asked my great-uncle about the grave and his instructions lead me straight to it. I felt both victorious and sad. I had found a grave that most of my living family members had never seen but had grown up and always lived within 100 kilometres of, yet for some reason were never drawn to find it. My great-grandfather’s grandchildren don’t know where he is buried and had never visited his grave. I’m not writing this to point fingers or to pat myself on the back–I’ve also learned this week that this is common in Poland, common of the second post-Holocaust generation. The interest was never introduced by my grandmother’s generation, such interests were suppressed. The spot in his grave made for flowers grew weeds and the writing on the tombstone was illegible other than his name.

Last Tuesday I put one of my crazy little plans into action. My plan was to buy a large piece of white paper and come crayons or some charcoal and to try and trace or shade over the lettering on the tombstone to be able to figure out what it said. Over the past few weeks I have been so disconnected with the reality of what I’ve been doing, or maybe everything has been so surreal, that I keep on imagining ideas like these panning out in much different ways than they have. For example, I thought that on Tuesday it would be a great idea to wear a white dress to shade a tombstone with charcoal, I also thought it would be a great thing to do with my boyfriend on his first day in Krakow. What’s more, I thought that it would work and that I would roll up the paper and bring it back to Canada and happily roll it out in front of my father and present it to him as a gift.

Needless to say, it didn’t work out. Everything that a rational person would see going wrong in that situation, like getting my white dress dirty, went wrong. However, I did clean the grave with my shoe a bit and I pulled out all of the weeds from the flowerbed but didn’t have the time to come back to plant flowers in it. I am now in Warsaw feeling like I have unfinished business in Krakow.

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Co robię w Krakowie

At times I feel like I am somewhere I am meant to be, and at others I feel like I am in the wrong place, like, for example, the way that I felt when I boarded a tram last week with a new friend I’d made at the JCC. It wasn’t that I felt that I shouldn’t be at the JCC, or that I shouldn’t be talking to her, I had a feeling in my gut telling me to call my uncle instead of finding my own way to Skawina–the small town my father grew up in–but I went against the feeling and wound up with my first Polish ticket, a whooping 123zlt, which should have been 122zlt, if the man knew how to add properly. I called the man giving me the ticket a communist and thanked him for the souvenir, feeling that I’d been wronged, since I had wanted to buy a tram ticket but the machine on the tram was broken and I didn’t know to go to buy it from the conductor–how was I to know? No one had told me. Then I felt guilty and immoral for calling him a communist, but from what I know about communist police, he was acting like a communist, he gave me a ticket for, in my opinion, no good reason. And he made me pay it on the spot.

I’ve been finding myself in the right spot more than I’ve been finding myself in the wrong spot this week. On Friday night I attended my first Shabbath dinner. Though I still don’t know whether I am to write “Shabbat”, “Shabbas”, or “Shabbath”, but I know for sure “Szabat” sounds okay to me. I can also tell you for sure that I feel unsure about writing about this experience, since I feel that the safe space that exists within the JCC Krakow does not exist on the internet, or in any other community I have ever felt a part of. On the outside pressures and expectations come from all sides–like ideas about who qualifies as a Jew and who does not qualify as a Jew, ideas about who qualifies as an American, as a Pole, etc. These pressures and expectations exist everywhere, but they make me anxious in the way that they exist in the world, and they make me want to post a bunch of ominous photos with ominous descriptions. But since I am in Krakow, I’ll tell you about my first Szabat dinner.

Since I’m a new volunteer at the JCC, I was lucky enough to have a Szabat 101 with Agata Mucha, the volunteer coordinator at the JCC, with the other new volunteers (most of whom are Poles who don’t have any Jewish roots) that are at the JCC for the festival. She told us how, what, and why. I felt nervous walking into the room where the dinner would happen in the same way I left nervous at church when I was younger and receiving my first communion–I was unsure of how to place my hands to accept the communion and scared of the priest–but this time I was nervous about how to wash my hands and sing Shabbat Shalom.

A day or two before the dinner I had written to Karen Underhill, a kind and fascinating professor I had met in Vilnius last summer, and she wrote that the JCC would be the perfect place to experience my first Shabbat dinner, and she was right.

Though I had a tough time following the singing before we sat down to eat–completely unfamiliar with the concept of reading, what is to me, backwards–it wasn’t an embarrassing or uncomfortable or even an unfamiliar experience. I sat at dinner beside the other volunteers, Agata, and a lovely old Jewish couple.

At some point that night a man who, if I remember/heard correctly, was born in Kazimierz and learnt Yiddish in the neighbourhood while he was growing up, sang to the 85 people gathered at the JCC that Friday night in Yiddish. It was breathtaking, and I realize that “breathtaking” is a cliche turn of phrase to describe something that one can only assume to be awe-inspiring, but that’s just what it was: breathtaking.

