A Trip To Europe, Hold the Tourists Please

Sunday, August 22nd. Nagorzany, My Grandmother's Birthplace

A photo of my great-unle Pawel Drozd A photo of my grandmother Viktoria Drozd A photo of my great-unle Wincety Drozd
My grandmother Victoria and two of her ten siblings, Pawel and Wincenty


A photo of my great-aunt Felicia

Unexpected overwhelming welcome from the family. I am the Prodigal Son, the Lost Tribe of Israel, The Comeback Kid. Today we visited house after house, all of them cousins, all of them fed me, vodka, pierogies, more vodka. I refuse the fresh kielbasa. Hot sweet tea with lemon. Aunt Felicia is crying. Aunt Felicia, 80 years old with one tooth left in her head, the only one of my father's mother's generation still alive. She cried and cried and cried and held on to me tight. I don't understand why I am so important to her. I don't understand why she is so important to me.

A photo of church ruins

Visited the town of Wolicia where my father's father was born in 1890 to Ukranian parents. Bartosh showed me the ruins of a Greek Orthodox church in Nagorzany where my father's father's family may have worshipped. Saw my great-grandparents' grave. Weird, man. Too much history. Drozd family graves everywhere. I took lots of pictures, snap snap snap. They are now frozen in time forever. That is, as long as Mystic Color Lab doesn't lose my film when I get back to the States.

Try to explain to Polish pig farmers who just got done making kielbasa why you are a vegetarian. Lunch is borscht (ab fab!), a mountain of cabbage pierogies handmade by Aunt Felicia, cucumbers in sour cream, plum pudding for desert. I ate way too many pierogies and was fighting major stomach churn when I noticed the worm floating in my plum pudding. Ooorg.

A photo Kasha and friend

I speak no Polish, Wieslaw and Bartosh are my translators. Young Kasha (daughter of one of my cousins) is terribly shy. I don't know why because Kasha is such a cool name; I'd go anywhere with it. She counts in English for me, one to thirty, says hello and goodbye and good morning. I reply dzien dobry, do widzenia, prosze, dziekuje. This is a conversation.

It is very odd to be shuttled from one cousin's house to another. Since I don't know Polish, I'm never in on the plan, man. Food is likewise served without explanation or expectation of content or number of courses. Delicious borscht, herring with onions, bread and vodka here, pierogies and beer there, cognac everywhere. Alcohol, always alcohol. I didn't eat the herring, the kielbasa, the meat jelly, the ham.

A picture of my cousin

Notes on the Drive to Kraków

Wieslaw and Barbara's car is a Polish make, a Polonez. It has been adapted to run on LPG which is cheap to distill (?) from Poland's abundant coal supply. Confusingly, in Polish English LPG is called "gas" and what I call "gas" is called "petrol" as in Britain. They still sell leaded petrol here.

Cultural note: In Polish the rule seems to be that there's no point in using a vowel where six consonants will do just as well. And 3 of them are Z's.

Cultural note for poker players: 52 card decks in Sweden and Poland do not have suicide kings and the presence of one-eyed jacks varies from deck to deck.

A picture of my cousin
I first met this cousin at dusk and in that dim light his resemblance to my father gave me a shock.

From: Philip Semanchuk
To: john, irene & scott, steve & liz
Subject: Dzien dobry from Krakow
Date: Wednesday, August 25, 1999 07:05 AM

Howdy from lovely Krakow. Staying here with cousin Asha & her husband Irek, also cousin Bartosh. They are all very cool people and I'm sorry their English/my Polish is not better because it is difficult for us to converse. I am making a lot less headway with learning Polish than I did with Swedish. Too many f*cking consonants in this language. I am dying to speak English with a native and eat a burrito. I have cabbage pierogies coming out my wazoo.

We have a million cousins in southeast Poland and I have drunk vodka with every one of them...my first stop on returning to America will have to be the Betty Ford Clinic. I have seen where we come from and it is farm country, no mistaking that. It is a tiny town 40km from the Slovak and Ukranian borders. The only way to leave a place like that is to move to America or become Pope. Picked a flower from the tomb of our great-grandparents. Found out that our great-great grandfather fought in Napoleon's army kicking ass.

Will write more later. Not sure when I'll be back.


Notes from the Train from Kraków to Tychy

A photo of Bartek, Asha and I in the Tatras mountains

Went hiking in Tatras Mountains near Zakopane. Very very very beautiful. Asha, Bartosh and I ate wild blueberries by the side of the trail, turned our tongues blue. Visited the sad old Jewish quarter of Kraków. Beautiful, and stung like a slap. Toured the Wieliczka salt mine. Ate delicious Wawel chocolate. Taught Bartosh, Asha and Erik new words; "wimpy" and creepy" and "cool". Try to explain creepy to someone. Try to explain "cool", as in, "OK, that's cool." They like wimpy the best and use it over and over again, wimpy this, wimpy that, wimpy wimpy wimpy. They work hard not to say "vimpy". I am still working on "czesc" which is simply "hi". Cultural note: Sheep's cheese is popular in southern Poland but to me it tastes salty and smells like feet.