Sunday, June 11, 2006

Fair Day in Poznan (June 11)

I've been in Poland for almost 24 hours now, but I don't have any firm impressions yet. Mostly I'm trying to keep from imposing my own expectation on what I experience. Such as looking for traces of a lost Jewish community. I don't mean traces from the community that was; rather, I mean, the effect of not having a Jewish community. Sort of an update on Hugo Bettauer's The City Without Jews, only setting it now in Poland.

Katowice was a rather depressed and depressing city. The central core where my hotel was located was basically deserted. I walked back to the train station to use the internet and bought a hamburger from a vendor (I won't go to McDonald's). She microwaved, slathered with some yellow mustard/mayonaisse substance, glopped on what looked like kimchi, and handed to me. I took three bites and threw it away. I ended up making a meal from a packaged turkey sandwich from a neighborhood shop, along with a bag of chips, an apple, and half a liter of beer (the preferred drinking size, apparently), and watched The Dirty Dozen on my hotel room tv.

The hotel was serviceable and the facilities reminded me of institutional Israeli (not a compliment). Today I woke up early, skipped the hotel breakfast, and caught the 7:23 train to Poznan (which arrived at 12:12). My hotel was about a 20 minute walk from the train station (there are trams, but I didn't know where to by the ticket), and is nicer. From the outside, it still looked a tad Stalinish, but inside it was quite nice. There's a real tub, the toilet is firmly attached to the ground, the carpet is a nice color, etc.

Walking to the Stary Miasto (old town square), I decided to stop for lunch at a cafeteria that seemed to be quite popular. Not knowing the English equivalents for most of the food on the menu, I stuck to the schnitzel with fries and coleslaw (actually, it was something like "kotlet schabowa," "frytki," and something with too many letters to remember). It wasn't bad.

Then I headed into the main square. I had thought I had planned my timing poorly, since almost all the museums in town will be closed tomorrow, but it turns out I didn't do that poorly after all. Today there was a major fair here in Poznan, and the central square was full of shops selling trinkets, toys, swap meet and flea market items, etc.

I toured the archaeological museum. It was ok. No English, but the dioramas on ancient stone age life were pretty self-explanatory. The I went to the National Museum, which houses their art collection. Parts of it weren't bad. They have a decent collection of Dutch renaissance paintings, and some interesting Polish art nouveau pieces. The best stuff, in my opinion, was their small collection of paintings from the 1920s-1940s.

The painting that struck me the most was one done in 1944 called "Jewish Woman." I thought a lot about why the artist might have painted it during the Holocaust. Was this a woman he knew and wanted to depict her suffering? Was it a woman he had known and wanted to memorialize? Was it an attempt to depict a species becoming extinct for future generations? There's no way to know from just the painting itself, but her sad eyes lingered on me.

Tomorrow, I'm going to try to spend the afternoon in a national park nearby doing some hiking. The weather is so warm, I should have worn shorts today.

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