Tuesday, May 31, 2005


Big cream-colored taxi

If you catch a cab in New York City, you ride in a Ford Taurus or Buick Crown Victoria the color of French's Mustard or American Cheese. In Berlin: a cream-colored Mercedes.




Monday, May 30, 2005


Dispatch from Berlin: Checkpoint Charlie

At the corner of Friedrichstrasse and Zimmerstrasse, is the site of the former border crossing point between East to West Berlin: the passage through the Berlin Wall in which Soviet bloc and U.S. military checkpoints (and, in a 1961 incident, tanks) faced each other, also known as “Checkpoint Charlie.”

Today, the spot is a tourist attraction, ringed by souvenir stands, the Checkpoint Charlie Museum, and a mockup of the checkpoint booth on the Western side.

Either way, “mockup” is the right word. The tourist employees posing in military uniforms of the Western countries that occupied West Berlin after the war – France, Britain and the U.S. – holding flags and posing for photos with tourists gives the scene the air of a wax museum with particularly lifelike live people standing in for wax figures.

The museum was packed and, frankly, looked way to hokey to bother going in.

The site is well worth a visit for the abiding feeling it leaves you with that German reunification was a good thing. And if the Germans want to memorialize this piece of cold war history in a somewhat mocking vein, I say, “it’s your country. Go forth and smile.”

Berlin wall remnant, a couple of blocks away from Checkpoint Charlie. I had no idea how thin the wall was!

Souvenir stands around Checkpoint Charlie selling simulated Cold War memorabilia.

Tourists getting ready for photo op with western “soldiers.”

Get a load of the shoes on that "U.S. military police" gal.

Right, the checkpoint. Left, the inside of the museum, packed with tourists. Hey, there’s Nixon!

The look of reunified Germany: you can drive right through on the Friedrichstrasse toward the chichi shops near Unter den Linden.

A bit more serious on the East Side. Steel crosses memorialize East Germans who were killed under the DDR’s shoot-to-kill order try to cross to the West.

This says it all, doesn’t it?


Saturday, May 28, 2005


The heat was general all across Europe*

Europe is experiencing a heat wave. In Berlin yesterday, it hit the mid 80s, today the high 80s, and tomorrow it's supposed to reach 90. 90 degrees in Berlin in May!

Check out the article on global warming in the June 2005 issue of Mother Jones. "Think tanks and journalists funded by ExxonMobil are out to convince you that global warming is a hoax."

*With apologies to James Joyce, Dubliners.


UPDATE: Correction -- it was over 94 degrees yesterday. Check out this (Sunday) morning's Berliner Zeitung.


The polar bear at the Berlin Zoo dropped dead from heat prostration. (Just kidding -- but the bear was very hot.)



Dispatches from Poland: the Auschwitz Museum

[Monday, May 24]

Untitled-5 The Birkenau extermination camp at Auschwitz

My intention of visiting Auschwitz was always a vague notion, like the occasional wish to learn a new language or a new musical instrument. “Oh yes, I’ll go there some day,” I’d think, but without much conviction that the intention would harden into a plan. But when I found myself on my way to Poland, and to Krakow at that – just over an hour away – it was clear that I had to, and would, go.

The visit to Auschwitz – I find I prefer calling it “the Auschwitz Museum” to name the experience of visiting the site of the former concentration and death camp as a tourist – was hanging over my Poland tour like a dark cloud. Trying to enjoy oneself in quaint little Krakow, knowing that Auschwitz had operated just down the road, involves a measure of denial reminiscent of the revelers in Poe’s Masque of the Red Death.

For much of the day before the trip, B and I were snappish and irritable, due no doubt to anxiety about what would on doubt be a painful and disturbing experience. The hour and a half bus ride was incongruous: as we drove through picturesque Polish countryside on the beautiful sunny day, I thought about how well over a million people had ridden through this same countryside as the last trip they would ever have in their lives. The bus ride became a time for brooding contemplation. Even the chatty American kids sitting behind us shut up a half hour into the trip.

