Return to Potato Point is horrifyingly close. It’s hard to believe I’m launching (have launched, since this post is running late) into the last of my twelve months in Warsaw. It’s been a cold month, although I was bed-bound for the coldest of the days. I only see -20° out the window, and the ice floes on the Wisła through J’s lens, and I feel vaguely deprived. A good fall of snow lingers enough for plenty of sledding for the bold-hearted (and slipping for this geriatric: my snow boots are only good for so much, although they are still one of my favourite Warsaw acquisitions.) The other geriatric defies death, riding his apple down a steep slope in a way that has his children shutting their eyes in horror.
An unexpected pleasure is a brief return to my professional life. I write a short piece about blokes and reading to kids for a friend who has a webpage directed at men who want to get more involved with their children. This writing is hardly academic, but it requires some of the pleasureable disciplines of the past. I have a brief fling with note-making as I read about lyrebird dance, the emotional life of birds, listicles,and Lady Ryder of Warsaw: a desperate attempt to glue what I read into my memory.
On a far more somber note, American tanks return to Poland: J sees a couple on the back of monstrous trucks when he is out walking. And we finally register the fact that Warsaw is suffering from extreme air pollution, to the point where you can smell the toxicity and often end the day with a sore throat.
Visits from family
Mid-month, my son arrives from Australia, wearing board shorts as promised. He’s a great uncle, reading and sledding with the 4 year olds, and relishing after school apple-riding.
He’s just in time to welcome my granddaughter who also arrives underclad, but flings on a pink dressing-gown for the taxi ride home.
On her second night here, en route to see the Christmas lights, I manage to lose her on the bus. She doesn’t get off when I do: I get back on and walk up and down the aisle with increasing anxiety and no sign of her. I retrace our journey frantically. I know she doesn’t have a Warsaw phone yet, but I have given her our address and she has our phone numbers. This reassures me. My daughter joins me for the search, and we are beginning to panic when we get a phone call saying she’s back home.
When we hear her full account we realise how resourceless she in fact was: she loses her phone and therefore has no contact numbers, no addresses: she also left her wallet at home, so no money. How does she deal with this? Miraculous ingenuity! She manages to leap the language barrier somehow and gets a taxi driver as far as the Christmas decoration bus. At that point, the pair of them look at Google earth and she recognises a Starbucks, and then the facade of our apartment block. She races upstairs for money to pay the taxi and feels triumphant. I am awed by her enterprise and wrung out by the thought of what could have been.
On New Year’s Eve, I stay with Maja and Jaś while their parents celebrate. I read them the requisite stories and then switch the light out for story-telling. I begin with Jason and the Golden Fleece, and as we develop the storyline together we accumulate volcanos, lush tropical jungle, the building of a raft to accommodate the golden sheep, a paddock full of golden sheep to be his friends, and goodness knows what else. They fall happily asleep and later I have a grandstand view of street fireworks.
It’s not only babcia who is housebound this month: Maja and Jaś get chicken pox, first her and then him, so we have a few weeks of their company. They don’t see a doctor: all the doctors at their practice are sick too. My addiction to Netflix is justified when we discover “Puffin Rock“, a beautiful and informative series with good characters and plenty of non-scary action. We watch it together in afternoon downtime, although I do doze sometimes.
For most of the month there is snow for sledding in Park Morskie Oko. The twins ride the sled to preschool, with J the willing engine. After school it’s time for apples, which Maja drives like a natural. Often we stay out till dark, now around 5 pm. One afternoon the cousins build a snowman.
Grandparents day is celebrated with a performance at preschool. I watch in delight as Jaś and Maja dance and recite with the rest of their group: at other performances they’ve scowled (her) and gazed around in a daze (him), but they’re full participants this time. I join them for morning tea where I try to distract Maja from crawling round between grandparental legs being a dog, and struggle to communicate with their other grandparents.
Encounters with their developing language are a real pleasure. Jaś is a particular fan of rhyme, and recognises its absence in Grandpa J’s toothbrushing song. Maja loves sounding out words and writing them down with her very individual phonetic spelling. My favourite is “ELefant klosd” on her zoo sheet, when I ask if you can ride an elephant at the Warsaw zoo. We envisage a queue waiting and she writes the sign so people will go away and look at something else.
On a freezing day my daughter suggests I take Maja to Grycan for an ice cream while she takes Jaś to the doctor. I treasure this first outing alone with my most beloved junior granddaughter, although she’s cold before we’ve even left home and the thought of an ice cream seems like insanity. Jaś and mummy join us on the way home from the doctor.
Out and about
I make a few attempts to photograph the Christmas lights, but the plan to document every street in the heart of Warsaw flounders when I succumb to yet another northern hemisphere cold. It also causes me to miss “Persona”, a dance performance for which I’d booked, and National Theatre Live “King Lear”, also pre-booked. I do manage to see the Met perform “Romeo and Juliet”, a rare outing with my daughter.
I manage finally to visit the 18th century theatre in Łazienki’s old Orangery and spend an enjoyable time with modern art in Ujadowskie Palace. To my huge delight my son and granddaughter accompany me to Chopin in the old kitchen of the castle, and my granddaughter surprises me by saying she knows and likes Chopin’s music. So we visit his heart, and one of his musical benches. We spend an afternoon in the Jewish cemetery, a highlight till later experiences nudge it down the list. We weekend in Kraków and, finally, brave Auschwitz.
I buy very satisfactory snow boots; organise a lipwax; get keys cut for the visitors; sort out a pension dilemma with the help of a virtual receptionist; register my phone; and find Kraków accommodation.
There is a death: J’s Auntie Lorna, a feisty 95. There is a birth, my great niece Hannah Katherine.
My Mt Tamborine family take up residence at Potato Point for the summer holidays. My grandson finds mates there: my daughter-in-law and my resident son paint the deck. There is plenty of surfing. My son arrives with a long list of necessary home maintenance, an unwelcome reminder of the responsibilities of home ownership.
My beloved workmate and friend retires from a toxic workplace and I’m excited at the prospect of her future: travel; contract work; painting; and who knows what else?
Once again I miss a Bodalla exhibition of one of my favourite local artists, and an Australia Day concert at the Four Winds site, an afternoon of surf rock, pop, traditional and indie folk, blues, tango, samba, Americana, reggae, alternative country, and African rhythms: both of these are part of ongoing programs. There are things to go home for, apart from clean air.