20 May 1980

Unesco hopes, car engine oil and the future of the world

Market Square

Funny episode today. I went for a walk to the Old City (Stare Miasto), which Poland expects to become a Unesco World heritage Site later this year. (Post scriptum: It will, in September.)

After parking I am approached by one of the usual illegal parking "guardians" who promises to look after my car for a tip. Same as in Rome, really. But perhaps more useful here, where petty theft of windshield wipers and light bulbs is a much more common occurrence. In fact  when you walk around you see most cars which are parked in the street have their windshield wipes removed to prevent it being stolen. It would be very difficult to replace, not so much for the cost, but because of unpredictable availability.

Anyway, after agreeing on a tip we chat a bit. Our only common language, beyond my yet way too basic Polish, is German. He tells me of his detention in German camps as a prisoner of war in 1944, where he learned the language. A grim experience but somehow he managed to survive.

He asks how much it costs to buy a car in Italy.
-What car?, I ask him.
-Well say a Polonez.
-No one would really bother to buy a Polonez in Italy - I respond, and he is not a bit disappointed - but if they did it might cost some 4-5 months' wages to an average worker.
--Really? - he is surprised - Pretty good, here it costs about eight years of wages, 400,000 zlotys. It is hard to really calculate the cost of a car in this way, but anyway I get the point.

He then starts to share his views on world history, past and future. He believes the first great empire in history was Rome, and the second that of Bismarck's Germany. The third one will be Russia's empire. Russia is economically weak today, but has great potential and will rise to rule the world.  It must be that way, there is no other possibility. He does not sound like he is an indoctrinated Communist and hopes for socialism to prevail under the leadership of the Soviet Union. In fact he does not even mention the Soviet Union at all. He speaks of Russia as destined to lead the world in the next century.

Royal Palace
I am not sure whether I should be more amused or worried, but I don't take the conversation much further, because of both language limitations and lack of a meaningful exchange. But it was interesting to listen to him. He is very helpful, I have a problem with the lubricant of Giallina's engine and he helps sort it out, for which he gets a nice tip. One of those nice people you meet along the way, share an intense moment with, shake hands and will never meet again.

After my walk about the old city I go to the Czechoslovak embassy to apply for another transit visa, we'll need it to drive back to Italy at the end of our stay. I also ask for a map of the country, I'd like to avoid getting arrested again at a military base, but none is available. Let's hope for the best.

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