Showing posts with label Poland. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Poland. Show all posts

27 December 2018

My latest book: Beyond the Wall, available on all Amazon sites.

My latest book:

Beyond the Wall:

Adventures of a Volkswagen Beetle

Beyond the Iron Curtain

has just been published and is available on all Amazon sites.


1980: the Cold War between capitalist West and socialist East is in full swing. Tensions are high but, at the academic level, some channels of useful exchange remain open. The author and two classmates would join one such program linking a leading American university and its counterpart in Poland. They drive to Warsaw in a bright yellow VW Beetle and, in addition to attending classes, travel far and wide within the country as well as to several of the neighbors in the socialist bloc where the Soviet Union called all the shots. They drive across the USSR and visit the Berlin Wall, the symbol of the division of Europe. Throughout, Marco takes detailed notes of what they see and hear.

Almost four decades later, the East-West division of Europe is gone. Marco recently found his diary and decided to publish an expanded version of it. His written notes from 1980 have been enriched with descriptions and analyses of historical events that will help the reader see his personal experience in a more significant cultural, social, political and economic context.

The author hopes this real life story will help younger generations, who did not live through the Cold War, better appreciate the blessing of living in a European continent that is immensely more open, rich and free than it was then.

26 May 2010

Film Review: Katyn, by Andzrej Wajda, *****


KATYN is the story of Polish army officers murdered by the Soviet secret police in the Katyn forest during the Second World War and the families who, unaware of the crime, were still waiting for their husbands, fathers, sons, and brothers to return. It is a film about the continuing struggle over History and memory, and an uncompromising exploration of the Russian cover up of the massacre that prevented the Polish people from commemorating those that had been killed.

30 November 2009

Film Review: Leçon Siberienne (Siberian Lesson) by Wojciech Staron, ****

Malgorzata et Wojciech décident de quitter Varsovie pour aller vivre à 7000 kilomètres, en Sibérie, à côté du lac Baïkal. Magorzata va enseigner le polonais aux descendants de ses compatriotes exilés. Une fois arrivés sur place, ils découvrent une Sibérie irréelle peuplée de personnages extraordinaires. Pendant l'hiver, par -40°, le lac Baïkal gelé est ouvert à la circulation automobile. Les voitures sautent par dessus de grandes brèches dans la glace. Un jour, une fête est organisée par les populations qui vivent sur le lac gelé... C'est une Russie parfois terrible, souvent drôle et toujours surprenante que nous font découvrir ces deux jeunes Polonais dans ce film émouvant qui se transforme peu à peu en journal intime de leur histoire d'amour sibérienne.


A moving story of a Polish couple who spend a year in Siberia amongst Russians of Polish origins who want to rebuild their ties to their ancient homeland. She teaches Polish and he shoots this movie! The couple receives a very warm welcome in the icy tundra and are moved to tears when the time comes to leave Siberia and return to Poland. A great story of the ties that bind these two nations. This is half autobiographic love story and half documentary on the problems of post-Soviet Russia.

That they travel by train adds to the drama of the enormous distance that separates the Poles of Siberia from their ancestral land.

27 March 1981

Article by Dan Lubin in "The Hoya", newspaper of G.U. on Polish Seminar

At the end of the month, Georgetown University will be the forum for a unique and unprecedented program. The United States International Communication Agency (USICA) has agreed to sponsor a seminar between the Warsaw School of Planning and Statistics (Polish acronym: SGPiS) and Georgetown University. The seminar, conceived and organized by Georgetown juniors Andrew Menard and Marco Carnovale, is designed to promote extensive exchanges of knowledge on different political and economic issues.

24 June 1980

End of the semester abroad in Poland

We spend the morning in Venice, just showing Cathy the highlights. I have some rubles left and manage to change them, at a very unfavorable rate, at a money changer in Piazza San Marco.

After lunch we get back into Giallina one last time for the home stretch to Rome. Mum, dad and my brother Fabio are waiting at our apartment in Via dei Mille, and a genuine Italian home-made dinner prepared by our family chef Anna concludes our trip.

It is over.

But I know it is not really over. I know I will return to Poland in the future, for personal and professional reasons. Borzena is scheduled to come and visit this Summer. Marian and Ewa surely will be in touch and we'll try to make some money together trading goods between Italy and Poland.

It's been the most instructive period of my life. I went to Poland because I was interested in the "real" socialism. Never a socialist myself, as a political scientist in the making I wanted to understand the thinking beyond the wall. I thought better knowledge could foster mutual understanding, and peace.

