Innocence Abroad: Chapter 14



Bumming Poland with backpack and chauffeur

Slubice, Poland: July 15, 1991...



verything gets distorted when the denominations on your paper money run to five figures. I cashed twenty deutschemarks in the little office doing an exchange business at the Polish border and received 125,000 zlotys. I had no idea, yet, what this sort of money would buy, but I was at once uncomfortable with such high-figure currency and fumbled for words to explain that I wanted smaller bills. The bemused woman took back one of the 10,000 zloty notes and gave me a handful of 500s. I'm sure she thought me simple-minded as I smiled my thank-you, for each one of these had less value than a nickel! I was just a little slow to connect the fact that my entire exchange didn't amount to $11.

I walked south out of town alongside the river levee on a quiet, tree-shaded road - an easy four-miles, hardly disturbed by vehicle traffic, to the Berlin-Warsaw highway. Couples and small family groups strolled by with buckets of berries from a small farmer's market and bazaar, just off the roadway in a grove of trees. I looked briefly in on it, and was boggled by prices like 15,000 zlotys per pound. I finally bought a big hunk of goat cheese for 7,875 zlotys (sixty-eight cents), to nibble on my way.

It must have been past noon when I reached the highway, a divided high-speed strip, two lanes on either side. I paused on the overpass to contemplate the idling line of huge trucks patiently waiting on their border clearance into Germany. In the other direction only an occasional car zipped by, and I could see the prospect of a long wait ahead of me. But the mid-day sun wasn't oppressive; I had only my own impatience to contend with.

I was merely standing there absorbed in these ruminations, gazing down at the scene, when suddenly a big gray sedan was alongside of me, its driver speaking English with a slight accent. He asked where I was going and if I wanted a ride! There are times when I can't quite believe my own life.

He was German, out to sample the Polish countryside, he said, for maybe a day or two, not even sure of where he'd be going. It was fine with me - neither was I. His name was Albert: mid-30's, short, bespectacled, with curly dark hair fringing a premature baldness - the entire aspect lending a cerebral appearance, which was not misleading. Albert had an inquiring mind interested in everything, though nothing very deeply. In fact, a dispassionate objectivity seemed to be his only passion. He evidenced remarkably little personal involvement with anything he talked about.

We discovered very quickly, though, something in common besides this perfect mutual timing for a visit into Poland. Albert was a semi-committed follower of Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, who had recently died in Poona, India, after having outraged the good people of Oregon for several years and then been banished from further residence in the U.S. Albert had lived at the Poona Ashram for more than a year, until shortly before the charismatic Bhagwan's death. For my part, I had stayed a month or two at the Oregon community, Rajneeshpuram, as a visiting outsider in the early 1980s, before the place was convulsed and destroyed by scandal. That unfortunate finale overshadowed a remarkable instance of communal development, with much more to its credit than is generally allowed in the wake of what ultimately came of it.

But they set their own fate in motion. A defining characteristic of those who were deeply involved in the Rajneesh experience was their inner circle attitude, grown from a conviction that they were more in touch with life's mysterious depth than the common herd - an elitism that was bound to alienate them from the rest of humanity. Albert had this quality. He skimmed the countryside quite insulated from it in his high-profile BMW, almost godlike in a bubble of self-elevation. We sped through towns that cried out for closer inspection, hardly stopping long enough for personal urgencies. It was a top quality highway across level country with virtually no traffic to slow us, and Albert - fresh from Germany's congested autobahns - took it at speeds that were foolish, if not foolhardy. From years of hitch-hiking, I've learned to accept whatever comes and stay cool. But had Albert asked, I was not enjoying it nearly as much as he seemed to be. But then again, I hadn't even had to raise a thumb; I could hardly complain.

We reached Poznan, a third of the way to Warsaw and the only sizable city on the route, just before four in the afternoon. This was as far as Albert had intended to go. But it was such a fine road, beyond all his expectations, that he was tempted, he said, to drive all the way to Warsaw. Not without a night to sleep on the question, however. He found a hotel to suit his taste and pocketbook - on neither of which I could concur. So we parted at that point, agreeing to meet there for breakfast.

