Monday, July 16, 2007

Szczesc Boze!

I'm writing this from the basement computer lab of my dorm that smells like humid carpeting and is stocked with 6 computers that are a throw back to 1994. I just made the exciting discovery, though, that there are NUNS living in the bottom floor of my dorm. Yes yes yes.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007


There’s also a good chance that the 5 week highly intensive program will kick my butt.

Today we had our introductory meeting and first lecture in the same class room that Karol Wojtyla taught in before he became the Pope…and I can’t really think of anything cooler than that. Except, perhaps, the photos of JPII that are mounted on the walls…my favorite shows a young and hip Jana Pawel II strolling around campus in a cool pair of shades that would give Bono a run for his money. There is also the statue of Pope John Paul in the main court yard, with an eternal flame in front. The French nun in my class is just another element of awesome. You might not know this about me, but I think nuns are really, really cool. It’s all I can do not make eyes at her all during class.

Our first lecture was a history of the Katolicki Universytet Lubelski Jana Pawla II. The fact that KUL employed the Pope is just one of its claims to fame. It was established in 1918, when Poland received independence after 100 years of being partitioned by Austria-Hungary, Russia, and Prussia. Its purpose was to collect the intelligentsia to take charge of the newly reformed nation. In 1938 KUL got full state status, which is a big deal for a private university here. During World War II, the school was officially shut down, many professors were killed, and the building was used as a hospital. That wasn’t enough to stop the priests, though, and they organized secret classes throughout the city. During the 1950s and 60s, the university was persecuted by the communist government, but they were still able to exist as the only independent university in the Soviet Block and to employ many professors who were fired from other universities. How’s that for important?

The crucifixes in my dorm and in all of the class buildings bring back flashbacks of my 13 years at Catholic school, especially in Michigan, and I’d be a liar if I said I didn’t like it a little.
That said, whatever comfort I get from familiarity is much needed because I think I signed up for a course that will kick my butt. Not necessarily because it’s too hard-I think my language placement is about right-but because for the next 5 weeks I will spend 37 hours a week learning Polish. Then I will spend 2 weeks researching my thesis, which I need to find time to prepare for while in Lublin. This sounds great, but it puts me back in Atlanta the day before school starts. Nothing like starting out senior year and an honors thesis with jet lag and 7 weeks of summer school. I’m honestly scared.

For the next 5 weeks, my daily schedule looks something like this:
8:30 Breakfast
9-12:15 Grammar
12:30-13:15 Lecture in English
14-14:45 Lecture in Polish (I will probably generally opt out of this, for mental health purposes)
15-15:45 Individual Lesson
17-18:30 Conversation
18:30-on Dinner…and homework

The program has a very different feel from last summer’s program in Krakow. I think this will improve my Polish much more-the teachers and other students seem to be taking Polish more seriously. I’m going to be so in touch with my Polish identity come the end of August-by that point I will have spend 8 months of the last 12 in the Old Country. Damn.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

We saw the Gates of Freedom! (dramatic or what?)

Since my first trip to Poland last summer, I've been wanting to spend some time in Gdnask, and my opportunity came 3 weekends ago when Hilary and I took off for a one night stay in the city of Solidarnosci. Our initial plan, for no obvious reason, was to take the 6 am train, which would have put us in Gdansk around noon. However, being the smart young women that we are, we soon realized that there was utterly no reason for us to leave so early, and seeing as I was strung out on caffeine and low on sleep due to exams, we might as well treat ourselves to a good night's sleep by leaving at 9.

The extra sleep made a great difference and thank god for it, because as it was we arrived in Gdansk pretty tired. Shortly before we arrived we made the unfortunate discovery that I left the hostel address and directions in my apartment. Luckily, Hilary was hip to the beat and had also written the address down, though we were without directions. Undaunted, we asked several people for help, and 1.3 hours later we discovered our hostel and that THE PEOPLE IN GDANSK ARE THE NICEST, EVER. We asked about 10 people for directions, and to help us, they got out maps, ran into their apartments to check the internet, called across to their neighbors, and generally were amazing. They smiled a lot, and I’m pretty sure they found my broken Polish charming. We realized later that our hostel was actually a 7 minute walk from the train station, as promised, and that I had actually forgotten to open the email containing directions. Hence, from now on, I bow down to Hilary in plan making.

After settling into our hostel, which also served as a house and a computer business, we took the train from Gdnask Oliva to Gdansk Centralny, where the old town is. We stopped to caffeinate, and the rain started.

It kept raining sporadicly for the rest of our trip. This should've been a bummer but I think the weather suited the city. The old town is my favorite in Poland-I love the fact that it's seaside. Here is a view of the "crane" building and if you look closely you can see big shipyard cranes in the background.Here's another photo from the Old Town. I love love love the colors and the architecture.

We decided to have dinner in Sopot, which along with Gdnask and Gdynia makes up the seaside tri-city area. Before we left we saw these awesome, happy street performers dressed in white linen. They were pretty good, and were seriously some of the smiliest people I have seen in a long, long time. But, this picture raises some questions, namely, how to guys wear white linen pants?
Dininer in Sopot was great, we found a nice, cheap restaurant on a sidestreet and then spent the evening on the beach. We got some beers at a local shop, were carded for the first time in Poland, and then checked out some bars on the beach. The night ended on a high point-we danced to latin music with a stout, jolly old Polish man after being egged on by his wife.

The following day we checked out the Solidarity museum in Gdansk, only to find it closed for rennovations. It was disappointing, but I think the new and improved museum will be finished when I return at the end of the summer. I'm doing my honors thesis next year about women in the Solidarity movement, and so I was really excited to see the monument:

And here is a closeup of the images on the monument:

and close still:
We were also able to see part of the "Road to Freedom" Exhibit outside of the museum. It includes 2 huge gate structures...this one was made by V. Tatlin, who we studied in art history and I therefore found very exciting.

And here's a picture of one of the gates to the shipyard...I'm pretty sure that it's one of the gates that was a focal point during the strikes. Of course, JPII is all over the place.

There was also a huge photo installation outside of the museum, on the same ground that the strikes took place on. Here is a photo of Anna Walentynowicz, one of the most prominent women/people in the strike, whose firing from the shipyard was a major motivator for the strikes.

I wish I had the time and more "off the top of my head" knowledge to write more about the shipyard monument. But, I'm sure there will be plenty more ramblings about Solidarnosci and Gdansk in the weeks to come, as I study Polish and really dig into the research for my thesis. Can't wait!