Walking to the museum entrance, I was very conscious of being stared at by a long row of people-watchers on park benches lining the path to the entrance: 14 year old blond boys speaking Polish and laughing, men smoking cigarettes and slowly turning their heads to follow us we crossed their field of vision. The mood was all wrong.

Inside the museum, a multilingual throng, signs in at least six languages, tour guides giving instructions to small clusters of people. B told me to go ahead to watch the introductory film while she lined up to buy tickets for the guided tour.

The movie had the newsreel footage of the death camp that you’d expect, but was strikingly unmoving. The crackly-sounding narration in accented English, with its florid text and translated-into-English phrasing, gave the film the quaint, unpersuasive air of a Soviet-style propaganda film. Couldn’t they have put together a more compelling short film to introduce visitors to this monumentally important site?

But my emotions were jolted when B rejoined me and told me that we had just missed the 11:30 tour. We’d have to cool our heels in the waiting area for an hour and a half until the 1:00 p.m. tour started. Couldn’t we just tag along with the 11:30 tour, I wondered aloud?

No. The tour groups were identified by color-coded square stickers, which we were all to attach to our shirt fronts. The people on the 11:30 tour all had orange stickers displayed on their shirts; but we were given green.

Nice touch – color coded stickers for the clothing. The idea of having some authority figure dictate my freedom of movement due to the color of some sticker on my shirt certainly created a heightened sense of experience: it made me sort of sick. I contemplated a scene in which I’d get in the tour guide’s face is she tried to kick us out of the group: “Here of all places! Shame on you!”

In the event, they found another English speaking tour guide (apparently there is something of a shortage) and we were able to get orange stickers after all.

The tour of the camp then began. Auschwitz is actually two camps. The first, Auschwitz proper, was actually a converted Polish Army barracks. And if you look only at the buildings and grounds, without hearing details of what went on the site, it does not look like such a horrible place: I’ve seen American prisons whose physical plant looks more scary and depressing.

The tour quickly devolved into a museum tour distinguished only by its unusually horrific subject matter. You see, hear and read about, the detritus of the horror of the camps – the torture and executions, the huge piles of human hair and luggage – but it is conveyed in the manner of a museum: the tour guide’s lecture, captioned photographs and selections of real artifacts inside glass cases. And not a particularly well-presented museum at that: I’ve seen half a dozen museum exhibitions of the holocaust that moved me more. The Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. was a far more powerful experience.

I began thinking, as we trudged around the camp buildings-cum-museum that this Auschwitz Museum was a good introduction for people who knew little or nothing about the Holocaust. I’m no historical expert, but I’ve done some reading and seen several documentaries and Hollywood movies about the holocaust, and felt I was getting nothing new. How strange that the most moving aspects of the experience were the personal logistics of getting into the mus – the bus ride, the walk past the gawkers, the color-coded tags.

That was until we went to the gas chamber.

Auschwitz had one gas chamber – a prototype for the larger ones that would be installed in the later death camps – and it survived the war. The attached crematorium, where the bodies of those killed by the poison gas were incinerated, was destroyed by the Nazis in their coverup effort as they retreated from Poland; but the Museum has realistically restored it using original materials.

We lined up outside, and then filed into the gas chamber, as millions of people had done as the last act of their lives. In that moment, I felt all the layers of thought that protect me from shameful feelings – the evaluative, judgmental, humorous, cynical, angry layers of thought – stepped aside. There was nothing but to feel “I am here, now.”

I’ve not had that many moments of such unfiltered experience. This one took the shape of a single sob.

After that emotional spike, the tour plateaued. We took a break, and boarded a bus for Birkenau. Built by the Germans for the express purpose of exterminating Jews, the huge Birkenau encampment, with a substantial fraction of surviving barracks and its long rail spur ending at the former crematorium site, conveys something semblance of the horrors that occurred there. We walked down the long dusty path to the spot where condemned Jews disembarked for the selection – immediate death in the gas chamber or a small chance of survival as slave labor. Here, you become part of something suggestive of a re-enactment. The people who got off the train between 1942 and 1945 stood there in their ordinary street clothes, just like us.

The phrase “ashes to ashes, dust to dust” has never had much meaning for me, a mere tired metaphor in a religious incantation. That too changed when, back in my hotel room, I wiped the dust of Auschwitz-Birkenau from my shoes.

