"Teach me a swear word in Polish," I said to Tomcat last night as I hobbled out of Krakow's main station and headed toward the tram.
"This is not the kind of cultural exchange I would like to promote," she smiled wryly. "I'm a good girl."
(I'd like to note, however, that she knows how to swear in English-- and I'd bet in Spanish, Portugese and Lithuanian, too.)
I wanted to learn this so I had something more interesting to mutter to myself than that ordinary, colorless English "fuck" each time my foot hit the ground. Yesterday we took the bus to Zakopane. Just a few miles from Slovakia, an exquisite resort town in the Tatra Mountains. 2 1/2 hours from the spires and flat blocks of Krakow, through the suburbs to the spreading fields and thickening trees, the acute triangles of the red roofs on their rectangle houses, like a lovely child's drawing. We walked through the crowded markets (fur and wool, hats, clay cups for hot mulled wine, postcards, stuffed animals, goat cheese, t-shirts), took the cable car up the mountain, squeezed in with the Poles on their winter skiing holiday. Stunning views from the top. Walking along the snowy paths beaten ice-slick by thousands of boots, and me trying to keep my footing in a pair borrowed from Tomcat's mother (silly American-- arrived in Poland in February with nothing for her feet but a pair of ragged Converse). Awkward footing. My big toe, left foot, started to feel strange. We took the cable car back down and had a hearty lunch at a traditional restaurant: roasted goat cheese with rowanberries, pierogies with mushroom and cabbage, "mountain tea" (which is allegedly a mix of vodka and tea, but I suspect includes tea the way that Long Island iced tea does). Walking along the rows of wood lodges, restaurants and carnival games, that big toe started to ache and ache. By the time I made it to the foot of the mountain to watch the ski jumpers practice, my eyes were stinging with tears and I was sweating from the pain and mountain tea. My big toe swollen like a plum in my borrowed Polish shoe. Fuck.
In a (rare) moment of self-pity, I said something about my "continuing bad luck." Tomcat gave me a quizzical look. "But this trip's been going very well, hasn't it?" I didn't mean this trip, which has been wonderful: full of good friends, beautiful sights, things to turn over in my tired head. I meant the continuing bad luck of my life since last April. My ongoing Book of Job. I was supposed to leave this mentality back in Flint. In the perspective of all my grief and loss, and my gratitude for the friends helping me travel the world and shake off my mourning, what's a sprained toe?
Today my toe is still swollen and aching after soaking it in a pot full of hot water at the dorm (please forgive me for sticking my foot in your crockery, headmaster). Limping through the city and the market square, determined to enjoy this last day before flying off to Madrid tomorrow morning.
Krakow has been a pleasure. I visited the city 5 years ago, but I don't remember loving it like this. The museums. The sorrowful history and the stoic, serious faces in the trams. The innumerable luring cafes with their jazz on the stereo and chic design-- espresso by lanternlight with oil paintings on the walls seems so much more delicious. Tomcat's intelligent and witty company. Art Nouveau interiors of old Fransiscan chapels. The sharp cold and vivid sun. Tram lines hung over this antique city like an electric spiderweb. I haven't learned to swear in Polish, but I've relearned a few phrases, and the one I seem to use the most is dzienkuje. Thank you.