Exploring Family Trees, Genealogy and History in Warsaw

January 7th, 2014

Inspiration Writing ContestPoland

warsawTrain ride to Warsaw, long uneventful. We are treated to pretzels and soda water. I listen to Lana del Rey’s existential musings on iTunes, falling asleep.

We arrive. Uncle Pavel and Aunt Inga greet us with a miniature garden flower bouquet.
Hugs and kisses. Inga’s husband Michael, then chaperones us to the family house — he wears fancy black gloves, as he steers his retro red convertible.

Grandma Kalina and Jeremy’s super-cute nieces and nephews welcome us. The table is overflowing with traditional Polish food. I enjoy some fresh herring, as we bond over family history. Uncle Pavel pulls out a family tree. He is passionate about genealogy.

We streetcar to the river. The water reflects the illuminated National Stadium: it is shaped like a woven basket. Bars and open-air music lounges line the shore. DJs blast experimental beats of electro-pop. The set-up is impressive. A stylish yet drunk teenager laughs loudly with her friends. Pavel tells us he doesn’t get this generation. It’s bedtime.

Kalina treats us to bread, tomatoes and fine cheese for breakfast. We curiously ask her about Warsaw — the conversation turns to the war. Kalina escaped Nazi rule, but in adulthood, she endured communist martial law. Tanks and armed generals patrolled the streets. Curfew for everybody before dark. Closed schools for children for several months. No passports. Sometimes no telephone service. I listen attentively with Jeremy, grateful for this first-hand account…

The phone rings — it’s Inga…she is picking us up in 10. I hold my head to the receiver — in the Warsaw Uprising Museum that is, as a Polish voice mumbles history. I see skeleton bodies piled up and huddled in old photographs of the Jewish ghettos. Mid-exhibit my mascara is smudged by tears. I look like Courtney Love. I am sensitive. I can’t help it. The 3D film of the bombs. The tiny toy bears of the war children. Why did they have to die so young?

Feeling forever changed by this experience — I am emotionally pensive and drained. I sip somekind of mint smoothie at the Greek restaurant. Inga says that Kalina’s apartment was burned down and then rebuilt. Wladyslaw Szpilman, the musician commemorated in the Roman Polanski film The Pianist, hid from soldiers in that same building.

We buzz up to Chris’ apartment. He is the husband of Jeremy’s aunt Helena, who has recently passed away. Helena was a renowned genetics professor and researcher. We sip tea listening to stories. Miles Davis’ plays in the background — Chris can’t stand modern music and doesn’t even like classical. Jazz is his thing, and he even plays the saxophone. We head outside for a downtown stroll…

Downtown had been completely destroyed. 1 million people died from the bombs. It was only reconstructed by communists. Romantic classical columns now contrast the boxy socialist buildings. The University has beautiful art deco gates. And cobblestone pavements echo the tapping of many shoes coming and going. There is a black-and-white documentary projected in the square, young people, hipsters, elders and everyone in between gather. We sit on the patio, talking and observing. A young cheeky waitress with lips painted red, wearing a folklore costume, serves us compote.

The street is buzzing with people. We stumble upon a colorful fountain show with holograms in it. Chris and Pavel think it is amateur. Jeremy and I are hypnotized. It is a million times more impressive than the Belaggio fountains in Vegas.

We are leaving tomorrow. We spend the day with Kalina, as well as Pavel and his kids. Pavel tells us that Jeremy is related to nobility, as well as a recognized local poet. I am proud– and think it’s pretty cool. Jeremy and I, perform some songs for the kids — they like it. It is a good atmosphere.

Michael gives us a goodbye tour of the city on his convertible. The lampposts, neon light art and architecture, all gain a different dimension. We eat pizzas with Michael and Inga at a restaurant. They share tales from visits to both Africa and Dubai. On an African safari in the outskirts –they were almost kidnapped by rebels. It is all very interesting.
We hug our extended family. They give us cultural souvenirs of books and movies.

After Berlin and Italy, I didn’t think I would like Poland as much as I did. But I am so grateful for gaining a new perspective and learning about history. I appreciate that I am not a victim of war, and can be as free as a bird. Just like a nomad gypsy, I can roam the vast land…

Next summer, before heading to France and Berlin — Jeremy and I, will further explore Poland. And you know what? I am extremely looking forward to it.

About the Author: Diana Fourka (Iddi): A fresh singer-songwriter and recent graduate of the York University English Literature program. Diana (Iddi) has had her poem published in Canadian Voices: Volume 2, and was the Senior Staff Writer for PRODUCT magazine. Be sure to check out her blogs: birdsinberlin, acidxtone and tallulahdoll.

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