Copyright © 1998 David C. Hay
II. The Summer Trip
By summer we were ready for the big trip. This would be a full month, where we would put some Polish students through the program to see how well it worked and how appropriate it was for them. My boss and two of my colleagues went with me and this time we brought two different tapes, a mountable disk drive, and four cartons of punched cards. One way or another we would get that damn program in the computer!
I stopped in Copenhagen for a few days on the way there. (The nice thing about flying back and fourth to Warsaw was that each way I could visit another European city.) This is a wonderful place. I rented a bicycle, which was the perfect way to get around. There are beautiful parks, quaint streets, the Tivoli amusement park, and interesting museums.
At one point I met an elderly lady from Wyoming. Her husband had died
some ten years before and she had been grieving since then. This year,
though, she decided that the time had come to stop feeling sorry for
herself and get out to see the world. So here she was, a sprightly,
delightful lady in Copenhagen. Among other places, we saw a museum
specializing solely in representations of the human figure. This turned
out to be fascinating! They have sculptures from ancient Greece through
Rodin. I was startled to find that the most attractive female statue
there was not a nude, but a Victorian woman in a long dress simply
sitting in a chair, with her body turned in a particularly fetching way.
There was something about her posture and grace that was absolutely
My First Copenhagen Friend
Speaking of beautiful women, the next day, I was lying on the grass in the park next to the Christiansborg Palace. Not too far from me were three young women sunning themselves. There isn't much sun during the year in Denmark, so they set out to do this efficiently. They were certainly much more efficient about absorbing sun than is common in the United States.
Much more efficient. Sun was seeing a lot more of their bodies than I was used to seeing. (They were not wearing long Victorian dresses.) Did I mention that they were quite lovely? They had magnificent, er, tans.
I was being very careful not to look at them, of course. It wouldn't be polite. So I didn't look at them a lot.
I thought that it might be fun to talk to them, but I was quite tongue-tied. I was accustomed to speaking to a clothed woman in the interest of perhaps getting her to remove her clothes. What do you say when there isn't much to remove? Imagine my amazement when one of them then came up to me and asked, "Do you by any chance have a bottle opener?"
Now I am nothing if not prepared when I travel. My Swiss Army Knife certainly earned its keep that day. The four of us wound up spending the evening together (after they got dressed) and I got a delightful tour of the city and its night life. This was Midsummer Night, as it happens, so fireworks and a party were going on throughout the city. The sun finally set around midnight.
Back to Warsaw
After four days in Copenhagen, I returned to Warsaw. It was strange to be in a position of "returning" to a place as exotic as Warsaw. This time my colleagues from New York were there, and the experience was different. Now, instead of me being a lone cowboy, we were a group.
Still, after my experience in the Spring, I made it a point to go out on my own as much as I could. I met more new people and had lovely experiences too numerous to count.
The first week I thought it might be fun on the weekend to see Krakow, the ancient Polish capital. It is about a hundred and fifty miles south of Warsaw, and I didn't really have enough money for the train, so I asked a friend in the American Embassy what the attitude in Poland was towards hitch-hiking.
"Oh, no. You wouldn't want to do that," he said. He was wearing his regulation blue suit and white shirt.
"I know, I know, you have to say that, but what's the real scoop?"
It took quite a bit of leaning on him, but eventually he relented and
finally confessed that his colleague, the Press Attaché, had read in —
get this!— Parade Magazine (remember, these are your
representatives in Poland) that not only was it ok to hitch-hike in Poland, but it was encouraged!
After all, a car is expensive, and if I have a spare seat and you are willing to help with the cost of gasoline, why not? Indeed, there was even a program you could participate in whereby the hitch-hiker would give his driver coupons to enter him into a contest.
So, on Saturday morning I parked my naked (psychologically, that is) self
out on the road south of Warsaw, with my thumb out. I must confess I did
find myself wondering what in the world could have brought me from Grand
Junction, Colorado to the point where I was standing there (what
would my parents say) — but I never wonder about such things very long.
My first ride was on an eighteen wheeler, and down the road we picked up a young woman about eighteen years old or so. It turns out the truck was only going as far as Kielce, about two-thirds of the way to Krakow. My fellow traveler lived there, so she proceeded to walk with me through the town and waited with me for my next ride. The car that finally stopped was kind of posh, but the driver was old and somewhat surly. He grumbled something to us, whereupon my new friend proceeded to lay into him and bawl him out! I of course have no idea what she really said, but based on what I later learned about the culture, I have to assume that he demanded payment and she told him that I was a guest in this country and he was jolly well going to take me!
So he shrugged his shoulders and let me aboard. (When we got to Krakow, I in fact gave him a few dollars, which he seemed to appreciate.)
By the time we got to Krakow a couple of other hitch-hikers had joined us, one of whom lived there. When we arrived, this fellow took it upon himself to show me around.
Among other things, we saw Wawel (pronounced "vavel"), the Krakow castle, where there is a cast iron dragon guarding his lair beneath it. (Every fifteen minutes or so he spits fire quite convincingly.) Wawel has wonderful architecture: It was built over perhaps five hundred years, with completely different styles of architecture tacked onto each other.
We had dinner in a restaurant that was under the town square, and then we retired to a night club, where we met a couple of young ladies and danced into the wee hours of the morning.
The Krakow Town Square
The next morning I had a breakfast of fresh cucumbers and yogurt and got a single ride back to Warsaw.
Now understand, during this weekend I met no one who spoke a language I had ever heard before. But it didn't matter. I had a ball! The only thing I felt self-conscious about was the fact that my Krakovian friend could dance like Fred Astaire. And I . . . uh . . . can't. Also discouraging was the realization that in this situation where I could not talk to the girl, I was being more successful that I often am when I can talk – and do.
Warsaw to Krakow
Map copyright © National Geographic Society
Daily work was in the offices of IDKK. It was a spacious, well-lighted building that was not unpleasant. Working in an office there was a lot like working in an office in New York. You had the same assortment of interesting people and twits. Again, I had relatively little time in the computer center, but the tape did load this time, and we were able to get things set up during our two-week preparation period.
My Colleagues and IDKK
Among other things, the institute had an ancient (from the 1960's) ICL computer, that still ran on vacuum tubes. With its one (1) kilobit of drum storage, it was truly a historical artifact.
Punching cards was kind of a challenge, since the only key-punch they had required you to manually hold down, for example, the 1 and 12 keys while pushing the punch button, in order to create an "A". After the cards were punched, you then took them to another machine to "interpret" them — adding text to the top margin. Then you could see which ones you had mis-typed, and repeat the process.
It wasn't until I got to Poland that I realized (by comparison to Polish)
how much French, Spanish and German I had picked up over the years. This
was a Slavic language. There are no cognates. Each word had to be learned
completely from scratch. Over the month I did learn some. I at least learned what I needed: By the time I left I could count, order beer and coffee, and say "you are a pretty girl" and "I love you".