In the possibility of a morning ride to Warsaw, I decided not to seek a GN host and made my way instead to a youth hostel in a multi-use old school building. It was a hostel out of the Dark Ages. Sagging old cots with barely adequate bedding, shower stalls so filthy I decided against using one, no toilet paper . . . but it was cheap: $3.60 for the night. And private - an entire top-floor room to myself. Dormer windows looked out on a mid-city scene less imposing than that of Leipzig, but with the same sense of easy, quiet living - a simplicity sharply contrasting the haste and hustle of Berlin. Something about it, in fact - perhaps the entire lack of dazzle and show, and the streetcars down below - took me back again to the San Francisco of my youth. The narrow little trams, so crowded they appeared to have been built for children or pygmies, ran in tandem pairs and were tapered at each end, reminiscent of futuristic design in the 1930s.

Free of Albert, and with a few daylight hours left to explore my first Polish city, I set out walking and followed my instincts toward the center of town - a great market square. It was like stepping into a long-vanished age, for hardly a single visible structure could have been less than two-hundred years old. A turreted, vintage city hall, its pedigree indicated by an emblem and a date: 1555, occupied center stage in the square. Trailing to the rear of it, a string of marvelously narrow buildings of jumbled height and roof-line - a retinue, like an undisciplined line of soldiers following their leader in comic disarray. While around the perimeter, a phalanx of ancient structures stood in witness, like a sober gallery of judges, lending dignity to the jocular effect of the central scene.

Somewhere beyond the square I came to a massive, bulky church, clearly very old. It was plain and drab, huddled by equally unattractive buildings that had long ago crowded into its onetime grounds leaving no airspace whatever. I'd have gone on by, but the door was open and so I hazarded a quick look - and was struck, as if by an outpouring of choir song, by what I saw: an interior of carved and polished hardwood with sculpture everywhere, all in a color scheme of black with gold trim. My eyes went upward along massive marble pillars to artwork on the ceiling - pillars that appeared to be solid black marble all the way up, for I could detect no break in them, although their girth could not have been embraced by two men with outstretched arms. Interestingly, not a trace of stained glass could be seen. Yet, it took my breath away like no other cathedral I'd seen - and its drab exterior had given me not the slightest hint.

The next morning, slow in waking and unable to reach Albert by phone, I took a taxi for the several blocks to his hotel, unreasonably fearful of losing the possible ride to Warsaw. In my tourist-haste I got burned, paying more for that short ride than the night's lodging had cost. But I found Albert waiting, and my imprudent loss was offset when he bought me breakfast in the hotel. He even let me shower in his room before checking out.

We did some further local sightseeing before taking to the road again. I found a bookstore, and a beautifully illustrated volume on Secesja style, Poland's own version of France's Art Nouveau.* It cost me $6.50, a fraction of its likely value in the States, were it even available there, and it suggested a fresh track for old pursuits that had been frustrated ever since I left England. Time and again on the continent I had walked into book shops from pure habit - pure useless habit, it had become, for all I saw was French, Belgian, Dutch and German texts. From now on, I would enjoy my old pastime in the universal language of art!

We made the 190-mile dash to Warsaw like Barney Oldfield wheeling it for a trophy. Such traffic as we encountered in this level farmland country moved at a snail's pace, probably set by the long, barrow-like horse-drawn wagons still in use here. More than once Albert had to brake sharply, exercising all the control he had, to avoid some vehicle changing lanes at thirty miles per hour - the poor peasant at the wheel hardly expecting anything like Albert on the road.

We got to Warsaw at three in the afternoon. Albert managed to find a tourist office where someone who spoke English was willing to make phone calls for us - to GN hosts for me, and hotel possibilities for Albert. It required six tries before I finally made a connection on mine with a possible host: they were waiting for another traveler who was already two days late in arrival, and I took the opening on that edge of uncertainty. Albert had several leads he was anxious to check out, so we followed that route first and he took a room at the second stop. All of a sudden, then, he tired of being my chauffeur. He was quite weary, he said, and just wanted to get some rest, and could I please find my own way to the host I was headed for.

