Word on the train was there was a toxic spill ahead. Hungarian authorities evidently had quarantined a radius of some twenty to thirty kilometers for an undisclosed time. All terrestrial travel was being diverted or held – cars, busses, trucks and trains. It was then that everyone aboard sensed we would not be moving for a long, long time.
But before that came to light, I was alone in my sleeper cabin, enjoying the solitude and relative space, awash with gratitude that I didn’t have to share it leaving Budapest. Not yet, anyway. Each brief stop at one village station or another led to small-scale anxiety that the door would burst open and some pot-bellied Hungarian who hadn’t showered since the 90’s would tumble in, forcing me to the top bunk and thus the radiation from the heatwave of bodily fumes. So far, however, my only complaint was that the electrical outlet didn’t work, which could scarcely be logged as a complaint at all, given that I was on a Ukrainian train moving at Cold War pace towards Lviv. If things stayed this way, I had thought, it would be a miracle.
Now, however, I was weighing out my preference for sharing tight quarters with a hungover Hungarian or being stuck. Other passengers began to rustle after a time, passing my door in the narrow corridor toward one end of the car or the other. Restlessness became nearly palpable. The American in the cabin next to mine appeared in my doorway. He said we would be here for at least another hour and that he was going up to the store at the station. I told him I’d make it up there after a few minutes and set about compartmentalizing in my mind the notion of not moving for some time.
I emerged from the carriage, dropped down onto the tracks, and took stock. The day was bright and cloudless but for high altitude cirrus clouds whisked here and there across a sky that seemed to deepen in hue the longer you gazed upwards. Ahead stood a cluster of low-roofed, A-frame buildings, a drab egg-shell color, with beam supported awnings. So remote this place seemed the word that came to mind was not station but outpost. I walked along and then crossed the weedy tracks and went into the store at the far corner of the building. Inside I found the American and our usher, a greasy-haired, stubble-faced man, seated at a table over tall mugs of straw-colored beer.
“Beer’s like a quarter!” the American said. The usher grinned and tipped his mug slightly.
“Yeah,” I said. “That doesn’t surprise me.”
I negotiated a beer and a bag of chips from the woman behind the counter using the international point-and-nod method, with a smile worked in for good measure, and joined them at the table.
“I don’t think we’ll be going anywhere soon,” the American reiterated. “So I figured I’d have a beer. This guy here wanted one too, and if the man working on the train starts drinking, it might not be a good sign.”
“Probably not,” I said.
We swapped names – his being Johnathan – and I introduced myself to the usher with my limited Ukrainian, though I cannot recall the usher’s name. Johnathan had short sandy-blonde hair and patches of gray in his goatee. He had a good tan, a glow on his face that comes usually from the sun’s reflection off water, with the area around his eyes a shade paler from sunglasses. A sport-fisherman’s tan, as I read it at first.
“You from Charleston?” I asked Johnathan, reading the lettering on his navy-blue sweatshirt.
He said he had lived there for about three years. Now he lived in Seattle, but he often wasn’t there because of his work as a private sailboat captain. He had clients all over the world, people who needed their boats moved from port to port or repair work done. That explained the tan. He had been in Croatia for a few weeks and wanted to explore Ukraine again (he had visited Odessa before), so he was on his way to Lviv too. I explained that I lived in Ukraine, served with the Peace Corps and taught in a university in a city called Ternopil, about three hours east of Lviv.
All this unabashed conversation in English had stirred the Spartan shop. Its few patrons looked at us curiously and before long a disheveled, unshaven man appeared at our table. He spoke in Hungarian, and not one among us could decipher a word, save “Euro.” Johnathan and I glanced at one another and shrugged. I jerked my hands upward, offering my bare palms, supine, in what most circumstances denotes the absence of what’s being asked about. But the man persisted. He took off his watch and ring and offered it to us. I shook my hands and head, but the Ukrainian reached for the items and began inspecting them. The Hungarian moved over to him and began speaking about the ring, and the Ukrainian held it up in front of his face as though it were the Hope Diamond. The ring was a lusterless, tarnished silver, thin and plain, and he handed it back to the Hungarian and shook his head. The Hungarian put the ring back on his finger and slouched off.