After we were finished eating I continued to chat with the old couple, both of them were open and inviting in conversation, the woman revealed that she had been born in the Warsaw Ghetto and had been saved by a woman named Irena. She looked at me as though I should know who this Irena was, and it didn’t click then, but after just Googling her, I realize that I had posted her photo on Facebook with an article a few months ago. Her full name is Irena Sendler, she was a Polish Catholic nurse who worked for the Polish Underground during the war, she had saved many children like the woman who had sat across from me on Friday night. Amazing. Part way through the Shabbat a woman from Israel, who I keep on running into regularly here in Krakow, whose name I have trouble pronouncing, and whose name I dare not butcher in writing, sat down beside me. From that moment on I assumed my role in acting as a translator–which for me is a fun exercise and I guess, again, for lack of a better word, service to perform. I learned that this woman didn’t believe in age, as, when the old Jewish man asked us how old we were, I responded, “Twenty-two,” and she responded, “I have no age.” I had to stop for an extra moment and think about how I would convey the idea in Polish to the couple seated across from us. I don’t know if I admire her response or if it makes me nervous because the concept of being ageless shatters most of the structures I have constructed in my mind that keep me, and I’m sure many others, grounded.

After the dinner I went for a beer wit Karen and her friend Kuba, who happens to be friends with my father’s cousin, a woman I call ciocia. The people I met on Friday night, particularly Kuba, make me feel connected to Krakow, or to Poland, in a way that redefines what “feeling at home” means to me. Meeting people like these would have been impossible if I had stayed in Montreal. I would have never met anyone who was a close family friend with a relative, someone who was as familiar with how her perogies taste as I am.

The experience has made me question whether or not drinking Kosher wine on a regular basis is a strange or sacrilegious thing to do, but it likely isn’t, even though my eating habits are far from Kosher. What I’m trying to say is that I loved the sweet Kosher wine that was served at dinner, but more importantly, the experience has opened my eyes in terms of identity and connection. Krakow right now, particularly the JCC, seems to be a meeting place for people like myself who are curious about their roots, whose roots have been made vague or unclear by the turmoil of recent, though to some distant, history.

Many of my friends and relatives have been daily asking me what I have been doing, what I am doing. I can answer that question by telling you that I spent the majority of the day yesterday wandering around the New Cemetery looking for my great-grandfather’s grave. I went into the cemetery with a pig-headedness that I guess is a symptom of my stubbornness, thinking that my intuition would guide me directly to the grave, which is one among 11 acres of mostly destroyed tombstones that are either hidden in moss or vines or grass, many with Hebrew lettering that I cannot read. I obviously didn’t find anything, but don’t worry, I am going back tomorrow or the day after that, and I will find it, if only because I feel that Krakow is the place where I should be at this moment in time.

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Fatty French Foods

1. Fondue.

Yes. That is a pot of melted cheese, that you dip bread into. Yes. This is considered a meal in France. Yes. It is delicious. Yes. It did make me feel sick after a while. Yes. It was worth it.

2. Tarts.

Below is a raspberry tart from Paul, a chain bakery in France, which produces fresh baked goods every day that do not taste like they came from a bakery that constantly pops up all over town.

This strawberry tart was good, too.3. Duck.

The French love their duck. Fois gras. Smoked duck. Etc. The photo below is of a duck burger. It was delicious. You have to try the duck, even if you are a vegetarian.

4. Croque Monsieur.

Okay, so admit that this is a glorified French cheese sandwich. However, the French do everything better, because they take pride in what they do, therefore their grilled cheese is better than yours. In between the slices of bread is ham and cheese, topped off with cheese, this one topped off with goat’s cheese, so it was called a “croque chevre”.

5. Macarons.

Just to clarify, these are not “macaroons”. No. They are a French delicacy. I got these at the bakery named after the guy who evidently invented them, his name, Ladurée. Here’s the story: “These small, round cakes, crisp on the outside, smooth and soft in the middle, are the most famous creation of Ladurée. The story of the Ladurée macaron starts with Pierre Desfontaines, second cousin of Louis Ernest Ladurée, who at the beginning of the 20th century first thought of taking two macaron shells and joining them with a delicious ganache filling.” (from laduree.fr) They were amazing. Though I don’t recommend getting the marshmallow filled ones, unless you’re really into marshmallows. Macarons come in all different sorts of flavours, vanilla, almond, raspberry, strawberry, rose, pistachio, just to name a few.

6. Filet Minion.

Zeljka made me this the other night with a secret French recipe she got from one of her French friends. So good.

7. Onion Soup.

The classic French soup. With toasted bread inside, topped with cheese, of course.

8. Escargots.

Snails with butter and herbs. Yes.

9. Crepes.

I had mine with swiss cheese, ham, and mushrooms. It was called “The Queen”. Only five euros. Le Marais.

