For some reason I began my day of coding listening to Polish folk music. Kujawiaki – The Kujawiak. I was just in the mood for it, it’s a collection of very soothing and beautiful music. There really isn’t a hint of polka to it – this is more traditional and composed. Anyway, I later found out that today is National Perogi Day in the United States. Nice coincidence that.
With the Polish music and being reminded about the day, and the fact that the song Kujawiaka Graj sounds very much like the Jewish music I was fortunate enough to hear at the excellent establishment “ariel” in Krakow’s Kazimierz, I was reminded about an evening in Krakow and something a little funny that happened at that restaurant.
After taking a tour of Kazimierz by our guide Magda, we felt a bit peckish. We already had a reservation at a place called “ariel” in the center of Kazimierz, and it was getting dark by the time we meandered to the large open space in front of it. Earlier in the day we toured the Jewish Ghetto – visiting many famous tourist locations, but we also basically relived a big part of the movie Schindler’s List. Start the side-story now
We had taken a side trip to some local area that was fairly run-down. We got out and started walking the streets, passing by large Soviet-looking apartment buildings complete with aired laundry and crusty metal terrace railings. We didn’t know where we were walking, but we finally came to a street with houses, and stopped before one of them which had a for sale sign in front of it. The property had been neglected for some time, it was obvious, however the front of the house was interesting compared to the others on the same street. This house stood with it’s back against the now overgrown and shattered Płaszów labor camp.
Who do you think lived in this house we stood in front of? Amon Göth – the SS commandant from Vienna who ran the camp and was known for being extremely sadistic. He could not shoot prisoners from this house as it stands on the bottom of a hill. Looking around the street it was hard to imagine the horrors that took place right there. Our guide told us that the house would not sell as she said it was rumored to have had many killed within it’s very walls. What a sobering thought. I had not yet seen Schindler’s List but I knew the story – but now I was witnessing with my own eyes a wound in the history of mankind. We visited Auschwitz later in the week, but this was my first real taste of the hate I only read in history books.
Why that house still stands is a mystery to me. We walked down the street, away to the right of the house and at the end of the street there was tall grass. Also spots where the homeless would spend their nights sleeping. We walked past several of these areas along some paths in the tall grasses towards some woods. We saw a plaque on a large stone marking the importance of the place. Seemingly in the middle of nowhere in a field of bramble and low trees.
Increasingly around us rose large blocks of concrete and stone. We were nearing the overgrown camp proper – this bit had also been a Jewish cemetery before being made into a labor camp. We were all creeped out about what we were experiencing and we decided to stop and turn back.
I felt both sad for seeing how neglected this site had become, but realized it was destroyed by the Germans when the Russians were advancing, leaving only a large broken field. The bodies in the mass graves were exhumed and burned. We never felt like we were stepping on the graves of anyone, but in a sense we got the feeling of trespass. End the side story now.
Back to ariel. We arrived at twilight and felt the gentle buzz of romance as citizens and tourists both walked the cobbled streets. The groups of people grew a little smaller, allowing the evening to breathe a bit more. The glow of the street lights and windows around the square were a nice bit of calm after what we had seen that day. We walked into the tight but comfortable ariel restaurant (I forget the actual seating time – but they had seatings, perhaps two a night?) Good thing Magda made reservations, I have no idea how far in advance. I don’t remember what I ordered, but I think it was poultry of some kind with a plum sauce.
We were enjoying our Zubrowka with our meals and having a chatty time. It was splendid. The staff was excellent, the age of the other diners perhaps a bit older. A three-piece band walked out into the center of the place, a young girl on a fiddle, and they began a concert of traditional Jewish music. It was beautiful and they were excellent musicians. I had no idea this was an official concert – people were still eating and drinking. As was my family and our friends. I was sitting on the end of a table since our party was larger than the others, and my back to most of the room behind me.
Looking around I could see some of the visitors really into the concert. I imagine some of them may have been Jewish themselves as they were singing lyrics under their breath and seemed to hang on every note. Noting this, I kept my talk low, but I was still chatting with people in our party.
I felt a strong tug on my right elbow – and turned to see the wrinkled face of an angry older woman. She grumbled words at me in a language I didn’t understand. Having being taken aback I didn’t even have time to try and gather my thoughts to listen for what language it was. Not that it would have mattered. Her finger shot up to her pursed lips and I was then shushed. I went red in the face and responded with an, “I’m sorry.”
I turned around to meet the smiling faces of those around me. I had been bitch slapped by an elderly woman. I didn’t think I really deserved it, but if silence in front of her made her enjoy the concert more, I’m glad to have obliged. I don’t think anyone would ever consider me one to run at the mouth.
Maybe it was the vodka?
It was a really amazing evening – we took a nice stroll through the city afterwards – it’s ancient walls and buildings greeting us along with the gentle evening breeze of a Polish September.