Sunday, August 31, 2008

Dinner in Białystok

Who knew that Polish food could be so incredibly delicious? It's not just pierogis and bigos, let me assure you. Mr. D and I had one of the best dinners ever the other night, in a hotel in Białystok.

We had driven all day, and had seen the primeval forests of northeastern Poland, with their mysterious silent herds of bison lolling about in deep undergrowth. We heard the occasional snort or snuffle, but mostly just the rustle of aspen leaves in the chilly air. We saw the Tsar's hunting lodge in Białowieża, and then drove almost to Białorus, along a narrow road carved out of the deep green woods, that became finally a single lane of black asphalt.

We crossed an unsignaled railway line (just the old wooden red and white "x" on a post as a warning), and then crossed over two narrow gauge railway tracks that hadn't been used for decades. Finally, a clearing appeared in the deep green, and there, through fences and gates and wires, was the border station. It looked like a really inviting forest lodge, and we so wanted to visit.

However, not having applied for our Białorussian visas, we sadly had to turn round and go onward, back into Poland...

But as I say, this was not all bad, because by the time we arrived back in Białystok, we were famished! We checked into the Hotel Cristal, and dressed for dinner.

And what a dinner it was. Mr D had carpaccio of wild boar and roasted eggplants with asparagus, while I tried the forest mushroom soup, followed by a smoked duck meat salad. We finished with a plum compote in Żubrówka bison-grass vodka for me and a pear and caramel ice cream confection for him. Divine.

Oh yeah, brag brag brag. Why do I have to read about this, you're asking?


We thought you might want to know what we DIDN'T have.

Here's one thing we didn't try....

"Smażony sandacz w puszyslym kremie z raków, z opiekanymi w koprze ziemniaczkami"

Sounds kinda yummy, doesn't it? All those sz's and y's and funny little accent things. Surely they're tasty, right?

Fine. But here's the translation:

"Fried perch-pike in flossy cancer cream with roasted in fennel potatoes"

Hmmm. Think I'll pass. Cancer cream? How is it flossy? I just don't know about that.

Turns out that this is an unfortunate and awkward translation describing a dish that's probably delicious.

Smażony sandacz. Fried perch pike. OK. We're with you so far.

W puszyslym kremie z raków? Hmm, this gets less appealing. "Pusczyslym" is "fluffy". Fluffy, flossy -- too close to call, really. Maybe the menu editor's finger slipped on the dictionary page a little?

But "kremie z raków"? Cancer cream? It's too much. But understandable, perhaps?

"Kremie", yes. Cream or sauce. "Raków"? Well, it's the Polish word for crayfish. But the second definition in the dictionary is "cancer", as in the astrological sign "Cancer". Is this the problem? The menu editor looks at both words and picks: "eeny, meeny, minie, mo... aw, let's go with 'cancer' rather than 'crayfish'. Sounds more exotic."

Indeed it does.

Or did I totally miss something even more subtle? Like cancerous perch-pike, glowing with radio-active post-Chernobyl tumours, fish that have swum long miles, escaping westward into Polish streams, only to be cruelly caught and tossed into pans in Białystok kitchens? For our dining pleasure.

Native Polish speakers, please weigh in!

Monday, August 25, 2008

OK, 3 guesses. Where am I?

Ha ha!! You lose, man! No one knows where I am, save the genius Mr. D, who will be spiriting me away Wednesday to the wildernesses of eastern Poland. Bison amongst the tall reeds, old growth forests, lichens last seen by Beowolf's kinfolk... I can not wait!

Just hope there's a spa-ish kind of hotel at the end of the road each day. Not that I'm a high maintenance kind of gal or anything, but I do like to wash up for dinner.

Right now, I'm back in Warsaw, but only for a minute or two. Just enough time to play a few tennis games and then get my hair coloured back to that sexy brunette mop I love to fling about (instead of "badger-stripe-down-the-backside" white-with-dark-ends. Ugh!) Oh Pawel, Pawel! My darling hairdresser, what would I do without you? (He's at ul. Panska 80/82, Warszawa, if you really need to know.)

So what's new? Been comparing the USA, my most recent destination, with South Africa, my late 2007ish home.

