August 2012. Just before the northern summer ended, I took an unexpected and unplanned trip. I jumped on an Air France 777 at New York’s JFK, and several hours later I was on a train from Warsaw to Kalisz – Poland’s oldest city, and the place where I was born.
A city of over 120,000 people, it’s where I spent the first ten years of my life, and where my entire extended family lives. It’s a city famous for its vast, wild park, through which the river Prosna meanders.
A family gathering by a lake, where the faces around you remind you of yourself. It takes time to get used to it, as it’s a very unusual sensation, knowing you share blood. I’ve only felt this twice, although more strongly the last time I was here in 2005. It’s also the only time I felt I belonged to a group of people. Until, that is, you listen to their stories and realise blood, because of time and distance, is the only thing you have in common.
Wroclaw. About 120km from Kalisz, and where my brother lives. He’s married, and his little girl is sick. I can only spend no more than an hour with her, and my marrow is not needed. I make a couple of the three-hour train trips, snapping the countryside, before getting a hotel and staying there for an extended period. I spend most of my time walking the streets.
Poznan. I leave Wroclaw and head north to Poznan. There I meet my cousin, and later another one, and we drive up to the Baltic coast, to meet more cousins. I don’t like driving on Polish roads, and we drive throughout the night. They think they’re invincible.
Part 4. The final part.
The Baltic. More childhood memories embedded in the smells and sounds of nature. There’s nothing like it, and it’s the taste of the air, and the smell of the dust, and the crunching pebbles under your feet that connect you to the land. The way a bumblebee sounds when it flies past your head; the taste of a wild raspberry you pick off a bush. The glistening specks of amber in the sea-washed sand, which make you feel like you’ve discovered a city of gold. Thirty years away and apart, but it’s still inside you. It’s part of you.
Last night in Poland – tomorrow the dreaded long drive to Warsaw. Then back to New York, for the planned holiday with X. I don’t like driving on Polish roads.