10. CHEESE!

The French do cheese the best. Try it all. My favourite is an orange, hard, stinky one called mimolette.

Last Stop: Paris

I have learnt a lot this summer. I have learnt how to spot a tourist trap: the waiter speaks three languages or more fluently, will call to you from the street, there are fries on the menu. I have learnt how to file a police report in France: do not laugh when they ask you how much rent is, they are serious about wanting their family to stay in the apartment that was just broken into, the apartment that was opened with a key, robbed, and closed with that same key again, ils sont très sérieux. I have learnt that any European metropolis can feel the same as the next one: there is a Zara, there is a Starbucks, there is an H&M, there is a MAC, there is a Sephora. I have learnt that the best way to see a place is to stay with locals: they will show you the things that tourist guides cannot even touch on, they will make the metropolitan city unique. I have also learnt that Europe knows how to party: they do not close their bars at two or three like the wimpy North Americans, they close their bars right before the breakfast place opens in the morning, sometimes a bit later, for a smooth transition. I have watched the sunrise from bars and taxis in three different countries this summer. I have made friends from Poland, Croatia, Austria, Germany, Lithuania, and France on various stops of my trip.

I am not finished yet. My flight leaves on the 31st, and it seems that I will be spending the month of August in Paris, France. Not bad, eh? Actually, I thought it was the worst when I first arrived. Not only was I not ready to leave Lithuania, their caviar, SLS, my Lithuanian roommate Erika, my new friends, I really wanted to go back to Poland. I felt like I hadn’t spent enough time with my family. I wanted to replace the flowers I put on my grandmother’s grave with stones.

On our second day (well, first full day) in Paris, we got robbed. Someone came into our apartment with a key, took Julie’s laptop, took her iPod, came up to the loft to snatch my iPhone, then cleanly locked up again. Speaking to the French police was the toughest French exam I’d ever taken, and I think I passed, after spending the next day in the police station, filing a police report, rereading it to find the only thing the police officer didn’t understand was that it was an iPod, not an iPad. The break-in really made me want to leave. I was thinking Croatia. I missed the beach.

This will sound stupid, maybe even juvenile, but here it is: But then my friend Ian Orti commented on a Facebook post and wrote: “ladies, i know you had some important gear stolen from you and these intrusions feel violating and disheartening. but given the fact that a criminal or criminals entered your apartment i’d say you came out on top and the best place for you to be at the time was the museum. you’re in paris. many people would trade their laptops and iphones and shitty jobs to be there. you’re young, and there’s money in the bank for good wine . and you’re safe. all is good. now get our there and make out with some handsome frenchboys or something.”

This also sounds cliché, but: That’s exactly what we did.

This is a photo of the Siene taken the day after the robbery, while we drank by the river with Julie’s cute French guy friend.

On Sunday, we felt like we were in an episode of Girls: we woke up around one, hungover after coming home from some club that was maybe around Montmartre around five, but we don’t really know, all we know for sure is that we were told not to drunkenly wander the area alone, and that we should get into a cab immediately after leaving the club, even though the sun was rising, and as soon as I woke up, I thought it would be a good idea to check iCloud to see if my iPhone had been located, or if the robber had shipped it away to Slovenia or somewhere, and discovered that it was actually in the 18th quarter, near Moulin Rouge. So, hungover, tired, we quickly got dressed and rushed to the police station in that neighbourhood (I suggested we wear scarves and sunglasses in case they recognized us from the photos on Julie’s laptop and my iPhone). On the metro we laughed about that guy from last night who gave me his phone number, offering to drive me around Paris on his Vespa, the man who said he was afraid of flying, so he’d driven all the way from Barcelona to Paris on his Vespa, and that he was really very good at driving this Vespa, and that I should call him the next day, because Sunday is the perfect day for Vespa rides. So we arrive at the police station, me speaking in my French, which has been complimented, but I am sure is still quite poor, and the police woman hands me her iPhone so that I can sign into iCloud, and we make note that the phone was located at 2AM, which is twelve hours ago now, but says that she can send officers with us to check it out. The iPhone turned out to be located in a park beside a McDonald’s, the thief, or whoever bought it off him or her, had renamed it “Rasta”, which may have been the most infuriating part. Most men in and around the park could have been nicknamed Rasta. There was no use. Though the police officers in France are cute, too, just like they were in Poland, Austria, Croatia, and Lithuania. Regardless, mission fail. We took the metro back to the Latin Quarter and tried to go into the Pantheon. Too hungover to wait in line with tourists. So we found a bookstore that sold French films and bought two chick flicks. We then found a cheap Chinese restaurant and ate like queens. We then went home and watched those films and slept long and well.