It's strange, how easily one gets accustomed to the ever-present utility and ease of an automobile. I felt momentarily angry with Albert for wanting his own life back! But I contained it and bid him a cheerful farewell - after all, he had taken me clear across Poland.

IT TOOK ME A FEW MOMENTS to return to the headspace of the solitary traveler and grasp the responsibility of finding my way in this huge city. I had a poor excuse for a city map, picked up at the tourist office. It didn't even extend to where my host lived, which we had pin-pointed on Albert's larger map. But I knew that a bus along this boulevard went out there, and I knew the sort of intersection to watch for once I reached the vicinity.

Things, of course, never look like they're supposed to. I got off the bus too soon because I was afraid of getting off too late. But could I even be sure that I hadn't already done so? I was at a major intersection that was off my map, in an open area with good visibility, guessing that my destination should be not far ahead. I tried to make sure - if only I could find someone among the crowd at the bus stop who understood me. But one after another gave me an uncomprehending stare. This was the nightmare that had always haunted me: lost in Warsaw without a map, and nothing but blank looks for my every entreaty. I finally had to assume I must be right, and continue on down the main boulevard toward a row of condo-style high-rises in the middle distance.

I passed no one at all. It was very much like new suburban development areas at home, where nothing but automobiles are encountered. Finally, up ahead, a young woman came toward me. I paused as we passed, hesitantly asking whether she spoke any English.

"Sure do!" came the bright, smiling response. "Where y'from?"

An American! I could hardly trust my ears. It's not so rare to hear English spoken abroad, usually with German or Dutch accent, or else almost always British - but the distinctive sound of an American voice, in this remote Warsaw moment, was almost rapturous.

Not merely American, it turned out, but from my old San Francisco backyard: El Cerrito, California. She was in Warsaw on a student exchange for the summer. We stood and talked for awhile, and she confirmed that I was going in the right direction, probably to one of those very condos. Just as we turned toward our separate paths she tossed me a parting suggestion: "Go to Krakow - it's worth seeing."

My Warsaw hosts were Bogdan and Ewa, he an architect who worked at home, and she an English teacher, completely fluent. Their condo apartment was a bit on the crowded side with two small children and all of Bogdan's work materials, but I was frankly surprised at their well-provisioned life, after all I had thus far seen in eastern Europe. The only thing in the kitchen that harked back to earlier times in my life was a table-affixed, hand-turned meat grinder. For all else, I could as easily have been in a modern middle-class American apartment. Bogdan was a book collector and they had somehow crammed more shelving space into that apartment than I'd have thought possible. But then the clever, efficient use of space is something Europeans have a talent for - from their long historical development of conservative land use for a steadily expanding population.

I gave myself all of Wednesday to explore Warsaw. The city was extraordinarily alive, bursting with energy and street sounds, an incredible tumult of people and activity in all directions. It felt like I had walked into a mass re-birthing underway, with none of the jaded, slick feeling of Berlin's Kurfurstendamm, but the freshness of something seeking its own form and style. Sidewalk stands selling everything from cassette tapes to kitchenware lined the streets. The only negative note was a massive instance of bulk architecture called the Culture Tower, a brooding reminder of recent history that dominates the city by its sheer, singular size. I suspect it dates from the Communist years, but whether so or earlier, it radiates the cold linearity of life dominated by ideology, and I'm sure the city would be lovelier and happier, and probably flower with more grace, if they tore it down.

Beyond the central area I discovered the oldest part of town, by the river Wisla; and near there a monumental tribute to the Warsaw Uprising of 1945, when the city was tragically betrayed by Soviet forces they had counted on to help oust the Nazis. It was one of the most awesome sculptural groupings I have ever seen: a larger than life assemblage of desperate figures in torment and violence, practically vibrating in their realism and intensity.

