Monday, December 24, 2007

the dumplings could be better

Gdańsk has got some persevering pigeons. Check out where this crafty couple has chosen to roost. I'm assuming there's a nest behind that enormous mound of guano.

The tenacity of these two illustrates the spirit of Gdańsk, which is the birthplace of the Solidarity movement that slowly but surely crumbled communism throughout eastern Europe. For people like me, who could stand to be educated a lot more about the history, there's an excellent multimedia Roads to Freedom exhibition that chronicles the events leading up to the August Accords, and continuing up to current situations. Some of the exhibits depicting life from the communist days, while humorous today, were the furthest thing from it at the time – a public phone booth that stifled communication by not actually working most of the time, and a recreation of a grocery store with barely any food at all. And, at last – they have great postcards. Of course I would find them after I've posted my last. I settled for buying a couple for myself. Also on display is the pen used by Lech Wałęsa to sign the August Accords, which at first glance looks kind of like a joke; it's a great big novelty ball point pen with a picture of the pope on it. More sobering is the room devoted to the rule of martial law, which has police riot gear on one wall, and videos of protest mayhem playing on the other, including a shocking clip of someone getting deliberately run over. It's really grainy, and I'm wondering if it's being shown as recorded, or if it was modified for display.

The opening salvos of WWII were fired at Westerplatte just off of Nowy Port. It's fair to say the Poles and Germans have a bit of a strained history, but you'd never know by the number of dachshunds putting on an appearance around town. You can tell that a wiener dog is approaching without actually seeing it, because they have really rapid footsteps. Gotta move fast to keep up when your legs are that short. I didn't make it all the way to Westerplatte, but I did catch the tram to Nowy Port, which was kind of dull. There's a lighthouse there for lighthouse spotters. Highlights of my visit included seeing the top half of the lighthouse from afar, petting a dachshund, and consuming an entire packet of chocolate-coated butter cookies.

I tried another plate of pierogi for dinner one night, and have either had a string of bad dumpling luck, or really have to give the Polish pierogi the thumbs down. I ordered the ones with poultry and raisins, which was a daring choice in itself since I'm not a big raisin fan, especially in savory foods. I really couldn't tell you what I ate. It wasn't like any poultry I've had before. Mystery meat aside, they were kind of dry. And bland. I dumped a bunch of salt on them, but the improvement was minimal. Since the pierogi are served pretty much just by themselves, accompanied only by a miniscule garnish of vegetables and a sprinkling of what I think were deep-fried onion bits, there's wasn't a whole lot to be done except steadily chew my way through the plate. I was doomed to dumpling disappointment. I had gone to a milk bar for lunch, and what I had gotten there was cheaper and tastier. I paid less than $5.00 for a bowl of soup with pasta, three pancakes with sweet cheese and jam, and an artistically-presented blob of potato salad. Too bad they closed early or else I would have gone back. I really wanted to like the pierogi, I did, but in the end they were about as gastronomically inspiring as a bowl of grits that has been sitting on the counter all day. And to think, I had chosen them over the ślimaki on the same menu. Are ślimaki actually slugs, as the menu translated? Some other intrepid traveler will have to discover this.

Gdańsk has a number of brick churches, including the imposing St. Mary's, reputed to be the largest brick church in the world, and the airy St. Catherine's, which had its roof recently flambéed by a cigarette butt. You can be sure the workman who tossed it will be stewing in one of the more vile circles of hell. My favorite was St. John's, which was abandoned and fell into dereliction after WWII, and is now apparently slowly sinking into the swampland upon which it was built. It's been somewhat restored and is open for concerts, but still looks forsaken. I read that it's also overrun with cats, but I only saw one, appropriately black. He would have been spookier if he hadn't stopped to relieve himself in the yard.

Huh. I keep thinking there's something else I need to report from Gdańsk, but nothing is coming to mind. Writing up each of these cities is challenging. They manage to be quite similar, yet completely different at the same time, and committing the distinction to words involves teasing out the details of each. Cobblestones that twist your ankles slightly differently. Old buildings from different eras centuries apart. Long and varied histories. Museums for practically all worldly objects and subjects, not all of which are worth going to (Museum of Accounting, anyone? Well, I shouldn't judge, since I didn't go). I guess I didn't process too many details from Gdańsk. Strolling the streets and sitting in cafés, as pleasurable as it is in a new European city, can also be kind of mundane (in a nice way). And I was only there for two days. Deciding how long to stay in one place is a complex art. More on that in a couple of blogs.

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