Sunday, May 07, 2006

Troy to Warsaw

After a night without sleep, moving some things from my RPI dorm to The Mothership, Jem took me to the airport to catch a plane from Albany to Newark. The Newark airport is surreal, there are more characters there than any other airport I've ever been to, each of them acting out little stories. Walking to Grandpa's gate (so we could meet upon his arrival), I noticed this old, short Asian custodian — he could have played the part of the silent cross-legged zen master in an ancient kung fu movie. He had some silly slogan on the back of his shirt — something about the quality of his service (exactly the sort of thing an airport would put on a custodian's shirt). Watching closely, I could see that he really was giving all of himself to his vocation: each new trash bag a job well done. I timed things so I could drop a glass bottle into his most recently replaced bag... we both heard it bounce off the bottom of the synthetic can, smiling at each other with mutual satisfaction. Like I said, a zen master.

A few hours later Grandpa arrived and we found the LOT desk, checking in again for the flight to Warsaw. Grandpa, ever the terrorist, was patted down... and we continued on towards our full flight. With the stewardesses speaking Polish, I felt like we had already arrived. Inside the little seat back there was a little magazine with various drinks and cigarettes for sale... I noticed the first Polish oddity: every cigarette pack, throughout the entire country, has a notice on it. These aren't subtle notices like in the United States, where it says, in small print, "Surgeon General's Warning: Smoking Causes Lung Cancer, Heart Disease, Emphysema, and May Complicate Pregnancy". They have huge lettering, at least a third of the front, put simply: "Smoking kills." or "Smoking seriously harms you and others around you."

Eventually arriving in Warsaw to a very foggy afternoon, we met up with Mirka (my grandma's cousin, an editor of a health magazine in Warsaw) and Kuba (her sister's son, from South Poland). I met Mirka once before when she visited San Diego — she's great; she reminds me of a James Bond villain, but she's so kind. I hadn't met Kuba before, but I already had respect for him: he'd asked Grandpa to bring a copy of Psyence Fiction, which is, apparently, hard to find in Poland. I asked where to find the best Polish hip-hop, and he pointed me to O.S.T.R. [pl|en]. Not bad at all.

We took a bus to the Novotel hotel in central Warsaw, and rested for an hour or so on the 11th floor — room 1124. We headed downstairs for an early dinner with Grandpa's cousin Krzysztof, who works with the import/export organization in Poland, his girlfriend Eva, Dr. Sadowski (Grandpa's friend from Illinois, a kidney research specialist and member of the Polish Sciences Academy) and Mrs. Sadowski. I mostly spoke with Kuba over dinner and got a better idea of the mindset of the Polish youth, their perspective on the rest of the world. Europe in general is hard for them to romanticize because it's all so near and immediate. He holds the UK on a small pedestal though, he says he'd like to move there and become a music journalist.

After dinner I was itching to look around and breathe in a little bit of this place, so I went for a walk — towards the Palace of Culture and Science, one of the tallest buildings in Warsaw, a remnant of communist rule, commissioned by Stalin and built by Poles with their own resources. Over by one of the entrances I noticed that a hot dog and beer vendor set up a set of speakers and was playing some music he liked. The UK returned in the form of Mattafix's "Forgotten". In some ways, Warsaw feels like a big American city. In other ways, it's completely different... some of the things that caught me off guard: the abundance of parks, street musicians, and odd underground stores.

Tomorrow we'll be meeting up with the rest of the group, I have no idea what the demographics will be like. It doesn't really matter, though — I'm really excited to be here, and can't wait to see more.

No comments: