Tag Archives: the world

Sleep-Less, in Warsaw

The pigeons of Warsaw are singing blues lullabies, at night.

Were I not on a week-long hangover, from my tightly wound nerves and a lack of sleep, I may have not even noticed them.  But on the first night of getting here, I’ve first slept through all of daylight — sore from soaring the skies above the Atlantic — and then risen to an unfamiliar (to my now native but still adopted land) sound.  The murmur resembled the noises of a submarine submerging into water; or, of a bored babe blowing bubbles through a straw into a half-full glass of milk he had no intention of drinking up:  Quick pops of air, my little darling, with your tender, mumbled giggles, in between.

Even the local insomniacs have given up on their daytime nightmares that chronically keep them awake.  They’ve all gone off to sleep, by now.  In this old city, murmuring with blues, I seem to be alone; and I pull through my groggy, swollen stupor — of changed time zone and altitudes in the last twenty four hours, of overcome little tragedies (“the circumstances”, as other people call them) in order to get here — and through the anticipation of a major turnaround in my life.  Here, I have come to meet my father.  Here, according the story, lies my redemption.  (You know, THE story.  Everyone has one.  Not necessarily a fairytale, and nothing particularly dignified — but something that we lug around, to make us special. Or, different, at least.  “The story.”)

But still:  The sound.  Not a single soul seems to be awake to explain its origin, right now.  And after a lifetime of aloneness, loneliness is not in the repertory of my moods (let alone of my fears).  So, yes, the sound:  Is it coming from the pipes of the town square fountain, waking up in the midst of its winter-long hibernation?  Or is it authored by a stray mama-cat — with twice the thickness of her fur, being a much wilder thing in this part of the world — and she is purring her recent litter to sleep, somewhere on the raspberry, tilted rooftop of the apartment building across the street?

And then from the hibernating memories of my childhood’s self (what’s the use to remember, when all I do — is move beyond “the circumstances”?  toward “the story”?), I connect the dots:  If the memory serves me right, this sound comes from a choir of feathery creatures flocking the buildings’ gutters and windowsills, resting on phone poles (they are too clumsy for the tight ropes of phone lines, and they leave those for the little guys, the sparrows).  And they are murmuring the town to sleep.  The air is quieter in this part of the world.  The streets are narrower and filled with lesser aggression.  So, their songs — and the other tunes of nature — are easier to hear.  And so they happen:  These little harmonies of cohabitation, the peaceful melodies of nonviolent living.  Quite exceptional for the new century of ours!

Not a footstep can be heard along the cobblestone roads:  The town has been hushed down by the song.  There is always an hour, one at sunrise and a couple at the end of each day, when the surfaces of these streets look clad in blue — a shade that has been coming through in photographs of my father’s face.  While cradling a cooling cup of coffee against my breast bone, I break down the color by the palettes, while peeking through the tule curtains, which aren’t a common practice in my adopted land, except in immigrant neighborhoods.  For, on the other side of the Atlantic, every thing and body is in love with white spaces.  Still, the ways of life here do not appear strange to me; and all the memories I’ve forcefully filed away are gently slipping out to the forefront, to the bluesy murmurs of Warsaw’s pigeons.  I know I’ve seen these colors in my childhood.  I know I’ve heard these sounds.

The windows are sweated from the inside, but they’re not frost painted yet.  (That — I do remember well:  my tracing the magical cold patterns with my chubby fingers, while waiting up for Father Frost’s arrival, on New Year’s Eve.)  The streets below look narrow and ancient; and even though they are of a more recent generation, no older than five decades, the cobble stones breathe with tales of one old civilization (and of its “story”).  Never again will these streets be evened out by another nation’s ideologues with unthinkable experiments in mind!  The gracious land of Poland is resting now; and tonight, despite the turmoil in my head (reflections of my immigrant life competing with the memories of my original self), this land appears sleeping, submerging into fluid of some peaceful bliss that’s well-deserved, good lord!  Good land!

In about an hour — after this shade of blue is dissipated by sunlight — the town will begin its waking with the sounds of women’s heels upon the cobble stones, shiny in the morning with black ice.  A few antique cars, going one way, then parking and unloading fresh produce to a couple of delicatessens, will follow.

Food hunting takes some time and expertise, around here:  You cannot swing by a giant, windowless supermarket and get all of your needs fulfilled at once, while losing track of time in a hypnosis of excess.  No.  You must take your time to learn your neighborhood by walking and match a specific store to each food category.  Liquor and fruit — a reasonable pairing — is sold out of narrow closets, crammed in between first floor apartments.  Milk and meats are paired together, but never fish:  Fish is sold a few blocks down, on a larger, two-way street (which must be easier for deliveries, I dare to theorize).  At each store, you twirl the packages and wrappings in your hands.  They come from neighboring countries, each speaking in a different language:  the little oddities that feed one’s curiosity despite one’s being jaded by age.  The banality of your basic needs somehow dissipates when curiosity of hunting is rewaken; and you aren’t embarrassed for asking questions.

