Saturday, September 26, 2009

Home Sweet Poland

"Ever since my first trip to Europe. . .my profound desire for home, for the profoundly beautiful nest, the kitchen garden, the friends gathered at my table, for the candlelit baths, and the objects arranged and the books in order, and most of all the sense of *this is my place* -- all that has been at the mercy of an equal force, the desire to shut the door, turn the key, and go."
~Frances Mayes, "A Year in the World"

Frankly, it's as though Frances Mayes was channeling my heart at the moment she wrote that passage. I couldn't possibly have written a better summary of how torn I feel between wanting to create an ideal home, surrounded by those I know and love best, and quenching my urge to immerse myself in a totally foreign culture. Finally, I feel I'm old enough to try combining the two. Poland might not be my dream destination, but for the time being, it's my home. For once, I'm going to settle in.

My apartment in Gliwice isn't as gorgeous as "The Flat", a turn-of-the-century apartment I rented last year in Des Moines. Well, nothing is ever going to live up to the splendor of that apartment, so it's worthless to compare the two. Still, I suppose it is worth mentioning because that apartment was essentially my ideal. Vintage, lots of decorative details like crown molding and built-ins, hardwood floors, and a maid's quarters. Wrought iron elevator. Nice. Here, my apartment is large, but not as sprawling. It has hardwood floors in the bedroom, tile in all other rooms. No decorative anything, but the windows are enormous and let in tons of light. I feel cheerful when I walk in the door, and that counts for a lot.

My first day in Gliwice, the owner of my school brought me here, and I had the privilege of meeting my landlord and lady. They are an elderly Polish couple who speak about 10 words of English between them. She kept calling me "Madame". But it was clear, through the interpretation of my boss, that they are very friendly and quite concerned that I should like the flat and enjoy my time here. Apparently, the previous teacher who lived here ended up treating them rather shabbily, so I am starting from a bit of a deficit.

That day, the introductions and explanations seemed to go on forever, and if you'll recall, I hadn't slept all the way to Poland. All I wanted to do was pass out face first on the nearest piece of furniture, but they just kept talking endlessly with my boss. There was a lot of information to take on board about how things in the apartment worked, such as how to not kill myself by taking a bath with the bathroom door closed (natural gas-powered water heater in the bathroom). After awhile, I was unable to keep smiling and acting thankful, so they got the hint that it was time to leave. But not before Kasia (landlady) made me a cup of instant fruity tea. sigh

In my bedroom, there are actually two twin beds. I have them pushed together to make one bed. I almost fell over when Kasia showed me the bed that first day. The comforter cover and pillowcase on my bed are *Alf*. Yes, Alf, that alien rascal from the 1990s (80s?) tv show! And, even better, it's covered in Alf cartoons where Alf is speaking in German. If you had told me that, as a grown woman, I would sleep with Alf bedding, I would have laughed in your face.

The furniture in the living room is even more out-dated. It's clearly leftover from a buying spree, circa 1975. Green. Shag. On the furniture. Yeah, I don't generally favor carpeting on my chairs and couch, so I took those covers off as soon as I woke up the day after I arrived. Everything is still green, but significantly less itchy. The couch isn't that bad to look at, but it's about as comfortable as a rocky outcrop. I'm going to buy a couple cute pillows for it and call it a day. The two armchairs will require throws of some variety. The previous tenant had two cats that scratched the hell out of them, as well.

Naturally, the curtains in the living room are of the white lace variety that seem to be hanging from every window between here and Poitiers. They make me ill. It's illogical, but I detest them, and have for ages. That I now have them in my home is vomitous, but I'll make do. In fact, my major complaint, as an owner of these wretched things, is that they don't actually block anything out! Sun comes in, great. The people who are always leaning out their windows across the street to ogle everyone, not so great. These curtains have certainly cut down on any naked midnight trips to the fridge I might have been planning.

In my bedroom, there are some more 1970s holdouts for curtains. I wouldn't mind the green, gold, and brown pattern so much if it weren't printed on what looks like very loosely woven burlap. Again, they let in light and the neighbors, although to a lesser extent than the living room curtains.

I have a balcony just off my bedroom where I can hang up laundry. Did I mention I have a new washing machine in my bathroom? It works a treat, and in only 30 minutes (Poitiers washing machine took about 90 minutes). There are lots of wooden furniture pieces around here, so there's a semi-lived in feel, even if they are a bit mismatched. I have a brand new, stainless steel stove. Gas stovetop, electric oven. With a rotisserie, oh yes.