Ewa had spoken of a museum devoted to Secesja art in the town of Plock, sixty miles to the northwest. I bought a rail ticket that afternoon, figuring that an early Thursday start should let me visit the museum and then take an afternoon train from there to Wroclaw, on a direct line toward Prague. But when Bogdan pulled out his railroad schedules that evening, it proved impossible to put together an itinerary that wouldn't involve an overnight stay in Plock, plus other complications. So I dropped the whole idea, deciding instead to heed the advice of the young woman from El Cerrito. I'd take the Krakow express at 9:25 in the morning. Ewa wrote a note for me to present at the ticket counter requesting a ticket exchange.

At breakfast, Bogdan suddenly decided it was the moment to tell me all about the Warsaw Ghetto, the old Jewish quarter that the Nazis had flattened to rubble. It was 8:30 before I finally got on my way - time enough to just miss the bus that could have taken me to the train station in good time. I got the next bus . . . just in time to keep me on edge all the way into town. It took a route that was new to me. I lost sight of the landmark Culture Palace and lost my bearings in the maze of turns the bus took. It followed a long, roundabout route while time kept ticking away and I kept trying to figure out where I was. The whole plan seemed headed for disaster. I finally spotted the low, rectangular station facade just seven minutes before train time.

By then, it was too late to mess with the ticket counter line, so the problem assumed new dimensions. I had made a short hop in Holland without a ticket, but . . . a three-and-a-half hour express to Krakow? It was either take it without a ticket, or not at all. I got on and settled myself in a compartment with five others to await whatever should develop.

Mile after mile, no conductor appeared on the scene as we whizzed across the Polish flatlands and into rolling hills. I imagined the worst - getting thrown off the train - and figured I had better just act dumb . . . which wouldn't really be an act. We must have been halfway to Krakow before a conductor looked in and everyone reached for their ticket. Like some school kid with a note from home, I handed him the request that Ewa had written the night before. He studied it with a frown, then wrote something below and handed it back to me. Was that all? No. He brought forth a little book from an inner pocket and began making calculations, finally indicating that I must pay a 33,000 zloty fare plus a 5000 zloty penalty for boarding the train without a ticket. Total price for the 180-mile express to Krakow: $3.35.

SOMETHING ABOUT KRAKOW felt delightfully refreshing from the moment I arrived. The usual fruit stands and diverse entrepreneurs surrounded the depot, and I had to fend off taxi drivers, one of whom insistently wanted to drive me to Auschwitz. I brushed him away, remembering what I'd said to Albert when he spoke of wanting to see the Holocaust death camps: "not now, and not ever." None of these things seemed unusually refreshing, but a certain atmosphere hovered in the air like the breath of a late spring morning, though we were well into summer.

My second phone call turned up a host. Mindful of the six calls it required in Warsaw, I told him earnestly that I'd even be comfortable sleeping on a floor. His indignation at the very suggestion rang loud and clear. "No guest in my house sleeps on the floor!"

This was Greg (short for Grzegorz) who lived just an easy walk from the station, on the second floor of an old six-unit frame building - the very place he'd been born, he would later tell me, forty-four years ago. The whole building had once belonged to his family before Communism took their ownership away. Greg wasn't sure that he'd ever get title to it again, for the old records had long ago been destroyed. He lived there now with a child, who was away, and his wife, Gorza - secretary for the local theater company, a sometimes actress and would-love-to-be taxicab dispatcher, who could sit for hours listening to their radio dialogue. Greg was a journalist, interpreter and also a local disc jockey. Together, they made one of the warmest, most engaging pairs that I encountered on my entire trail.

Part of Krakow's instant charm was surely due to the circumstance that it had come cleanly through the war - one of the few major cities that hadn't been damaged at all. In consequence, it had continued to age in a graceful fashion, never forced into that dispiriting mix of old and new that reveals, by glaring prominence, what can no longer be decently maintained. Yes, buildings still fall into aged disuse here, but they blend with the rest of the old city in an overall image of harmony. A fascinating array of ancient architecture lined the quaint and narrow streets, continually surprising me with picture-postcard scenes at each fresh turn. At one such, I walked right into one of the grandest open squares, easily, in all of central Europe.