The problem is, no one in Poland seemed to care about socialism. Those who did speak about it hardly ever said anything positive. It was different in the USSR, where some of those we met did seem to believe in their official ideology.

We'll see, for now it's time to take in a good night sleep in my own bed!

22 June 1980

Driving south, policemen and lake Balaton

We wake up at 8 after a good night's sleep and head out to visit the house where Cathy's father lived before emigrating to the United States. It's a modest house but in fairly good shape. Who knows what it looked like when he was here?

For dinner Cathy's family serves us some hearty boszcz, lots of proteins and vitamins to take us through the day. After lunch we bid farewell and head south, toward the border. No problem with Polish customs, all our stuff gets through no questions asked.

We are back in Czechoslovakia and this time we manage to get through without getting lost or running into Soviet military bases. Can't help but notice the innumerable monuments to Soviet military equipment that dot the road. Kind of eerie, anyway better than the other military we met when we transited the country northbound.

We reach Budapest in the late afternoon and start looking for a hotel, but prices are way too high for our budget, so we decide to drive on.

As we progress along the main highway we stop occasionally to look for a place to sleep. Some camping grounds are cheap enough but fully booked. We decide to drive on, maybe all the way to Italy! At this point two policemen stop us and start looking for trouble. They check our passports, Giallina's papers, our tires, everything is fine. Or almost fine: they find that the light of Giallina's rear plate is broken. They say we must pay a fine of 200 forints (about 10 official US dollars, there is almost no black market for currency here, the black rate is abut 30, only fifty percent higher). We could pay but their attitude is irritating and we decide to dispute the fine. What follows is an endless discussion, they are clearly trying to take advantage of us foreigners to pocket some cash. But we finally manage to tire them out and drive on.

It's pretty late when we reach lake Balaton and find a nice little hotel for 5 dollars per room! We are not sure exactly where we are, but the area is pleasant and well maintained. Balaton is the main resort region of Hungary and a destination for many tourists from the socialist brother countries. Our fleeting impression of Hungary is that the standard of living is higher than Poland.

21 June 1980

Drive to Przemisl

We are ready to leave Warsaw at 9:30am. Last pictures together with our Polish classmates and friends. All of them came to say goodbye: Stefan, Romek, Borzena, Ella, Bonga, Elzbieta, Alina, Leszek, Tadek. This is it, our last departure from Warsaw, not for a drive around the country or the USSR, but to go home.

Romek and Stefan

Borzena Romek Ann Stefan Andrew and Marco

Alina Bonga Marco Ann Elzbieta Cathy

Elzbieta Alina Bonga

Elzbieta Andrew Alina Tadek Bonga
Cathy Wadim Ann

Andrew and Romek

It's been an immensely interesting and fun to spend these four months in Poland. I know I will be back, though I don't know when. Borzena will come visit me in Italy soon.

Just before leaving the capital, we fill our tank with our last black market gasoline from Jan's station. The drive to Przemisl is smooth and easy. Funny I should think of it this way. A few months ago I would have described Polish roads in less positive terms, but I guess we are used to it by now.

Once there, we meet Cathy's auntie, her father's sister. She's been waiting for us. She can only offer one room to us in her small apartment, but it will do. We'll squeeze in, Andrew and I in one bed and the girls in the other. There is no hot water and no sewage in the building, a strange smell whiffs out of the toilet, but we don't mind the small hardship.

This family is clearly not rich, but very hospitable nonetheless. Dinner is based on kanapki. After  which, three ladies and one man, in their thirties, not sure who they are, friends we guess, arrive and offer to take us for a tour of the town. Nothing much, but it gives us a good idea of a different Poland than that we have seen so far in Warsaw and other major cities.

20 June 1980

Last day in Warsaw, for now

Andrew and I go to the girls' dorm after breakfast, but they are not there. They were supposed to return yesterday from their tour of Finland and northern Poland. We are slightly worried, not that anything serious is likely to have happened (though you never know) but we had planned to start our trip back to Italy tomorrow...

Then Marek, Borzena's brother, calls to say everything is fine: Ann and Cathy are in Warsaw, they arrived in Gdansk with the night ferry from Helsinki at 9 o'clock, and managed to hop on a plane on to Warsaw. They just did not have a chance to call. We are relieved!

