My wife and I are flying to Poland a week from today, and that will be the third time I’ve been in Europe. We are going to her nephew’s first communion, in Danusia’s hometown of Kalisz. Kalisz is a few hours southeast of Warsaw.
It’s a little unnerving going to a place where I don’t speak the language or much of the culture. I lived in Greenpoint many years ago and had a Polish landlord and shopped in Polish stores, but that doesn’t count.
My first time in Europe was in Germany, in 1980. I didn’t know that language either, but I went courtesy of the U.S. government and had other American soldiers to speak to. My best memory of that trip besides the jump in (we parachuted in after an excruciating 13 hour flight on a C-141) was finding a Punk Rock club in the city of Hannover one night after I’d ditched my fellow soldiers. When I went back for the second night it was a private party for Turks only. I was sorely disappointed. We also visited Belsen, and I was surprised at how small it was. I was also surprised to find out the Wiener schnitzel is just a breaded veal cutlet.
We went to Scotland in 2011; Danusia took her show to the Fringe Festival in Edinburgh. We saw the castle and I was startled the second night there by the sound of a fighter jet that ripped through the sky each night over the city. It was a flyover for a big military style show in the stadium built next to the Edinburgh castle on top of a big hill. That was a fun trip, but a little exhausting considering what a vertical city Edinburgh is. Worse than Hamilton Heights.
After the festival we drove to London, where we stayed at Danusia’s boss’s house in Notting Hill. It was a scary drive considering Danusia had never driven on the right before and I was sitting in the passenger’s seat. London was great, we went to Hyde Park and walked to Westminster, saw the cathedral and Big Ben and Parliament and the Thames and went on a scary amusement park ride.
We also got to experience the Notting Hill Carnival courtesy of hurricane Irene. Bloomberg shut down the airports and our flight home was cancelled. It took a week to get the next flight out and I had to fly to Boston with 200 plastic tomatoes in a big travel bag.
But before I got on the flight to Boston I spent a night in Dublin with our friends Shannon and Craig. They’d come to the show at the Fringe Festival, and since the choice was staying in London by myself for the night (Danusia had gotten a direct flight to Kennedy a day earlier than my flight) I took the invitation to stay with them for a night. Ireland is very green.
All of those flights were alone, Danusia had gone to Edinburgh a week before me and all of my flights were booked separately, and since I flew Aer Lingus I had to fly to Dublin first then Edinburgh, and conversely from Heathrow to Dublin to get my flight to Boston. At least we get to sit together on the flight to Warsaw.
Danusia used to do a performance piece when she returned to Poland the first time after staying in the U.S. in the ‘80s. She called it “The American Aunt” and it was her wearing dowdy American style clothing and showering her Polish relatives with cheap American trinkets. Now, after living in the states for some thirty years she is truly “The American Aunt,” and has been busy buying gifts, good ones.
We went to Mexico in 2010, and Canada last summer. Here is a picture of a Russian plane on a Canadian airfield:
When we arrived in Mexico I remember the customs agents, a man and a woman in blue uniforms and .357 Magnums strapped to their thighs looked up at me strangely after they looked at my passport, where it lists Mexico as my country of birth. I wondered what they thought, but they made no comment and their scowls remained in place. The day we were leaving we were chatting with the maid at the place we were staying at.
“Your Spanish is very good.” She said. “”Where are you from?”
“I’m Mexican. I was born here.” After giving me a surprised look, she stared at me for a beat longer, then gave a curt shake of her head and said:
“You’re not Mexican.” I believe the woman was right.