Krakow's market square is so immense that an Alhambra-like structure, huge itself, nestles within it like a jewel set into a ring. Called the Cloth Hall, it's a football field long, rising several stories, yet it doesn't compromise the open feeling of the square as a whole, which incorporates other structures as well.

The effect of a town or market square on the life of a community, as I saw it time and again in Europe, in small towns and large cities, is so invigorating and so graceful at the same time that I can't help feeling profoundly sad for its absence in the cities of America. People invariably gravitate to such areas, which certainly expresses an inner need for their social function. It is nothing like a shopping mall, where the emphasis is on trade and parking space, not community. The open square motif is to be found only one place in America: on its great University campuses; but in civic life, in this land of seemingly endless land, we are too overwhelmed by property values to indulge in anything so profitless as open space.

I managed to see a good deal of Krakow during my two days there, but - as with few other cities - it seemed impossible to get enough. On my second day, I joined Gorza at the end of her workday, and she took me on a tour of the 100-year-old theater and opera house, showing me parts of the building that few ever see. The onetime dressing room of their oldest and most revered actor, Ludwick Solski, has been kept intact, its walls covered by testimonials and mementos, since his death at age 99 in the mid-1950s.

Then I took Gorza to see a discovery I had made, myself, that day. In the dark corridor to an inner court, in one of the many old Krakow apartment buildings, I found a remnant of Secesja building art: a lovely panel of red poppies in stained and leaded glass, dirtied but intact above the interior portal. She had seen it before, but we stood and admired it for the time it took our eyes to adjust to the darkened passage. Going out, then, into the sudden bright light of the street, I blinked at what I was sure must be an apparition. Not thirty feet away, coming up the sidewalk . . . Albert!

This was absolutely insane. We had parted company three days earlier, almost two hundred miles away, neither of us at that time having any thought of coming to Krakow. Yet, here we were, synchronistically converging at the same point in time and space.

Albert was as stunned as I - the only time I ever saw him lose his cool. Gorza understood nothing of our wide-eyed encounter until I was coherent enough to tell her, and then she looked at me as if I had performed a miracle - as if I'd had anything to do with it! But it turned out so perfectly for me that I could understand her awe. Albert was heading for Prague the next morning, and so was I! I would already have had my rail ticket, but for being short on zlotys that morning, when I went for it

. Before dark that evening, in a final gesture of hospitality, Greg and Gorza took me to a hilltop overlook, somewhat west of town, to see the entire city bathed in sunset. A score of church spires spiked upward, glinting gold like a troop of spear-bearing angels; and the fortress rampart of Wawel Castle marking the southern reach of ancient Krakow was once more aglow in Medieval glory, as only the brief image called forth by a sunset can reveal. The Wisla River flowed around the rocky rise on which the castle stood - the same Wisla that courses through Warsaw and on to the Baltic Sea.

We talked with some young fellows who had also come for the view, one of whom bore such an uncanny resemblance to my brother when he was young - even in his laugh and way of speaking, though he spoke no English at all - that I had a sudden flash my visit to Krakow had been no accident at all, but the likely urge of my mongrel roots to find their home. It had taken an assortment of happenings to overcome my resistance to traveling eastern Europe, to begin with, and then a further push by accidental events all along the way, to route me toward Krakow. The incredible encounter with Albert only served to confirm it - for that is the apparent point of synchronicities: to affirm hidden realities . . . to make them irrefutably obvious, unconditionally believable.

In Albert's immediate travel arrangements, my standing had slipped to that of 'fifth wheel' - or fourth wheel, anyhow. He had somehow latched onto two other travelers, both women, and I had to take a back seat. It was actually a blessing, for it somewhat shielded me from the worst effects of his driving. Poor Beverly was now in the hot seat, and more than once I could see her suddenly stiffen, or hear the slight catch in her voice as Albert continued to put his car through its paces. She was on her way home to San Francisco, flying from Prague. Our other companion, sharing the rear seat with me, was Stephanie, a young Canadian in temporary residence there. Albert, of course, was on his way back to Germany but wanted to cap his holiday with a couple days in Prague.