Johnathan and I went back to our beers and small talk, and after the usher finished his beer he rose wordlessly from the table and headed back towards the train. Johnathan and I agreed that the Hungarian must have been mighty down to be hustling an all but unknown train station. But I realized, as he and I spoke, that the sale with the cashier and the failed barter with the disheveled Hungarian marked the first time for me in two weeks, after traveling in four countries, that English hadn’t been the language of exchange.
What brought me to this far-flung Hungarian village, sitting over mid-day beers with Captain Johnathan of Arkansas, was a trip with my mom. She had informed me the previous winter that she had enlisted an actual travel agent, a career species I had thought severely endangered if not altogether extinct, to plan a loop through the eastern European cities of Warsaw, Prague, Vienna and Budapest. After consulting some Polish acquaintances of mine, Warsaw was scrapped in favor of Krakow, and the itinerary was set and booked by spring.
Mom flew into Ivano-Frankivsk, a mid-sized city in southwestern Ukraine. I wasn’t aware Ivano had an airport until Mom forwarded me the details. It seemed odd to me that a Ukrainian city with an estimated population of 200,000 would even have an airport, but further investigation proved me wrong. Nevertheless, everyone I spoke to seemed perplexed by my mother’s destination. Rare indeed was the international traveler who flew into Ivano.
“This airport is a shit,” my Ukrainian colleague, Iryna, told me. “Just so you know.”
She spoke truth. I had meandered through a fair number of bad and sketchy airports and train stations over the past year and a half, from Indonesia to Kyiv, but if some others had been dumps or toilets, the one in Ivano was the five-day-hippie-fest-port-o-john of them all. Not much bigger than a high school gym, and nearly dark enough to house a planetarium, I waited among the silhouetted people a while before I broke down and drank a beer to cut through the surreality.
Mom finally emerged from behind a door. Just your normal door, door – like she had simply excused herself from the table and returned, rather than flown for a day across the Atlantic. We hugged – unceremonious but welcomed – and Mom showed me where the Ukrainian customs agents cut into her bag to check it because they couldn’t get past the lock.
“So my suitcase won’t zip back up all the way,” Mom said. “Great.”
And we were off.
I live in a dormitory flat provided to me by Ternopil National Pedagogic University, where I teach in Ukraine. Most often I’m comfortable. Through the large-paned window in my kitchen, the sun sets behind a soccer field and tree-line, and I’ve cooked some fine meals on my old four-burner range in that wonderful green-gold summer light. I crack open the window to catch a breeze and listen to the kick-drum thumps of the players on the field. I sleep on a hard, spring-laden fold-out sofa (devan) – a piece of furniture almost ubiquitous in Slavic flats it seems – that occasionally feels like sleeping atop a dog cage if I don’t position myself just so. I’ve grown accustomed to the sofa because the single bed in the room is too narrow and its mattress is even worse.
I’m not exactly roughing it, but this past summer the struggle was this: hot water. I was at the City of Ternopil’s mercy. Unless you have a personal boiler, hot water is turned on for the city only at certain times on certain days. It runs all day only on Saturday, and I considered converting to Judaism to amplify its holiness: Shower Shabbos. Tuesdays and Thursdays are the two weekday mornings for a hot shower, and it doesn’t switch on until 4:30pm the rest of the days. But even this 4:30 time-slot is dubious. It’s not like the clock strikes half-past and the faucets are spitting hot lava. It takes until 6pm for it to really get going.
At first glance, this might not seem too bad. And, for a while, particularly in winter, it’s not. However, when the temperature incrementally warms and you want to exercise, or if you get home from traveling in a stifling hot bus, and the only thing you want on this earth is a hot shower and you can’t get one, it is a cruel and unusual sort of torture: Ukrainian Water Torture, let’s say.
