Archive for Adam Mickiewicz Institute

Notes from a Warsaw Residency, 1

Posted in Art and Culture, Crooked Mirror, Family History, Life and What about It, Poland with tags , , , , on April 13, 2015 by Louise Steinman


some notes from this Warsaw residency (courtesy Adam Mickiewicz Institute, courtesy Warsaw Bauhaus)… the word “resident” from the Latin <em>sidere</em> to abide awhile, to settle down. To settle down on ul. Smulikowskiego, to read and write and move and think in this quiet flat not far from my friends Joanna and Wojtek, to emerge from this quiet flat to walk in the morning, drink coffee in cafes near the university library, to observe the animated conversations of young Warsavians, the changing exhibitions at Warsaw Bauhaus…


to enter the Warsaw zoo where the sight of flamingos ignites the landscape, where strolling families are exiting after a Saturday looking at zebras… to a special ceremony to dedicate the villa residence of the Zabinskis, the zookeepers who rescued many Jews during the German occupation of Warsaw..

that was two days ago, sitting under chestnut trees listening to Chopin with geese clacking overhead and i swear i heard other creatures (wolves?) adding to the melange of sound and feeling… late afternoon walk on the nearby Vistula, admiring a barge named Atalanta, thinking of the saviors of Atlantis who wandered and collected the shards of Jewish history in Poland after the war, to the present, the vibrant present here in Warsaw today… walking through the doors of the new POLIN Museum and where I will be in conversation with my dear friend Tomasz Kitlinski in just two days… a chance to sit and talk with Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, the scholar, the nimble mind who designed, oversaw, strategized, curated the core exhibition… which, as she points out, is told without foreshadowing or backshadowing, where we are asked to walk through a 1000 years of history, an exhibition worthy of debates, an exhibition that left me emotional and asking questions and remembering that moment years ago, when my friend Cheryl asked, startled, “Am I Polish?”


To sit in the flat of the journalist Kostek Gebert, with his cat Kescia on my lap, purring… to feel at home in Warsaw. To walk Dobra at night, under the bridge where the tram clacks along, a mysterious night walker passing by, wearing  a coat with a fur collar….


to wander the Warsaw flea market with Joanna and Wojtek, where discarded dolls speak from boxes of clutter, postcards of alpine flowers and soldiers from a war a century ago, tools that had a meaning in another age, that stretched a woman’s elegant shoes, a Ukrainian ceramic of a fish with a wide-open mouth, bent-wood chairs, 60’s jazz playing on an old turntable, a yellow china teapot my grandmother might have used to brew her dark tea, which she’d drink through a sugar cube, held in her mouth.


Neither Black nor Gray

Posted in Poland with tags , , on December 14, 2010 by Louise Steinman

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.

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