The afternoon is spent looking after our luggage and especially the last paperwork. We need a Polish exit visa, a transit visa to get us through Czechoslovakia and an entry visa into Hungary. By 5:30 in the afternoon our passports are decorated with a new collection of colorful stamps and we can relax. The most difficult was the Polish exit visa: after several months here we need to prove our course is over, our stipend is properly accounted for, our onward visa are in order. A friendly lady at the office somehow likes us a lot and puts our papers on top of the pile, just to be nice. She does not ask for money, just smiles.

We then go and say good bye to Marian and Ewa. I decide to buy a silver and marble clock they wan to sell, will present it to my parents. Because there are no official receipts, I am, strictly speaking, not allowed to export it. Silver is one of those precious metals that, if you can find it on the black market, is very cheap here, so the authorities want to prevent its contraband.

We also have various items that are not backed up by official sale receipts, like our monster 2kg Soviet caviar can, next to the pocket-size half-kilo can of Soviet caviar.

Final dinner at Borzena's home. The final intake of hearty home made Polish food. The kind that is often impossible to find in the shops but that her family, can manage to squeeze out of the black market. Or "free market" as, more appropriately, it is called here. She, always a melancholy type, weeps a bit, her mother more. In fact we all do a little bit, though the guys try to hide it.

19 June 1980

Getting ready to leave Poland

In the morning we go to meet the Rector of our university. We have a plan: organize a two-pronged student seminar meeting between Georgetown U. and SGPiS, one event each in Washington, DC and Warsaw. It should do much to improve understanding and it surely will be lots of fun. He agrees but, as expected, has little money to contribute except hospitality expenses in Warsaw. We'll have to take care of that from the US side. We'll try.

This highly intellectual endeavor is followed by a more mundane one: buying Russian caviar in the market of "Praga" a neighborhood of Warsaw that is famous for a farmers'smarket. Or fishermen's market. Or Soviet traders' market. Here you can find Russians who have the right connections to buy caviar (or gold, diamonds, furs...) at subsidized prices in the USSR and then sell it at enormous profit in Poland. Sometimes to Poles, in the best case to Westerners who pay convertible cash.

We buy half a kilo of premium Beluga caviar to eat ourselves and a huge can of 2 kg which we plan to resell once we reach Italy. We'll see.

Romek presents me with a beautiful fur hat. It's not the season to wear it now but it will come in handy in Washington next Winter.

One last currency exchange. I buy some Czechoslovak Koruna from Marian. Keep some and sell some to Pat for Hungarian Forint. We'll be driving through both countries and need a bit of each. Our professionalism in currency black market deals has reached enviable levels of sophistication.

In the evening we start packing crystals, caviar and the rest of our belongings. It will be a challenge to fit everything in Giallina's trunk. Also, there where three of us on the way from Italy, now we have Cathy. But somehow we do it. We stuff even the back seat of the car with tightly wrapped merchandise.

If they stop us at the Czechoslovak border and ask about all the crystal, we'll say we bought it with our student stipend. We are entitled to spend up to half of it on domestic goods and export them duty-free. Hardly believable but it's the law. We are going to be safe.

18 June 1980

Crystal and corals

Easy day of rest, laundry, catching up with our classmates at the dorm.

In the evening I go and meet Marian and Ewa at their place. News of our shipment to Italy is not good: my crystal vase broke. The big atlas and my old Tsarist rubles made it OK through customs and the rough handling of LOT Polish Airlines. There was no choice, Alitalia is not flying to Warsaw. Even Alitalia is usually better that flag carriers from Comecon countries. I long for a time when flag carriers won't exist any more. Why should governments have anything to do with flying people and cargo?

Marian and Ewa are very kind, they got me a new crystal vase! And one for Andrew. He also has a gift of corals for mom and another set of corals which he kindly asks me to smuggle out of the country. I am not sure why corals are such a good deal in Poland. But they are.

17 June 1980

Back to Warsaw

Our ferry docks at Gdansk harbor in the early afternoon. It's been quiet sailing, quite different from that of a few days ago from Finland to Sweden. Lots of Poles on the ship: Sweden is one of the few Western countries that grants visa-free access to Polish tourists and they take advantage of it. For tourism, for business, for trading, at the edge of legality, all the goods they can buy in Sweden and that are out of reach in Poland. Sweden is surely capitalizing on its neutral role in the Cold War.

Smooth ride to Warsaw and evening with Romek, Stefan and the rest of the crowd. We tell our stories from the USSR over kanapki and vodka.

02 June 1980

Bureaucracy and floor lamp for a wedding

Full day dedicated to jumping over bureaucratic hurdles. Pick up passports, fill in forms... We considered buying rubles on the black market, the savings are huge. We actually bought them, but then changed our mind and decided the risks were not worth the gain. Because tomorrow is our big day to travel to the USSR and we don't want to spoil it with problems at customs before we even set foot in the country.