“Just take cold shower,” a Polish girl told me late last spring. “Don’t be pussy.”
“You don’t understand,” I tried to explain. “It’s not like it’s just a bit cold. It’s freezing cold.” Indeed, it appeared the melting polar ice caps were being piped straight to my shower head.
“I like cold shower,” she replied. “It’s hot, almost summer, cold shower is good.”
“This isn’t hot,” I said and pointed to my knit hat. “I’m wearing a beanie in June.”
“Don’t be pussy,” she said, laughing.
Perhaps she was right about my wearing a beanie in June. My natural weather preference closely mirrors that of a seventy-year-old snowbird retiree, but she was dead wrong about the shower. If I were under that icy spray and someone tried to converse with me, it’s likely they would think I was a ten-year-old boy, such is its emasculating capability. My life revolved around the hot water schedule. I woke for it, waited for it, held off or otherwise reworked plans for it.
Then one morning in the latter half of June, I awoke and went to the bathroom to shower. I was well within the prescribed timeframe to steam a mirror, but after turning on the water and letting it run for a while, the water was merely the temperate side of polar. I slapped the spigot off in disgust and texted my counterpart, Iryna: Do you know anything about the hot water situation. I can’t seem to get any here.
She responded: Sorry, I forgot to tell you that they shut the hot water off for the summer. It won’t work for something like two months, I think. Sorry.
Thus, began my real quest for the remainder of the summer of 2017 – finding hot water. I had received an invitation to volunteer at a youth camp in the Carpathian Mountains earlier in spring. I did not know the woman who invited me, but I watched a few videos they had made of kids rafting and zip-lining through the mountains, and it looked legitimate enough. I was still non-committal, but as soon as I discovered that I would be without hot water for months, I sent the camp director a message asking if there would be hot showers available there.
Of course there will be. Haha, she replied. I was aware of the silliness of my question, but she didn’t know my plight, and I had to be sure.
A few days later, I set off early in the morning for the Carpathian village of Tartariv, several days removed from cleanliness, in a bus that began to boil at noon. Ukrainians, older generations especially, have a twisted fear of open windows. It is a point of major contention. Arguments ensue. Voices rise. Even as weak-kneed old women, at the point of fainting, have the driver pull over so they can be let off for a few moments of fresh air, windows are likely to remained unopened. The outside air, it should be said, was just above 72 degrees Fahrenheit, slightly over room temperature in many places, but try to pry open the bus windows and you’ll get the stink eye from several woolen-cloaked babushkas who might allow for the free flow of fresh air for a time before raising up from their seats to close off all ventilation and let the steaming resume.
I arrived in Tartariv feeling like a hot glazed doughnut, a film over my skin and my hair oily, but that first hot shower was nothing short of cathartic.
Between the Carpathian excursion and the arrival of my mom, I reasoned that there would only be a few days in which I’d go without hot water, which I decided I could tolerate. I didn’t have much choice.
After collecting her from the airport, Mom and I settled in the hotel for the night – phenomenal water pressure, A-plus temperature – and walked around Ivano-Frankivsk in the late morning and early afternoon. During our walk, I tried to prepare her for the bus ride back to Ternopil later. I told her about the heat, and the window paradox, and it wasn’t long before she had me hire a private driver to take us back to Ternopil in a leather-seated, air-conditioned Skoda sedan driven by an affable, round-faced man named Roman. He spoke some English and explained to us on the way out of town that the reason the road we were on was as wide as it was so it could be used at a military aircraft landing strip, if necessary. He was full of good tidbits of information, and pulled over so we could take pictures on the bridge that spanned the Dniester River at the border of Ivano-Frankivsk and Ternopil oblasts. We passed several busses on the way back and, from my crisp leather seat, I looked through the bus windows at the stony, miserable expressions on people’s faces and felt a momentary, small pang of guilt that went away as soon as I realized we’d reach Ternopil fresh, un-swampy, without cramped legs, and an hour ahead of schedule. I decided to relax and ride in the first world through the second.
