5 December 2013
The Krakow train station at 6:30 on a Saturday morning…cold, gray, foggy…won’t crowd St. Tropez out of your memory. Up the steps from an underground passage I was in a typical railroad station neighborhood, a bit seedy and not quite awake. There were two cabs, except I hadn’t a zloty to pay for one. But anticipating the needs of an American traveler, who left his swagger on the night train from Prague and was a little disheveled, an ATM was provided…the new universal symbol of ‘Hi, how are you, here’s some cash’.
By 7:00 the cabbie dropped me off at the hotel and I presented myself at the front desk and was told that I was a tad early…my room was still being slept in and wouldn’t be ready until 12:00. But they’d be happy to watch over my suitcase. Ok, ok, I had delusions of curling up with a Starbuck’s…I’d be fine. But bounced from the hotel’s warmth to Krakovian chill, I found Kazimierz, the Jewish area, was not ready to receive guests. After a half hour of aimless wandering, I went back to the hotel. A different apparatchik behind the desk told me brightly that they were giving me a different room, now unused, and I was welcome to it. The new Pope and the Grand Rabbi of Poland must have been looking out for me.
The day I drove back from Slovakia, I was sitting in the one-chair lobby of the hotel (Eden, by name), waiting for the car man to give back the keys…and the GPS. Two men walked in (German/Scandinavian) and speaking some English to the desk clerk, the commonest of their languages, asked for three rooms, since a hotel down the block lost their reservations. The next morning in a wonderful grotto, two floors below street level, where breakfast was spread out, those two, plus the rest of their entourage had laid siege to a bountiful buffet table. One commented to a young woman, cleaning tables, that he hadn’t had eggs like these (quiche, in a number of configurations). He also commented, annoyed, that there was no bacon. She understood, but couldn’t explain why. I leaned in and told them that they had stumbled upon the only kosher hotel in Krakow (and one that has a mezuzah on every door and a mikvah, ritual bath, on the premises). “Kosher, really, that means no bacon?” I nodded. They laughed.
I went to a klezmer concert at the Isaak Synagogue across the street from my hotel. At dinner at an Israeli restaurant afterwards, I recognized a couple from the concert. We talked and agreed that the concert was terrific. They were Canadian and not Jewish, but because of the area (Kazimierz), the concert, the restaurant and my impending day at Auschwitz, talk took a Jewish bent. And they told me of a German-born friend in British Columbia, who described being caught up in a Berlin rally in the 30s, where Hitler spoke and everyone, stiff-armed, saluted. So, what did you do?, they asked him. I saluted, too, and next day called my brother and said, we’ve got to get out of here. (To hear the klezmer concert, type in the subject bar : Tempero Klezmer Band, Krakow, Poland and click ‘search’. From the drop-down choices click on: Tempero Group 2012 Klezmer Music (Krakow -YouTube Concerts.)
There were other small things: a conversation with a woman on a Fulbright, studying Jewish Music in Poland; eavesdropping on a conversation in Prague…one biker telling another that the Czechs don’t go to church, so all the churches have concerts to raise money; watching gold and silver-painted mimes, standing like statues; having the best tomato soup ever in Presov, Slovakia and a bagel in Prague, as good as Ess-a-Bagel in New York There are a lot of little things, but taken together, they do make a whole trip.