The USA. Safe (sorta... it's all relative, really). Incredibly easy to figure out. Highways make sense. Stores have every dang thing you'd ever want to buy, plus 2oo more things you wouldn't. Low cost of living. Petrol still impossibly cheap compared to the rest of the world. Not much thought required for most of the stuff you could want to do on any given day. If you can stomach George Bush Jr.'s political position in the world and either excuse it ("Oh, never mind, his term's almost over anyway.."), or deny it ("Hell, I didn't vote for him!") then all in all, it's not a bad place to be.

SA. Sheesh. I keep reading the news from SA, just to torture myself I suppose. Had an interesting exchange with a guy who lived in SA and emigrated to the UK a few years ago. He wrote, "The fact that carrying a condom in your handbag is the norm for women in SA is a telling enough indictment." What a nightmare. Somehow the idea of having a condom in your purse in case of rape seems just about the same as having a rabbit's foot on your keyring. Unlucky for the rabbit, probably not particularly lucky for you, either.

Oh well. Let's move on.

Because then there's Poland. Safe? Very. Unless you're behind the wheel. Then, all bets are off. The Poles drive like madmen and there's no understanding why. Weaving in and out of traffic, accelerating to duck in front of you only to brake violently. I don't get it. You'd think they were all trying out for the Indy 500.

They won't give you a break in traffic, or take turns, and if you let someone in ahead of you, just to be polite, they look at you as if you're insane. No waving "Thanks" after the favour either. Why thank a woman who's clearly driving herself to the lunatic asylum? (Why else would she have let you into traffic? She's obviously nuts. So she wouldn't understand your "thank you" anyway! So feggedaboudit.)

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

One Ring-y Ding-y

Remember how I'd cleverly avoided getting my rings stolen, or bitten off my fingers, whilst in South Africa? I took my jewelry off and put everything in the safe about a month before the robbery. I felt pretty damn smug about the whole thing, especially after the hold-up. Mr. D wasn't really thrilled, of course, but I wasn't paying much attention to his feelings in 2006, so that was just a minor detail. (Clearly no 2006 awards ceremony for me, celebrating my brilliance in "relationship building"!)

I put my wedding and engagement rings back on a year and a half later, in autumn 2007, shortly after deciding to rejoin Mr. D in Poland. It was important on so many different levels. I was celebrating my recovered feelings of personal safety, and I was reminding myself and others that, "yeah, I am still married, and want to stay that way." For better and for worse, and all that.

So imagine my ... irritation, shall we say... when, while standing in Edinburgh's airport this April, a plastic carrier bag suddenly slipped off my arm, and "PLING!", the diamond was ... gone! This was the sweet little diamond that Mr. D and I had chosen together 29-odd years ago, the diamond we had jointly paid off in monthly installments for over a year. A diamond that had gone through thick and thin, ups and downs, and had strangely enough managed to not get lost or stolen.

Now, due to my own carelessness and inattention, it was suddenly missing.

You can imagine the fascinating picture I made, lying flat on the floor, eyeballing the granite surface for this missing stone. All the airline folks were suddenly extremely interested in my plight. Lots of folk wandering around, eyes scouring the floor. (They never seem to be quite as helpful in other circumstances, but never mind.) Miss T was, naturally, quite distraught, as she slowly realized that here was yet another of my possessions that she would no longer have the opportunity to inherit upon my demise. Dang! Pity she has such an incompetent mother.

And poor Mr. D blamed himself. "Oh, it's because we were running late and you were stressed out! All my fault!" (All too true, but again, never mind.)

I blamed myself. "Why didn't I get the prongs checked every once in a while? Fer Pete's sake!"

And then we just sort of said, "Oh well. What can ya do? We still have each other... " And we looked into one another's eyes, and the music of the violins swelled, and rose petals drifted gently down from the landing on the second floor, and larks sang, and ... okay, not really. But you know what I mean.

Of course, life never slows down, so in April I went to Poznan. In May I travelled to Luxor, Cairo, and Vienna. In June we spent time in London for Miss T's graduation. In July I went to Krakow.

In August, after unpacking my suitcase for the umpteenth time, I woke up one sunny morning and slitted open my eyes. And there on the bedroom floor was a tiny sliver of glass. Hmmm.

I picked it up, and looked. It looked like a diamond. My diamond. That diamond.

Pulled the empty ring setting out of my jewelry box. Same size. Hmmmm again.

And I took it to the jewelry shop in the afternoon.

"Ummmm, this may or may not be a diamond," I said, as I described the details of the find.

The Polish goldsmith raised one eyebrow, and pulled out an odd little machine. He touched a needle to the stone, and after a moment, a green indicator lit up.