Mom and I spent a day and a half in my adopted city of Ternopil, strolling in unseasonably cold and overcast weather along the lakeside promenade and through a park where rusted Soviet-era space-race playground equipment remains tomb-like amongst the weedy chaparral and birches. The next morning, we took an early train to Lviv. We had a few hours to kill before we were due at the airport, so, after breakfast, we wandered around among the street performers in front of the opera house, snapping photos on various devices, unsure of which scene was camera-worthy or if merely a cell phone would suffice – a juggling act that would remain for the duration of the trip.
While Ternopil has seen an influx of ethnic diversity due to its university populations over the last decade, Lviv leans over a more perceptible precipice between the so-called first world and the second, between an EU feel and a Soviet one. Both cities share a Polish historical influence dating back to the Polish-Lithuanian Empire and both seem to have one foot in Europe and the other in the post-Soviet Union. In Lviv, the architecture is more ornate but still largely monochromatic. Its inner avenues and alleys can feel labyrinthine, yet worn trolley cars and overstuffed marshrutkas (city buses) still plod over pot-holes and cobblestones in the larger, dust-bleached streets. There’s more bustle, more shopping; cafes dot the center and, perhaps most tellingly of all, more English being spoken. I didn’t realize it then, but those few hours in Lviv were to be the last time in two weeks I’d have to fumble away in Ukrainian – until I found myself stranded on the train in Hungary with Capt. Johnathan.
When we reached the Lviv airport in the early afternoon, the day had warmed and become sunny. True to form, Mom had urged that we arrive at the airport with hours to spare, and I, not knowing travel time to the airport or general protocol once there, but sensing it wouldn’t be too much hassle, acquiesced. And, of course, the plane was delayed two hours.
The delay in Lviv resulted in our missing the connecting flight from Warsaw to Krakow, placing us in anxious limbo in Chopin International Airport as we attempted to negotiate a seat on the last plane to Krakow. The trouble was we weren’t the only ones frantically jockeying for position on one connecting flight or another. Each plane in and out of Warsaw that day seemed to be delayed. I’m unclear on the reason for the this, but Polish Airlines appeared to have the B-team on duty. Still, it was hard not to empathize with the overworked and visibly weary desk clerk who couldn’t guarantee us anything but a sub-par turkey sandwich and a warm bottle of water.
The group of stand-by passengers huddled tensely at the boarding gate. The two old, thickly bearded Russian men, one of whom wore a dirty white captain’s hat, were obviously plotting some sort of ambush on the line, and they paced slowly and aloofly on the outskirts. A Turkish family with a young daughter stood near the desk, as the father attempted to reason with the attendant, pointing to his young child and stressed wife. I knew that I had to make my appeal, and so I sidestepped the huddle and explained to the attendant that my mother was suffering from a stomach infection and was very uncomfortable. This was true, as Mom had been released from the hospital back in America only days before our trip after contracting a UTI. The travel caused the infection to come back with a vengeance and she would visit a tremendous number of restrooms during our journey, both public and private, as well as two doctors, one in Prague and the other in Vienna. The attendant acknowledged the plight but seemed unmoved, and I returned to Mom with a shrug and said that I tried.
It turned out that the last passengers to board the flight to Krakow were the Turkish family, the Russian men, Mom and me. We were shuttled around the tarmac and boarded at dusk.
I am not sure if my appeal for sympathy had anything to do with our good fortune, but one thing is certain: I never would have been able to craft such an argument had English not been the lingua franca, as it were, of travel. By the time Mom and I had reached Warsaw, there was no need at all to worry about translation or having to use sweeping, child-like hand gestures to communicate. The cultural arm wrestling surrounding language and travel had largely been dealt with, and I was a beneficiary of the journeymen, colonizers, and conquerors who had gone before me, as well as wars, music, economics, pop-culture, and so on. My very existence as an English teacher in foreign countries stands on these broad cultural shoulders. There’s a real possibility that we got on that plane because we spoke English. Stranded at the Hungarian train station a dozen days later, Johnathan and I discovered, after we returned to our train to check if there were any developments, that there were no Ukrainian passengers in our car. There was an elderly Swiss mother and her middle-aged son, who spoke French, a young Japanese couple, and a Russian couple. English became our language. Moreover, a young Ukrainian man from another carriage informed us, once the authorities had been alerted as to how many international travelers were on the train, only then did they begin to take serious action to get us out. Had the train been full of Ukrainians, he said, nothing would have been done.