Dinner is at Borzena's, of course.

We later go and see Marian, who will ship my "old" atlas and the crystal to Italy, with a little tip to the customs officer my "antique" should make it through without problems (it will).

Late at night, back in the dorm, we get a visit by Marta, the lady who had tried to marry either me or Andrew a couple of months ago (see posts or 1, 3, 24 March, 1 April). She says she got engaged and is getting married soon. She does not say with whom. We give her the floor lamp we bought here as a wedding gift. We are leaving soon and won't need it any more. She readily accepts and appreciates, they have to furnish a house now!

30 May 1980

Air ticket no, train ticket yes

Back in Warsaw Ann and Cathy want to buy airplane tickets to go to Krakow. Cathy has not been there and Ann wants to show the beautiful city to her. But to buy an airplane ticket in Poland, even a domestic flight ticket, you need a passport. Or at least foreigners need a passport. However we don't have our passports as they are currently with the police to extend, yet one more time, our visas. So no tickets. We drive to the railway station, where they can buy a train ticket to Krakow, for which you don't need a passport. Oh well, they'll enjoy the landscape more.

To celebrate their accomplishment we go all together to the Winiarna, on the Rynek Starego Miasta, the central market square of the capital. The choice of wines is average but prices, for us, are very low even for imported Italian and French wines.

An ice cream at the Victoria hotel concludes the morning. A couple of drunkards are hanging out by the hotel gate and they offer to wash our car while we lick our ice creams, whch we readily accept. Giallina badly needs a good clean after the adventure in Mazuria.

Ice cream leads to tea at Borzena's. Her mother insists that we have lunch there but we don't want to take advantage one more time of their hospitality, which we know costs them very dear. This time, somehow, we are able to extricate ourselves. Back home, easy afternoon of rest.

Dinner with Andrew and Romek at the Baziliszek restaurant. These dinners at expensive (for the locals) restaurants have become so routine that I have almost completely ceased feeling ashamed about it. I felt even a bit guilty in the beginning, but that went away quickly.

27 May 1980

Getting lost in the Mazurian region

Giallina in the Mazurian forest
After breakfast we get rolling for Augustow. We arrive for lunch and eat at a totally non descript place for peanuts, nothing to write here about but it's filling and reasonably tasty. We decide not to spend more time here and instead try our luck in the beautiful surrounding forests.

After which we keep driving into the Mazurian forest. We decide to be adventurous and veer off the main paved road into a dirt side path lined by very tall trees. We wanted adventure and sure enough we got it, as for the second time in this trip we got hopelessly lost. Luckily this time we did not run into any Warsaw Pact military bases. There are no soldiers around, I think with a sigh of relief. There is no one around at all, actually, I think with somewhat less relief.

We drive through a couple of small villages, farms really, but there is no one around to talk to. We then run into a drunk old, very old man, in his eighties for sure, or at least he looks in his eighties, who is driving a tractor. That is fairly remarkable a feat in itself, as most farmers we have seen in the region have their plows pulled by horses.

He leads us to his nearby farm, where we are introduced to three, possibly four generations of Mazurian farmers.

She can stay in my room, niema problemu

There is a really really old lady dressed in black with a green shawl on her head, who does not speak much. Perhaps because she seems not to hear much either. But she is very friendly, smiles a lot. Then there a a couple of very young kids, maybe five and three years old or something like that. They should be in school, I think.

The drunk tractor driver shows us around a bit. We are invited for tea in the modes but dignified farm house. Here another man, I guess the son of the old lady, in his forties maybe, becomes very friendly. He says we can stay with them for the night if we want, we are welcome. The house is clearly not adequate to host four additional people. We insist that we do not want to disturb. He insists too, specifically indicating with hands and eloquent smiles that Ann can stay with him in his room. Right. He must be the father of the two kids, but where is his wife? Or maybe he is not, who knows, and does it matter? He insists, Ann would not disturb him at all in his room, even if there is only one bed. He really tries to persuade us that this would be best for all, as it is getting late in the day and it might be difficult for us to drive out of the forest and find a place to stay.

It is with some difficulty that we eventually manage to extricate ourselves from this friendly company. After some trying, we even manage to get out of the forest and find a hotel to spend the night.

