Sunday, October 21, 2007

Polish jokes

I'm sitting in the business center(the lobby actually) of the Polonia Palace Hotel in Warsaw, directly opposite a hugh Stalin-era monument that is now oh so appropriately two beautiful theatrical spaces, a multiplex movie theater and a cafe. And across the street from the former Stalin edifice are two(count'em two) shopping centers. What better statement about the overthrow of Communism? And the street we're staying on is called Jerozolimskie, or Jerusalem. Who says irony is dead?

And they must have planned today's parlimentary elections in Poland, just for the American political comedian who just arrived. Although all the returns haven't been tabulated(apparently there were some hanging chads in Lodz), the opposition party seems to have won, thanks to a disastrous performance by the present Prime Minister in a debate. It's nice to know that in Poland,unlike the US, voters actually pay attention to debates.

Here in Poland, the outgoing Prime Minister and President are twins. As incompetent as they turned out to be, at least for a brief time they actually ruled a country. The best American twins seem to do is go into rehab after being child stars.

Warsaw was 80% destroyed during WWII, and during a wonderful walk Ruth and I took today, it has been miraculously restored, especially in the Old Town which Eisenhower said was the most devasated area he'd ever seen when he toured it in 1945.
The buildings were rebuilt to the original pre-WW II designs, and they look like they have been around for hundreds of years in its timeless beauty, instead of the 55 or 60 years since it was rebuilt. Thank God, there is no Donald Trump or Bruce Ratner in Poland, or else they would have replaced the historic buildings with ugly 60 story high rises, and an arena or two.

After enjoying several delicious meals, including potato pancakes and pieroges, I called my parents in Brooklyn tonight(the reception was much clearer than when I call from my Panasonic cordless in Park Slope.) My father said, "Of course you loved the food, it's ours".

So Poland is really not foreign to me. Yes, the language is impossible to decipher(we just mastered "thank you"), but we feel very much at home. In a city where almost a million Jews were slaughtered by the Nazis, we are walking its streets, having enjoyable(despite the language barrier) conversations with the people, laughing, drinking fair trade coffee and eating good food.The emptiness of a city without the Jews who once were as integral a part of Warsaw as we are now in New York, is always with you. To forget, or never to have known about, the horror of their extermination is a sin. But we all must also take its lessons to heart. And Jews, like myself, must always treat all people with compassion and humanity. Because we know, better than most, how horrible the alternative is.

Well, as I prepare to leave the lobby, and hope that the internet charges aren't enforced, I close with a bit of hope. Twice during the last two days here, I heard Louie Armstrong's rendition of "A Wonderful World". After all that has happened here in the past, let's hope that the future of that wonderful world is a bright one here in Warsaw.