Saturday, August 9, 2008

I cannot be dictated by a watch

Time in Krakow rushes by like it's on amphetamines... it's hard to believe that I've already been here for a month. But the big picture eludes me.

Does it feel like home? Will it ever?

Having a network is not the same as belonging, as I'm finding out. It doesn't help that the nine hour work days and my attempts to go to as many activities possible - or an inability to say no to said activities - have meant that I've fallen asleep in front of BBC World News more times than I would like.

There have been some ups - Polish style barbecues, impromptu concerts, fireworks festivals....and some downs - a full train to Gdansk (meaning I can't go on my long weekend coming up), a language even some Poles tell me not to bother with, and that fact that I've somehow managed not to travel at all during my time here. Luckily I can work around most of those. Case in point: this week I had my first Polish language lesson - with a woman who doesn't speak English, a blessing in disguise for me because my native tongue is like a crutch around here. I feel like one of my former Thai students, only with a slightly less sponge-like brain.

Time in Krakow always seems to move too fast or too slow. I can only hope the saying is true that an ounce of patience is worth more than a pound of brains...

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Engineering the human soul

I have a new favorite place in Krakow. Nowa Huta was ordered by Stalin to be built as a model communist town, unsurprisingly built around a steel mill. It was to serve as an example to bourgeois Krakow, former home of Polish royalty. Today, it's home to milk bars, skinheads, and bangin' thrift shops. The grey communist block buildings are now occupied by Stylish Restaurants, and the lake where steel mill chemicals used to be dumped now has a fishing club...but no word about how edible the catch really is. The one major church in Nowa Huta is shaped like Noah's ark, which symbolizes carrying the masses out of the oppression of communism. Hometown hero John Paul II gave a moonrock brought back from Neil Armstrong to the church as a special blessing.

Space, chemicals, subcultures, propaganda, takes time really to know a place and a people. But I've learned that having your eyes wide open is not enough. I've been asking more and more questions that previously I was afraid to ask, thinking it would make me look like an ignorant American. Here are some things I have learned:

- The deal with packs of young guys walking around town in capes singing the Polish version of "Guantanamera" is that they have just left the compulsory military service. They are now free to party whenever they want. That's what the lyrics of the song are about - freedom.
- The goofy Polish rapper on TV is their version of Stephen Colbert, not their version of 50 cent.
- "W" and "Z" are actual words in Poland, not letters or abbreviations (they mean "in" and "from").
- Nobody understands me when I use idioms like "sticking around" or "what the dilly yo?"

Just like the Nowa Huta builders, I have to take it one brick at a time.