Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Our Schedules, Our Woes, Books, and Eurovision

We only have 12 more days until the end of term. And one of those days is reserved for parent meetings, of which, so far, neither Bhadri nor I have any scheduled. Oh, and I just remembered we have a monday in June that's a state holiday--Corpus Christi. Not just a city in Texas, apparently.

So I think I've been grinding my teeth at night. I wake up each morning with sore jaws and a headache, so process of deduction. Unless I'm waking up in the middle of the night and going out into the hallway to gnaw on the exposed pipes by the telephone. I've been totally exhausted lately. The black circles, no appetite, whole-head headaches. It's not too fun. But on the flip side, we do only have a few more weeks before vacation. It's been such a stressful time with the wedding planning, summer school organization (and Booster accomodation during it), new school getting for next year, moving to Wroclaw and when?!??, and alternative extras that we want to do but have no idea when we'll have time. Our students and friends, the Chyrowicz family, have invited us to spend 2 weeks with them in the middle of a primeival forrest in north-eastern Poland (near Belarus). We'd be hanging out in a forrester's cottage, no where near civilization, and it sounds so beautiful to me. There's a Yiddish culture and language seminar going on near Warsaw for 3 weeks, as well (starts the day after we'd leave from the forrest). It's an intensive language course with native speakers and with day trips to old, important cities/towns/places. It sounds like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity--how amazing would it be to study Yiddish in Poland? It's affordable, I think, but the only thing is: how can I voluntarily spend 3 weeks away from my new husband and dog-son? Wow, it's crazy to write that. Not dog-son, but new husband. AH! Excitingness! Anyways, Bhads thinks I should do it because it could be such an incredible experience...but we'll just have to see. Also, we are gonna need a honeymoon at some point. We pushed it back so we could do 2 weeks at an English language summer school up on an island in the Baltic Sea (off the coast of Gdansk). The money and experience would be good to have.

So, after that we'd have to move very quickly (and eh hem, find an apartment) to Wroclaw because our lease runs out here in early August. Then we'd meet the Chryowiczs in the forrest. Then I'd go to the Yiddish camp. Then we'd go on honeymoon to Hungary. Then we'd have a week or so before we start work in Wroclaw. I'm not sure if it's all do-able, and something will have to give.

It's gotten pretty hot here in the last few weeks. It's been in the 90s for you Fahrenheit lovers, and quite humid. It's really gorgeous when you're in the shade and the breeze is blowing, but if the sun is beating down, oh the sweat will be a pourin'. Air conditioning is a luxury that Poland doesn't value. We don't have any AC here at the school, so if you're in a classroom on the sunny side, prepare yourself for sweaty shirts and foreheads. Plus teenage boys here tend to stank (yes, I said: stank) even without the heat, so please keep us in your thoughts and prayers. Hah!

What else about life. Bhads has a major knot in his back. He made me stand on him this morning. I hate doing that. But he's pretty stressed too.

Booster is grand. He's been super cuddly lately, crawling up into my arms in the middle of the night and plopping down on my reading material. He's loving the sunny days from his cozy spot in the window, but we're realizing that he can't take the long walks we're used to. He gave Bhads a real look of: this is NOT cool, the other day. Bhads said it was such a human look.

I think it's time for a Red Bull. Or Rrrrraid Bool as the locals say.

...I'm spacing out...

Oh, another book recommendation. Our friend Piers loaned us a book. I'm sure you've probably all seen the movie or at least heard of the title. Everything is Illuminated. Well, I have to say, our buddy Kara was reading it before we left Austin and she was raving about how great it was. I was like, yeeeah, but the movie was so awesome I don't know how it could get any better. But, let me tell you, it's an incredible read. It's so dynamic and the characters are hilarious and so genuinely human and I'm obsessed with it now. I can't read it enough. The details are so quirky and super-funny (I'm positive I've missed so many subtle and clever parts. I'll have to read it again and try to catch them), and the storyline is so beautifully told. I just can't say enough good about it. It's actually pretty different from the movie, of course, but I guess I didn't expect it. If you need a good summer book, I recommend it.*

