30 April 1980

Nourishing body and mind in Warsaw

Last day of classes. It's not been a hard semester, let me say it once more. But it has been and will probably remain the most instructive semester of our university time. What we have learned living in Poland, meeting our colleagues and just experiencing life here could not possibly be taught.

Parents and Warsaw block of flats
Out for lunch with parents, then some shopping. One of the few items of high manufacturing quality and reasonable prices in the official, non-black market, you can find in Poland is crystal. I love crystal and in the Stare Miasto we can find a few shops that sell beautiful vases for 1,300 to 1,800 zloty, less than fifty US dollars. We buy a few to take back to Rome.

The evening sees us going to the Wielki Teatr (Big Theater) for a ballet performance. For two centuries this has been the most prestigious opera and ballet theater in the country. Mahler, Prokofiev, Bizet. It was not really possible to find tickets in the open market. And I did not really look into the black market. Bogdan however, our head teacher, who has been taking such good care of us over the last couple of months, somehow found them and very kindly provided them to us! The ballet is OK, not great really, but the music is fine and we have very good seats.

After the performance we invite Bogdan and his wife to the Victoria hotel for a dinner at the Canaletto restaurant. It is always a sublime experience to come and dine here. Food, service, ambiance... everyting is perfect. Again quite cheap (for us!) including Italian wine. Two bottles of Grignolino d'Asti and lots of meat for everyone and all for less than 75 dollars.

29 April 1980

Dinner, party and flags

Busy all day with classes, in the morning at SGPiS and in the afternoon at the foreign policy center. We are not done before 7:15pm.

The three of us then go the apartment and meet my parents and Ewa and Marian, whom we invite to the Budapest restaurant for dinner. Hearty Hungarian fare. So cheap... 3300Zloty for 7 people, including 2 bottles of excellent Spanish wine. Marian and Ewa are more critical than usual (which is to say something) of the system, and it seems clear that they are planning to leave Poland, where they see no future.

After dinner, parents go to sleep, Ann and I go and meet some Russians for a party, and we stay up and have fun until 1:00am. Interesting, even surprising cultural experience, it is the first time we associate with Russians for a whole night as I can remember. (It would also be one of the last.)

One Russian lady, Marina, is totally, absolutely in love with Lenin. She talks all night about Lenin as if he were Father Christmas. She sings a song to us that was Lenin's favorite. She is almost in tears ad she does...

It is always hard to say, with Soviet students, how much they really believe what they say and how much they have to say it, perhaps because their party custodian angel is looking over their shoulders. Yet, what a stark difference between them and the Poles. In over two months here, we have yet to meet a real Polish Communist, let alone a singer of Lenin songs!

After the party, Ann and I raid the city for Polish flags. I like to collect flags from the countries I visit, and most of the time I buy them. But they mean so much more if you can steal them from somewhere important. These days Warsaw is covered with flags in preparation for the May 1st celebrations. So it's easy to just pick them off government buildings, party headquarters, schools, banks, dorms, you name it. We just take four big ones. Anyway it will be good publicity for Poland when we hang them in our dorm rooms back home, so we don't feel so guilty.

28 April 1980

Studying and cooking

Usual classes at school, then to parents' apartment to study. They went to Krakow for a couple of days so I can take advantage of the extra space and privacy. Can't really say I am studying hard. The program is nowhere nearly as challenging as Georgetown's courses in Washington. But again, that's not why we are here.

After studying I am joined by Ann who had spent the afternoon doing her own homework. We have an unusual dinner, with a fairly large table and tableware in a real apartment.

I cook some Italian sauce (with local produce, it's not quite the same thing but not too bad). Especially the tomatoes leave a bit to be desired. They are not Italian. Probably Bulgarian, or from some other brotherly socialist country with more sunshine than Poland. Luck has it that Italian food, at least in its basic concepts, is fairly easy to learn and cook even with foreign ingredients. Somewhere I found a bottle of cheap wine to make it a real dinner.

I must say it's good to be able to spend time here for a change, but I prefer Borzena's excessive meals, both for the quality of the food and the human experience that comes with her loving family. Tonight she went out with Andrew.