After collecting Mom’s baggage from the conveyor belt, we stepped out into the night and hired a taxi driver to take us to the hotel. From the shotgun-seat, I looked out upon the smooth and well lighted road, watching the reflective white dashes of the street lines zoom past.
“Ah, infrastructure!” I remarked.
The contrast between travel in these neighboring countries, Poland and Ukraine, serves as a literal demarcation between the first world and the second. What Poland is now is what Ukraine in many ways would like to become. In Ukraine, with its cracked and pockmarked roads, drivers don’t steer so much as dodge the potholes that cluster up every several feet or so. For many Ukrainians I’ve spoken with, this is the manifestation and physical evidence of poor government – the raison d’etre for government mistrust – and I’ve mused on several occasions that if an official or government coalition could repair Ukraine’s road system, a lifetime of power would await. But while the failing roads are indeed problematic, it is more likely a red herring for deeper seated issues. As long as people keep wailing about the poor roads, the longer they will not talk about root causes.
Our hotel was a short walk from the central square, and after checking in and dropping our bags in the wood-paneled room, we wandered to a fashionable-looking restaurant and had a light dinner and a few glasses of wine. All around us, over the candle-lit tables, a din of conversation stirred, with the American accents of the girls next to us cutting though it all like a bad electric guitar solo.
Perhaps chief among the stereotypes of Americans, directly adjacent to fast-food intake, is that Americans are a loud and boisterous lot. Keenly aware of this, I most often try to combat this image by keeping my voice low. If my BAC level remains in check, so too does my decibel level, which is true of just about everyone. Yet, there is something about an American accent that does seem to knife through just about everything else. The hard “A’s”, it seems to me, is the most likely culprit. It comes across as nasal and rough in soft “A” cultures. Say the word “have” in your mind with British and American accent and you’ll get the idea. Same goes for the word “accent” for that matter. If you mix this with a northeastern timbre, the issue compounds itself mightily. No doubt my American heritage is responsible for my feasibly overly sensitive ear. Nevertheless, it’s true that if you put a group of Americans in a room together in a multi-lingual setting, all things equal, we will be among the loudest. I’d wager a group of Spaniards or Italians would beat us in decibel level, however it’d be that differentiation between vowel sounds that would emerge an equalizer.
Obvious to me is that I’ve come to this knowledge by removing myself from American society. This brings about tremendous self-trepidation. While American letters is riddled, and in some ways dominated by those who have expatriated, the ones who leave a lasting mark are those who were able to regain status from abroad. I am unsure of my ability to do so. Yet it was the only way for me to survive as an American: to become truly American, I had to recuse myself. This life I have chosen involves considerable relinquishment. I have consigned myself to the likelihood that I will never be a homeowner; I’ll likely never produce offspring, let alone that which would be privately educated, as I was; I’ll never enter Madison Square Garden, or stand over the Grand Canyon. I’ve been to Hong Kong as many times as I’ve been to California – in the airport for a layover. I cannot, however, say in good faith that these things will not happen. But possibility is moving ever toward probability.
Still, I never would have thought five years ago, or even 18 months ago, that I’d be in Krakow, Poland with my mother, on the first leg of a four-city eastern European tour. And here we were, on our first morning, deciding on how we would spend our three days over sausage and eggs in a brassiere overlooking the main square. Gray clouds swayed and hammocked in the mid-morning sky outside the window.