You should go there.


Friday, May 27, 2005


Not so EasyNet

I break my promise to stop blogging about internet access in Europe

Astonishingly, it has been even harder to get online in cosmopolitan, state-of-the-art berlin than in Warsaw and Krakow. I thought I'd have free wireless in our posh Berlin hotel room on Friederichstrasse (so said the online promotional material), but what they meant was T-Mobile Europe for about $10 an hour. I may be addicted to web access, but I'm cheap, so once again I set out exploring the world of Internet cafes.

My "Lonely Planet Guide" blandly asserts that "Surfing the internet and checking your emails is no problem in Berlin. Internet cafes abound." Bullshit. Basically, in three hours of exploring I found none. Following a lead from Lonely Planet itself I arrived at a cheesy video-arcade cum slot machine "casino." This place really did look like a brothel -- too gross even to whip out the digital camera. The building did have two empty rooms that were former internet cafes, judging by their signs that were still on the locked door.

I was relegated to using EasyNet, a pay-as-you-go service provided by the same happy orange-logoed company as EasyJet, of "flight from Poland" fame. They had a pleasant room full of computer terminals, sharing space with a Dunkin Donuts.


Unfortunately, they do not allow you to hook up your own laptop, and the computers are behind locked panels (barring access to CD drives and USB ports), meaning that there is no way to upload photos.

But the real surprise was something that should have been no suprise. The German keyboard! What else should they use in Germany?


Note that, among other things, the z and y keys are inverted, the "&" symbol is over the 6 key, and the @ sign is impossible to make without experimenting with key combinations unknown to us Americans. Plus those German letters...

UPDATE: In answer to Wendy's comment/question, "so how did [I] post these pictures?" I finally bit the bullet and shelled out the T-Mobile $10/hour rate from my hotel room (which you can sign up for in 15 minute increments). Why didn't I think of that before?




Is it just me, or is Darth Vader a lot more sinister in German?



Thursday, May 26, 2005


Flight from Poland

Not so EasyJet

Don’t get me wrong. I had a wonderful time in Poland, and will gladly recommend such a trip to any American considering traveling to Europe of the paths usually beaten by American tourists. But we had spent eight full days in Poland, and made our emotional farewell with Nina yesterday. What’s more, virtually everything was shut down for the Corpus Christi religious celebration, and after having spent a couple of days – touring the Auschwitz Museum and the Kazimierz neighborhood – contemplating the dark side of Polish-Jewish relations, I was not in the mood to be immersed in Polish Catholicism. It was a good day to leave the country.

At the Krakow airport, people line the observation deck to wish their friends and family bon voyage. Or are they just happy to see the back side of me?
Which is why I had just a teensy bit of anxiety about the boarding policies of our cut-rate air carrier, EasyJet. First come – first served, no guarantee of a seat if they overbook, and only one flight per day to our destination, Berlin. For any European history buff like me, no trip to central Europe is complete unless you have the experience of spending several hours standing in lines at the transport terminal while anxiously wondering whether you’ll be able to get out of the country.

For once, I was on exactly the same page as B, who goes into a kind of refugee survival mode even when flying from Chicago to LA, and we agreed to shoot for reaching the airport three hours before our departure. The airline was recommending checkin two hours prior to departure, and we figured that if we strove to be first in line, we’d have better odds of clawing our way onto the plane.

From my new cosmopolitan vantage point, I now see that U.S. airports, for all their unpleasant post-9/11 hassles, are fairly well organized. Other than the rare experience of being bumped due to overbooking, you know that you will stand on three lines (ticket counter, security and boarding), that you will in fact get on your flight if you arrive at the ticket counter an hour before departure, and that the only chaotic and unruly line behavior occurs at boarding. There, when the flight is called, the departure lounge is activated like an annoyed beehive, with passengers jockeying for position and milling around, often creating the false impression of standing in the boarding line when in fact they are only waiting for their row number to be called.

In the Krakow airport, the entire scene from the moment you walk into the terminal to the moment you board the plane is like that boarding-line chaos.