27 April 1980

Wilanow, missed Chopin and more food

Parents at Wilanow
In the morning we all go to Wilanow, a beautiful park with a magnificant XVII century royal palace. We are lucky as it is a beautiful day.  Long walks and visit to the palace, heritage of the time when Poland was a powerful kingdom.

Lunch at Borzena's, with some funny exchanges between my parents and hers since they have no common language and no one can translate from Italian to Polish. So the conversation develops via English. Much is probably lost in translation but who cares about the substance, it is a very warm welcome that we all appreciate very much.

Chopin was born here
Trip to Zelanowa Wola, the birthplace of Chopin, the most famous Polish composer. Unfortunately his home museum s closed, despite the fact that Borzena called them in advance to make sure they would be open to visitors. Too bad. We'll try to come back, it's not far and there are frequent concerts performed by pianists from all over the world.

Dinner back to Borzena's. My parents have a hard time understanding when we explain that people must line up for food for hours. Borzena's family provides such meals that make you think this is easy for them. Of course it isn't, we know well, and it is all the more remarkable for that.

We have driven a lot today and need to fill up. For the first time, our usual gas station will not sell us fuel at the "Polish" price, apparently they have had some problems with the authorities. But today they want the "foreign" price, about four times more expensive.

No problem, we just go to another station and proceed as usual to pay the subsidized price: 25 zl/liter.

26 April 1980

East-West Seminar party and blind singer

Party at our university with the participants in an East-West trade seminar. The substance of the seminar is not so important as the opportunity for young colleagues from the two sides of the Cold War to mingle together and speak freely.

We are not official participants: those come from the many countries represented: Common Market, Comecon, North America. But everyone seems to be eager to have us around. It seems any opportunity is precious for most of our Polish colleagues to associate with Westerners. And we are very eager to be here. We can hear more candid talk, and learn more about politics and economics, in this kind of context that in any classroom.

Lots of flags hanging from the balconies in the inner courtyard of the university. I wish I could take some home for my collection but no chance. Just kidding. The flags are hanging in no special order, and the American and the Italian flag happen to be next to each other, how appropriate for the three of us!

In the evening we all go to the home of Karol, a blind singer. It's amazing how he can not only sing but actually have a very positive attitude to life in his circumstances. He can sing in English as well as Polish.

I end up staying out until very late with some friends, but Andrew somewhere else with some other friends. Because we did not coordinate Andrew ends up locked out of the dorm! The dorm door is locked at midnight but this is never a problem, a little tip and we are always let in.

But today somehow the porter woman, a gargantuan lady who never smiles, and who usually will let us in after hours for an American quarter, is not around. Probably fast asleep. I feel sorry for him, oh well not too bad, stuff like that can happen in college, especially in Poland, and I guess he was in good company.

24 April 1980

Parents fly over from Italy to meet us in Warsaw

After the usual morning classes and lunch, in the early afternoon I drive to the airport to pick up my flying in from Rome to visit for a week.

It is going to be a week of surprises for them, their first time beyond the "iron curtain". They are obviously very happy to see me and excited about visiting. They flew with Lot, the Polish flag carrier. Alitalia does not serve Warsaw. The Soviet-made aircaft is not especially comfortable the the service on board leaves a lot to be desired, but the flight is only a couple of hours, no big deal. I take them to the rented apartment so they can freshen up.

In the evening, Andrew and Ann take us out for a meal of duck at our "1st duck place" as we refer to the anonymous restaurant where we have consumed many a duck in recent weeks. We named it so in order to distinguish it from the "2nd duck place", a similar eatery in the center of Warsaw. Who knows why duck is so popular on Polish menus.

22 April 1980

Classes and some privacy

Usual classes in the morning at SGPiS. Nothing to write about.

In the afternoon foreign policy class at the foreign policy institute, more propaganda coming our way but I must admit that these classes are actually fun. Not because of what they want us to learn, but because it is interesting to see how educated professional bend reality to suit the mandatory party line. They actually do a pretty good job of it. Basically they zig zag between "well you know we did not like doing it but we had to do it because the USSR so decided" and "we had to do it but it actually made sense, in a way, if you think about it from another point of view".

Dinner is at the Pod Golembiami restaurant (it means "under the doves"), pretty good and as usual dirt cheap for us.