I’d like to add two things: First off, there are handsome French boys in Paris, for sure, but I will not tell you about how they look like those Greek sculptures here, where my mom can see. Second, if you have any favourite spots in Paris you think I would enjoy and you’d kindly like to share them with me, please send me an email.

Xo, L

Vilnius/Wilno/Vilna

Ross MacKie tweeted this week that this county (Lithuania) is “ass backwards”, and sometimes I really think that it is, and then I remember that I am in Eastern Europe, and think that maybe it is okay to be sort of ass backwards here. Okay, so I agree that it is pretty fucked up that a bunch of Neo-Nazis receive permits to march in the main street every year on March 11th, and that no other group ever receives a proper permit to march, and that there is a law that says that you cannot say that the suffering under the Soviets was worse than the suffering under the Nazis or vice versa, but Vilnius is still really beautiful and they have been pretty “tolerant” of me.

In Lithuania they have established things they call “tolerance centres” which are meant to teach the youth how to “tolerate” other races. Lithuania, according to Phd candidate Christine Beresniova’s lecture for SLS Lithuania, is the most racist country in Europe, yet, the most tolerant country. They’re racist primarily against homosexuals, then come the Jews, then Poles, then the Roma. I’ve been walking around all week with my Uniwersytet Warszawski tote bag, and I haven’t had any problems. In fact, I’ve even met a few Polish ladies, who say that there is racism, but that it is not regularly felt. So, besides that, there are still things like cold showers. I have been taking what I like to call a “splash bath” all week, where you boil water so that it’s warm and splash yourself to bathe. It’s not that bad, and hey, after a week, we have warm water again, so I can take a shower the normal way. And yes, the service is bad in restaurants, but according to my buddy Soren, it’s not as bad as it was in 2009, and I can’t say that the service I’ve gotten anywhere else in Europe has been any better.

It’s nice that Vilnius is so small. I walk around all day and my feet don’t ache when I go to bed. For the past week my life can be summed up in just a few words: workshop. take photo. fried bread. take photo. beer. workshop. lecture. take photo. reading. take photos. beers. airport. Robyn. In other words, I am busy working for SLS. I am tweeting, taking photos, attending Dawn Raffel’s workshop, and the Jewish Lithuania lectures. I am exhausted but wouldn’t want to be anywhere else in the world. I mean, a place that has lattes named “Winnie the Pooh” can’t be that bad now, can it?

Cobblestones will ruin your feet and every pair of shoes you own.

Last night, as we walked around the island that is Nin on the coast of Croatia, I stubbed my toe on a cobblestone that was dislodged from its place in the street, and then looked down to see if any of my toes were bleeding, as they had in Vienna, last time I stubbed my toe on cobblestones. Last night was my last night in Croatia, and also my last night with Zeljka, who I have dubbed my travel soul mate. I’ve learned that squid here is not the same thing as squid at Kelsey’s or any restaurant in a suburban stripmall back home in Canada. No. Squid is the living creature that was fished out of the sea to your left that youcan see if you look just past the beach. I also learned that thirty-five degrees in Croatia does not mean that there is a heat wave, as they would call it in Canada, that is the normal temperature for a Croatian summer. I’ve also discovered that my white Polish skin cannot handle the sun like Zeljka’s naturally tan Croatian skin. Amongst many other souvenirs, I am currently flying back to Poland with a heat rash, that has manifested on top of my tan (no, mom, I didn’t get a sunburn!), hoping that my aunt will have just the thing to get rid of it before I land in Vilnius tomorrow night. Another thing I have to get rid of before I land in Vilnius is the weight that has somehow accumulated in my suitcase, so that I don’t arrive looking as ridiculous as I’ll look when I arrive in Krakow in an hour: wearing  a fedora, platforms, lululemon capris, a backpack, a canvas bag, and a purse (those are just my carry-ons). Though I think that the weight my luggage put on in Croatia comes directly from the two litres of slivovice (liquor made from plums) and the 50 SPF I bought, out of necessity.

I am not sure that this is true for all of Croatia and Croatians alike, but Croatians like to party, possibly even more than the Poles. In Croatia it is normal to come home as the sun is coming up, as the bars close at five in the morning and everyone only shows up around one. Croatians like to mix white wine and Coke, Jager and tangerine pop, Malibu and Sprite, all mixes lead to something I like to call a “Croatian hangover”, which I am experiencing right now, at nine pm, on a plane, after sitting at a beach bar last night in Vrsi-Mulo. Croatian hangovers are more painful than Montreal hangovers, Vienna hangovers, Ottawa hangovers, and Warsaw hangovers, trust me. Luckily, the Croatians have created a cure: Cedevita. This drink is essentially a Crystal-Lite type powder put into water, except this stuff has nine vitamins in it and only comes in orange, grapefruit, lime and lemon flavours. While it helps quite a bit, it still doesn’t take away the entire headache. Maybe my Polish liver also cannot handle Croatian drinking habits.