This weekend we went over to Piers' apartment for a Eurovision Song Contest party. I'd never really heard about this phenomena until this year, when all the UK teachers were raving about it. For some reason I can't get the photo to copy, but please click this link (it's the winner crankin' it out for the Serbian hometeam): http://www.eurovision.tv/images/stories/galleries/First_rehearsal_of_Serbia/target2.html

Also, please (for humor's sake) click on this link for my own vote, Ukraine: http://www.eurovision.tv/images/stories/galleries/Germany_and_Ukraine/target3.html

*The author apologizes for the constant stream of book recommendations, but she wants to make it clear that she really likes these books and really likes her friends and family and really wants them to like these--and other--books as well.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Greeetings From Poland

I've been making time for a little graphic design lately. I even got a small freelance assignment on the side which was nice. Another teacher is starting up a translating business and asked me to make a poster. It was fun.

And that got me on a kick. So I've been doing much less reading lately. I stayed up a few nights ago until 3 in the morning playing with this cow. I've been tired since, but had a fun time with it. I really just wanted to dispell the old myth that cows in Poland are different from those elsewhere around the world. Wherever I go I keep hearing about this. And it's just plain wrong! This illustration is to scale and is both scientifically, factually and anatomically correct for its age. No bones necessary. Fact. The heat produced by the digestion keeps the cow inflated.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

This is Booster

Rare Photos of the Bs

Because one of us is usually behind the camera, we don't have many pictures of the two of us together. Our friend, Grant, took some photos of us while we were out hiking in the mountains a couple of weeks ago. We liked seeing our faces face-to-face, and we hope you do too.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Wroclaw, Wroclaw Here We Come...

I'm happy to report that we've been offered jobs in Wroclaw, Poland, next year. Yippee! We visited the city a few months ago and found it lovely with lots of coffee, fresh poppy seed pastries, culture, little copper elves scattered and hidden across the city, and a gorgeously gorgeous old town. It'll be fun to be in a beautiful city again.

We've decided that it's not that terrible living in Katowice. It's very nice and green and lively with all of the outside cafes and flowers that've popped up all over town. But something about Katowice feels shallow. There's not the history here that's in other towns. Most of the restaurants and bars feel like they're trying to be Western/American, but that's not too charming.
It should be a new, Polish adventure. We're pretty excited!

Friday, May 11, 2007

Baron Rogacizna's Dinner

This is a play that my 9 year old students wrote yesterday. I'm really proud--they did it all by themselves! So I present: Baron Rogacizna's Dinner

The monkey: Baron Rogacizna
The Bananas: Molly, Chiquita, & Zdzislaw
The Parrot: Johan
The man: Jaszu

[The story opens with three bananas, Molly, Chiquita, and Zdzislaw, hanging in a shop window. A man enters, looking to buy bananas...]
Jaszu: Three bananas, please.
Molly and Zdzislaw: Oh, no!
[The man buys the three bananas, Molly, Chiquita, and Zdzislaw.]
Chiquita: I hear a truck...
Zdzislaw: I don't like trucks.
[The man takes the bananas and puts them into his truck. The don't know where they are, but a minute later the truck door opens. They are at the zoo, and a big monkey named Baron Rogacizna is waiting for his bananas.]
Molly: Oh no, it's Baron Rogacizna and he wants to eat us!
Chiquita and Zdzislaw: Please, help us!
Baron Rogacizna: Raaaaarrrrr, I'm very hungry, and I want to eat a banana!
Molly, Chiquita, and Zdzislaw: Help! Help us!
[Baron Rogacizna, is about to eat the bananas. But the bananas see a parrot flying towards them.]
Zdzislaw: Oh, it's a super parrot. He wants to save us!
Chiquita: It's Super Johan!
Johan: I want to help you!
Baron Rogacizna: They're my bananas, Johan, they're MY bananas!
[Johan the Parrot flies down and takes the bananas. Molly and Zdzislaw sit on his back, and Chiquita sits on his head.]
Johan: Thank you, Baron Rogacizna.
Baron Rogacizna: Rarrrrrrrrr, they're MY bananas!
Molly, Chiquita, and Zdzislaw: Thank you, Johan.
Johan: You're welcome.
Johan, Molly, Chiquita, and Zdzislaw sing: We are the Champions, we are the champions...