There were lines and people milling around everywhere. B and I waited, first, on a line to inquire where we should go to line up. We were told that that location would not be disclosed until two hours before flight time.

You see, there are far more airlines flying out of Krakow than there are ticket windows, so airlines do not have their own designated ticket counters marked by their corporate logos, as in U.S. airports. And for reasons that defy my humble understanding, Krakow airport does not tell you what ticket window you must go to until they’re ready to start checking you in. Perhaps it’s because they want to discourage anticipatory lines, and they know that Poles are great line-formers (in the days of communism, they would line up for hard-to-obtain consumer goods and grocery items like some Americans would for Springsteen tickets).

So we waited for an hour, eyes glued to the monitor that would eventually flash the ticket counter number for our flight, and poised strategically to dart in any of several directions. At 1:30 (five minutes before two hours before departure) it came up: counters 1-3. We bolted. We ended up third in line.

For our efforts, we got a boarding card filled with numbers and letters. “Bus number 1" followed by a mysterious “11,” then “section C” but it turned out that the significant symbol was the letter A, written in green highlighter, indicating that we could board the first bus. (In Poland, you are taken between the terminal gate and the plane in a bus.) The first bus did not guarantee us a seat on the plane, it was explained, but it should improve our chances a great deal.

We next lined up for passport control and security baggage check. I must say that the armed Polish soldiers in camo were somewhat nicer than our own TSA workers, and did not make me take off my shoes.

At this point, B and I found ourselves, still about an hour and a half to go, in a vast departure lounge sporting not one but three gates from which about five flights would be taking off before ours. Again, the information about which gate for your flight was withheld until the last minute, and again lines seemed to form in a chaotic, first come– first served manner. Would our letter “A” count for anything in this waiting room jungle?

When our gate was finally called (my own clever series of deductions to predict the correct gate having proven miserably wrong), B instantly sprung from her chair and maneuvered us like a dance instructer through a mosh pit to – again – the third spot in line.

Soon we were on the bus, almost the first to board. But here is a trap for the unwary, and here, my powers of discernment actually functioned well. Surmising that the principle of “LIFO” (“Last-in-first-out”) would apply to a crowded bus, I suggested to B that we eschew the seats in favor of a place standing near the door.

I couldn’t have been more right. After the bus stood at the gate for what must have been 20 minutes, we finally drove toward the plane. B and I leapt from the bus almost as soon as the doors opened and raced for the waiting plane, where, again, we were about the third ones on.

It turned out to be a comfortable, relaxing hour and a half flight into Berlin. We even had an empty seat next to us, because – did I mention? – the plane was only about two-thirds full.


Wednesday, May 25, 2005


In Krakow: "Everyone was always asking where did Spielberg eat his lunch every day -- which, by the way, is right over there"

So said our tour guide, Magda, rolling her eyes about silly tourist questions. Magda was guiding us through Kazimierz, the artifact of Krakow's once-thriving Jewish quarter.

Where Spielberg ate his lunch every day,
during the filming of
Schindler's List.

Kazimierz had become something of a blighted neighborhood, according to Magda, but the filming of Schindler's List put it on the map. Spielberg used the picturesque Kazimierz streets as the setting for the Krakow ghetto, although in reality the Nazis forced the Jews out of Kazimierz and into a nearby neighborhood across the river.

After Schindler's List, everyone wanted to see the movie "set." A mini-tourism boom ensued and the neighborhood is doing much better. Magda says they should erect a statue to Spielberg here in the main square.


More on the Kazimierz tour later. For now, I leave you with this:


This is not, of course, the original sign. As Magda points out, that would have been in German.


Tuesday, May 24, 2005


They're taking all the fun out of trains



I've always loved train travel. Although train service is pretty pathetic in the U.S. outside the Northeast Corridor, I take trains whenever I feasibly can. Unlike U.S. air travel, U.S. train travel allows you to buy a ticket ten minutes before the train pulls away, no reservations needed, and you need not even commit to a particular train. If I'm traveling anywhere between Washington D.C. and Boston I will always take a train rather than fly.