"Lady, you oughta play the Lottery today."

So what happened? Who knows? I think it fell into the outside pocket of my suitcase. I think it traveled with me to all those places. I think it finally fell out of the suitcase at home in my bedroom.

But I don't actually know.

What I do know is that I got it reset back into the same setting, and I wear it all the time, and every time I look at it I think how incredibly lucky I am.

To be alive.

To have the wonderful Mr. D in my life.

And to get the same diamond given to me twice.

One lucky girl....

Writer's block in the US of A

More juice, please.....

Ok, yeah. I do have writer's block. I posted ALL this stuff from 2005-2006 during July, got it all "up here" on the danged Internet. All ready to blog away, about life in Poland, travel, language studies, the fabulous Mr. D, yadda yadda yadda, you name it.

And now, I find that in spite of all my recent assertions that I am "no longer a perfectionist"...


I am still a perfectionist.

Oops. How little we know ourselves. At least enlightenment is on the horizon, perhaps. Meanwhile, you'll have to bear with me as I hunker down and (gulp) write.

So I'm in the USA, visiting for the first time in three, count 'em, three years. Everything is flippin' huge. The cars, the people, the portion sizes, the highways, the sprawl. It's amazing. For all the talk about downsizing and carbon footprints and the struggling economy, there hasn't been much of an effect, as far as I can see.

I'm most blown away by the sheer volume and ready availability of merchandise. All kinds of merchandise. Hello Kitty stickers and handbags and T-shirts and slippers. Post-Its in every conceivable shape and size. Candles and school folders and clocks and bedding and shoes and underwear and workout clothes and garden tools and craft stuff and storage containers and this and that and the other. And more! Jeez. And this was just at Target. I had to go home and take a nap.

I didn't come over here to shop, though, like all the rest of the Europeans. Even though everything is impossibly inexpensive, compared to Poland and the UK. (Count your blessings for now, America.)

Instead, I came over to Albuquerque to visit my sister, who donated a kidney last month through the Alliance for Paired Donation. To look at her amazing story, check out Takes altruism to a whole new level. She's completely fine now, and all the other 5 patients are too, which is simply miraculous. This was a historic "first": a three-way paired donation across three states. Leave it to Martha to do something so cool. For my part, I'm just happy that I didn't damage any of her internal organs during all of my chasing her and making her crash into walls during our childhood. I was an awful older sister!

Actually, she really did it just for the attention, but never mind. We enjoyed speculating about how she will now be able to play the "kidney card" in so many different situations.

"Sorry, officer, I was speeding? Gosh, I was just on the way for my post-op checkup after donating my kidney..."

"Gee, could you throw another donut in to make it a baker's dozen? I just donated my kidney last week and I'm feeling a little peckish...."

"Are there any discounts for ... organ donors?"

So many opportunities to capitalize on this good deed.

And since she's still listed as an organ donor on her driving license, we've also been laughing (morbidly I suppose) about the sense of outrage and ripped-off-ness that a hospital may one day feel if they actually do come to open her up and find... ONLY ONE KIDNEY.

"Damn! Who got here before us???!" Maybe her license needs a caveat, like "Warning: Some organs may already be missing."

Anyway, check out the link, and think about being an organ donor yourself. You too can do something amazing.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Poland is the best!

A quick update. I live in Warsaw now. I'm happy, calm, content. Never been happier, in fact. Never in my whole life.

Must be the climate. Or the combination of safety and lurrrrrve. Or something. Whatever, I'm not examining it too closely, because I don't want to know the "why" of it.

I'm just going to enjoy it.

In spite of my best efforts during the better parts of 2006 and 2007, I managed to not completely derail my life. Things are on track again. I moved to Warsaw in December of 2007, and have slowly been putting the pieces back together, after the craziness of South Africa in 2006, and the grinding hard work of 2007 when I was back in the UK by myself.

And the wonderful wonderful Mr D, my constant husband, stuck with me through it all.

Round of applause for a fantastic guy!

Meanwhile, there's loads to learn, to see, to do. The biggest hurdle is learning Polish, but we've begun the process, to the great hilarity of most of the Poles we run across. They all love to tell you, "Polish is very difficult language!" Yes, yes, we understand that much. More updates about Poland to come.

But meanwhile, I'm off to the USA this Saturday, for my first visit in 3 years. We'll see what it all looks like with my "expat eyes". I'm bracing myself for some major culture shock.