Monday, June 12, 2006

Tracing Jews/Jewish Traces (June 13)

I ended up going to Souix for dinner last night. They gave me an English-language menu but it wasn't that much help, as many of the dishes had cutesy but highly offensive descriptions (e.g. "red-skinned potatoes"). I went with the chopped "tomahawk" steak with onions, fries, and veggies. I was expecting something like salisbury steak, but it was different. It should have been beef, but it looked more like pork. It was crunchy, I think (hope) from all the cracked pepper and onions chopped into it. The veggies consisted of shredded carrot salad, shredded beet salad, and shredded cabbage in a vinegar sauce (basically coleslaw). The fries, at least, were crispy.

After dinner I went back to Jews street to look for more traces of the past. I knew that there was a second big synagogue in the area and I found it at the end of the block. It was a large 4-5 story building, that looked as if at one point it had stained glass windows. When I walked to the front I saw there was plaque in Polish and English reading "This building was built as a synagogue in 1907 and served as a house of worship until 1939." From what I could tell, it is currently being used as an athletic center (there were notices about singing up for aerobic dancing). Later, I passed a building with a plaque put up in 2002 that had Polish, Hebrew, English and German, about a 19th century scientist who had lived in the house and established a scholarly center in Poznan. No mention that he was Jewish, but one could assume that from the Hebrew.

I don't know why I should expect more. After all, the communists did little to commemorate the annihilation of Polish Jewry (even less after the openly antisemitic campaign of 1967 when the Jews were purged from the communist party). Anything that would be up would have to have gone up since 1990. It's just that the other cities I've gone to all had memorials for their destroyed Jewish communities.

I took the train to Gdansk. In 15 minutes, the train had left Poznan and I was again shocked at the enormous difference between urban and rural Poland. Poznan and Katowice were intensly urban environments, with little green, while the countryside is overwhelmingly, if not shockingly green. For hours, the train passed through green fields, rolling hills, occasional woods, and outbreaks of wildflowers, the most beautiful being the bright red poppies.

I shared the long train ride with a management student from Wroclaw (who heard he failed his semester exam just as we got into town), a girl on a trip home from Vienna, and a middle-aged couple from Belgium (I think). The student spoke English, French, and Polish; the girl spoke German and Polish; and the couple spoke French and Polish. It made for an interesting trip.

I really like Gdansk and prefer it to Poznan. Perhaps it's because it isn't as physically hot (though you feel it the instant you move into sunlight. It might be because the city so resembles Amsterdam or Brugge (only without as many canals). I think it's because I had my first good meals in Poland here. I stopped in a cafe on the main street this afternoon and ordered what I thought was cheesecake. What came were three silver-dollar sized pancakes, covered with sour cream and candied orange peel. At first I thought I got the wrong dish, but the waitress insisted it was. I tried it and it tasted a bit like blintzes. They were quite good.

After wandering through the town (the museums close early on Tuesday here), and just soaked in the town. After picking up a birthday present for my mom (since she reads this blog, I can't say exactly what I bought), I had a pretty good dinner at a restaurant specializing in pierogi. I got the traditional pierogi, which were filled with meat and covered with sauteed onions. I got the cucumber salad as a side, which was sliced cucumbers with sour cream dressing and dill. It all was pretty good, and far better than anything I ate in Poznan.

I picked up Monday's International Herald Tribune (it arrives a day late in Poland) and saw that Thursday is a holiday here. Turns out it's Corpus Christi and most stores and museums will be closed, so instead of spending that day at Malbork Castle, I've decided to go there tomorrow morning, and spend Thursday on the beach at Hel (assuming I can work out the transportation issues, but that's something I'll work on tomorrow).

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