At one time, train travel in Europe was even more charming. Those intimate six-seat compartments. Couchettes. When I was 22 traveling with my best friend in Scandinavia, the bunks of the couchette were pulled out at night and the young Swedish woman we'd been chatting up asked us if we'd be offended if she took her clothes off. I think my friend and I both wanted to say casually, "no problem," but instead we may have sort of blurted it out.

All that has changed. In Europe, train travel and air travel are almost exactly the reverse of what they are in the U.S. Europe now offers cheap quick flights. Airline tickets are easy to get.

In contrast, European trains are expensive, more expensive than air travel on many routes. You need to make reservations way in advance, through a cumbersome and confusing process in which you buy the reservation as a separate document from a ticket.

In fact, B and I had booked train tickets: night train with private sleeping compartment, Krakow to Prague. A couple of days in Prague. Then another train from Prague to Berlin. Cost: around $200 per person.

Europe's vanishing six-person compartments, aboard the Warsaw-Krawkow express. Our compartment mates scented our compartment by taking out, in succession, cigarettes, perfume, a flask of vodka, and a cat.

We got these tickets thinking the trains would be charming. But European trains have lost some of that charm. To begin with, most Western European trains have abandoned the old-style six-person compartments in favor of Amtrak-type airplane-cabin seating -- pairs of seats on either side of the central aisle facing forward.

Then, most west European trains are now high speed, racing through the landscape at such a velocity that objects closer than the horizon appear in a blur.

The last straw for charm-removal, however, began to come into focus when Nina's sister in Warsaw informed us a few days ago that there was a not insubstantial chance that we would be robbed on the Krakow-Prague night train.

She regaled us with stories of travelers whose pockets were slashed open, after they had gone to sleep.

"Well," I said, "we're going to be in our own sleeping compartment. I'm guessing those people were just sleeping in their seats. We can lock our door."

To be sure, she replied, some of them were in second class seats, but in fact there were several incidents of robbers breaking into locked sleeping compartments.

"Well," B said, "we'll just have to take turns and sleep in shifts."

Yes, we could try that, said Nina’s sister, but in fact the robbers spray cloroform through the grating or the keyhold in the door and put people to sleep that way, then break in, then slash pockets, straps etc.

“But it doesn’t happen to everyone, of course,” she added reassuringly. “The percentages are probably in your favor.”

The conversation shifted to why it took the night train over eight hours to make the 300 kilometer journey. Probably lots of stops, we speculated. Probably to let the robbers on and off, I thought.

We were shaken, but not stirred by this. Rallying around our motto (“No fear!”) we decided to stick to the plan, even after we read in our Let’s Go Eastern Europe guidebook that “Let’s Go does not recommend traveling on night trains between Krakow and Prague.”

No, for me the last straw was hearing the young American behind us telling his travel companion about “this girl I know” who was robbed while she slept. “The robbers lifted her shirt and cut off her money belt. I hear they put gas through the door to make sure you’re unconscious.”

Anesthesia or no, the idea of robbers – even well intentioned ones – applying a sharp knife to my clothing on a moving train takes the charm out of the overnight train. Even if the percentages are with us. The idea is good enough for a sleepless night.

This morning, I went online in my internet cafe and in 15 minutes was the proud owner of two one-way tickets, Krakow-Berlin, non-stop. Cost: $80 each. I could have left tomorrow if I'd wanted.


My laptop is trying to speak Polska

I think I've already explained that lately when I've logged on to Google.com, I get the Google Polska. It's cute and all until you try making online reservations for hotels in Berlin. Try navigating in Polish.

I try Google.us, and it still calls up Google.pl.

Google allows you to set your preferences to choose your own navigation language, right? Try navigating that in Polish. Go ahead, click here and try to switch to English.

Acting on a hunch, I type www.google.fr into my URL line. This successfully calls up Google France. I guess Poland is all pan-Eurocentric now that it's joined the EU.

I know enough French to change the language preference to English. So for right now, I'm Googling through the French portal in English. Sort of an internet language arbitrage thing. Works for me.


Monday, May 23, 2005


Outside Krakow

I'll talk about it later.