I had meant to spend a few days there, myself, but hadn't expected that I'd be putting five days into Poland. The scheduled date for Dresden was crowding me now; and I realized, further, that to remain in Prague over a weekend - for it was now Saturday - would simply crowd my visit into the worst two days for it. I decided, by the time we got there, just to stay the night, and make a point of returning later in my journey for a more substantial visit.

Albert was careful to stop for gas on the Polish side of the border, and for good reason. We had zlotys to dispose of and there was no better way. In fact, no other way at this point, for there was no place left to spend them. I was up to my neck in zlotys. After congratulating myself on having averted the purchase of a rail ticket to Prague, I realized that it saved me nothing at all, for I had already made the exchange - fifty deutschemarks - in anticipation of buying the ticket. I now had more than 300,000 zlotys with me and they were totally useless outside the country. So I became a major financier for this journey to Prague, putting 210,000 zlotys into it, or $18.50, which was more than the rail fare would have been. I consoled myself that it was the decent thing to do, for Albert had chauffeured me most of the way from Germany.

SATURDAY EVENING is not the time, in mid-summer, to be looking for hostel space in Prague. Beverly and Stephanie had already gone their separate ways; Albert lingered with me just long enough, at the accommodations desk in the central rail station, to secure himself a lead to a $25 room. I half expected he'd be sporting enough to let me share it, after what we'd come through together, but it never entered Albert's head. He wished me luck, and off he sped. So here I was, again, with the perennial problem. I hardly wanted to call a GN host just to pop in and out for the night. But the hostels were full and I wasn't quite up to seeking a spot under the stars for the night, either, which involves a whole other range of problems in a large city. I needed an angel again; but I haven't quite learned how to summon one.

I finally turned, in desperation, to the GN host list. But now I couldn't get the phone to work for me. I kept returning to the accommodations desk for advice on what I was doing wrong. Finally, the fellow offered to make the call for me, so I had to explain that this was a call to someone who didn't know me, for free lodging, which made no sense to him - so I started explaining Good Neighbors . . . Well, something clicked in him (the angel button?) when he got the picture, and he said he could refer me to an `alternative hostel' if I wasn't too particular about the accommodations.

He didn't give me an address, just a street name and a building description, and I could see why when I got there. It was an old section of industrial warehouses, huge structures that had no numbers. Somewhat uncertainly, I narrowed the choice to a solid old monster of stone, with a giant, locked-tight doorway and windows far too high to see into. I rang the buzzer and a voice came out of a little box. I said I wanted a room for the night, and the voice flatly said, "No rooms."

Well, that was it; I didn't like the looks of it anyway. I turned my back, without another word, and walked away. It was 7 p.m., no time for anything but to find myself a secluded spot somewhere. But I was hardly on my way before an old gent with a big white beard was out there on the street, hailing me back.

"Dorms," he told me, with an apologetic smile, "not rooms."

Okay. I let go a sigh of relief and followed him up to a large second-floor dorm room that looked surprisingly clean in the circumstances, and he opened a window to let some fresh air in. He wanted $3 for the night, which was more than half of what I had in Czech money. After that exchange fiasco in Krakow, and knowing I'd be out of Prague in the morning, I had changed just ten deutschemarks for Czech kronen. He told me of a place nearby where I could get a cheap but good meal, and assured me the hostel would remain open - though I'd have to ring the buzzer - until 11 p.m. He spoke English well enough that I was sure we had all our transactions straight.

I went and had a very satisfying broiled chicken dinner, with two cokes to slake my summer thirst and let me linger in the hardly busy cafe while I brought my journal up to date. I had now, in Czech money, just seven cents left - a level of currency risk that I was getting used to. It hadn't been an easy week on my budget, largely due to that last minute splurge for Albert's gasoline. I had spent $100.30, lifting my six-week average to a still respectable figure of $88.31. But that didn't include the 100,000 zloty note that remained in my pocket, though I'd never be able to make any use of it. I eventually sent it back to Greg and Gorza, for whom it had some value.

