And so it continued right until the end. Last night we discussed what time we should leave this morning. 3 hours before my flight she insisted I must arrive at the airport. London has its own terminal she said, because of terrorism you have extra checks, you must arrive early, it will take this time. 5.45am alarm then. It is a very small airport and I cannot see this as necessary, I am already checked in and only carrying hand luggage.
6.45 arrival at airport and by 7.20am I am done and ready to fly. I passed through boarding gates repeatedly setting bleeper off. After body searches and repeating moves we discover my phone tucked in the top of my bra. I embarrassedly apologise and blame the early hour. I also lose time waiting for passport control to open as it is too early as yet to be staffed. My flight goes at 9.30, still over two hours away despite those hold ups. This gives me time to write but also carries the danger of me losing track of time and missing my flight. For now, I sit around the corner at a table obtained through eating airport ham and cheese toasted cotton wool.
We fought last night. I came home and she said she would prepare food, I said thank you but I have eaten. Well you can sit while I eat she said and loaded the table with bread, meat, cheese, tomatoes and strawberries. You can make a sandwich for your flight she said. I took a slice of cheese, a few strawberries and a cherry tomato and ate them very slowly. She ate nothing. You must eat more she said. Thank you but I am not hungry. But you must eat I have bought it for you. Thank you, no, I see you have not eaten. No, but I am not hungry she says, you must eat, I insist. No thank you. You must. I have eaten and need no more, thank you.
I made myself a small sandwich for breakfast having conceded earlier that I would do so even tho I did not want to take one. That is not enough, you must have more. No thank you I reply. You must have more bread. We have already discussed that I do not usually eat bread at all. Thank you but I have nowhere to put it, my case is full and I carry no bag. You must take more she says.
Enough. I hold my hands in the air, STOP, STOP! I can choose when to eat. I have eaten enough and I have enough for my journey, thank you, you are too kind. What an embarrassing fiasco, I’ve no idea how she feels but I’m done with caring. So how do I feel about my Polish experience? I will not be able to fully comprehend or relay my responses until I am several sleeps away from now.
The first evening we wandered the streets of Gdansk and I was amazed by the beautiful buildings that surrounded me, it had a very calm and gentle presence, a peaceful rather than hustling, bustling place. I felt very lucky to be here. Unlike London I think, after wartime destruction, much of the architecture was painstakingly rebuilt and frescos were repainted on many of the four storey town houses lining paved courtyards and streets. Church bells ring across the city as we wander along the Vistula, a broad river which carries tiny kayaks and enormous ferries, jet skis and tourist pirate ships as well as fluorescently lit river taxis. Building work is ongoing everywhere, cobbles instead of tarmac, impressive restored granaries and warehouses, new museums and cultural centres.
On our first evening we did not stop to have a drink at a bar, she points them out but says, I cannot drink, I am driving. Maybe you can have coffee or something other than alcohol I proffer? No, if I am drinking, I only drink wine. I do not know it at the time but this will become a pattern, she will insist on driving, which is a very painful passenger experience, then will sigh and say, I cannot drink for I am driving. If she cannot drink, we do not stop. I want to go to a milk bar, I have read there are a few of these, remnants of the communist era but she tells me I do not want to go there, they are not good. This will become another theme of this trip. Things that interest me seem not to be an acceptable to her.
Our trip to the seemingly infamous isthmus of Hel the next day was something of a non event, a two hour ferry ride there, three hours return just for a strip of tourist shops and eateries. The journey itself was of interest though as it opened up mile after mile of shipyards and crane skylines. Enormous ships from all over the world and tough little tugs escorting them about. I have forgotten the figures, I think 200,000 people were once employed but now just 2000 jobs remain.
There was a white sandy beach on Hel but as rain sprinkled occasionally from the sky we did not stray far from the safety of shelter. We had watched salmon being hot smoked in an old oil drum type smokehouse on the quay when we arrived and I looked forward to eating this rustic lunch but as the sky continued grey she decided we must eat indoors. Fish and chips, but instead of chips I asked for salad and was presented with a plate of four slightly fermented salads as well as the chips. I enjoyed these and thought another time I would ask just for salads. I expected these to become a feature of eating out but in fact I will not see them again in my time here. Indeed, we will not eat out again until the day before I leave which becomes a sadness as the week progresses.
Ah, my favourite, a very large lady sitting beside me on the plane with arms that expand across many seats. Good job i have a window seat and it is only a two hour flight. I notice her reading book is written in English so perhaps I might be careful about what words I write. The air is stuffy and hot, I cannot operate the overhead air vent and hope this not an indication of the general level of care of the aircraft. Perhaps I will try to speak with her later but for now we maintain elbow contact only.
I have a window seat and see my case being loaded. The lady eats an enormous cardboard cheese and lettuce bloomer. I say cardboard for that is the way it appears as she claws lionlike mouthfuls from it. She rests for a fizzy drink before tearing at her prey again. Perhaps this will have to be more of a sleeping flight than a writing one for me but I am enjoying my little table in front of me for now. I will purchase cold liquid when it comes along, my luke warm, toilet tap water does not appeal in this airless cage.
Other days I think we wandered and wandered and wandered the streets, we seemed busy, walking especially into church after church. I cannot imagine why she wanted to give up her whole week to me. We had a conversation last night about social connections and use of social media to extend social groups and activities. She says she has enough, needs no more and indeed I can understand that living in the same place from birth through university and working life to retirement will have resulted in more connections than perhaps I have but we disagree on quality of contact. For her, it is only long standing connections that she can trust and are important, I often find the reverse, whilst not disagreeing, I nevertheless think the quality of new friends can sometimes be deeper and more meaningful than long standing ones. New friends meet me as I am, I do not carry the baggage of my past and as they do not know it, it does not present itself. We are who we are for both of us in the minute we meet. That is enough.
I cannot believe that a weeks worth of experience has been recorded in these few short posts. But of course, for the most part I was not recording and my thoughts are mostly ephemeral, they pass quickly. I think Poland will become an interlude that will swiftly pass me by although four days ago I was still fresh and had so many questions. My spirit has died. I do not think she will visit me in Norwich and I do not think we have enough in common to make travelling companions.
We talked at one point about comparisons, she said I must not make comparisons, it is not good to do so. I disagreed and think only through comparison do we learn. As a baby we learn what is around us and as we grow we extend and change our views as our experience deepens and we bounce one experience against another. I asked how can we understand if we do not balance against something else. Comparison is not judgement, it is just noticing the difference. Despite her protestations about my comparisons being unhealthy, I think she is very fixed in her views and unwilling to change.
She also only understands English people through the eyes of her lawyer daughter living in London but cannot accept that this is accurate representation. She struggles to accept that my father used to catch fish for food or shoot birds and rabbits to eat. She does not believe this to be true for she is of the view that we have always had more money than the Polish. I dare not talk about English jokes about there being no wildlife in an area if Polish people move in for they catch and eat them all. I am surprised that she says she would not eat wild rabbit or fish caught from a river. She decries the camping experiences of her childhood and does not believe when I say we did not have regular holidays every year, that we took days to the beach and only began to have a few camping trips or holidays as I grew older. At least this is my memory of my childhood. She does not really believe that I did not begin to travel in any real sense until I was in my mid thirties. Our worlds are very different.
I think I have no more to say for now, I understand that Gdansk has a more significant place in history than I knew and it could be interesting now to read uk accounts of war and see if stories accord. The EU makes more sense to me now in terms of peace as much as anything else. We must be bonded to each other in such a way that the horrors of the past can never be repeated, perhaps that is the legacy my Polish trip has give me. It is enough.