June 22, 2017

Day 2: Warsaw

Warsaw is at a latitude of 52.2 degrees north. It’s farther north than Calgary and Saskatoon. These are the things a person learns at 4:12 a.m. while trying to figure out why it’s so light outside.

It was a good day, albeit a long one. My mom, also awake at 4 a.m., wasn’t feeling well, and urged me and Evie to explore on our own.

We went to Old Town Warsaw, a district painstakingly rebuilt to its historic likeness after the Nazis bombed it to rubble.

These side streets reminded us of Diagon Alley.

The specter of war hangs over everything here. While admiring a magnificent chandelier in the Royal Castle, we’re told this is where the bombs crashed through the roof in September 1939. 

This was the room where the first explosions hit. 
The original throne-eagles were taken by Nazis as souvenirs.

Next to a charming outdoor café serving Italian food and ice cream, a stone planter of crimson geraniums pays homage to the spilled blood of 50 Poles who were shot on this spot. It’s not subtle.

Poland’s history is full of battles, defeats, invasions, partitions. It is also full of pride. Through all the wars, despite all of the redrawn borders, Poland survived: the language, the identity, the culture. From my limited impressions, I’d describe the Polish perspective as a mix of pragmatic pessimism and deep, full-hearted resilience. Nothing is easy, but we endure.

The Rynek, again a marketplace.

I'm an optimistic American who was born under a lucky star. My parents and I haven't always seen eye to eye.

In the afternoon, my mother felt well enough for an outing to her favorite bakery, which has a café on a fashionable street in Warsaw. 

Our new favorite place, A. Blikle.

They taste as good as they look.

We ate beautiful, traditional desserts, and we watched people pass by. Skinny women in skinny jeans, businessmen in suits, tattooed bikers, stumbling drunks, moms with babies and dogs in strollers, a surprising number of women with impossibly red hair.

Those were some big balloons.

It’s not easy for my mom to travel with a fractured foot. This is only the latest of the health problems that make her life, and this trip, a challenge. She would be so much more comfortable in her familiar, accessible condo in Fargo. I am so proud of her for coming here, for enduring the pain, and for showing up to moments like this one with her granddaughter.

They share a love of Blikle chocolate cake.

It’s not easy, but she is here. She is surviving. She is finding the good moments while unflinchingly staring into the face of the bad ones and acknowledging them, too.

She is Polish, after all.

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