However, there are some things that Poles and Croats (both of those words sound harsh and icky, but whatever, what else am I supposed to use?) have in common. They’re all extremely hospitable, eat salad and meat at every meal, eat cold cuts for breakfast, drink strong coffee, and they even use similar words for things, for example: “camera” is “aparat” in both Polish and Croatian. There are so many words that are used in both languages (though sometimes they are pronounced in a different way) that I could understand everyone pretty well, when they spoke slowly and simply. Croatian sounds like the marriage between the Polish and Italian languages to me, it is familiar yet Mediterranean, if that makes sense.

While in Croatia, Zeljka and I found ourselves constantly asking why our parents moved us to Canada as we walked along the Croatian coast taking photos of beautiful beach villas and eating ice cream. Why were we living in Canada when our entire families lived here, in Europe, in these beautiful, interesting cities? Zeljka’s cousin responded, “Because your parents were smart.” I think that the grass is always greener on the other side. Sure, we live in Canada where our dollar is so strong that it is three zloty or five kuna, and that’s really nice when we come to vacation, I see that. But we also grew up without our family around. We grew up having Christmas and Easter dinner with people who were our parents’ friends. We grew up without family gatherings and dinners. We grew up without our cousins around. However, I don’t blame our parents for running away from communism and war. The grass is always greener on the other side.

The most interesting thing I saw last week has to be the villages we visited in Bosnia. A couple of months ago, my apartment was broken into by a homeless man. He ate my food, took a shit, and sat on my couch drinking my prized vodka and reading my travel guides until I got home and startled him. He tried to tell me to get out of my own home. We had a screaming match until my neighbour came downstairs and got him out. Everyone would say things to me like “you’re so lucky he didn’t hurt you” and “you’re so lucky that he didn’t take anything” and “you’re so lucky he didn’t sleep in your bed” and “you’re so lucky he didn’t cause any real damage”. Those people were wrong and weren’t helpful, though I appreciate the sentiment. In Bosnia I saw a Croatian village that had been completely bombed, some of the skeletons of people’s homes were renovated and inhabited by other people, and about two kilometres away, a Serbian village, perfectly intact. The Croatian border was just fifteen minutes away. For twenty years, except for one man coming back and rebuilding his home in hopes that his Croatian family would one day return to Bosnia, the entire block, which was once a wealthy suburb, is completely desolate. Zeljka’s little sister looked at me and asked, “Lizy, what’s worse? This or when you visited Auschwitz?” I think that what people don’t realize is the similarities between the two wars. Both were over religion, racism, both left scars on towns, on peoples’ memories, both displaced many families that will remain displaced, to a certain extent, forever.

I’m now back in Poland, heading to Litwa, or Lithuania, tomorrow for SLS. It is raining in Krakow, and it will be raining in Wilno, but at least my skin will have a break from the sun, though I am sure that my feet are not safe from cobblestones and likely won’t be until I’m back in the country that I have called home for the past twenty-one years, though the one that I suddenly feel displaced from in a way that I am unsure about.

P.S. The title of this post is a direct Zeljka quote, I might compile a post of Zel’s travel tips in a future post, too.

What I ate in Vienna

Just before coming to Europe, okay, not just before, like, reading week before, I started to eat meat again, after being vegetarian (okay, pescatarian) for five years. I figure, if I am going to travel, it would be stupid not to eat everything that the locals eat, since it is a large part of the foreign experience. It started in Las Vegas when my dad wanted to go to Heart Attack Burger and they didn`t have any vegetarian options, and I thought, Fuck it, I am a tourist. Since that moment, touristic meat-eating had turned into me begging my mother to make those hamburgers I used to love years ago. Now that I’m in Europe, I’ve been eating some form of some animal for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I have only had a couple of dreams about Bambi, and I do feel less hungry, but also weighed down and exhausted after I eat. Oh well, it’s a part of the experience, right? I guess that no one was forcing me to eat those two German sausages for breakfast yesterday, but how am I supposed to know whether or not I’ll ever try them again?

Vienna, as my parents informed me on Skype, is famous for its cafes and pastries. It is only two-thirty on this sunny Sunday afternoon, and I have already had three different types of desserts. I can’t complain. Here are some of my favourite dishes I had in Vienna:

1. Cake, specifically, Esterhazy Torte at Aida Cafe, which is a chain in Vienna, however it seems to have a history of being a traditional Viennese cafe.

2. Cake, a cake that Zeljka’s aunt served us, I don’t even know what it’s called, but if you see it, I recommend that you try it.

3. Cake, chocolate mousse cake, or some sort. But it is from L. Heiner, which was founded in Vienna in 1840. This place was a more traditional, fancy “coffee shop”.  I wish we’d had time to actually stop and sit down there to eat, but we were in a rush, so I let this piece melt in a box while I walked around all day.

