Neither Black nor Gray

Many journeys yesterday, first the train from Krakow to Warsaw past hundreds of kilometers of white fields and forests. I shivered waiting on the platform in Krakow and was glad to see the train puff into the station. Several gallant Polish gentleman helped me onto the train with luggage and I had a window seat for the view, Jacob Glatstein’s novel for company. I read his description of traveling as a young boy with his grandfather by train from Lublin to Warsaw: “En route, he would untie his kerchief and take his refreshment– a hard-boiled egg, a hunk of bread, a purple plum, and a golden pear that dripped juice down his beard, all the while conducting a conversation with me.” The gentleman around me did not drip pear juice down their beards, rather they spoke briskly into their cell phones or listened to their ipods but I was traveling in my mind in another time.

Dear Gosia met me at the platform at Warsaw Centralny and later that evening hosted a little soiree for me at her flat in Kubaty– herring and pates, salads and cheeses, dark bread and Spanish wine and vodka. I ventured out to her place by Metro, another transportation adventure (but there’s only one line in Warsaw, which makes it easy) and she met me at the station with a bounding Akita at her heels. Her dog savors the snow, of course, inquisitively reading canine narratives in the snowdrifts, and we walked in the chilly night around the new city out to the edge where the forest begins.

Gosia (Malgorzata Sikorska-Miszczuk) is a playwright and her home is overflowing with books which made me feel right at home. Joanna Klass, my dear host from Adam Mickiewicz Institute joined us, and Andreas, Gosia’s German translator. We laughed and told stories and argued about plays and art until nearly midnight, drank good vodka, and thus missed the last Metro and– following Joanna’s lead–jumped onto a wayward bus that wended its way through the streets of Warsaw, picking up other frozen souls along the way. Back to the hotel an hour later in fine spirits. Shades of Jim Jarmusch’s “Night on Earth.”

(Glatstein, after he arrived in Warsaw: “I could scarcely fall asleep, filled as I was with the excitement of the trian ride and of finding myself in a strange city, far from home.”) I am also filled with my grandmother’s tales of passing through Warsaw en route to the U.S. from Ukraine, waiting at the Belgian Legation for her visa, hiding the family valuables in a little pouch secured to my aunt Ruth’s pinafore with a diaper pin. (that’s the term she used, always loved that..)

I ventured out for a walk this morning. These Warsavians are very hearty because it is REALLY cold and they stride briskly about their business. To warm myself I bought a Polish wool hat and when i carried it to the daylight by the shop window to ascertain just what color it was, the saleswoman said, “It is not black it is not gray” which is so apropos to thinking about Polish history and memory.

I feel very Polish wearing my new hat.

5 Responses to “Neither Black nor Gray”

  1. What a beautiful, intimate description and gorgeous home page. Stay warm. Be well.

    with love,


  2. Wonderful read, Louise, traveling between times with you, your Polish friends and your grandparents.


  3. I love that…”it is not black it is not gray.” Why must we try to define in black and white or just gray when things can be neither black, white nor gray? What a wise woman.
    Savor your last days in your multi-toned Polish world.


  4. This hat could be your intro, so appropriate for what you want to say….and feel.

    love these travels with you in winter’s beauty and force. to be in Warsaw in the cold (rather than the comfort of summer) seems right…


  5. Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett Says:

    Lovely to be with you in Poland and love your accounts! Too short a visit. Come back soon! Thank you for introducing me to Joanna.


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