Tuesday, June 28, 2016


It is mid Monday morning in Warsaw and already the pavement bakes in the heat of the hot June sun. My first two days, I had avoided walking through streets where my family had lived–Orla, Kredytowa, Graniczna–sealed off by the Nazis late in 1940 by a brick wall. My grandmother would have wanted me to enjoy her city instead of chasing ghosts. So yesterday morning, before jumping in a taxi to visit my mothers’ nuns, I had sauntered down a stone path behind the National Museum, into a park of green grass and luscious chestnut trees, following a boulevard through a network of more parks to Park Ujazdowski, where children ran around ponds and ducked under gazebos.
      But now I am walking to an appointment not far from Orla street. It seems amiss to not drop by. I pass by the grand Opera House that is lined with rows of towering pilasters. When I turn down Senatorska Street, a woman steps toward me and holds out a piece of folded paper. She points to an address written in pencil. She asks me in accented Polish if I know where it is. Wearing a long lightweight dress that ripples in the light wind, her head is covered in an off-white hijab.  Her eyebrows are as thick and black as mine.
     “Nie Polski,” I say. “English?”
      “A little.”
      I pull out my folded map. Circled in pen, next to a Star of David, is the Synagogue, and the Jewish Historical Institute. We both stare at the map.
     “No, I don’t see it. Wait, I’ll look on my phone.” I turn on data roaming and type in her address as she holds up the paper.  “Where are you from?” I ask while we wait.
     “Syria. I live here for two years.”
     She seems nervous. Her eyes dart from me, to the ground, and then she is with me again. “Where you from?” she asks.
     She seems surprised.
     “But my mother was born here - two streets away.”
     “Yes. It was during a difficult time. The area was cut off and most of her family were killed.”
     Her street shows up on my phone and I point to the roads she should walk down. “How do you find it in Warsaw?” I ask.
     “I feel safe,” she says.

Theatre Square - photo fotopolska.eu

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Welcome Back to Warsaw

I sauntered into the lobby of the serviced apartment building in Warsaw, as if I’d been here before, not pausing on the cobblestoned entrance path, and heaving the glass entry door open, knowing it was onerous. “Welcome,” nodded a man in his thirties at the front desk, his closely shaven white-blonde hair contrasting my nearly jet black mop. “This your first time in Warsaw?”
“No.  It’s my fifth. I’ve stayed in this building four times.”
“Welcome back then,”  he smiled, handing me my room card. “Need help with your bags?”
Dziękuję – Thank you, no, I’m fine.” The truth was, I was in a hurry to offload my suitcase after ten hours of being squished in a tiny airline seat. I planned to soak under the shower, then rush out for a walk.

A few hours later I wandered along wide streets lined with grand buildings reconstructed after German warplanes strafed and destroyed them and the city during the war.  I ignored the clear plaques fastened to facades that I had been drawn to on prior trips, describing what had been there before the destruction; courthouses, banks, government buildings.  The city seemed familiar.  Despite  new construction, restaurants and landmarks were where I remembered them two years ago.  
Around the corner, close to my ‘home’ for the week, was a street lined with cafes and bakeries. I waltzed into one I had frequented with my mother many times, when we traveled to Poland together to meet the families of those who had saved her during the war. Now I pointed to a piece of dense chocolate cheesecake, then sat at a table with my tea and cake. Sliding my full fork into my mouth, I closed my eyes, smiled and swallowed.  Welcome back to Warsaw.