Monday, May 08, 2006

Warsaw: The Uprising

Amazing breakfast this morning (with the exception of that one egg I broke open, expecting it to be boiled). They serve a very calm earl grey, apple pancakes, and a variety of other treats. After breakfast we caught a cab for a ride to The Warsaw Rising Museum. There's this problem in Warsaw with "Mafia Taxis" — if you don't see a city-issued number on it, they will charge up to five times the normal rate. But the taxis outside the hotel are safe — the one we took had a very kind driver, his father fought in the Uprising like Grandpa, so they got along very well.

The museum was almost too much. The entire place has a heartbeat, literally, you can hear it as you walk around — wherever you are inside, the spirit of the city is alive. A kind girl named Yola, who had a subtle but infectious enthusiasm, showed me around. She spoke quickly, always saying "What's more..."; as a placeholder, an exclamation, a rhetorical question... there are more uses to the phrase than I realized. There's too much in the museum to describe here, you really have to see it for yourself, but a few things made huge impressions on me... There's this one wall in the center of the museum that spans all three stories, with names inscribed of people who fought in the war. If you put your ear up to the wall you can hear recordings from the uprising. It goes like this: yelling, gunfire, yelling, gunfire, and then it cuts to one of the most beautiful chants I've ever heard, perfectly balanced, slow and resolute, but joyful. It felt like a couple millennia of tradition made immediate. I asked Yola, and she said it sounds like a hymn she knew from church. I was reminded of an article I read recently that made me frustrated — Rick Warren, author of "The Purpose Driven Life", was writing about selecting music for contemporary worship services:

Speed up the tempo. Many worship services sound more like a funeral than a festival. The Bible says, "Worship the Lord with gladness; come before him with joyful songs." (Psalm 100:2) John Bisango, pastor emeritus of the 22,000-member First Baptist Church of Houston, Texas, says, "Funeral dirge anthems and stiff-collared song leaders will kill a church faster than anything else in the world!"

"Funeral dirge anthems"? Nothing provides solace like tradition, and nothing comforts in a time of war like memory. Reread Psalms. The Nazis knew this, it's why they completely destroyed the universities and replaced street signs that referred to Polish stories and beloved heroes. These are the things that made 30,000 Poles rise, only 10% of them armed, against 20,000 fully armed Nazis, taking down 500 on the first day, holding out for 63 days, and eventually killing somewhere between 10,000-17,000 Nazis.

From the museum we went over to the intersection where the entrance to the sewer that Grandpa crawled through is located. More than five thousand people were evacuated from Warsaw through these sewers — "It's hard to imagine, but it was covered in ruins at the time. They make wonderful protection."

We rested for a while back at the hotel and then met up with the rest of the tour group. There are 18 of us total, so far we are two of the three guys, and I'm the youngest. The median age is probably about 60 years. One of them, Danuta, is visiting from Australia; she's a bit saucy. Another, Jane, seems slightly senile. For example, Grandpa tries to grab a chair for Danuta to sit in:

Danuta: "Why are you helping?"
Grandpa: "Because this is a man's job!"
Danuta: "Oh my — if we left those jobs for the men, where would we be? Left for dead!"
Random Interjection: "Especially if your husband dies."
Jane: "Ah, that happened to me once."

Pleasant surprises: Steak tatar for lunch; Grandpa's story about the first Polish McDonalds: "The communists wanted to serve Vodka, but we wouldn't allow for it."; the 240 to 120 volt transformer exploding, followed by the realization we didn't need it.

Poor translations of the day (from the Asian-Polish fusion menu at hotel restaurant):

  • St. James playing tomato with the devil
  • Lotta marinated burning on a stake, stuffed passers-by watching

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