Let me catalogue them
A drink on a hot day
Lemoniada z bzu it was called. In groping English the man in the white shirt behind the counter described it to me. “It is … between sweet and bitter … there is flower in it … an essence.” I watched as he made it – clear liquid from three containers and a slice of orange in the base of the tall glass. I relished its coolness and it’s not-sweetness, thinking of cucumber lemonade that was balm to my throat on a hot day in Prague. Later, when I ran “lemoniada z bzu” through my translator, I found that I had been drinking lilac lemonade.
Facing the wrong way
I don’t usually like facing the wrong way when I’m travelling in a bus, but that’s where I end up on the 222 taking me back to ul Puławska after a busy morning sightseeing. I’m right up the back, and the only thing in front of me is a long narrow window, framing the receding streetscape as a panorama. It is a wonderful way to see a familiar city and now I seek out that seat.
Snow in late spring
The temperature is climbing towards 30° and the air is full of what looks like floating snowflakes. They ride on the breeze and drift in through our windows, coming to rest on the windowsill and along the skirting boards. In the park they grout the paving stones and settle in heavy drifts in the gutters. One afternoon after preschool dziadek and Maja and Jaś collect fingerfuls and send them back into the air with their breath, sometimes as high as the school building. Of course it’s not really snow: it’s the prolific fluff from the white poplar.
Surprised by a storm
It’s a very hot day. We sit in the park under dense shade, eating carrot sticks and sultanas and sunflower seeds. We are fantasising about bringing a rug and lying down on the grass looking up at the trees and the birds and the clouds. Then there’s an ominous rumble. We’re startled. Neither the weather forecast nor the sky predicted rain. Nevertheless it falls, a sun shower at first, the slanting rain glinting through the trees. A wind erupts and the air is a swirl of falling leaves, and suddenly it’s a downpour. We huddle close to each other and the trunk of the tree. But soon we’re drenched, no longer hot. J grabs the bikes and I two small hands and we scurry towards home. The paths are running rivers and in the gutters that workmen have been repaving there are tiny waterfalls coloured white with cement. The downpour stops as suddenly as it started and heat returns. There are big brown puddles at the edge of the park, billabongs for bunyips, we decide, as we splash through them. At home we discard sopping wet clothes and sodden shoes.
At the checkout
There is a chronic shortage of small coins in Poland and the person at the checkout is never satisfied with a note. They always waits for you to produce a handful of drobna. On a busy Friday afternoon a man reverses this scenario. He hands over fistfuls of small coins. The woman serving him begins counting, laying out the tiny circles on the counter. She counts, and counts and counts, as the people in the queue begin murmuring. They are amused rather than aggravated, astonished that someone would interrupt the admittedly slow pace of transactions with this mini-drama. The woman behind me begins to chat to me in animated Polish: I counter-comment in English. Still the count goes on. At last the coins are safely stashed in the till. I expect the drobna-hunger is satisfied, but no. When it’s my turn to pay, there is still the interrogative tilt of the head which means “Hand over your small change, or suffer my displeasure.”
Imagine us on a green and yellow striped rug in the park. We are under a shady tree, with mushrooms growing around its base. The twins require a “lumpy bit” under the rug and a tree root serves this purpose. They are having a linguistic conversation with dziadek, amused by the similarity between the word for cushion (kanapa) and the word for sandwich (kanapka). Then they move on to sałata (lettuce) and sałatka (salad) and set up a chant, which we all join in counterpoint, four voices taking turns. This is the way to learn a language.
Travellers on a Warsaw tram
I hear a strange noise behind me as I make for the tram. When I look round I see a man lugging four stackable tubular green chairs. A postman gets on with his rectangular trolley-on-wheels and travels three stops. As he gets off to begin deliveries, two men hop on carrying a pair of solid folding tables about 5′ long. And most unusual of all, a young man strikes up a conversation in English, telling me that his son Tadeusz is called after Kosciuszko, after whom the highest mountain in Australia is also named. Oh, and then I see a familiar shape further down the tram: J has just joined it after a walk along the river. A rich haul for a morning’s journey.n