You had thought I might write a little about my trip while I am here, so I thought I would try. I’m in Berlin now, waiting out a rainstorm in a cafe. At first I was outside under an umbrella, but a downpour started, and I’ve had to move inside where there is bad music and children. When I was outside I had liked how the bartender would come out from time to time to watch the rain. It is my first day alone in the city, as the first two days I was with a friend, but he had to work today. I walked for a while and I am not sure where I am now, though I seem to think I will be able to find my way back. A child in the cafe has taken off his shirt, and there are little boys barefoot and running around. The bartender and I just met glances, and it seemed we formed an understanding, knowing I have also found it difficult to work in a cafe when there are children inside. They are more unpredictable than dogs even. I’ve noticed that in Berlin people look at you, much more than other places I’ve been. It seems a city of people who try to understand you with their eyes, and in that way it is very different than a city such as New York. There are many beautiful people here, also, though everyone is understated. Of course, there are personal things here, too, though however in the world does one write about that? I’m also trying to remember my dreams again, as I haven’t for months, and this is the first morning where I could remember one–in it was a boat similar to the one in Burden of Dreams, the film about Werner Herzog, and as we all just saw Werner Herzog so recently, the boat seemed a good omen for the trip.
Tomorrow I take the train from Berlin to Krakow, so I will be going to Poland after all. It got much colder in Berlin, colder yesterday, then even colder today, like fall, but without the feeling that comes from fall. I’m already leaving a lot behind–two dresses, a hairdryer, books–to pick up later, and wondering why this happens every time, packing all the wrong things, all these mishaps. I packed the wrong shoes, etc. This trip was always going to be strange, because I find that things don’t interest me the way they used to, so when one travels to a city, one becomes unclear what one wants to do in it. When the word want is no longer the appropriate word, then you think about what would be okay. Today I went with a friend to a gallery that had an exhibit on Occupy Berlin, but they also wanted it to be interactive, so was it an exhibit or was it an occupation it was hard to tell. It seems too early for the occupation to be like the pilgrims, where you go to Plymouth Plantation to see the reenactment, so I think it was more of trying to continue the spirit. After that we had waffles in a children’s market. I thought to buy a t-shirt for my niece, but the clothing was used, and I thought that a slightly stained t-shirt, brought back to the states, would no longer make as much sense.
I at last became interested in planning the trip, which I had not yet, so I worked on that for a little. Often, increasingly, it is really only the movement that I like. For this reason, I have found a long ferry ride that I will be taking later in the trip, crossing from Poland to Sweden, then the train down to Denmark. There is little reason for any of these movements except for movement itself; it makes sense when writing it this way, but the trip has been rather hard to explain otherwise. Other things have happened here, and there have been sad times. In this way Poland, which as of a week ago had not made much sense to me, now makes sense in ways that are difficult to describe, only that one wants to go to rather a peculiar place when feeling this way.
It’s my last night in Poland–tomorrow I take the train back to Berlin. I’m in a small hotel outside the old town, in my own room, with even a bathroom. I had stopped washing my hair on this trip, and when I got here I washed it twice, and then washed two loads of clothes in the sink, and spread it around the room. Soon I’ll have to pack it up, and then tomorrow roll the suitcase to another place.
I’m in a town called Torun, which is west of Warsaw. It seems to be a place where Polish people come for holiday, and also a lot of children on school trips. In these towns that have their original medieval centers, it is almost like there are two towns, there is the old town which is beautiful and a little like Disney World for the tourists, and then the regular town. For breakfast I had a jelly doughnut and tea, and then walked from the old town to the regular town. I learned that one should not order a veggie burger, even if it is at a cafe near the University, though the baked potato was nice, and I have grown used to beer with lunch. In the regular town, every three storefronts seemed to be a second-hand clothing store. I can not account for why that is. They have not been common in Poland otherwise. But I went into most of them and got two shirts, costing about sixty cents a piece, then walked back to the old town. In the evening everyone eats outside in the square and then walks around with ice cream. One of the restaurants has a man mic’ed and singing Elton John. Either birds or bats are darting around at dusk; this has reminded me that all the times I’ve traveled, I’ve never learned which they are, and then which do I want them to be, I am not sure. I think I’ve grown used to the idea that they are bats.
