Sunday Morning ~ Easter in Warsaw
April 17, 2022
It’s Easter Sunday and the Catholic mass is serious business here. Confessionals are actually used, pews are full, and a big exodus and simultaneous entrance occurs every hour on the hour. Baby carriages line the handicap ramp. The crowd is decked out in black and grey, though the forsythia is in bloom and trees I can’t name are about to bud. I see few, if any, people smiling, though I can’t differentiate culture from trauma. No one is wearing a mask so faces are visible. Poland dropped all Covid mandates on April first. The languages being spoken all sound the same to me, though I’m told there is Polish, Russian, and Ukrainian. I detect joy in the gorgeous voice of the woman behind me as she sings the hymns. I see the words projected on a screen above the altar and try to follow along, working to decipher how she pronounces all these consonants. I don’t even open my mouth; joining in is not an option.
The trip here was smooth as overnight plane rides go, though I’ve clearly got some adjusting to do. The plane was full to the brim; I’d forgotten how close we sit to each other. Crowds never used to bother me but the pandemic and two years of solitude have affected my comfort with personal boundaries. The sardine experience seems all wrong now. It felt like the seating areas shrunk, seats were smaller, crew smaller too. I don’t think I saw a flight attendant three times the whole trip. We had to show proof of vaccination at check-in so I tried to ignore all the people on the flight disregarding the mask policy, especially since there was no one enforcing it. I’d occasionally point to the mask sitting in the lap of the guy next to me and he’d put it on without a word but it was like the crew had given up and masks were optional. Delivering meals seemed optional as well. Only some people got breakfast. I don’t know if they paid more for their flight or what, but I didn’t get one and didn’t have the motivation to go looking for it.
The complimentary wifi at the airport in Zurich was accessible after scanning your boarding pass into one of the “airport scanners” which I didn’t even try to look for. I found it a relief to read a book, sleep on the Starbucks bench, and people-watch like the old days. It used to be very entertaining to watch people interact but now they are mostly looking at their phones. I saw a few (mostly older) reading books, some were talking to each other, all were very subdued. There wasn’t much for holding my attention. I had five and a half hours to kill there and between taking walks, window-shopping for expensive watches, reading, and napping, the time passed amicably. The flight to Warsaw boarded on time and was full to capacity but was delayed twenty minutes due to “increased military activity” in both Switzerland and Poland. That announcement was the only indication that anything was amiss in this part of the world. Having done customs in Switzerland, arriving in Warsaw was easy. I grabbed my bag off the carousel and exited to find my smiling family holding a bouquet of flowers and my gorgeous new grand daughter.
After arriving at the family apartment we went on a long walk so I could learn the neighborhood but I was tired and disoriented. Lots of Ukrainian flags are hanging from balconies and all the buildings look similar. Remembering street names was out of the question. Consequently, the following morning I got extremely lost trying to make my way from my hotel back to the apartment. A ten minute walk took me an hour and forty minutes. It was a Good Friday miracle I found the street at all. Then when I finally found the apartment building, I realized I hadn’t gotten instructions about how to contact them to let me in. I stood outside and hoped someone came out soon so I could just grab the door and enter. A few minutes later an old woman made her way outside and, not wanting to appear to be an intruder, I held up my address book with the address on it, pointed to the name, then the address, then me and said, “My son.” Of course this was in English as I haven’t even mastered the greetings in Polish. She smiled and nodded and held the door open. Phew!
Shopping for the Easter here on Friday and Saturday was very European. We pushed the baby carriage through markets, bakeries, and Turkish butcher shops. Though the weather is still quite cold the open air market was bustling. There were mostly root vegetables, cabbages, and massive wooden crates of apples. I have never seen apples this big and in such abundance, even in the autumn at home. I learned apples are a big part of the Polish economy and Russia had been a major importer. In 2014 when the sanctions began after the invasion of Crimea, Russia retaliated against Poland by banning imports of it’s apples. In response to this action, the Polish government funded the production of hard apple cider to avoid wasting the millions of bushels of apples in surplus. Their advertising slogan was “Your patriotic duty never tasted so good”. So this cider is now popular here and it is great. I love hard cider and lent is over. I will be very happy to do my part. I’ve only had one variety so far but will be sure to try them all before I leave. Love the ingenuity.
Monday is a holiday, too, so on Tuesday I will go to the Caritas office downtown and see what help I can offer. I’ve learned they are looking for people to teach English to Ukrainians in some of the eastern villages so that might be an option.
Love to all and Happy Easter,