Ohmygod I have escaped but how hard did it have to be for goodness sake. She has stolen my morning, carting me to one ‘important’ building after another and is like a mother hen trying not to let me go.
Finally I am here but I find I don’t really know how to use WordPress. I cannot find where I began writing this morning and I worry that I may have lost my earlier draft. I cannot find any drafts. Such is the way of being a beginner blogger. So many posts I remember I lost on blogger and now blogger is no more and I must learn a new platform.
I am unsure whether to laugh with the joy of freedom or to cry that she has stolen my tomorrow as well as my morning. For several days we have talked of going to the flea market on Sunday, on the trail of an old number plate. Today she asks what shall we do tomorrow, we can walk in the city or go to a museum. I say I thought we were going to a fleamarket. She says it is not good to go there, there is nothing there that is any good, there is nothing for you there. I explain, yet again, that I like to see all sides of a city and that in Malmo I saw people with nothing, selling rubbish and learned so much about the community.
I said I want to see all sides of Poland. She raises her tone and almost shouts, this fleamarket is not Poland, this is not Gdansk, this is nothing! I feel obliged to acquiesce, I am not surprised, she is my host and I do not feel able to insist. Dobre, I answer with attempted good humour, dobre, dobre. She seems surprised, although she herself, taught me this phrase several days ago, it means ok. She asks, have you heard people saying this and launches into an explanation of what it means and how it is used. This is how it has been the entire time I have been here. Over and over she tells me the same things, feels the need to ‘teach’ me things and must have her way. She uses emotional disapproval to quash any wish that I express that does not suit her way of being, promotes everything Polish as bigger and better, talks of all the important people she knows.
Being hosted is a challenging experience for me but one I have been through so many times before. Often, people do not want others to know the truths of their country and my quest to understand, to really understand, irks them. It seems as though my questions are almost a personal insult to them.
So I must abandon my thoughts on trying to find a Polish number plate for my collection. I did not expect to find one at the flea market but did expect to find people I might ask, leads I might follow, wild goose chases I might go on and goodness, maybe even find treasure. Instead, I will try to get in touch with Hans, the old guy with the collection I found in Esbjerg, Denmark, see if he has one from Poland that he will ship out to me.
So now I have time to write and drift with my thoughts, but where do I begin, too much of my week has gone to start at the beginning. I am on a train, travelling theoretically to art exhibitions but instead want to find somewhere to hole up and begin to write about my experiences. I will find myself some food, freed from her clutches, freedom to be myself. I feel sorry for her, her husband likes her to have visitors as he does not then feel that he must keep her company. She tells me how she lost all her energy a few years ago. She had hoped her daughter would take over her prestigious law firm and was bitterly disappointed when she moved to London to practice law instead. There were fractures in their relationship and she says they are now repaired but I am not convinced for I know not the name of her daughter despite daily, lengthy references. It is always, my daughter, my daughter, my daughter.
I cut across her when buying my train ticket this morning, my first insistence on a little freedom. She insisted on accompanying me to the railway station, hoping, I think that I might allow her to sidetrack me for long enough that I not make the journey. Realising my time was disappearing I enforced the making of a plan for what we should do if I did not return in time for tonights concert. Having made this plan, she seemed to decide she might let me go so we headed for the train station instead of the city museum. I digress, buying my ticket, she started to speak but I cut her off and instead asked through the glass ticket pane, may I speak English? Return to Sopot please. Two tickets the girl asked, no I replied, only one and beside me came a simultaneous echo of my words. Afterwards she congratulated me, said I was perfect. How crazy. She said but the girl did not speak good English. I said I would manage even if the girl did not speak English at all but she looked doubtful. What does she think I am?
Last night we went to the most awful organ recital in a church. It was cold, drear and unmelodic to my ears. Later she said it was church music, she loved it, the way it made her calm and sleepy, hmm felt more aggressive and menacing, no wonder then that it was not for me. I did not recognise a single tune and many people walked out during the performance.
Afterwards she said shall we see Gdansk by night? We had planned to come into the city by bus but she does not like using public transport and at the last minute decided to drive. She is a terrible, jerky, hesitant and very unconfident driver, the small fiat has many bumps and scratches. I hate sitting beside her, my heart is in my mouth, I want to offer to get behind the wheel and just drive. We parked in her private parking spot behind locked gates.
