Yesterday morning was my last in the countryside, and it was with heavy heart that I left my friends, Andrzej, Malgorzata, and Hili, to head to Warsaw for new adventures. It was immensely relaxing in the country, and the combination of good company, good food, quiet, and a wonderful cat gave me a well-deserved rest. (I also managed to make good progress on my book, which I hasten to assure readers will not be a collection of website posts!).
The night before my departure, Malgorzata prepared zucchini shells stuffed with vegetables, bits of bacon, and cheese. With it we had a “Bison” Polish beer and polished off the remnants of the cherry pie (something else that I’ll miss!)
My hosts were kind enough to keep Hili indoors the night before I left so that she could be around to say goodbye to me. Of course she became restive, as she really craves her outdoor jaunts, and so began running around like a lunatic, burrowing under the rugs:
After a while she resigned herself to the overnight incarceration, but seemed to me to look quite depressed:
After I said my goodbyes to her, we let her out, but she stayed outside and went for a walk with Andrzej and me. It was a usual Hili walk, with her pretending to ignore us but staying with us down to the river, darting across our path, ahead of us, lagging behind, and so forth. My theory, which is mine, is that cats have fealty but are not pack animals and so demonstrate their independence. As Malgorzata would say, “Well, she’s a cat!”
After the walk Andrzej picked her up for final goodbyes:
The train to Warsaw was 1.5 hours late, but I was greeted at the station with a group from the Polish Rationalists with a banner! They are a very friendly and hospitable group:
We immediately repaired to a “milk bar” (bar melczny) for lunch; these are remnants of earlier times when workers could get a good Polish meal for very little money. They are still around, and very popular. For those who can read Polish, here’s a menu:
I had asked to be taken to one of these; people queue, order and pay at a cashier, and then pick up their food at a small window:
I had the most typical Polish meal I could think of: borsht with dumplings, followed by cheese pierogi. It was washed down with kompott, a drink made with the juice left over from stewing fruit in sugar.
My hosts also insisted that I sample the blueberry pierogis with sour cream (Polish food is not light!):
One of my hosts also had a traditional dessert: pancakes, also filled with berries:
On the way to lunch, we passed a very famous Warsaw landmark, the Palace of Culture and Science, which was built from 1952-1955 and was originally called the Joseph Stalin Palace of Culture and Science. (The building still serves as a cultural center and a venue for meetings.) It absolutely epitomizes Soviet-style architecture, and apparently many Poles hate it because it conjures up the Communist era.
I like it because it is just so—Soviet!
My talk went well, I think: the house was packed and there was an hour of questions. The talk itself lasted 100 minutes because there was consecutive translation, with an excellent translator who made me stop every two sentences to convey what I said in Polish. (BTW, it is hard to maintain the momentum of a talk when you must stop every 15 seconds!)
There is a deep need for rationalism in this country as it is heavily Catholic (95% of Poles are Catholics) and the government is deeply infused with religion. Recently a Polish policeman asked for a crucifix to be removed from his office (crosses are everywhere here, including in all schoolrooms, where religious instruction is mandatory through high school, and Parliament). For that request he was prosecuted for the offense of “offending religious feelings” (that is a law!), and may lose his job. Polish atheists have a tough job ahead of them!
Today I have an entire day of sightseeing, although I meet for a while with the biology faculty of the local university. Then I will visit the Warsaw ghetto (not much is left!), the Modern Art Museum (where I’ll get a private tour), and engage in other sightseeing stuff. Tomorrow I take the train to Cracow for more lectures.