from Sandy Needham

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Krakow '07 Dispatch

November 13, 2007

We flew into the beautiful city of Krakow late on a Friday night, hungry. We wandered around the gigantic Market Square in the cold in time to see all the restaurants closing up. The weather reports had been mild, so there I was in my flip-flops from the plane (blistered toes), freezing in my light jacket. We missed our chance to buy some sauerkraut and pork, steaming from an open tent in the square with a pungently mouth-watering aroma, believing we would find a warmer place to sit and eat. Then we stepped inside an elaborate restaurant filled with fancy people, our sneakers and flip-flops screaming, "Don't look down here," but the kitchen was closed. 'Zone' bars for dinner.

We had come to Poland for the fall meeting with the partner company of CAST (Newton's company). A special feature this year was the Polish wedding of the owner's daughter! We were being picked up at noon by a driver to take us, along with two of Newton's partners, Hal and Bill, to the town of Bielsko-Biala two hours away for the 4:00 wedding When the driver had not arrived by 1:00, we decided to call a cab for the trip. After appearing quickly, the cab driver lost 20 minutes of our precious time trying several times to give Hal's credit card number to the dispatcher over the crackling speaker. Once we were on our way, we discovered that we had one of the world's few slow taxi drivers. He was sure to change into the more crowded lane at every stop light and drive way behind any car in front of us, allowing everyone in. He did not speak a word of English. Once we realized how tight the timing would be, I pointed to my wrist like a watch and started humming "Here Comes the Bride!" He laughed and continued to mosey down the road. We eventually got the hotel desk clerk on Newt's phone to give the driver directions to the hotel, and arrived in our room to get dressed at 3:25pm. Another taxi was coming to take us to the church at 3:45. Wrinkled dress it was for me, and Newton without a shave.

We arrived at the church at 4:02 and found the wedding party seated in two rows of chairs in front of the alter, the priest already speaking. I cannot, therefore report on how the processional is done in Poland, only that it is more than prompt. There were no bridesmaids, just bride, groom, bride's brother and best man. The service was pretty short, then a small group of young people rushed out. The wedding party followed out of the church into a shower of rice. The bride and groom stood in front while the wedding guests filed out of the church to present them with flowers, some wrapped gifts, and the envelope from CAST that Hal had expected a chance to prepare before the reception, but scurried for a pen to do so then. We were all off to a very traditional Polish restaurant for the reception. The crowd had gathered around the assigned tables and was instructed to wait for the entrance of the bride and groom, who eventually arrived in "over the threshold" style. Toasts ensued with champagne, wine and various types of vodka on the tables. Huge platters of food were served along with the traditional sauerkraut soup, while the recorded music began. The impression of extremely spry old people jumping up to waltz all over the room in circling swirls will never leave me! I got to join in with Wojtek, the father of the bride, fulfilling a lifelong dream of mine to really waltz around a room (with a partner). Newton's waltz is much tamer than his jitterbug. Here's a brief clip:

The bride made the rounds of tables for vodka toasts. Apparently, sipping rather than draining is tolerated for all foreigners except Russians! She also endured wild swing dancing in her antebellum skirt with the super agile old men, the farthest-flingling of which was her grandfather! More platters of food arrived (pork, potatoes, salmon, etc.,etc.) and the dancing continued. After the cutting of the wedding cake, I had another lifelong dream fulfilled: doing a wild polka around a room (with a partner). Wojtek obliged again - look out, Yul Bryner! We left at 2:00am, as food continued to be served. We were told that the last guests left at 5:00am. Wojtek explained that a wedding used to last a whole weekend, and the older tradition was a whole week!

The original driver (who had been stuck in traffic Saturday) picked us up on Sunday and returned us to Krakow, shaving more than an hour off the trip! Another CAST member, Meredith, arrived from the US, and we all had lunch and wandered around the famous square. Here is the interesting St. Mary's Basilica with its unmatched towers:

I ruled that everyone HAD to see the famous salt mine I had visited last year in nearby Wieliczka. Even though we had a sort of Bela Lugosi tour guide, 25% of whose English was unintelligible, I was able to share more info that my very sharp guide had imparted last year. I"ll repeat what I reported in '06: "The crux of the matter is that miners have hand-dug (and later dynamited) these chambers and sculpted the salt into chapels (for praying that they wouldn't die each day from methane explosions or mine collapse) and even a huge cathedral with architecture, statuary, bas reliefs, and chandeliers (out of crystal salt)...As you move down through the mine, the history of Poland travels with you. Copernicus was here; Goethe was here. There is even a chamber with a stocky, muscular Soviet sculpture. Underground lakes with the salt concentration of the Dead Sea render the air very pure and healing, hence the existence of the allergy/asthma clinic for two-week underground cures."

We then had a couple of days of business meetings in the town of Gliwice, where the partner company has its offices. I was free to wander - painfully in closed shoes - shop, have good lunches, and find hints about how small the world is. The white wine was my favorite Argentine chardonnay we buy in Natal (aren't Germany and Italy a little closer to Poland?). The featured cocktail in this rather small town: countless versions of the caipirinha, the national, originally rustic drink of Brazil ('caipira' is a country bumpkin). Little do happy hour celebrants in the northern hemisphere suspect at those cocktail prices that cachaça (white sugar cane rum) costs only $2 a bottle in Brazil!

Twelve flights to go! Greece next.


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