Spent the night at the apartment I rented for my parents, they don't arrive until Thursday but the landlord was nice enough to give me the keys a few days in advance for free. Nice to be away from the student dorm for a few days, privacy and space!

21 April 1980

Duck and private lodging

Another big lunch at Borzena's home. Her mum has prepared duck, a favorite dish in Poland and it is delicious as almost everything she prepares. In fact, judging from the voracity of our appetite at every meal, I'd say everything must have been very good. Simple cooking, lots of proteins and fat, hearty cooked cabbage. We are really very lucky to be treated like royals every time we come here, which is almost every day. The duck is crispy skin and tender tasty meat.

In the evening we all go the the Chopin Academy for a concert by the Italian pianist Ruggero Gerlin, he is getting on with age and shows it but still plays quite well.

Afterwards Ann and I go to our friends Ewa and Marianto pick up the keys to an apartment of some friends of theirs where I will host my parents who are planning to visit soon. Strictly speaking it is illegal to rent out to foreigners fnr hard cash, but of course it is a widespread practice among Poles with extra real estate to spare.

We then go and have a look: a fairly dreadful gray building, typical Soviet block construction. But everything is in order, it is big enough for the purpose and clean. Obviously I will pay in dollars for this and for the owners it is going to be a significant boost to their income for the month.

20 April 1980

Wedding stripping and beers

During breakfast somehow the conversation gravitates toward a the wedding party of P. She says how it was an unusual wedding, people got a bit drunk and started to strip until some were totally naked. Some guests rushed to cover up the a naked man, but she did not mind to see that at her wedding. it make it all more natural. Well, I guess why not? Going naked is something that is sometimes used in Communist countries as a display of protest. Not many other ways of protesting are allowed and this is a cheap and cheerful one. In East Germany they are especially good at it.

I spend the afternoon in my room studying for the upcoming exams. But not too long. Romek comes up with an invitation to go out for a beer. We all go to the "Bolek" pub. I down one beer, some of my classmates up to five or six. It is really amazing how we have become close friends with Polish students is such a short time. I guess it is in part because of their eagerness to meet people from the West, and our eagerness to penetrate the Iron Curtain. Beer can do a lot to facilitate this.

19 April 1980

Football and mountain climbing

Easy day. Tried to go to a bank but it was closed. Sometimes they are open on saturday, but not today.

Visit at the post office to call Italy. Must wait half an hour or so. It must be easier to call the moon.

Easy afternoon at Larissa's home watching Italy vs Poland, a friendly match. Not so exciting, ends up 2-2. Anyway better than when we lost to Poland in the 1974 World Cup in Germany.

After the match Borzena gives us no choice: her mother has prepared dinner for us and we are expected. Again an avalanche of proteins, cold and hot, has fallen over the dining table by the time we take our seats.

During dinner we watch some TV and today there is a program on mountaineering. The whole country is justifiably proud that a Polish expedition has reached the summit of Mount Everest in February of this year, the first team to make it in Winter. Leszka Cichy and Krzysztof Wielicki are national heros.

It is, appropriately, unseasonably cold in Warsaw. When we leave Borzena's place to go home it is snowing!

18 April 1980

Shopping, smoking and tea

In the morning, after class, we go downtown, to the CENTRUM shooping area. There is very little to shop. I was looking for Summer clothing, some shirts with short sleavees, but no luck. What is available is cheap but so depressingly dreary that even someone like me who knows little about clothing and cares less ends up not buying anything.

In the afternoon it's foreign policy classes again. Usual propaganda nonsense. But the professors, retired diplomats, are very polite and kind. One former ambassador to the UN asks politely whether we would mind if he smoked. Andrew immediately says of course it is not a problem, and we all nod. I am not too happy but what to do? We are guests at his office. He then starts to light up a long, uninterrupted series of really awfully strong cigarettes for the whole duration of the class. Poles are on average heavy smokers, here there is nothing like the relentless campaigns we have in the West to raise awareness of the negative health consequences of smoking.

Later we are invited by Pat, an American student at our same university, to go to the American Embassy for a drink at the "Marines' bar".  A strange place where "Eastern" people are not admitted and marines get drunk mostly among themselves since they are not allowed to socialize with local girls. I politely turn down the offer, though the others go for a drink and meet a certain Michael, a diplomat in search of adventures.