4. Apple Strudel. This isn’t like the stuff you get at Tim Hortons.The crust is crisp and flaky, not soggy like the stuff in Canada. It also has a different smell, and a real sense of authenticity.

5. Homemade Crepes, yes, this is actually what breakfast looked like for us in Vienna, where we were completely spoiled by Zeljka’s aunt.

6. Tomato Soup (with whipped cream on top, literally). This is how the tomato soup was served at a cafe in the garden of Schonbrunn Palace, just outside the zoo, where we had a great view of a rhino.

7. Almdudler, or Austrian lemonade. That’s what they call it, though I’d argue that it’s more like ginger ale until you actually put a lemon into it.

8. Sisi Cafe, a coffee with hazelnut liquer, whipped cream and pistachios on top, named after Empress Sisi, or Elizabeth (in German, the short form of Elizabeth is Sisi, please don’t start calling me Sisi after you read this). I had this at some cafe in Prater, the oldest amusement park in Europe, right beside the oldest ferris wheel in Europe.

9. Schnitzel, it’s only real if it’s made with veal.

10. I don’t even know what to call this. I guess hors d’oeuvres, but I’d like to call them “Werner’s Creation” instead. (Zeljka’s uncle made ’em.)

Wiedeń / Wien / Vienna

I don’t understand why the name of one city is said/written/pronounced in a completely different way in each language. Above, Vienna is written in Polish, German, and English. In Polish, it is pronounced “vee-yed-en”, in German, “vee-yen”, in English, well, hopefully you know how to pronounce it in English. The whole concept can cause a lot of confusion, like, for example, my experience at the German border when I said, “Warsaw”, the border guard didn’t understand, I said, “Warszawa”, he said, “Ahh, Warschau.” And I said something like, “Okay, sure.” Shouldn’t the city’s inhabitants get to name it? And then shouldn’t it be spelt in each language so that it phonetically makes everyone say the same word? I think so at least.

Since we’ve been in Vienna we’ve been learning a lot. Did you know that Michael Jackson owns or owned the rights to some of the most popular Beatles tracks? Did you know that the Austrian Empire used to include Poland, North Italy, and all of former Yugoslavia? Did you know that the tap water in Vienna comes from some mountain that’s a hundred kilometers away through an ancient aquaduct built for the former emperor and that it is probably the best water that you can get in Eastern Europe? We didn’t either until we met Zeljka’s uncle, who made it clear that though he speaks German, he is not a German, he is an Austrian, and that there is a big difference.

It seems like all of Eastern Europe still carries the residues of the Second World War, whether it be the fight against stigmas and stereotypes, or the physical residue left behind: the damage or the ugly buildings put up to defend a city. Here in Vienna, there seems to be every type of residue left behind: the Austrian emphasis on being a different people than the Germans, the expertly planned metro that was built after the war, since the city had suddenly become a sort of “fresh canvas”, and the ugly, massive  concrete watch towers that stick up out of Vienna’s skyline like bruises on a banana. It seems like Europe has been an ever-evolving continent whose borderlines have been ever-changing and whose countries have been constantly redefining themselves.

Though we have gotten used to things like eating cold cuts for breakfast, strong-ass coffee, and remembering to use an adapter, there are things that I don’t think that we can get used to in just one week, like, for example, Viennese boys. Last night, at the Donauinselfest, an outdoor music festival on Vienna’s man-made island, that was basically an outdoor rave, we asked a real Viennese boy why he waxes his eyebrows and shaves his chest (once every three days, he informed me), and he responded that it’s what Viennese girls like. Whoa. And we hadn’t even gotten around to inquiring about the excessive appearance  of polos and short shorts on Viennese boys. Maybe there are some things that are better left alone. We also learnt that Vienna has an affinity for Jagermeister, one that might be greater than that of my writer friends back in Montreal, as the entire festival was sponsored by Jager, and they even had a Jager “fan shop”, where you could purchase everything Jager. Jager was the only liquor we could find on the premises, that and gross festival beer that was not watered down like the Euro Cup beer in Warsaw. Needless to say, we got into some trouble last night, but nothing serious Mom, just flirting with Viennese police officers, a whole van full, and using the only German words I know: “schätzy” (which either means cutie or sweetie or some other endearing thing) and “danke shen” (thank you). I also pointed out to the bartender that thank you in German sounds just like “donkey shame” in English. Thanks to those cops for the metro directions, we somehow made it home okay.

Another fun fact about Vienna: the metro runs on an honour system. That means that you don’t actually have to pay to get in, they still expect that you do, and apparently there’s a hefty fine if you’re caught on the metro without a ticket, but there’s nothing you have to scan before you go down into the station. It’s almost like a karma system, it’s almost beautiful.

