The Overcoat

I was in Warsaw in the winter of 2002, with my dear friend Cheryl who is the daughter of survivors from the town of Kolomyja, which was in Poland and is now in Ukraine. We rented an apartment in the Old Town and got a taste of Warsaw cultural life. Before we left on that trip, however, Cheryl’s anxieties about traveling in Poland (about which she had deeply conflicted feelings) amped up, took form in her dreams. An officer from an invading army demanded that Cheryl make uniforms for his bedraggled soldiers. Cheryl commandeered some itchy cloth and made uniforms that would keep the soldiers distracted, scratching, uncomfortable. A brilliant dream strategy.

My grandmother used to tell me about the beautiful coats the women wore in Warsaw. My grandfather Harry used to travel to Warsaw from Zhitomir to buy cloth for womens coats, for the Steinman family store. On the streets of Warsaw in years past, I noticed women wearing pleated cinched woolen coats of soft pastels. Now everyone is mainly bundled up in long dark down coats that are lighter and perhaps even warmer. In my Warsaw dream, I wandered some Polish city by a river, searching for an overcoat. In a department store, I found one I liked. Not a coat of many colors, like Joseph’s coat, but grey wool felt, soft to the touch. I tried it on in a mirror. I liked what I saw. The seams lined up. The weight and cut suited me. My delight at finding the right overcoat persisted upon waking. The overcoat Cheryl had commissioned—in her dream– for good reason was made from stiff itchy fabric. It was a strategy to discomfort the menacing invaders. My Polish overcoat was forgiving, pliant.
(“And after all,” one theater critic reminded me, “We all come from Gogol’s overcoat.”)

The Polish Dream Coat

2 Responses to “The Overcoat”

  1. anne kalik Says:

    i love this blog.


  2. So stylish, so cozy. I’d like to place an order, please. It’s cold here.

    Did you have family in Zhitomir? I did, too. And Berdichevski. People with both those names on my father’s side of the family. Would love to travel there sometime…

    Keep telling us stories.


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