Shall we see Gdansk by night she asks? For her, having driven means she will not have a drink at all and we cannot stop to enjoy the atmosphere. There are many buskers by the water, music in the cafes, I ask, will you have a drink and leave your car here for the night, catch a bus home? No she replies sternly, we can have a glass of wine at home. And so we wander, wander so slowly with her ever present knocking in to me, breasts on my arms, me hating both the slow trundle and the nudging, just wanting to shout stop bumping in to me, and I want to walk away.
I have been wondering about escaping and finding a hostel for my last few days but know I will stay. The Couchsurfing oldies community is useful to me and I will not risk offence, I can always return to Poland and try to see another side.
I find I am gabbling, terribly lost in thought and far from the words I thought I would be writing. It is as though the words just pour out, words that have been held back. I am now sitting in a bar on Sopot beach, barely aware of the world going by. I am far away in mind from Lech Walensa and the Solidarity movement world that absorbed me two days ago.
I am also far from yesterdays grief at Second World War history. So terrible. So all encompassing. So much I did not know, so much to see, learn and read and not enough time to do so for she is waiting, sitting outside waiting and when I have been three and a half hours yet experienced less than half of it, I decide I cannot stay longer. In reality I am in tears anyway. I cannot bear the extraordinary presentation of the information that I am looking at and reading. This is not a museum, it is a living experience, a world of war. A world that for the time I am here, fully immerses me. I had not understood the ending of the First World War or the extent of the disquiet that followed in so many countries, the rising of the far right in so many places and the desire of each for dominance. I had not understood the complexity or the intricacy, not understood that Japan invaded China, not really seen the devastation of cities all over Europe. I have not heard of many places that were named. I knew something of the Finnish experience but never understood the role and significance of Gdansk or Poland.
I know I am here in Gdansk and it is inevitable that exhibitions might make it out to be made the centre of the universe but for now I believe. I begin to understand why my rich lawyer host may hold some of the views she does. I follow the story barely into 1940 and realise I have been here nearly three hours, but have reached but room four of sixteen. I increase my pace, stop reading and watching everything, skip past many exhibits and come upon the collapse of the treaty between Russia and Germany and the plight of the Poles, first occupied by the Germans and now invaded again by the Russians. It really touches me. I move faster. I reach the beginning of the holocaust section, the roof high panels of translucent faces faces faces that I must weave my way through to get into the next room serve to finish me off. It is all too much. I cannot absorb more and I suddenly need to find the exit and have a minor panic as I feel trapped by seemingly endless corners, I am in a maze and cannot escape. Finally, I reach an opening and leave the last years of the war and the peace process behind.
We have no rush she had said in the morning and we did not arrive here until around 11 am. I cannot find the exit of the building, am blinded and confused by emotion and my welling eyes. I walk in the wrong direction before seeing someone leave through glass that I thought impenetrable. I find her on the steps waiting for me. It is around three forty five, I want to recompose myself and return but we must move on she says. She needs a coffee, her blood pressure is low she has been waiting so long. At the same time she is pleased that I have listened and looked and learned.
If you go, if you ever go, please arrive as soon as it opens and give yourself a full day to sit and absorb, read and digest. Part of me wants to return, but my rational self says enough is enough.
It was similar with the solidarity museum, so much money and thought has gone into the layout and presentations of these two exhibitions, it is living history with much photo and film footage and first hand evidence. I found myself remembering the solidarity movement in the UK, going on marches and my student self is reminded that once I was political but have grown lazy and complacent over the years.
It is as it is she says. It is over, there is nothing we can do. I talk about poverty and war around the world and she says yes but we must be happy, be joyful that we live the lives we do, that we were born where we were. It is over. It is not for us.
I do not agree with her view. Twice her actions of disregard towards others have surprised me, both to do with her private parking lot. On our return to the car one day, an ambulance was wanting to get in, could not open the gates, she holds the key in her hand but does not let it in. They can come in as we leave she says. Another time, two young girls have just arrived, are renting accomodation and want to go out for the evening. the gates are locked but they cannot find a key on their fob to operate them. They are stuck inside. I explain their predicament to her and wonder if we might help. It is not my problem she says and we pass through ensuring that they do not follow on behind.
For now this is enough. It is good that it is so for my iPad tells me I have just 10% battery left. Writing is hard work for it. I have plenty of time. I can have another beer before finding a train home. I have saved my post. iPad struggles, says I cannot save for there is no internet connection, I will save to iPad only. I am frightened to press save again for fear that I may lose it, not be able to find it again. Maybe I can close it gently and let it sleep.