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Beskid Business

May 1st and 3rd are state holidays in Poland. This year they fell on Tuesday and Thursday, respectively, so most people got a whole week of vacation (or at least 3 days like we did). The first of May was the Communist Labor Day (a day off work to honor the proletariat), and although the city streets don't host the parades and festivals they used to during the Communist days, people still get the day off. May 3rd is the day the Polish constitution was inacted. The two holidays aren't really connected, as far as I can tell. Polish history has been so tumultous, and it's consolation prize is lots of days off work. Not too shabby.

During our vacation, we went hiking in the Beskidy--the mountain range south of Katowice, on the Slovakian border. Bhads, Booster, and our friend Grant, joined me on the longest and hardest hike of my life.

31 kilometers (about 20 miles) stretched over two days. I'm pretty proud we did it. I'd never tried or succeeded in doing anything that hardcore, so I was fairly skeptical that I could get over that next ridge in one piece. Some of the mountains were very steep, but I did my best to let all my anxieties go. Even after the hostel at Mlada Hora turned us away two hours before sunset (they were booked up, but generally turning people away at all is frowned upon), I still knew we had nothing to worry about. They'd made us tea to keep us going; it was good tea, too, so that was kind of them. But images of shelters in ditches, covered with evergreen braches for warmth, flickered through my thoughts (and funnily enough, through Bhad's thoughts at the same time!); I knew we'd survive the night whether we found beds in Soblowka, the village at the bottom of our mountain, or if we had to rig something up in the hills. I was all just a part of the adventure.

The hike was really wonderful. Day One we ended up in Soblowka, after taking the emergency detour down the mountain in search of warm beds and a cold beer. Of course, everything always, always works out. Always. We arrived in Soblowka, and were a bit stunned. On the map the community looked like a veritable town, but when the trail turned into cement and opened up our view, there was no doubt: Soblowka is a village. Maybe 25 houses scattered across the side of the hill, smoke billowing from chimneys, horses neighing, cats scurrying. We checked out the map at the trail's end and saw no hostels or guesthouses or hotels on it. We started to walk down the main drag, and found ourselves knocking on the door of a short, plump woman's house. A sign read: Noclegi, Zapraszamy! and a telephone number. Having no clue what "noclegi" meant, I knew "zapraszamy" was "we welcome you." So our chances of finding a place were getting better. I didn't catch her name (something like Babcia?) but her sparkling eyes and pink circles of cheeks left an impression. She asked where we were from, we answered, and she responded by clutching her chest and exclaiming with gusto, "America! Ah, America." We were in.

Unfortunately, she said, she didn't have any rooms available. Holiday week. But she would happily call her friends and they come and give us a lift to their place for the night. "Jedno noc, tak? Tylko jedno noc?" She wanted to make sure we needed to stay only for a night.

Accomodation was being arranged and priorities had shifted to, well, beer. What's a hike in the mountains if you can't have a local pint at the end of the day? So, knowing that the village shop was open for just another 10 minutes, Bhad jetted down the street in search of Tyskie.

A few minutes later, Grant and I, standing on the old wooden porch deciphering a guest's map, saw Bhadri sprinting down the road, beer in tow. He kept running and running, passing the driveway to the house. Grant yelled to him with a hey-you-idiot-we're-right-here tone, but Bhads screamed back--still running--"Shut up!" As he jogged up the houses' back entrance, Bhad swore something in between breaths about a crazy drunk man, shaking his head and saying "what the hell?" He told us that the store was being "guarded" by ten liquered-up, mountain men. One of them took it as duty to chase Bhads down, stumbling after him, clenching his fists and yelling after him in a gruff Polish tongue. Bhad successfull alluded him, the reason for running past the house, and avoided a mountain brawl.

