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Fat Thursday (Tłusty Czwartek)

So many things have happened since I last wrote. I went to France for Christmas and new years. In France, I ate goat brain and clams for the first time. I saw thousands of bunnies on the side of the road in the middle of the night. I bought crepes at crepe stands. I drank so much wine; a wine for bread, a wine for meat, a wine for desert, and then a wine to drink before you start drinking wine. I saw some of the most beautiful castles I’ve ever seen- almost as if they came out of “The Lord of the Rings” and “Monty Python and the Holy Grail.” And I saw the Eiffel Tower (which is so much more impressive in person than in any photo).

To get to and from France we took a 40-hour bus ride- which turned out to be one of the most interesting rides I’ve ever taken. I met a Jamaican guy who gave everyone in the back of the bus Jamaican meat he had made before the trip. I talked with a girl from Kazakhstan about how beautiful the girls are in Kazakhstan and how no one is like Borat. And I saw older Polish couples not say a world to each other for 40 hours.

I went to Berlin for “The XX” concert with a friend from Tennessee, Mark, and a girl from Dubai, Sarah. On our over night train ride, we sat with this older man and this younger mid-30′s man in our cabin. He offered us really good tea and mandarins. My friend from Dubai was so afraid that this older man had something in his tea to put us to sleep so he could rob us, that she tried to subtly deny it so that one of us could be awake if Mark and I fell asleep. First, if you denied it, he gave it to us anyway because in Poland (and in Europe) it’s rude to deny something. Second, the only thing that could possibly been in that tea that would put us to sleep was maybe a good amount of Polish Vodka. He then went on to openly insult our shoes and jeans for not being warm enough for the winter. No matter what he said, we were so proud of ourselves because we understood his Polish!

In Berlin, we took a 4-hour bike ride in the freezing cold with this touring company called “Fat tire.” It was a great tour, but we almost lost our toes! The concert was interesting. It was in this back alley, graffiti-covered warehouse which looked like a rave house. But inside it seemed like we were attending a private showing of the concert in a lowly lit fancy club. There was a small bar and then a small club floor leading up to the stage. We made it right up to the stage! I’m going back next weekend to see Vampire Weekend and Spoon and the same concert venue.

The real reason I am writing this morning is to write about my Fat Thursday or Tłusty Czwartek in Polish. In Poland, on the Thursday before Ash Wednesday, Poles celebrate the last Thursday before lent by eating as many sweets as they can. The most common sweet on this day is called pączki- a jelly-filled donut. It’s so popular that they set up special pączki tents in the main square in Krakow! My Polish roommate says (I have a new roommate, but I will explain this story later) the average amount of pączki eaten by a Pole on this day is 2.5 donuts. Which I think might wrong- I had this impression that people would be everywhere stuffing their faces with donuts. Donuts on the street. Donuts in every restaurant. It wasn’t like this, but it was a nice dream.

My Tłusty Czwartek started off pretty slow. We don’t have class right now, so I woke up kind of late, ate a late breakfast, and then headed over to the Muzeum Czartoryskich to see the ancient winged-Hussar armor. I was going alone but then decided to call my friend from Dubai to come with. On my way there I noticed the pączki table in the center, but didn’t really connect it with Tłusty Czwartek. I had forgotten that my roommate had told me about it the night before! Of course, the museum was closed due to renovation. So instead, we decided to go for lunch at this Polish restaurant called something like “Moja babcia” (My Grandmother). There I had some traditional Polish sausage. Sarah had pierogi. Then all of a sudden, I remembered that it was Tłusty Czwartek because of the donuts they had in the restaurant! We then went on to buy 10 donuts from the stand- scaled down from our original thought of 20 (10 each). We shared some with her sisters, but in the end, we had 3 donuts each. With every donut we said “Na zdrowie!” which literally means “For Health” (not so much now that I’m sitting in my room writing this blog with a hurting stomach!).

In between donuts, we visited two museums. We only meant to see one, but we made a mistake and saw an art gallery displaying Stanisław Wiśniewski instead of Stanisław Wyspiański. It turns out the galleries were right next to each other. We met an Austrian in the Wiśniewski gallery who was looking for Wyspiański too. We were both really confused! And disappointed, his work wasn’t too great. We had a good time laughing though. The real Wyspiański exhibit was very impressive. Wyspiański is the author of the Polish masterpiece “The Wedding”- a novel with symbols of straw men, a golden horn and ghosts symbolizing the sad future of parted Poland during the 1800′s and early 1900′s.

The symbols of this book are very important to Polish history, so I am going to explain them. The “straw men” protect the roses from frost in the winter. The roses symbolizes the Polish people- the straw protects the roses during times when they are not ready to be uncovered (let free). During this time period, the Polish people were looking for freedom, but Wyspiański says that they were just not ready to have that freedom yet. At the end of the novel, the golden horn is lost while being carried to “the Wedding”, where guests are waiting to dance (they will dance with the sound of the horn). The man carrying the horn loses the horn and only has the string left. When he goes to talk to the straw man for advice, he basically tells the man that the only thing he can do now is use the rope that is left to hang himself. The man is not able to blow the horn- awaking the guests (who are in a ghost like state)- therefore casting a permanent spell on them (the Polish people) that prevents them from ever waking up- or being free. It’s a disheartening theme about the state of Poland written during a time when they needed inspiration for freedom the most.

Time to eat breakfast: cereal with milk and toast with cream cheese and strawberry jam.

- Matt

2 Responses to “Fat Thursday (Tłusty Czwartek)”

  1. We had our fill of paczki yesterday…on Fat Tuesday! So how is it pronounced for “real”?!!

    punch-ki or poonch-ki

    Everyone says poonchki but my husband swears his polish friends say punchki!

  2. Good for you, I mean travelling through Europe. I have been twice in Poland, the language is really different, however the country itself very historical (see Krakow). When you mentioned Stanisław Wiśniewski the writer, Henryk Sienkiewicz came into my mind (you see how hard the language is. Beside the point I loved the novel of Sienkiewicz (With Fire and Sword), actually I read it twice! If you are interested about Polish history, that is definitely for you.

    Mandy

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