I’ve gotta go drink some water and eat some homemade crepes for breakfast now, but more later on things like what I saw during the day in Vienna. Maybe I’ll even post some photos of the most beautiful male eyebrows in Vienna. They are, really, really nice.

P.S. The only photo I am uploading today is of me dancing outside the metro station wearing my Jagermeister lei drinking some kind of beer, because I am too hungover and lazy to get my camera from the other room. Cheers.

Kuchnia Polska

My mother told me that when I come back to Canada, I’ll either be bardzo chuda (really skinny) or bardzo gruba (really fat). I guess that’s made me think about what I’ve been eating. Here’s a look at some of my favourite Polish foods:

1. Borcht

Borscht is a red soup made from beets. We drink it like tea. We also serve it like any other soup and put hardboiled eggs and mashed potatoes and sour cream in it. Traditionally, it is served at Christmas Eve dinner with uszki, or “ears”, that are basically Polish tortellini stuffed with mushrooms. You can get a box of it at your local Polish store, but it’s always better homemade.

2. Gołębie

Or cabbage rolls. Gołębie means “pigeons” in English, and until the other day when we ate cabbage rolls immediately after talking about pigeons, I realized that they were the same word in Polish, and that my head wasn’t strangely mixing up words. Polish cabbage rolls are stuffed with meat, something ground, which is sometimes mixed with rice, sometimes not. Both times I had it this weekend it was served with boiled potatoes covered in dill. They’re covered in dill, my cousin explained, because it’s in season and it’s fresh, though I know a certain Canadian cynic who is convinced all Eastern European cuisine is dill-ridden.

3. Wuzetka

Okay, so maybe this isn’t a staple in Polish cuisine, but pastries, in particular, homemade cream-filled ones are very common, or at least when I visit. My favourite Polish pastry for the past few years has been a kremowka, cream sandwiched in a flaky pastry. Maybe they’re just my favourite because they’re my grandmother’s favourite and they remind me of her. However, the wuzetka I had today (okay, I had two, I had two) that my aunt made, may have won me over, and may be my new favourite. It’s like a kremowka hybrid. Cream sandwiched in chocolate cake. But it’s not like the cream at Dunkin Donuts, and it’s not like the chocolate cake you make from the store-bought mix. The taste of sugar isn’t overpowering, and you don’t feel like you need to run and brush your teeth after you eat it.

4. Perogies

The staple you were expecting. One of my uncles said the other day that the frozen perogies they make nowadays are so good that there’s no point in making them at home anymore. I have to disagree. There is nothing like homemade perogies. I don’t know how to make them. When I was little I was the part of the production line that put the mix in the dough and glued the pastry together and passed it to my mom to boil. Rumour has it perogie-making takes a lot of time. I do know, however, that one should never try warming up frozen perogies in the microwave, nor should they be fried before they are boiled. Whether they’re store-bought or homemade, they need to be boiled, then fried. Preferably fried in bacon. They should be served with borscht. Maybe sour cream as a dip. They’re good stuffed with anything, meat, cabbage, potato and cheese, blueberries, etc.

5. Pstrąg

Or “trout”. I’ve never had fish like this. I’ve never eaten fish skin before. Well, I have, but never on purpose, and it’s never tasted good. My cousins brought us to a little restaurant in the country near the small town my mother grew up in where they serve fresh fish that has been raised in the ponds surrounding the place. Not only was the atmosphere perfect, the trout was too. It was battered and fried, served with fries and salad on the side. I also learnt that Zywiec is better than Warka (those are two Polish brands of beer).

6. Herbata

Today Zeljka pointed out that Poles drink a lot of tea. I’d never realized it before, but it’s true. We’ve been drinking as much tea as I drink coffee during exam time. We’ve been drinking all types of tea, black, green, fruity, etc. It doesn’t taste any different than it does anywhere else. It’s probably just the routine of it that is really culturally unique.

7. Pączki [Pon-ch-ki]

These basically are and aren’t just Polish-style donuts. One thing I’ve realized while being in Europe is that everything here tastes real. The jam that they’re stuffed with is real. Whether it’s rose, plum, raspberry, or just cream, it’s real. It tastes different. The dough is different. They’re still deep fried, they’re still coated with icing, but they’re completely different. The best ones we tried were at Pracownia Cukiernicza, found at 15 Gorczewska in Warsaw. The jam is cooked right in with the dough, the lady told me, it isn’t injected after the pastry is made. They came in only one flavour, marmalade, and I can tell you that they were worth a lot more than two zloty.

8. Oscypki

I thought that cheese curds were the best until I tried these. It’s a Polish cheese curd, except it’s made with goat’s milk, is a bit bigger, and is smoked. Smoked cheese curd. Yep.

