Thursday, June 22, 2017

Sorting Stuff Out

Today was a much better today.  Let me pick up where I left off last night.  The discussion at the JCC went as well as could be expected.  I’ve noticed on the trips that I’ve led that American students tend to be shy talking to strangers.  They don’t know what to ask or how to ask it.  I did have some brave students who posed questions, but most sat silently.  Still, we had a good discussion.

One interesting question was on stereotypes of Americans, which they mostly avoided answering (open, friendly, and naïve).  When their answer transitioned to Israelis they became much more animated.  Israelis tend to be rude and direct.  There were some funny imitations of Israeli accented statements.  “You are Jewish?  Why you do not make Aliyah?”  Hebrew doesn’t have a subjunctive, so whereas in English or Polish you might say “could I have a water please?” becomes in Hebrew “give me a water” (the “please” is optional). They also complained that Israelis seem to be impervious to nuance.

Afterwards, I walked the students down to Szeroka St to see what they JCC folks called “Jewrassic Park” or Krakow’s Jewish Disneyland, with the faux Jewish storefronts and Jewish-themed restaurants.  Then they all went their separate ways, and I headed off to the train station to buy today’s paper and figure out what’s happening to the trams.

I photographed the new tram maps and saw what had happened.  All the stops around the train station are closed (a new one, I later discovered, was opened under the train station).  This meant that all the lines I normally take are discontinued.  This started just last Saturday, which is why I had no idea it was going to happen.

I grabbed dinner off the square and then headed back to the hotel. There I was starting to write up last night’s entry when I heard a geshrei that could only have come from a student.  I walked down the hall to where the noise was coming from and I could hear them talking and laughing.  I was debating whether to knock when the door opened, and a student saw me and screamed (though not as loudly).  This caused the rest of them to keel over in hysterics. 

It seems that several of the students are freaked out by the artwork on display in the hotel.  Admittedly, it is a little creepy and the overall effect can be unnerving.  Still, they were working themselves into hysterics. 

This morning, some were still upset about the art.  I found a creepy doll on one of the sideboards and put it on their table.  I suppose I was feeling a bit passive/aggressive.

Our itinerary today was a little bit heavier than yesterday, in that we visited the Schindler Factory in the morning. Like the Museum of the Warsaw ‘Rising, this place can be very crowded, but it is far easier to navigate.  Everyone moved through at his or her own pace and by 11:30 we all were done.  Despite being called the Schindler Factory, Schindler doesn’t feature very prominently within it.  It’s primarily dedicated to the history of Krakow under the Nazis (though they have recreated Schindler’s office).  Schindler was, of course, a war profiteer, who came to Krakow to make money off Polish labor.  He eventually became a rescuer, but his behavior before that raises lots of questions.

We at lunch at “milk bar” style restaurant just off the ghetto square.  80 years old (though only in this location for a decade or so), the food is cheap and edible.  For 15 zloty I had ok schnitzel with mushy cabbage and a bottle of mineral water.  At $4, I paid nearly twice as much as some of the students. 

Nearby is the Pharmacy Under the Eagle, which is a small but nicely organized museum dedicated to the Polish pharmacist who refused to abandon the ghetto, and who used his pharmacy to aid those imprisoned in the ghetto.  After the war, the Polish communists turned his pharmacy into a bar (you can see it in the background when he’s being interviewed), but it does a good job of conveying what the ghetto was like.

When they saw the two remaining fragments of the Krakow ghetto wall (shaped like tombstones in a bitter Nazi joke).  At the second, we saw a sign on the gate saying “warning!” and we could smell fresh paint, but some students sat on the bench only to discover that it had just been painted too.

Our final stop was the site of the former Płaszow slave labor camp.  Built on top of the Jewish cemetery, almost all the original tombstones were destroyed, though I found one had recently been restored.  Sara Schenirer died in 1935, and had founded the Beis Ya’akov school for girls, which revolutionized Jewish education for Orthodox girls.

A short walk further was the camp commandant Amon Göth’s house.  When he ran Płaszow, he sometimes used the prisoners for target practice from the porch in the back overlooking the camp.  For years, every time we’ve come there’s been a for sale sign.  I read a few months ago that it had finally been sold and it’s now being remodeled.

It was a rather hot day, so I decided to skip heading up to the memorials and we returned to the hotel.  There I learned that 1) my request to our charter bus company to delay our departure for Auschwitz until 8:30 has been accepted; and 2) that the hotel now agrees that I’ve more than paid for my rooms.  I asked if they would refund the excess to me in cash (per the suggestion of Accounts Payable) and they told me that they would get back to me about that.  They also agree to print out my tickets to our tour at Auschwitz tomorrow. 

With these major worries finally resolved, I headed up to the train station to figure out how the new system works.  I had everything worked out, but the tram I was to transfer to didn’t show.  Nor did the next one.  I was getting ready to abandon my attempt, when I saw one show up on the board.  When it came it was jam packed.  I’m not sure how long it had been delayed, but it was filled with at least three trams worth of people.  It’s not pleasant to be jammed up with people, not all of whom have recently (in the last three days) showered.

With my newspaper, I decided to treat myself to a dessert and coffee in the air conditioned mall.  The dessert was a sernik szarlotka – a cheesecake with apple pie topping.  I wanted to get a café au lait, but what I ended up ordering in my broken Polish was a regular coffee with a small side of milk.  Thankfully, I had also asked for sugar and used all three cubes.

I checked out different restaurant options for our farewell dinner and chose Kogel Mogel.  In the past, we’ve eaten at Szara Kazimierz, but I’ve gotten a little bit tired of that place and I think its options are a little limited, so I’ve decided to try here.  Hopefully, we won’t be disappointed.

As I was walking through the old city, I heard some drumming.  I saw there was a stage set up by the town hall tower.  It turns out that on the first Thursday every year (for many hundreds of years), Krakow has a procession by the Lajkonik.  This involves the myth of how the Tatars were defeated by some rafters and they staged a mock invasion of the city using the Tatars clothing.  Lots of great drumming and pageantry.  The Lajkonik comes in dressed as a Tatar and riding a hobbyhorse.  He blesses people by tapping them with his mace.  It culminates in a street battle, which ends when the children pelt them with nerf balls.

 Just for old times, I went back to Szara Kazimierz for dinner and ordered the duck with roast apples and grilled veggies.  It was well cooked.   
 Afterwards, I wandered through the neighborhood and found the food trucks, where I might take some of the students tomorrow evening.

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