There is seemingly never more than half a dozen of each product in stock; so, you’re doomed to settle on variety; and if the local stores run out of your preferred produce — you wait until the sound of the antique cars the next morning.  (Here, waiting no longer proposes a burdensome occurrence; because the town’s time has slowed down, according to my clock.  And there is suddenly an endless list of missing objectives, as I adopt the natives’ strolling pace along these peaceful, old streets, until the blue of sunset, at the end of each day, and sometimes past it.)

The three women cashiers at the liquor store across the street are always visibly amused at my crippled Polish.

“Tak, tak, tak,” they smile and nod, and hand each other their guesses of what I’m pointing at.

“No, no,” I panic.  “Apple… not a pear…  Um…  Yabloko?  Yeah?”  (I throw in some Russian, what the hell!)

Sometimes, I juggle English, when my original tongue fails.  They smile and give each other teasing looks.  I do not worry though:  They look like grandmothers, completely free of evil thoughts toward other people’s children.

This one, behind the liquor counter, looks mighty — like the type I’d call in case of a prognosis of some feminine disease, or just to share a round of shots for no reason than to avoid thinking of “the story” (“the circumstances”, as other people call them).  She looks like she can laugh for hours, her giant breasts vibrating with resonance of her chesty, smoker’s register.

“Mozh?” she forcefully tilts her head toward my male companion who’s at the moment pleasantly negotiating with the other two women — in the produce corner of this closet space — that after all, we won’t be needing any onions.

“But, thank you.  Um…  Dzieku-ya?  Yeah?”  (He’s a lot more willing than I am!  His “story” must be lighter.)

I shrug, roll up my eyes to reconsider, press my lips together into a sheepish smile (this mighty broad is a Catholic, judging by the amber cross around her sweaty neck), and then I shrug again.  What’s Polish for:  “It’s complicated”?  She gives me a preview of the silver crown in the right top corner of her mouth and lifts her thumb.  She approves — of him, or of my progressive sexual practices, from my adopted (but not native) land.  Her nails are filthy, and I love her!

The woman stocking the shelves at a larger deli down the street has also picked me for a foreigner.  No matter which tongue I utilize with her — I might as well be speaking in Chinese.  Her face communicates her single, stubborn point of view:  If Looks Could Kill…  I feel no residue of my self-protective aggression.  (I’m suddenly so tired of “the story”.)  But one thing I have learned with these unwilling types, resentful toward tourists — as demonstrated by the apathetic shrug of a gray-haired, handsome cabby, earlier this week, who turned down a handsome fare to the airport by refusing to communicate in any other language but his native:  They aren’t obliged to speak to me in Russian anymore.  I cannot blame them:  It’s a new world, indeed!  To each — his or her own politics of forgiveness.

“Yeah?”

The resentful woman still doesn’t get me.  I let her be, in dissonance with me.  I let them be.

The young barista with a boyish haircut at a packed coffee shop pretends to not understand my “pleases”, “yeses”, “thank yous”.  (A little cunty, if you ask me, she shoots down all of my attempts for grace.  But nothing I can do about that.  I let her be.)  While waiting for my order, a stunning couple gets my attention; and I forget about the slightly patronizing smile of the child behind the register, who’s probably spitting in my coffee.  The woman in the coupling is wearing an African headdress, and he — is gloriously giant.  I hear them murmuring in Polish to a nervous woman tourist:  When did the world get smaller?  And, more importantly, how much longer — until it becomes kinder, juster, too?

Still sleepless, I keep studying my street, through the tulle curtains:

An amber store is lazily glistening with all possible shades of yellow, some silver and glass.  The arch doorway of the watch repair store right next to it looks like a replica from an old fairytale:  I try to cast the face of the kind and fragile watchmaker who tinkers with the hands of time, inside; but all that comes to mind — is the one of my father, illuminated by the shades of blue.

His face — is kindness incarnated.  Mercy defined and grace continuously — stubbornly — resurrected, despite “the story”.  My father’s hands, affected now by age and years of living past “the circumstances”, have been the ones in charge of my chronology.  Like a magician, from ten time zones away, he has been gently tapping the wheels of my clock with pads of his aging fingers, to slow down the loss of our minutes.

If only our “story” would have some mercy!  And from the ends of now smaller world, we have been rushing to each other:  If only there’d be time enough!

“Young Hov’s a Snake Charmer: Move Your Body Lika Snake, Mama!”

Rule No. 1:  If I’m not perfect for my man — he is not my man.

Rule No. 2:  If my man is not happy with me — it’s time to look for another man.