In the evening it's tea time at the home of Larissa, Borzena's best friend. She is quite well off, the daughter of a successful diplomat, and lives alone in a three-bedroom apartment in Lazienki, a (relatively) posh neighborhood of the capital. Not quite what you would expect from the daughter of a diplomat of a socialist regime but whatever, she is a pleasant young woman and we spend an enjoyable evening together.

16 April 1980

Mail and telephone

By chance, we meet Stefan at the university. He looks at our books on the economics of the socialist bloc and says: "All lies". Succint and to the point.

In the evening I wanted to go and visit Ewa with Borzena. As I pick her up at home, I am invited to another - you guess - unnecessarily large dinner. We drive to Ewa's but she is not at home.

Private telephone lines are not always to be taken for granted in Poland, even in the capital. Therefore sometimes the only way to communicate with someone is to go to their home and if they are out for the evening, well try again another time! And international calls are even more difficult. I have to go to the post office every time I need to call Italy. I could be wrong but don't think it is a matter of cost, but rather of control: if everyone had a phone line it would be impossible to bug them all!

Even sending letters abroad is not easy. This morning Ann and I went to the airport to ask someone, anyone, traveling to the United States to post a letter once across the Atlantic. We find a cooperative gentleman in the check-in line for the flight to New York. Posting from Poland might take ages and many letters are "lost".

15 April 1980

Meals, music and socialist toilets

Morning classes and afternoon homework. Sort of. This program is not very hard, really, much less so than our courses back at Georgetown. But that is not the point. We are here to experience much more importantly than we are here to learn. And we sure are experiencing beyond expectations!

Dinner again at Borzena's, where we are, as usual, hopelessly overfed. Her family hospitality is beyond imagination.

We then all go to the Sala Koncertowa for a  concert by the orchestra of the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields, a famous London chamber orchestra. They make a triumphal performance and are called back by the public for five encores.

After which, do I need to add, we go back to Borzena's for a little night snack: cheese, cold cuts, vodka, bread (excellent Polish brown bread) and butter...

Back at the dorm we meet Stefan who is just back from the USSR, Armenia to be precise. He went there to represent Poland at some event for the socialist youth organizations of the East bloc. He gets to travel a lot in his capacity as head of the communist youth organization at the university.

He recounts as the student dormitory where he was housed in Yerevan did not have toilet paper, in fact no toilets, just holes in the ground. No hot water, only cold water three hourse per day. He did find one toile for his use before returning however: at the airport, and it was reserved for foreign travelers only!

Why is this is beyond our understanding: the only explanation is that, toilets being scarce, one does not want to look dirty to foreign capitalist imperialists. But toilets can't be that scarce, or expensive. It is a refrain we'll encounter often in socialist countries: the hated (by the regime) foreigner (ofter a capitalist, though not in this case) gets "privileges" the locals don't even dream of.

He sees the pamphlet "Facts about Poland" which we have been given at school and comments drily: "Not a word of truth in there".

14 April 1980

Visas and ice cream

After our usual morning classes we must once again to to the government visa office: our last Polish visa was cancelled because we left the country to go to Berlin. Why? Who knows, but must there be a reason? Maybe to provide a few more government jobs in the visa office. Whatever... Three more forms to fill out and two days to wait before we must return and pick them up.

The employee who is dealing with our stuff is amazed to find out that Ann speaks Polish and is of Polish origin, and starts a long conversation on Polish literature. I have a feeling Ann does not always follow all the details of the conversation, but that is not the point. It is pretty amazing to see her carry on with total control of the situation. So the visit to the visa office takes even longer than usual, but it is actually almost fun!

In the evening, after the inevitable huge meal at Borzena's home, we all go to a local park and play frisbee. Frisbees are all over the place in American universities but still a novelty over here. After having burned a lot of calories running after the disc, we go and put them back on by devouring excellent local ice cream!

13 April 1980

Walking and eating in Warsaw

In the morning we take a walk around the Wilanow park with Borzena and one of her friends. Andrew and I are thereafter invited to lunch at her place (needless to say we are again overfed with precious meats and other hard to find delicacies) and then out again for a walk in the old city. Stare miasto is always charming, it has been recontructed very well after the near total destruction of World War II.