The churches are beautiful here, in the squares, particularly at dusk. After a time I have stopped caring that I am in the tourist town and not the regular town, because they are the most beautiful buildings. There is also a river here. And castle ruins. I thought this was funny, that it was the residents of this town who tore the castle down when they overthrew whoever was ruling from there. Well, of course it was not a very smart thing, because imagine the postcards they could have created if they had not tore their own castle down. It makes me think we should not give in to passionate examples. That a castle is a castle, even if in the moment it might make you think of other things. I bet they wish they had their castle now. No one speaks English here, and it has been very quiet for me, and I thought about it, thinking it might be one of the reasons I travel. When you can’t understand whatever is around you, it is almost like being in a dream, and there is something in that, or maybe it is that the world is suddenly your own world. The Copernicus museum was filled with facsimiles, and you learn that you don’t like looking at something that’s not the real thing, even if you wouldn’t have known if they hadn’t labeled it that way. There was also a room filled with furniture from disparate time periods, and I like to imagine someone from back then walking in, and looking at what we’ve done in all our great seriousness.
I am on the train now from Torun to Berlin. It will involve a change in the Polish town of Poznan, and the layover will only be ten minutes, a short time to figure out the track. We just passed a house with a fenced-in garden of irises of all different colors. Some of the trains in Poland have been so hot and crowded, but this is empty and open and filled with breeze. The last one was a small, boiling hot cabin, where the old woman across from me had closed our only window, explaining this action to me in a language I didn’t understand. Perhaps the heat we spent the next two hours in did make sense. To even get on the train here involves a sort of jockeying as the train approaches, trying to line up with the door of the second class cabin, then trying to push ahead of others. A woman’s shoe fell into the tracks, and she left it there so she could get on the train. What will she do with only one shoe, I wonder. In Poland these things matter less, and so to be going back to Berlin gives me some anxiety.
I made the connection without mishap, and had wanted to write a little about visiting the village where my great-grandfather had come from, Samocice, Poland. I just told this story to the man riding in the train cabin with me. He is a pastor from Cameroon, who now lives in London. We had talked of religion for a while. I had also talked about religion with an Italian man in a hostel in Warsaw who had been a catholic. He said he had lost his belief, but then after his father died he believed again. I tried to explain what I thought. He said, so you think we are energy and that is all, and then after that it is done, and I said, yes, but in a certain way it seems enough. To the man here in the cabin, I told the story of going to the village. It had been difficult to get to and the weather had been bad. I had taken two small buses, and then found a taxi driver who would drive me. He did not speak English, and I had to convince him just to drop me off, that it would be okay. There was a small cemetery in this village with many gravestones with my last name, and also a monument. A woman was tending one of the graves. There was little else–a church, a few houses, an unmarked store. A horse with a wagon with farm tools pulled up to the store, and after a moment the driver came out with a bag of potato chips. Worried over getting back to the hotel, I walked to the next village, which was about four miles. At a certain point the sun came out. An old man carrying a plastic bag passed me. I stopped to look at a house with kittens on the stoop, and a woman came out and waved. In the next village, the store by the bus stop had Vodka on a tray with small glasses. I had the man pour one for me, as I had wanted to toast my grandfather. When I came out the sky had cleared further, and, over the town, an off-sounding church music was being piped. It was of a woman singing, and sounded as if it came along from each of the rooftops, and then from one spot a few church bells rang for a moment. The singing lasted for some time, maybe five or ten minutes, it was hard to tell. I felt emotional then, though it wasn’t really sadness, and had started to cry, as what did it matter who was there to see. There were two men slouched on the stairs of the store–I thought probably drunk–and then the man who had served the vodka who had wanted something from me, but I couldn’t decipher what it was he wanted. Soon a bus–in the form of a van with a paper sign in the window–would come, and I would go back to another small town, though one large enough for a hotel.
Of course, I’m no longer going along to Sweden or Denmark, or any ferries. As I started Poland, my pace slowed and slowed, and now it is just getting back to Berlin.
Sara Majka is a fiction writer currently living in Brooklyn.