Sunday, June 26, 2011

The days in Poland were intense and full. My first experiences were all sensual and almost overwhelming- the way the trees smelled, the type of clothes people wore, the translucent quality of their skin, the sour salty food and epic amounts of alcohol- all these struck me with a strength that was different from a regular tourist experience. I felt strangely, immediately at home. Cracow felt nostalgic to me in an intuitive way that I have felt about no other place, and it didn't make sense- I had never been there before. The food felt like something I had tasted in my Grandmother's house, although this clearly was not the case- my Grandmother never cooked with bacon, for one thing.

Nostalgia is one of the queerest ways we fool ourselves. One of the reasons that I didn't want to go on a Holocaust-themed trip is because I deeply dislike contrived history. I know that all history is to some extent contrived, but I resent the way in which we are steeped in Holocaust culture in Israel and the way in which it's used to inform so many of our decisions and aspects of our lives. Maybe because I moved here at an advanced age and didn't grow up in it, it has always seemed artificial to me. However in Poland it made complete, "natural" sense to think about how my ancestors may have walked those very streets, or imagining what they might have been like or invent stories about how their lives may have been. This has never been true for any place else for me.

I was pleased that we spent so much time going around "regular Poland" (as though you could divorce the history of Polish Jews from the rest of Poland,,,). One of the most interesting things for me was learning how Poles saw their own history. I liked that we often passed groups of children on school trips as we tramped through forests or castles or grottos. I felt like we were getting similar stories.

Our hosts were unbelievably warm and generous, inviting us out every night- out to their hangouts or into their homes. I felt so welcomed, and maybe this was one of the reasons I felt safe enough to explore issues of family and history the way that I did. We never stopped having conversations, my Israeli traveling-mates and our Polish counterparts. Some evenings we only cut off conversations because it was too late and we had to go to bed, and continued them the next morning.

The trip was very much a juggling act between planned sightseeing, artmaking, going out with our Polish counterparts and downtime to just wander and soak up our surroundings. I generally enjoy art that has mystical elements in it, but in Poland my mystical tendencies became much more pronounced. By the end of our time there I felt as though I was being buffeted between long, great days and nightmares that cropped up every night. I felt as though there as so much to explore, that we were only getting the very tip of the iceberg. One of the things that I did before leaving was get the names of Polish authors from our new friends, so that I could continue to try and understand. I sincerely hope that this will not be the last time we meet up with them. I felt that what we had was a rare meeting, and it would be a shame for it to be just a one- time thing.


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