In Krakow -- home of the bagel

The bagel was invented by a Jewish baker in Krakow. It was supposed to be bread in the shape of a stirrup, apparently in homage to the king of Poland, a great horseman. The contemporary Polish version is a bready ring-shaped pretzel. -- I guess that sounds like a description of a bagel, but take my word for it, its more like a pretzel.

The original bakery that created the bagel was reopened after WWII by a Polish-American Jew who repatriated to Poland from New York. The shop is still open in Kazimiersz, the remnant of Krakow's Jewish neighborhood. If you were here in Krakow right now, wouldn't you want to get a bagel from the place that started it all? Damn right, you would:


But you'd be out of luck.



Sunday, May 22, 2005


I indulge my problem: Krakow's internet cafe underworld

So here's the story of how I got online today.

Krakow has wired its central square, Rynek Glowny, for wireless internet access. In theory, you can sit at any of the outdoor cafes that ring the square and surf -- and blog.


While my laptop picked up the signal for the Krakow123 wireless network, I couldn't log on. So B and I left our sunny outdoor cafe table and headed into the depths of the Krakow internet cafe scene.


Back in Warsaw, you'll recall, I found Cup of Pleasure to be somewhat risque, but I soon found that the Cup's haze of sexuality surrounding its internet access was nothing compared to Krakow. What better way to make me feel like my lust for internet access is a kind of sex addiction than this -- the most promising internet "hookup" on the main square?


Is it just me, or do you feel like we're going upstairs to hire a prostitute?


And here's the place -- reasonable hourly rates.

Brothel? Opium den?

B and I decide to look away from the main square. Near Jagellonian University, this place looks promising:




Kind of a sex-club look:



Se we keep looking .... and find Cafe Golebia.


Nice, ground floor atmosphere. And the best rates!

Internet access: just 2 zlotys (about 65 cents) and "consumption."
I think that means you have to buy something, not have a bad cough.

It turns out the city is full of internet cafes, of all shapes and sizes. Have I been wigging out about this? I'm done now.



Krakow: I discover my problem

Other than telling you that I'm now in Krakow (pron: Krah-koof), and that I promise that I will backfill interesting facets of my trip thus far at a reasonably near opportunity, let's all just let go of the idea of my sequentially travel-blogging, at least for the next few days.

Krawkow street, near Jagellonian University

Part of the problem is, as explained, that I am an internet refugee in Poland. But part of the problem, I find, is also the fact that I seem to find the challenges of getting on line in Poland to be so fascinating that I seem to have an undeniable need to talk about it.

First of all, I've become, to my surprise and mixed feelings, something of a technofiliac. Not a technofile -- someone who loves and is adept with technology -- but someone who is neurotically dependent on technology.

Cafe Golebia, Krakow: My technology, with my indulgent partner, B.
Note how the internet accessible table is barely big enough for more than one laptop.

Three years ago when I travelled in Europe, I didn't even own a camera. I just went through a few disposable cameras, and didn't take that many pictures. Now I own a digital camera which I take with me everywhere; I'm enthralled with the idea that there is now no such thing as "wasting film," and I have quickly developed a 200 photo a day habit.

And I want to take my laptop with me everywhere. I don't in practice -- the napsack gets heavy. But I have it with me a heck of a lot: there may be blogging opportunities after all. So it's happening to me: this technology has interposed itself as a medium of my travel experience. It's this blogging thing! which means of course, it's your fault. But I forgive you.




It is pronounced (I think--Nina will undoubtedly correct me if I'm wrong): nyeh-gaz-O-vanna. It means mineral water without bubbles.


My mnemonic device for the word is to set it to the tune of Guantanamera. This mnemonic also works for the word for decaffeinated coffee (hard to find in Polish cafes -- phonetically: bez caff-a-eena.)




Blog of the month?

It has probably become clear to you that I failed to post my regular, albeit new, Blog O'the Week feature at the end of last week. But it's also probably clear that as an internet refugee, I haven't had much time to read blogs. I'll return to featuring a new Blog of The Week (TM) as soon as I can. In the meantime, don't start with me. I mean, continue to check out Don't Let's Start.


