All this changed this summer when two very good reasons (Kasia and Justa) arrived in Kiev. They found me on CouchSurfing, I found them at the Metro, and the rest is история.
The flight from Kiev to Warsaw (Varshava in Polish and Russian) is just one hour, so getting there is easy and as the airport in Warsaw is very close to the center, getting into the city is also easy – especially if you have detailed instructions, bus numbers and a map provided by Kasia.
The place really won me over. OK, it’s not Ljubljana and it is more similar to Brussels than I would wish on any city, but it is very cool and boy does it have a history. You feel it.
I’ll save the gory details, but I had a great time. The Poles I met were all, without exception; friendly, hospitable, talkative, optimistic and more than anything – extremely likable. The only crazy thing is the language. In fact, its no so much the language but the spelling. For the first time in my life, I was wishing things were written in Russian.
While I was there, I bought a copy of Norman Davies epic Rising ’44, in an attempt to understand both Warsaw and Poland and on page five he hits on some of the problems this language craziness creates.
“From hard experience, I know that foreign names and places can create havoc in the psyche of English-speaking readers. Indeed, in the case of some languages like Polish, I believe they constitute a near insurmountable barrier to a full understanding of the country’s affairs. For it is not just a problem of unfamiliarity. It is unfamiliarity compounded by an incomprehensible system of orthography and by the unique, jaw-breaking combinations of consonants and syllables that are uniquely disturbing. Charles Dickens, who met a number of Polish emigres in London after the rising of 1863 had a wonderful ear for this problem: ‘A gentleman called on me this morning,’ he once remarked, ‘with two thirds of all the English consonants in his name ,and none of the vowels.’ The joke is that God created Polish by dropping his scrabble box. But this is not just a laughing matter. If readers cannot retain the names in a narrative, they cannot be expected to analyse or to understand it.”
So true, and so true of Ukraine too.
Anyway, thanks Kasia and dziękuję to everyone I met this weekend.
The pictures are here