It was nine o'clock and getting dark when I went back to the hostel and rang the buzzer. No answer. I rang again, and no answer. I beat on the heavy door, but no one came. I rang and beat and yelled, to no avail. I was locked out, and the street was absolutely deserted. It was beginning to feel like some low-grade movie. Everything I owned, even my passport, was inside this building, and it was getting dark, and I was getting desperate. I imagined myself trying to explain all this to Czech police - if I could even find any police, with seven cents in my pocket.

Before my desperation could turn to panic, a young couple turned up who also wanted to get in. At least I had company, though they spoke no English. The young fellow was enterprising and agile, and did what I couldn't possibly do - he managed to clamber up a ledge to the open second-story window of my dorm, and disappeared into it. A few minutes later the fortress-like doors opened. I got a sorry apology from the old bearded fellow, who had been upstairs all the while listening to a radio.

What with all of that excitement and the day's long drive, all I wanted was a hot shower, down the hallway, and a long night's sleep in a cozy bed. I lay down to it in my private dorm room, finally, with that huddling glow that shuts out the rest of the world - all except the soothing melody coming in over my earphones. I seemed to drift between sleep and reverie, to musical cues, for a blissful eternity, finally laying the earphones aside and falling into total slumber.

At some pre-dawn hour, I have no idea when, I was aware that my blanket was being yanked away from the foot of my bed. In sleepiness, and by the light of the street lamp alone, I could only see what appeared to be an entangled mass of tattooed bodies writhing on a double bed near the window, with someone laughing at me - a young woman with hair as wild as a Melanesian native. It was entirely surreal, a dream or a vision, I wasn't sure.

The illusion slowly transformed, as my eyes and senses came back to reality. I could see that the `tattooed bodies' were only the effect of yellowed street lamp on a flowered blanket design, and there were only two people there, fully clothed - one of them the dark-haired laughing woman, who could hardly have been twenty. Another young couple were relaxing on a lower bunk by the sidewall. The four seemed to be having a kind of Coca-Cola slumber party.

I was fascinated by it now that I was awake, and just lay there enjoying it all, pretending to have fallen back asleep. It reminded me of some of my own escapades at a similar age. I had no idea how they got in, but I imagine it was through that same window. The more active pair would occasionally turn their attention toward me again, tugging at the sheet I resolutely held on to, or once tickling my exposed foot, giggling all the while. But I figured they didn't need me. Their fun was in German and I couldn't have added anything.

Finally, they drifted off to sleep, still entirely dressed except for shoes. The other young couple, a blanket over them, had been asleep in each others' arms for some time. The party was over.

I was suddenly aware - awakened again, for no particular reason - that dawn's shallow light had replaced the yellow glow. Then movement caught my eye. The quiet couple on the single bed - ever so gently and still beneath their blanket - were doing the slow, huddling movement of discrete love. It wasn't the first time in my life that voyeurism had been thrust on me, so to speak, but I think it was engagingly the sweetest.



"...Greg and Gorza..." just happen to have an email address, and knowing them as I do, I'd bet they would enjoy hearing from anyone reading this book. Try it and see!

"...wrote something below..." Only later did I learn what he had written: "Ticket refunds not handled on train. Go to Station." I should have known, all along, that this zloty thing was nothing but a glorified Monopoly Game.

"...its likely value..." In Poznan, I got my first taste of the currency disorientation I'd be dealing with all through eastern Europe: the 'sudden wealth' feeling brought on by cheap prices coupled with high denomination money, which resulted in a complete washout of my sense of values. For example, the half-mile taxi ride taken in a moment of haste, for which I paid 45,000 zlotys - almost $4. It so shocked me that I swung suddenly the otherway . . . I bought only a single postcard sketch of the town's market square, one of a set of three which I could have had for 2000 zlotys, about 17 cents.



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