That’s a rough translation, sort of:  from my gypsy grandmother’s mouth and directly into your modern ears, my comrades.  Still rings true though, nyet?  The wisdom — lives on!

That woman was a badass!  She strutted around her port city, lithe and decisive in her hips, as if she ran that motherfucker.  She was one them proud broads, asking no man for help (other than her father); and it was just her luck that by the time she entered the workforce, her country was on that whole socialist equality shtick.  So, the broad held jobs that not many women were interested in; and she flourished, climbing whatever level ladders her Communist Party chapter advertised.

She had been a construction worker and a collective farmer in the country.  But by the time I met her, she worked as manager at a fish cannery.  Oh, I’ve seen that broad at work!  From a rustic desk some moron once thought up to paint the color of a stewing swamp, she gave out her packing orders like some women give out their expectations.  She refused to be away from her people, so she moved that swampy thing out onto the factory floor, by the conveyor belt; and considering no Soviet machinery ran low on sound, anyone who needed to talk to her would have to holler out their lungs.  Nope, that job was not for the dainty-hearted!

But she did have a little corner getaway upstairs, which is where she would sit me down, underneath a black-and-white shot of one drunken righteous leader after the next.  For a while there, these leaders would die on us like flies, so she’d leave their portraits leaning against the wall:  What’s the point of worshiping a man if he ain’t planning to last long?

And to keep me entertained, while she strutted on the factory floor — lithe and decisive in her hips — grandmother would equip me with a can of black caviar, a spoon; an old world atlas and a pair of scissors.  There I’d spend my days, cutting up the world and acquiring the beginnings of my sick misconception that there was no distant corner I couldn’t cut through; no country I couldn’t slice across.   

“Thirsty, little rabbit?” grandmother would reappear at intervals with a glass of foaming sparkling water from the dispenser machine outside; or better yet, with a bottle of Pinocchio soda that tasted like a liquid, lemon-flavored Jolly Rancher.

Of course, I’d be fucking thirsty:  Gobbling up that caviar was like drinking sea water or licking the lower back of a tanning Brazilian goddess!  (Plus, all that cutting of corners!  All that wanderlust!)  As if to finish training my stomach to handle anything — in case I ever swallowed anything bitter or toxic (a cowardly lover, for instance) — she would rummage in her pockets and whip out a plastic bag of dried calamari rings:  My favorite!  Like some children with raspberries, I would top each finger with those rings; then, I continue to trace unfamiliar shores and continents, before cutting them to shreds.

What man could possibly keep up with a broad like that? 

The one that knew that taming a descendant of a gypsy was a moot point.  The one with balls enough to wait for all the unworthy, drooling endless admirers and ex-lovers to flake away:  because none of them could handle that hot number in the first place, bare-handedly.  The one with a freedom of his own, addicted to circumvent the globe’s ocean as if each round were a growth ring on a tree trunk of his life.  The one who’d seen enough, who’d lost enough to know that a good woman is a lucky find; and even if it chills you down to your bones with paralyzing fear or with the breath of your own mortality, you better give it a goddamn worthy try — to not keep her, to not conquer her — but to have a daily hand at trying to be worthy of her staying.

To that man — my grandfather — this woman was meant to be followed.  And so he would:  on our every Sunday walk to and from the bazaar, if he happened to return home from his circumventing.

She rarely kept company with other women (but then again, could outdrink every man she’d call “a friend”).  So, when walking, she’d always go at it alone, just a few meters ahead; perfectly content with the pace of my little feet, yet with a strut of someone running that motherfucker.  Sometimes, I’d look back to find my grandfather’s muscular arms with his fisherman’s tan; and from underneath the tattered hat, with a cig dangling on his lips, he’d smile and wink, as if he had just been caught at a naughty secret.

One day, I chose to walk with him, letting my grandmother lead the way, just a few meters ahead.  He lifted me onto his shoulders and told me to hold onto his ears:

“Otherwise, you’ll fly away!”

Every once in a while, he would reach above his head and make a crocodile mouth with his hand; at which point, I would pucker up my lips and let the crocodile devour my sloppy kiss.

And from up there, from the first pair of a man’s capable shoulders, I fell in love — in my youthful lust — with a woman.  That day, she strutted just a few meters ahead of us, lithe and decisive in her hips; and with each step, her tight wrap-around dress rode up higher and higher, bunching up at her tailbone and revealing the naked back of her knees.  A long, shiny, jet black braid ran down from her top vertebra down to the lower back; and the unbraided tip of it would tap each ass cheek as the hips continued to sway and sway, lithely and decisively, making me slightly dizzy with adoration and bliss.

That day, I knew:  It was not a bad deal to follow a woman’s lead.  (It was delectable, to the contrary.)  But it would take some esteem to be worthy of her staying.