Borzena is a very friendly and smart young lady. She clearly wants out of Poland, sees to end to the dark days of socialist depression. It is for this reason, I think, that she hangs out with as many Westerners as she can. Being smart and pretty, of course, helps her make friends. Her brother is the same, though of course has less of a chance attracting Western females.

She gets upset when, at about 8 o'clock in the evening, we tell her we are really not hungry for another meal at her home.ut there is nothing to do and we have to go and eat again. (And drink: vodka is never absent from the table.)

This extreme hospitality is not totally new to me. It is the same I found every time I visited my family in Calabria and Puglia. You have to eat everything all the time or else they take umbrage. And if you eat at the home of one relative you automatically must eat at everyone else's, lest they take offense and don't talk to you again. Which is one reason, I admit, why I don't visit my relatives as often as I otherwise might. I eat a lot but hardly have time to visit their beautiful regions.

12 April 1980

Both sides of Berlin and return to Poland

Wake up around 8. Our landlady serves us a most welcome large breakfast and while we eat she tells us stories from her fading but still lucid memories from World War II. She lived in Gdansk (Danzig) at the start of the war, on 1 September 1939, when Germany attacked. Like many older people she likes to talk and inevitably repeats herself. We heard it the other day too but it still sends shudders down our spines.

The copious breakfast takes time to consume and we are in due course taken to Berlin, where our lady was displaced during the war. Here, under relentless Allied bombing, her 4-month old child starved to death while her husband went crazy on the Russian front. She tried to commit suicide by cutting her veins but did not do a good job and survived. After taking leave from her we move back to East Berlin. here we visit the Treptower Park, with another huge mausoleum to fallen Soviet soldiers.

We leave Berlin and the wall behind for one last time.
The old Reichstag and the wall on the right

The Wall: hard to believe neighbours are now on the opposite side of the Cold War

On the bombing ot Berlin, read

11 April 1980

Visiting Berlin

Lazy wake up call at 9:30 and long walk in the Tiergarten.

Tiergarten and Victoria column
We see the Victoria tower, enjoy a great panoramic view from the top and walk all the way up to the Brandenburger Tor, from which we can see the Berlin Wall. Nearby we can also visit a colossal monument to the Soviet soldiers who conquered Berlin. However, unsurprisingly, there are no West Berliner visiting the shrine!

Looking into East Berlin from the Victoria tower

We also visit a history museum in the old Reichstag building, kind of boring, not nearly as much fun as the one in the East! An interesting exhibit is a collection of Deutsche mark notes from the 1920s, when Germany experienced hyperinflation and developed a sort of paranoia for expansionist monetary policies that will last many decades.

One billion mark notes seem small change. I am struck by the two hundred billion mark bank note! That's serious money!

DM hyperinflation bank notes

10 April 1980

Exploring West Berlin

Early in the morning we are ejected from our guesthouse and start looking for another place to spend the night. We found a couple of rooms for rent in the house of a friendly eighty-year-old woman in Charlottenburg. It's a beautiful home if a bit tired in terms of furniture and decorations.

Our hostess in Berlin

As soon as we arrive, and she hears we are studying in Poland, she starts telling us stories about the war. She lived in Gdansk (then Danzig) and saw the first Stukas dive bomb Poland on 1 September 1939. She also saw German battleships shell Polish territory but not a shot coming from the other direction. She is not nostalgic of pre-war Germany, but quite a bit worried about living in divided contemporary Germany, especially in isolated West Berlin.

In the afternoon we visit Charlottenburg and the big radio tower. We walk for many kilometers, I am quite exhausted by the end of the day.

Dinner at a simple Italian restaurant, San Giorgio, OK quality and cheap, what we need. Italian food abroad is rarely as good as at home in Italy, but it is usually inexpensive and filling, excellent for three students on the go!

We then walk around the city, aimlessly, hopping from one Bierstube to the next without any particular goal or target in mind. We are impressed by the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church, left as a reminder the way it was after an Allied air raid in 1943.

To see what life in Berlin looked like at the end of five years of Allied bombing click here to watch a contemporary video.

09 April 1980

East Berlin taster and move to West Berlin

Hotel Stadt Berlin in Alexanderplatz
Arrive in East Berlin at about 7:15am, it is raining hard and it's damn cold! Good start!

