Big Computer, Small Car… My Summer in Warsaw after the Fall of the Berlin Wall – June 25, 1990

This is the second installment of my account of my time in Eastern Europe the summer after the fall of the Berlin wall.  This was less of a travel experience than an opportunity to experience a short-lived and fascinating period in history.

June 25, 1990, just after midnight

Dear Journal,

Poland is great.  I have been having so much fun that I have not been able to write in you, and these first impressions are some of the most important to note – before I become acclimated.

Anyway, we landed almost on time, at 9:10, and I, having been too hyper to sleep, started to feel the time change (7 hours).  It was rainy in Warsaw – and cold.  The temperature was in the 50s or 60s.  (I already find myself stressing the penultimate syllable of words – as if speaking in Polish – when I speak or think.)

I waited for people to get off the plane because I knew that it would take me time to get the Compaq on the wheels. (The Compaq is a heavy and cumbersome “luggable” computer – this is a portable as things got in 1990.  You’ll see later that, after lugging it on and off the plan and through the streets of Warsaw, it self-destructed as soon as I plugged it in to a Polish outlet.  Ugh.  And so few computers available.  We all had to share.)  I am regretting having brought the Compaq more and more every day.

Once I had the computer on the wheels, I realized that I had to go down a flight of stairs to get off the plane.  (The stewardess was speaking to me in Polish.  Perhaps I look Polish.)  She (actually another one) helped me get it down the stairs and then a man I had met on he plane helped me get it onto the bus.

This is all very boring.  On to more interesting facts.  The Polish people were somewhat impatient and, in fact, pushy at the airport.  I was cut in line trying to show my passport.  They crowded around the baggage belt (as do Americans) so that I could hardly see my bags.  And they pushed in front of me in line for Customs.

This, together with the fact that I was trying to locate the representative from the Stephan Batory put me almost last in line to get through Customs.

Customs took a long time because instead of filling out forms on the plane, people declared their purchases to the customs agent.

Feeling abandoned by the Batory Foundation, I made some friends in line.  These people offered to drive me home – although they explained they would have to make a special trip because their car was too small.

But when I finally got through customs, Alexandra and her father, Pan Jasienski, were waiting for me with a big sign with key name.  When Alexandra told me who she was, I was worried that the Batory Foundation night be there as well.  But she told me that the story Foundation had called and asked her to meet me. They were worried about my welfare.

We drove home in a very small car.  We had to put one of the boxes in the hood.  Then I met Mrs. Jasienski (see photo of her holding my Polish-English dictionary; I spoke no Polish, and she spoke no English), who made me breakfast.  When I asked for water, Alexandra explained that it was not a custom in Poland to drink water.  I had warm milk instead.

Today, Alexandra told me that Mrs. Jasienski bought 2 bottles of milk for me.  Just after that, Diana McDonald warned me that Polish milk is often not pasteurized.  But I’ve heard that Consumption is a romantic way to die.

After breakfast we looked at a book which showed parts of Warsaw as they looked after the war and today.  Much as been rebuilt.  And the Russians donated a large Socialist Realist building which the Poles seem to hate and one of my colleagues calls a copy of the Empire State Building.

Then we went for a walk so that I could change money, buy water and maybe get a manicure.  I changed money at 9,965 zlotys to the dollar.

(more to come)


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