Wednesday, September 07, 2005

From Gdansk to Amsterdam just to pick up a passport. The people at Pniewo (PL) declares me a waiza. Guildehaus (D): “Excuse me, do you need help? We have an Englishman here!”

The week started in the old city of Gdansk. There, Kinga was my host. Kinga and Chopin are a couple who traveled around the world by hitch hiking from 1999 to 2003. After that they wrote a book titled “Led by Destiny”, that you can find find an order in the internet. Naturaly, I was all ears, altough soon realized that their philosophy was, as mine, that of letting the road biuld itself, without caring to much for complications that haven’t yet arrived. In the outside, Gdansk. The city shares features with many other hanseatic cities, like Lubeck or Amsterdam, and likewise the luxurious buildings of the commercial guilds of the time can be seen, true brotherhoods of sinlge yuppies, alma matter of the “pizza and champagne” (Argentinian slogan to refer to the new rich). You can tell they were single, from the state of sexual alert of the stone lion that holds the city coat d’arms. As my hosts were going on a weekend trip (Chopin was taking a weekend off from the Center of Buddhist Studies he attends near Warsaw) I passed to Michal’s house, another member of Hospitality Club.
Michal is 30. Her is a programmer. He belongs to the new class of young professionals that stills holds memories of the communist times. The second night coincided with the birth of the son of one of his friends, and I saw myself invited to a traditional Polish event for the ocassion: while the mother of the new born child stays at home the father and his friends down vodka bottles… Michal friends found it scandalous, before the fall of the Wall, waiting for a month to receive a TV, after queuing a full morning to apply for it by presenting cupons. Everything has changed now: they are not asked for cupons, but for money. Half Poland still don’t know what is that about, some say the fruit of a tree that grows in London.
With my Italian passport waiting for me in Amsterdam, and my contact in Amsterdam traveling in Italy, I had to collect the passport myself. So I had to hitch some 1,000 kms. On the first day of the trip, a town called Pniewo, tempted me from the window of the car I was traveling to Szcezin, and decided to stay. (I didn’t want to arrive to Szcezin by night). Each of the houses of the town seemed to have a farm, either derelict or working, in the back. European towns bear a realism that western towns hae lost. Even the most rural bastion in the Netherlands is a display of Barbie houses, with a tidiness and a perfection that are beyond the toleration point. People water their gardens and hardly look their neighbors Seems more like 3D graphics than real world. In Pniewo it was different. I entered a store, 5 drunks monitored my movements, I pointed a piece of bread (I couldn’t name it, I don’t speak polish or russian) and showed the 20 cents coin I had left. The man laughed, obviously it wasn not enough, but he gave me the bread the same. (I had changed my last zlotys to euros already). I said thanks in Russian and exited.
In a near by house 4 men discuss inside a car about the best way of reaparing a stereo. In a small town like Pniewo, a broken stereo is a good excuse to socialize. The women talked in the front garden and drunk tea. It’s the right moment to unveil my magic tea cup. I was soon sitting under a tree whose fruits were falling irregularly as a chaotic clock. When the stereo ws fnally repaired, conversation started. “So you don’t work? What do your parents think about that?” In a country where surviving is the issue, the concept of wandering in a professional way doesn’t take grip. The declare me “waiza” (God knows what it means in Polish) and the let me go the following morning.
In the german border I was delayed around 10 minutes. The custom officer there had never seen a passport with fingerprints. He finally laughed and said: “So fat is your thumb?” and gave the document to me with a new stamp on it. Coming from the Polish roads, the meeting with the Autobahn was a shock, so, with the whole weekend to kill time before the Italian Consulate would open on Monday, I decided to take some minor road, with no specific detination. A car stops, from the mirror hangs a dreamcatcher. His name is Stephen and is a farmer. He invites to join his family for the night. In five minutes, after loading provisions from a Getrenkenmarkt we are enetering his lands, in the town of Schmolln. His house defers a lot from the that of the text books farmers. It is an old warehouse recicled into a 2 storeys loft. Super. His wife Inga prepeares the dinner while the two girls (Luna and Billie) paint in their very own tiny table. In TV I see for the first time images from the disaster in New Orleans: people is killing for a glass of water. You only need a storm and all the bases of civilizations are swept aside. Inga sugests that it is part of human nature. I disagree, I explain her a few years ago a similar thing happened in Santa Fe province in Argentina and nobody was killing their neighbors But I undesrtand that, when the consume-dam is removed, some citizens of big american cities will canalize its competence instincts through agression. We talk about happiness. What makes us happy? Our family? The last Mercedes? Stephen says that in times of the DDR people were more friendly, they would greet each other in the streets. I remember the young professionals at Gdansk, so worried about being able to buy a TV set in less than a month. This is the sund of a different bell. Stephen also says that due to the low prices of property in Uckermark area, many young people from Berlin are arriving to found communities, and he is happy about that fact.
The journey followed with a very lucky ride in a VW Passat whose driver was traveling from Berlin to the Dutch border. That was perfect! Eventough he drove at 90 km/s, my driver regularly checked the timing of the trip consulting his wristwatch, after which he would say:”Gut!”, as if he were the captain of a steamliner. To be honest, the Passat wasn’t much faster than the Titanic, but the nautic gestures of the driver gave charm to a journey that otherwise would have been plainly boring. In the town of Guildehaus, 5 kms from the Dutch border, I was looking for a place to pitch the tent where a woman comes out of a balcony overlooking me and screms: “Sorry, do you need help? We have an Englishman here?!”. The woman was referrig to his fiancee as a torch or a forst aid kit! The Englishman, Martin, climbed down the stairs and invited me to stay the night with them. He had been a soldier at a nearby English base, met her herfriend there, and stayed. They were extremely hospitable and had lots of tea and my first shephards pie since I left England!. The following day I made it to Amersfoort in Holland. It was Sunday, and with the Italian Embassy opening only on Monday I decided to camp. Looking for a place I found a mobile phone, with credit. So I didn’t hesitate to phone my friend Steven. To my surprise he was in Delft. The beers were in the fridge. On Monday I was succesfuly collecting my Italian passport in Amsterdam. End of the story.

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