The city center is clean and every corner is almost manicured. First things first, we climb on top of the Fernsehturm, the long TV tower that is a point of reference for anyone moving around East Berlin. Built between 1965 and 1969 it is the tallest structure in all of Germany (NOTE in 2015: it still is!) and a symbol of pride for the authorities of the Germand Democratic Republic (GDR). Unfortunately because of the weather we can't see much from the top: it no longer rains but we can see just clouds and fog.
As we descend and walk around we discover that not all parts of the city are as spotless as we thought after our first impression around the station: many streets are dirty, they qualify for the title of slums really.

A few churches are available in this most strict Communist dictatorship. Re-built after the war, they are empty shells of bricks and concrete. No decorations. Only a few pieces of low-relief sculptures are on display, recuperated from the pre-war works.

Cold morning in Berlin

We then visit the Palace of Culture and the History Museum, both places replete with vicious attacks against the West in every shape or form: posters, caricatures.

We then try to cross the wall into West Berlin on foot, but we are not allowed to do so, can do only by metro, crossing at the Friedrichstrasse station. This is a unique station because it is in East Berlin but it is served by West Berlin metro, allowing for a more easily controlled border crossing.

The old pre-war German metro is still functioning but of course it is divided. Some stations had to be closed as the trains travel under West Berlin to go from one part to another of East Berlin.

When we arrive in West Berlin we start looking for a place to stay, and walk around the shining city for many kilometres. Very expensive for us after we have gotten used to Polish prices! Finally we find a mediocre room in the Buchenwald Pension for DM 26 per day. We are very tired and collapse soon after eight o'clock, and will sleep for a solid twelve hours.

08 April 1980

Departure for Berlin

In the evening we board our long desired train for East Berlin. It's taken us so long to get the tickets, visas and legal cash we almost gave up. But now we are on.

The train is fairly comfortable, though we don't have a sleeper bed. Before it's dark we get a glimpse of the flatlands of Western Poland, the so long fought-over Pomerania.

We fall alseep knowing it's going to be a fascinating experience but a little worried about going to a society with a reputation for being much stricter and less forgiving than Poland.

06 April 1980

Easter day procession at Jasna Gora

Get up very early in the morning. We are out of the hotel by 5.30 or so. It is VERY VERY cold!

The processions at Jasna Gora start at six o'clock, but they are not as impressive as we expected. Not so many people. Hundreds, not thousands. And it is Easter day.

Rather frugal arrangements, maybe resources are limited. Surely they must be. Yet we expected to find a lot more enthusiasm in the wake of the Polish Pope's recent visit and continuing commitment to change in Poland.

05 April 1980

Trip to Czestochowa

Today we fill up Giallina at a new gas station. They don't know us so we must be a bit circumspect in negotiating a price. They readily agree to sell for 28 ZL/liter (instead of the usual 18 we pay at our friends' station but much less than the official 75 we should pay as foreigners).

Easy and pleasant trip to Czestochowa. We drive through several villages. In Sulmierzyce the local parish priest is excited to see our Roman car plate and insists to take us into the church and introduce us to the parishioners. Many people, they came for the Easter blessing.

Interesting to note that in this church, and others in small villages, a statue of Christ is guarded by two statues of medieval soldiers.

We keep driving along and run into a Soviet military cemetery. No crosses of course, just red stars and plain stones on the graves..

The Soviets are not loved in Poland, to put it mildly, but the official party line is that they liberated the country from the Nazi invasion. Which is true, except that they had partitioned the same country with the Nazi in 1939, and except that they did not really "liberate" it, as in give it freedom, but rather subjected it to a new communist dictatorship.

You can read more about this in many books, including the following.

Jasna Gora
When we get to Czestochowa it is really cold, there is a lot of snow on the ground. The Jasna Gora monastery is imposing, surely the most impressive site we have seen in Poland so far. It is the hear of Christianity in Poland. here, almost a year ago, Pope John Paul II delivered his farewell speech at the end of a trip that stirred emotions in Catholic Poland.

Black Madonna

Tonight we stay at the Hotel Orbis Patria, the three of us have to squeeze into two beds, but there is no choice... we are used to it.