Mazurian farming

26 May 1980

Rowing in the wind

Ann rows hard
There is a pretty lake nearby and we try to rent a canoe or a row-boat. No chance, they say all their boats are reserved. But there is no one around, the place is clearly not busy. I suggest to Ann that she tries and out some dollars and repeat the question. Magically, any boat we want is now available!

This says much about how deeply rooted corruption is in this country. I am not even sure it is appropriate to call it corruption. Corruption means you are doing something wrong, out of line, disruptive of the system. But here it is a way of life, it is normal, it is expected and universally practiced. It IS the system, for things big and small

We choose a row boat and go out into the lake. The sky is cloudy but it does not rain and it is just altogether pleasant. It's cool and windy but it's fun to be out in the nature and do some exercise.

After a while, it get really cool and really windy and it's difficult to steer our boat back to the peer we started from. The man who rented the boat to us sees this and come out to pick us up with a small outboard. It is a bit humiliating, especially as we were never really in danger, but still, it's helpful! We give him three dollars as an extra tip for getting us out of trouble and he is so happy he literally jumps with joy.

Easy evening of card playing and chat in our hotel. We mostly play "scopa", the Italian game I have taught my three American friends.

25 May 1980

Leave Gdansk for Oliwa and the Masurian region

Late departure after a leisurely breakfast that does not end before 10:30, but yesterday was a long day...

Oliwa cloister
Anyway we finally get going and head to Oliwa, a suburb of Gdansk with an interesting abbey that exudes history. This was a major headquarters for the Cistercian monks for centuries. Poland's catholic roots reach quite deep in history. It was also a proud town, even an independent one when it was briefly separated from the city state of Free Gdansk in the 1920s. Huge organ inside.

We then move toward Malbork, where we arrive in the late morning to admire the imposing fortress.

Our next stop in the Masurian region. Finally we get some sunny weather and the countryside is beautiful. The small towns and villages we drive through are rather desolate however, much poorer than those we saw in the South of the country.

We reach Olsztyn at dinner time and end up eating at the "Karolowe" restaurant. We have no clue where to go and this is a recommendation from an Italian guide book I have with me. Less than impressive meal, but cheap.

After the early dinner we decide to move on and try to aim and find a place to sleep at Ruciane Nida. In the meantime we need gas for Giallina. We find a station and buy 48 liters. The man at the pump agrees to sell us fuel at black market prices, but refuses to take his cut like all his colleagues. I think he says something along the lines of "this is the right price for the Poles and it should be the same for the foreigners, screw the government rules" but I am not exavtly sure. He is a really honest black market fuel seller.

When we reach Ruciane Nida there is no hotel to speak of.  We move on to Wygryny, a small village of a few hundred people. We stop and ask some passersby for a hotel, and they look at us with puzzled expressions: "Where are you trying to go at this time in this neck of the wood?" they seem to say without speaking. We move on and run into a bunch of drunkards that can't believe they got free entertainment making fun of us fools.

Then luck seems about to strike when a tiny old man says he is working to build a hotel, but then adds that it won't be ready before next year! However, a big signpost from the PTTK (the Polish Tourist Board) announces that "the trees are our friends". Which is just as well as it looks like we may have to spend the night in their company.

We fearlessly drive on and reach Pisz, a small town of some 20,000 souls. it's past 10 pm but we find a small hotel with two rooms. We even manage to smuggle Cathy in as a student of SGPiS so that she can pay the reduced rate.

The evening ends with a couple of beers and playing cards and a long conversation with Ann under the romantic starred sky.

24 May 1980

To Hel and back

Get up early and take a ferry to Hel (one "L"). Nothing special, but lost of dogs with no tail roaming around, and tons of dead fish on the beach, bizarre. It is very cold.

Fish and chips Polish style
From Hel we take another boat to Sobot, a nice little town. Long walks until we stop for some fish and chips and a beer (60 zloty).

We almost miss the boat to go back to Gdansk in the evening, as the sea gale (Force 6) forced the cancellation of several ferry rides. We have to buy a ticket to gain access to the ticket office because the peer we need to go to at the harbor is considered a "garden", really bizarre.

Again we unsuccessfully try to change some money on the black market but the changers' technique is always the same and we can not conclude an honest black market currency transaction!

It's been a long day, we grab some food so not memorable I forgot to write about it and hit the sack without the usual card games or chat and comments on the day.

23 May 1980

Gdansk money, atlas and music

It gets a bit complicated at check-out in the morning because Cathy, who is a visitor while we are "locals" must pay in hard currency while we can pay in zloty. The difference is huge, about 4 times the real cost in black-market money. And we have to stay at least another night. So we decide to pay up for today and then check her out. She will sneak back into the hotel tonight unofficially.