We waited for our accomodation beholders to arrive, and the sweet woman with the pink cheeks served us a most delicious three course meal. Veggie soup with noodles, kompote, meat cutlets with mashed potatoes, gravy, and bigos, and a majestic apple dessert. Confession: I ate the meat. The whole meal had meat in it, bar soup and dessert, and I was starving. Yes, I'm making excuses because I feel slightly guilty, but to be honest I wouldn't have had it any other way. The meal was perfect and thank you, a hundred times blessed animal, for the nurishment!

The door of the basement eating area opened as we were rounding off the dessert course. Bhads face twisted confusedly as a short, balled lumberjack walked into the room, a clean-cut man with a character-filled moustache by his side.

"That's the man who chased me down the road!" Bhad whispered to me out of the side of his mouth. "What is going on?"

The moustached gentleman approached our table and extended his hand. He was the shop owner who, notified by our lovely pink cheeked host, came to apologize for the hostile encounter. Piotrek, the owner, shook our hands, said a sturdy, "Przpraszam," and let our small lumberjack take a turn. The little man shook Grant's hand, kissed mine (!), and then took Bhad's hand, placed it on his forehead and bowed, repeating "Przpraszam, przpraszam..." Standing up, bowing, standing up, bowing. He was like a scolded puppy, he seemed so sorry for his behavior, trying to make amends through his intense and sorrowful eyes. In his confusion as well as his good nature, Bhad echoed the guesture and said, "it's really not a problem..."

As it turns out, the village of Soblowka is really much smaller even than it looks. Piotrek ended up being the man who our pink cheeked host had called to put us up for the night. He waited patiently for us to finish our meal, then gave us a ride to his family's home.

A crew of smiling Poles, in varying sizes and ages, greeted us at their door. They were so cheerful and quite inquisitive. Hannia, the mom, Ola, the teenage daughter, Tomek, the boy, Marysia, the Grandma, and Bronek, the Gramps. We put our things down in our room (wow! 3 beds and a table in a real home in the mountains!), and went back downstairs to chat with the fam. As we plopped down at their kitchen table, the family gathered 'round to talk. Hannia made us hot cups of coffee and placed a tray of fresh local cheese on the table in front of us, saying, "prosze!", here you are. We pieced together a lively conversation in Polish, lots of charades and laughter to accompany. Marysia and Bronek had lived in the same village their whole lives, Tomek knew a few words of English, and Piotrek not only owned the shop in town, but was also the fire chief (or fire chef as he liked to say). Later in the night, he brought out his fireman's uniform for me to try on! The family was so incredibly kind to us, even invited us back, and we felt honored to spend a small part of our lives with them.

The next day we tried to catch the 8:50am bus to Ujstron, a bigger village down the road, but it was May 2nd--smack in the middle of the holidays--and the bus driver was probably sleeping in or eating a hearty egg and toast breakfast. Either way, after 30 minutes, it was clear that the bus wasn't coming.

We walked along the road towards Ujstron for a few kilometers, savoring the fresh pastries we'd just bought and exchanging "Good day"s with the men plowing their fields and the women hanging their clothes on the line. Grant was at the back of our single file line and had been sticking his thumb out to every car that passed. A car actually stopped for us, much to Bhad's surprise. He was at the front of the line and had never seen Grant's hitching thumb. So we hopped in the man's super clean car, and he gave us a smooth and pleasant 10 minute ride to Ujstron. From there, we started the ascent up, up, up into the mountains to the eventual oasis of Hala Boracia--a cozy and bright hostel perched on the side of a mountain. We laid out on the grass with our cold pints of Zywiec, ate oscypek cheese, read, snoozed, and giggled at Booster's man sun-soaking positions. It wasn't a tough walk from there to Wiegierska Gorka, the town where our evening train would leave from. The hike from the bottom of the trail at the edge of town to the train station a mile and a half away was a killer, though. My body sensed the end was near, so it started shutting down prematurely. It was a brilliant feeling, despite the pain: we'd just done a challenging two-day hike, Booster was still prancing, we didn't go hungry, and I couldn't've felt more alive.