(Above is a nasty mall-version of the real thing. Do not buy oscypki in malls. Buy them from little old ladies at the side of the road. Buy them from farmers. Buy them whenever you can. Make sure they are fresh. If they are fresh they squeak between your teeth like fresh cheese curds do.)

9. Lodi

The Polish know how to do ice cream. There’s nothing different about it really, other than presentation, as far as I’ve noticed. That, and the fact that they have access to gelato. This was at a place called Wentzl in Krakow’s Rynek Glowny, it cost about 15 zloty, and I recommend that you go there if you ever get the chance. They have a long and creative menu, a nice terrace right in the old city square, and though the service is pretty crappy, it is worth the wait. They have good cafe lattes too.

10. Pijany Maciek

Okay, so, it’s time for me to tell the truth. I really just came back to Poland so that my aunt’s sister could make me a batch of these. I’d post a recipe, but I can tell you now that even if you’re some amazing Canadian pastry chef, you won’t get it right. I know this because I’ve made my mother try to make the recipe dozens of times, and they never match up to the ones I get over here, no offence, mom. Coconut and poppy seeds on bottom, a layer of cream, a cookie drenched in a chocolate vodka sauce on top.

Major White Girl Problems in Eastern Europe

I don’t mean to complain, but what’s with all of the bottled water, people? Will the tap water actually kill me or do you people just think it will? I know you really like bubbly mineral water, but it doesn’t mean that water that does not come from a famous Polish spring is bad. Right? I don’t know. It’s not like I’m willing to be the first to try tap water.

This past Sunday I did my laundry in my grandmother’s apartment and felt really proud of myself for having figured it out, since you had to open it from the top, then open the drum, then put your smelly clothes in. When we got home, we quickly figured out that my clothes were not actually clean, since I’d put the soap in the wrong spot, and it had never even gotten to my clothes. Zeljka mocked me, “There’s nothing more satisfying than doing your laundry, eh?” Yea. Fucking laundry machine.

Eastern Europe is no third world country. Not even second. You can get anything you want and more at the pharmacy, or the Apteka, around the corner. You can get a manicure next door too. The bus comes every fifteen minutes, more reliably than any bus in Ottawa or Montreal. However, Eastern Europe has a rawness to it that is a little shocking to the average North American white girl. For example, the toilets on the train. Or no, let’s not jump ahead. The stairs to the train. And the seats on the train.

Zeljka and I took a communist-era (I am sure) train to Krakow from Warsaw. The entire ordeal was undertaken with a hangover from the previous night’s Polska vs. Russie match, with over-packed and oversized suitcases on wheels, and the lateness that comes with those symptoms. The steps to the train were far (that’s an understatement) from the platform, they were old, rusted, and had three entire steps, meaning we basically had to leap into the train, with those big suitcases weighing almost as much as we do, okay, we weigh more, but as much as we weighed before we went around trying any and every pastry we could get our hands on in Europe.

So, now, we’re on the train. That’s good. And we’ve made it. That’s good too. When we got to our compartment, already full of eight people, two blonde girls, who also looked North American, though it seemed that they had packed much lighter than we had, it seemed too small to fit both us and our belongings. It was the type of compartment in those James Bond films or in Harry Potter (except I think the Hogwarts train had more room) where people have to face each other and there’s a door and there’s like eight or ten people all crammed into each other’s personal space and life-changing moments and/or realizations usually happen. Before long, the girls left our seats and two gentlemen helped us haul our bags above our heads. We sat across from an old lady who occasionally peered at us from over her novel, probably thinking about how unladylike we were, sitting across from her in leggings and hoodies, chugging bottles of Powerade and water, laughing at ourselves and photos from last night, talking loudly over our iPods plugged into our ears. That was okay. Until the dude who thought he was cool reached over to put his tea into the garbage, which was, conveniently, placed on the wall right beside my legs and therefore my bags, spilling and dropping shit onto my shit. That was great.

After chugging all of this water and electrolytes to try and save face before meeting my uncle and my aunt and seeing my grandmother in Krakow, we had to pee. Have you ever been in a communist-era train? No? I didn’t think so. Well, let me tell you that it appeared, at first, to look like any other bathroom in any other form of transportation. There’s a catch, though: the toilet empties out right onto the tracks. No joke. You can see the tracks speeding by beneath you as you pee. Just hope that you don’t drop your iPhone down there, because not only will you never see it again, but when someone finds it, it will not be in one piece. And just try feeling dignant about peeing on the tracks without planning on it.

Also, why do you people not use shower curtains? I know they’re not sexy, but they’re damn practical. It’s not my fault that there’s a massive water puddle on the bathroom floor when I’m done showering, God. Anyways, I’m going to go get a manicure and a bikini wax, since Zeljka told me to avoid Eastern European hairdressers at all costs, I’ll let you know how that goes.