I have a table, no small luxury after living in France for 9 months without one. In fact, I actually have two. One in the dining room/living room and one in my kitchen nook. I also have a full-sized fridge and freezer, also no small luxury.

Overall, I'm extremely happy with this apartment, and I intend to fill it up and decorate it so that it truly reflects me and not the swinging 70s bachelor who apparently decorated it. Once I get paid, a trip to the Ikea down the road will definitely be in order.

I'll leave it at that for today. Details on work to follow!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

On the Road Again

After a summer of waiting and wondering, I have finally arrived in my new home. Poland. Gliwice, to be exact. Wondering how to pronounce it? Yeah, so was I until I got here.

Repeat after me: "Glee-VEE-tsa".

I'm feeling a little irked right now because I wrote out a whole list of topics for this first Polish blog, only to leave the list, along with key school notes, on a shelf near the butcher's counter at my local supermarket. So, I guess I'll just improvise, and we'll see how we go!

My journey began with a long and boring drive to Chicago with my mother. Don't ever let anyone tell you that driving across Nebraska is more boring than a trip through Illinois. They are either a liar or so easily amused that you really shouldn't trust anything they say. It was a misery.

After our long drive, we had the privilege of spending the night at the nicest hotel I have enjoyed outside of a Ritz-Carlton. It was the Hyatt Regency Airport, in case you're in need of a place to stay in the Chicagoland area. The beds were out of this world comfortable and luxurious. It was a wonderful send-off, and a reminder that I was likely to be spending the next year sleeping on a bed of criminally minimal luxury.

Once at the airport, I was humiliated at the check-in desk when one of my bags turned out to be a whole 2 pounds over the limit. I was told to remove 2 pounds or else receive a vicious flogging. Alright, they didn't mention a flogging, but the over-the-limit fee was $150, which is pretty damned close to a flogging...especially for a measly 2 pounds. So, I opened up my suitcase in full view of a long and winding line of annoyed people, looking for something that was both heavy and unimportant. Not a likely combination, really. In the end, I was able to wedge my curling iron and flat iron into my carry-on bag, leaving the suitcase only 1 pound over the limit. The woman grudgingly accepted it, mollified perhaps by my willingness to show all my belongings to the world in order to avoid a $150 fee.

Sweaty and demeaned, I made my way to my flight. And then proceeded to sleep not one single second of its 8 1/2 hour duration. Classic. Even more classic was that my second flight, from Munich to Krakow, was leaving from a gate approximately a mile and a half from my arrival gate. After a refreshing jog through the airport in order to make the boarding call, I was thrilled to discover that the ticket agent had assigned me to a middle seat. So, on a plane the size of my Ford Focus, I had to squeeze myself in between two businessmen, neither of whom looked overwhelmingly happy to see the sweaty fat girl stopping at their aisle. I attempted to use meditation and sheer will to reduce my girth by half, but trying not to breathe for two hours is really a little much. I have never been so glad to get off a plane in my life.

Once in Krakow, I was met by the director of studies from my school. She drove me to Gliwice, where we went immediately to the school. I looked like warmed up ass, and I had to meet my colleagues. Fantastic. In any event, I really only ended up meeting a few people, so all was not lost. The secretaries were so very nice. They had even bought me a little welcome package of groceries to stock my apartment until I could figure out how to go shopping for myself.

After getting keys and a brief orientation, the co-owner of the school drove me to my apartment. I was really keeping my fingers crossed that it was going to be a nice place since I had heard about it in emails from one of the secretaries before I arrived, but hadn't seen any pictures. In the end, it turned out to be a great apartment. The location is quite near to school (a 20 minute stroll), and it's in a nice neighborhood on a quiet street. There are a few grocery stores nearby, including a convenience store on my corner that's open until 11pm (a concept that was literally non-existent in Poitiers). A highly-recommended bakery is at the corner, as well. Bakeries seem to be everywhere here, actually. There must be at least 5 between my apartment and school, but probably more.

At this point, I could write about 10 more pages of stuff about getting settled in here, but it's almost my bedtime. 10pm. Yikes, how the hell did that happen? It's almost like I'm an adult or something...geez. Anyway, I'm sorry to cut this short, but a girl needs her sleep!

In my next post, look for detailed info about my apartment, and my first days at work. Hopefully, I'll have that up quite soon.

Take care everyone!