You can buy a beautiful reproduction of the Black Madonna here

02 April 1980

Train tickets and church music

After the usual morning classes I go for a hair cut at a barber shop in the Forum Hotel. 92 zloty with shampoo, pretty cheap and a good job.

Then Romek accompanies the three of us to buy our train tickets to Berlin. Despite the thorough preparatory work of the previous days, we need his help to overcome the indefatigable Polish bureaucracy. At one point a clerk wanted us to change money again, because the receipt of the money we changed yesterday had a different date (yesterday) than the date on the receipt of the train tickets (today). We manage to stay cool and Romek persuades the man to finally issue our tickets.

In the evening we go for a concert of Bach's Luke's passion in a small church in the center of town. Always a moving experience to listen to bach's religious music, even if I am not religious.

You can choose one of many editions of Bach's Passion according to St Luke on Amazon.

The best is probably this one:

Shopping for clothes and more study

Some more shopping for clothes in town, I need a jacket and trousers. Ann and I go around for a while and finally stumble is a nondescript department store, mostly empty and otherwise stocked with very very poor quality stuff. Finally I buy an almost decent kaki colored suit for 2250 Zloty. I am not difficult when it comes to clothes, in fact I don't really care, but this is really borderline. The cloth is rough, But it's the best there is, anywhere in the city.

After which we go to the post office to call Cathy, Ann's friend in Washington who will join us for a tour of Europe at the end of our course. Ann mentions to her for the first time that we'd like to drive to the Soviet Union, and she is not opposed to the idea. Ann feared she would be as she has little travel experience, very little. She initially said she wanted to see all of Europe in a few weeks, because she was not sure she would ever come back.

Apparently that's the way many Americans see a trip to Europe. I always noticed groups of Japanese tourists in Rome shooting pictures of everything as if it was the last thing they would ever see in their life. Rather gloomy prospect. But Ann talked to her and explained that it is much better to see less but go deeper. As I think about it, I am really lucky to have Ann and Andrew as my travel companions, we share a strong motivation to understand, which requires time and attention to detail. Never hurry. This trip would not be nearly as fun and useful as it is without them.

End of the day again studying in my parents' apartment, hoping that the landlord will let us keep it a few more days. More cheap and cheerful pasta and red wine for dinner. Better take advantage of it while it lasts.

01 April 1980

Train tickets and Russian caviar

After class Andrew, Ann and I spend about five hours in various offices trying, unsuccessfully, to buy our train tickets to East Berlin. We even change some money legally, at the official exchange rate (I think it's the first time since we arrived in Poland, and it will probably be the last) but then some ticket issuing authority tells us we have the wrong receipt. They had never mentioned that there is more than one kind of receipt for foreign currency exchange. And they are serious, despite today's date it's no April Fool's joke. Or maybe they are not serious serious, they just want a bribe.

We'll see, but it seems this trip to East Germany is rapidly becoming more trouble than it's ever going to be worth.

At 7:00pm Marta comes to visit in my room. In her unceasing efforts to win my favors she has actually made a huge Polish flag for me. (I collect flags from the countries aI visit and I had mentioned I would have liked a Polish flag to take home.) Then we are joined by Borzena. After a while I leave Marta to her destiny and take Borzena out for dinner to Staropolska. Here I try black caviar for the first time in my life.

Borzena is a fine lady and even though we are just friends, and I have no plans to change that, I decide to invite her to visit me in Italy at the end of our course. She does not believe me. Also, she is not sure how to put this to her parents, so we agree that probably the best way is for her to be invited by Ann. (An invitation is indispensable to get a visa from any Western country and also makes it easier to get a passport in Poland.) Though Ann could invite her to the States while I could invite her to Italy, and the difference is not exactly irrelevant for planning purposes.

Caviar is readily available in Poland - for hard currency, that is. It is smuggled in from the USSR where it is produced by the Caspian sea. Because it is highly sought by Western tourists, diplomats, anyone relly, its exportation to the West is strictly regulated. It can be taken out of Poland only if one can demostrate that it has been bought legally, and no one can. During the course of my stay in Poland I'll have quite a few chances to buy it at various markets. Usually the price is USD 50 for a 2kg can that is worth several thousand dollars inthe West but has been paid peanuts in the USSR, where supply is not regulated by market prices but by access to the producers.