Saturday, May 21, 2005


I rediscover my Polish roots



Nina the photojournalist

My first day in Warsaw, we encountered a demonstration by the coals miners, on our way home from the park. Nina explains that the coal miners were a favored class of workers under communism, and now, under capitalism, they are finding their job security under attack.


The riot police waited down the street:


But this is really a post about how cool Nina is. Here she confronts the riot police head on:


I overdramatize, since the police seemed pretty benign (if you ignore their black uniforms and full riot gear), but Nina’s willingness to face down danger to get the shot reminded me of the photographer in The Unbearable Lightness of Being during the Prague Spring. For the photographic fruit of Nina’s effort, click here.




I want to blog a travelogue, but I really want you to understand what life is like when high speed internet access is a precious resource. I'm back at "Cup of Pleasure" this morning, the one place I know of in Warsaw where I can count on reasonably priced wireless internet access -- 11 zlotys (about $4) for an hour. (The hotels charge something like $20 an hour.)

Nina and B approach Cup of Pleasure

Unfortunately, they don't open until 10 on Saturday morning. But the proprietor, though he won't let us have coffee a minute early, has allowed us to log on now, at 9 a.m., out on the front patio deck. They're noisily setting up the chairs, and they're doing some design or repair work out front. In fact, this truck is parked two feet away from my table with its engine running:


I can almost touch the exhaust pipe; the cherry picker is moving up and down, and the workman is handing what seem to be farm implements to a guy standing on the awning. The proprietor explains, "They are putting up flowers."

In this picture, the truck has moved a few feet away.


Meanwhile, Nina somehow can't log on, and B can't even boot up her computer. They return to the hotel. Almost an hour has gone by, and I haven't been able to post yet.

I woke up this morning at 5:30 a.m. in a cold sweat, positively beside myself with anticipation about getting online at Cup of Pleasure. When internet access is something that can’t be taken for granted it is indeed a cup of pleasure.

Yesterday, we – Nina, Madeline, B and I – visited Nina’s sister Elisa.


There was one computer in the apartment, and we all took turns going on line and checking email.


I loved this moment. It completely resonated with my sterotyped notions of an Eastern European experience, a little throwback to the days of communism. This is one of the delights of travel for me: finding the little differences, and realizing how good I have things back home.


Friday, May 20, 2005


Dzien dobry from Poland!

At an internet cafe in Warsaw. Time for just a quick post. No time for personal pronouns. Or verbs. B waiting back in hotel room. Obsessive blogging, divorce. You understand.

That's the way it is here in Poland. At home, I can check into the blog several times a day, with home and office computers hooked up to high speed. Beep, beep, you're on. Here, internet minutes are precious. I feel like a radio transmitter in an Alan Furst novel. If I stay online too long, the German radio detection van will pick up my signal and and a couple of SS goons will be crashing into my room within minutes...

Let me just tantalize you with a couple of details and a couple of pics. The internet cafe is called "Cup of Pleasure," a sort of pseudo-Western sex themed cafe bar featuring cocktails named "Orgasm" and "Sex with Jennifer." More on this later. Now the pics:



Really, no time. Will blog again when I can. They're coming for me...


Thursday, May 19, 2005


Where am I?


Hint: the language in the large billboard picturing a giant pear that resembles a big butt is Polish.

Answer: Warsaw!

That's right, I am in a land far, far away, in a time zone I don't even know. In fact, I will be abroad for about five weeks. I plan to blog at every opportunity, so stay tuned -- you won't want to miss an exciting moment!

Blogging from Poland may be a challenge. Sure, it's a commonplace to say, "hey, the whole world is wired." That may be so, but it's not like you can walk into any coffeehouse or train station or library and just fire up the wireless. You can't even do that in the USA. So far in Warsaw, I'm finding internet access a bit like being an undocumented worker... right now I've snuck into Jeremy's posh hotel room, where I'm hooked up to an ethernet connection. Jeremy has left the country, but Nina wangled a way to keep the room until checkout time.

That's right folks, it's The Blogger Dinner European Tour!

MORE PROOF THAT I'M IN POLAND: When I enter www.google.com into my url window, I get this.


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