Sunday, July 20, 2008

Curiouser and curiouser

Blinking in the sunlight at 6:30 a.m. this morning, I had a revelation. Other than being an all-too-obvious sign of my indoctrination as a former English major, it really did seem as if I had crossed a threshold.

All too literally, I had emerged from the innermost cave.

The Bochnia salt mines are compacted by the shifting of continents by one centimeter a month. They have been doing this since their creation in the 13th century. Some people could have sworn it was difficult to breathe down there...and yet a cold wind constantly blew down the corridors. Where does the wind come from at 200 meters under the earth?

My sinus cavities throbbed because of the pressure change, but I could have sworn the whole time that if I opened some sort of locked mine shaft door, I would have found out we had been on ground level the whole time. Or I would have found myself having to choose between two vials, sitting at a tea party with the March Hare.

I'm not sure how, but I have begun to accept my life here. In other words, I'm not going to try so hard to find soy milk, nor am I going to expect bureaucracy to be easy in a former communist country. I am trying to break my bad habit of constant comparisons between here and home - a tall order because unlike during my previous travels, this time feels like it's for real.

That feeling has nothing to do with Poland, or even the fact that I will be here for a year. It's because whether I like it or not, my running off to Europe doesn't change the fact that I'm technically an adult now, whatever that means.

So then, if I'm not the same, the next question is "Who in the world am I?"

Ah, that's the great puzzle!

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Like a welcome summer rain, humor may suddenly cleanse and cool the earth, the air and you

This past week has been a good example of how reality rarely meets expectations.

Of course it's not always a bad thing - to my pleasant surprise, my work days at a corporate job (who would have thunk?) seem to fly by. People here have great senses of humor and are some of the friendliest I've met anywhere. The amount of random acts of kindness I've received since being here are astounding. Polish people will say they have more in common with Spanish or Italians culturally than their German neighbors, and I can see their point. In terms of living, my flat is nothing like what Americans think of European apartments - it's spacious, new and has a balcony.

On the flip side, you really can't find everything here you would at food, for example. Or perhaps this is just an example of how I haven't figured things out here yet (until then, I'll eat kielbasa). Although if I hang out with the (many!) other trainees, I'll speak English, language has been much harder than I expected. Because of the way I look, I constantly find myself in need of a Polish decoder ring. Polish people are so friendly and jovial, too, so it's hard to avoid awkward non-Polish speaking interactions. So far I've learned the Polish words for "sandwich lady" (the exciting daily office announcement) and how to order a beer. So worst case scenario, at least I know I won't starve.

Krakow is hardly as cheap here as I had heard - something, I've learned after speaking to one of my flatmates, that has changed drastically in the past five years. It's not just the weakness of the dollar but the vast amount of growth the economy is experiencing here - i.e., a lot of Polish immigrants to places like the UK and Ireland are starting to come back.

If I could make a comparison between Krakow and anywhere a little more familiar, it would be Harlem: you have the jazz clubs, the "renaissance" and the new gentrification, and with festivals going on nearly every day of the summer, Krakow is certainly not short on culture. It even looks the same as its New York cousin - crumbling apartment buildings with parks in between them with children playing, weathered grandmothers looking on.

If I ever get a chance to catch up on my sleep, I'll remember to hold fast to dreams...