Baltic Sea
Full day touring Gdansk. We need more money and try to change with some street changers, but unsuccessfully. They all try to cheat us. Can you cheat someone who is trying to illegally change money with unauthorized currency dealers at black market rates? Mmmmmhhh...... Anyway, their technique is always the same: they first accept any exchange rate we suggest, and hand you the zloty equivalent, minus 50 or 100 zloty. When we count the money and point out that they are short changing us, they start arguing and try to take money away from our hands. We are alert enough to avoid being literally ripped off our dollar bank notes, at which point they want their zlotys back and run, and try with some other tourist.

At a second hand bookstore I find a beautiful atlas, printed in 1923, which I buy for 1000 zloty. The bookseller warns me that I may have problems exporting it because it was made before 1945, and as such it is considered an "antique" item and needs an export licence. We'll see, I am sure Marian can help with this kind of things.

In the evening classical concert: the Gdansk Philharmonic plays a program of Brahms (violin concerto) and Sibelius (2nd symphony). They play quite well in my opinion, but the concert hall is quite beat up. Tired furniture and chairs, fading colors. It could use a refit.

Dinner at the Pod Lososzem restaurant, where I taste a great piece of liver. The others have grilled salmon, also quite tasty.

22 May 1980

Drive North to Gniew and loud rock in Gdansk

Today it's our designated departure for Gdansk, the old Geman Danzig, in the North of the country, by its Baltic Sea shores. But, of course, we can not leave without our almost-daily meal at Borzena's. We are served a sumptuous breakfast at 9:30, lots of proteins and caffeine. Good, we'll appreciate that during our long drive.

After taking care of ourselves we take care of our car. Giallina needs a clean, and only after having fulfilled that duty we can start our drive north.

We drive by Torun, some 250 km to the north, after a winding and altogether pleasant road along the Vistula river. No time for sightseeing though, we must reach Gdansk tonight. Just after Torun we stop at a road-side eatery to eat some excellent mushrooms.

We choose to continue on secondary country roads instead of the highway. More interesting, you never know whom you we might meet. We are in Pomerania, a land of ancient Teutonic (German really) roots and deep historical significance because of that.
Gniew of Teutonic memory

We do take a little time off at Gniew, an old "Mewe" fort of the Teutonic Knights, it's really fascinating. Another quick pit stop is to buy some gasoline, and even though we don't know the guy he sees our foreign plate and immediately proposes a deal for some black market fuel. Kombinowac...

We finally arrive in Gdansk by sunset, after some 450km of driving, and find two rooms at the hotel Monopol. We are quite tired and decide to have dinner here, to just eat and relax.

If only... Little did we know, there is a very loud and unbearable rock group playing really bone-shattering music until midnight. Yet the locals seem to appreciate it. It seems that, even though Poland does have access to most Western music, there is still a fairly naive attitude to rock and roll: the louder the better. Not unlike what one can find in smaller Italian provincial towns, only more so. Rock music as protest is a thing of the past in the West, but I have a feeling it is still very much a thing of the present here.

21 May 1980

Visa, food and dreaming the West

Quick trip to the consulate of the Hungarian People's Republic for our visa, which we'll need as we are going to transit through the country on our way back to Italy. Ann, Andrew and I, as "locals" (because we are "permanent" students here) pay only 160 sloty, but Cathy, who is not permanent enough has to pay in dollars: six dollars to be precise, hardly breaking the bank but they want hard currency for the Western visitor.

After which we all go for yet another great lunch at Borzena's. I just can't get used to this, it's just too much. There is always a bit of a sad atmosphere during these meals, despite our by now deep friendship with the family and mutual trust. Borzena's father joins us today he has a day off work. He is a pilot. He was in the air force, but now flies small planes to spray crops in the countryside.

Her brother is a cool guy, handsome and soft spoken. He does not say much but he, too, dreams of a free life in the West. In fact our conversations at these meals are a bit repetitive when it comes to this. Our gracious Polish host do not relent in their uninterrupted litany of complaints about, well, Poland. I fully understand them, and agree with them. It's just that I feel a bit frustrated in hearing the same stories over and over again when I can do very little that is of use.

Actually maybe I can. Borzena's desire to visit me in Italy, which I will do my to fulfill, just might open the door for her (and perhaps the rest of the family?) to move to a better life in Western Europe or America. Yet their problems are the same problems of all other Poles we met in the last three months, and I certainly can't help all of them.

Lunch at Borzena's apartment