Mom’s travel agent’s itinerary accounted only for travel and hotel, and we were left to our own devices on how to fill our days. This is where my preferred style of travel butted heads with Mom’s. I’m a wanderer who loathes asking for directions and will sacrifice myself willingly to false starts and dead ends and the almost inevitable circling back. Hailing from an oceanfront city, as I do, my perception of tourists is often low, as they are responsible for the jamming of streets and wait lists at restaurants and the bovine, dead-eyed way they generally tend to mill about. No doubt there’s a certain schizophrenia – and arguable misanthropy – about my stance, as I have been a perpetual outsider the last three years, zig-zagging around the globe from Southeast Asia to Europe, which perpetually places me in the position of a tourist. However, my goal is to ultimately respect the place I’m in and blend as best I can, limiting my speech where English is not spoken, doing road map prep-work, and so on. Once I feel remotely among the tourist hordes, my attitude shifts drastically, which can negatively color my day. Thus, I like to travel mostly alone and avoid American accents. Mom was well aware of this but there were of course dust-ups here and there about our styles.
Perhaps the zenith of Mom’s to-do list was to visit Auschwitz. As a well-versed student of Judeo-Christian religions, she felt it a certain pilgrimage to see Auschwitz, which is a sentiment I completely understand. And so, after breakfast, we set off on foot to find the bus tour office and upon finding it discovered that the tours were (naturally) booked for the duration of our stay in Krakow. Since I had advocated from the shoot-from-the-hip approach, I was to blame here.
I suggested that we keep walking down through the old Jewish District and see if we couldn’t get into Schindler’s Factory across the Vistula River. By the map, it didn’t look so far and we would walk directly through the Jewish Quarter. Though clearly disappointed, Mom said yes, and we set off. Once we descended into the Jewish District, the color scheme of the city changed entirely, like The Wizard of Oz in reverse. Gone were the warm red bricked buildings, replaced by worn and chipped greyish tenement buildings alongside the road. A few blown-out windows had been boarded with plywood, and the paint on the ornate doors was scratched thin, as though they had been worked over for decades by steel wool. There was gritty majesty to them though. The Americanized version of the word ‘ghetto’ has ballooned in our consciousness, and has associations with hip-hop music, Martin Luther King Boulevards, chain-link fences around weedy basketball courts with net-less hoops – in other words, Black America. The government subsidized houses are bloc-like and desolately square and malnourished, a filing cabinet for bootless Americans who are told to pull themselves up by their bootstraps. That ‘ghetto’ is applied to both environments is telling, and knowing what happened (and happens in America) behind their walls, that the buildings and its people had survived at all should supply them with veneration.
After we crossed the river, I went right when I should have gone left, and we wound up in the front of a hotel. Mom had to use the facilities, and I waited outside.
“Ok. I can’t take too much of this walking around,” she said, as she emerged from the hotel.
“I think it’s just over there, on the other side of the road,” I said. “We’re almost there.”
She drew her lips tight, but continued to follow. We looped down under an overpass and it was clear that we had entered the factory district. Ahead we saw a few groups moving in the same direction, and we caught their wave and ended up in a crowd outside Schindler’s Factory. Sold out.
“Well, I bet it looks like any other bombed out factory,” I offered with a grin.
“I hate you,” Mom said.
“Well, now we gotta walk all that way back,” she said.
“Maybe we can find a taxi. I don’t know. I can look.”
We stood along the fringes of the tourist groups, all fancy with their pre-paid tickets and itineraries. Mom looked distraught, like she needed a moment, so I walked off and snapped a real quality photo of the plaque on the side of the building.
“So, what do you want to do there, Sparky?” Mom said after I returned. She has a habit of going into her Helen Griswold/Vacation routine once things go tits-up. I shrugged.
A man driving a four-seater golf cart eased up next to us and asked us if we had tickets to the factory. We explained ourselves and he replied that it would be very difficult to get a ticket.
“But I can take you around the Ghetto, if you like,” he said. “I can show you the churches and synagogues, anything you like.” His English was excellent; he had wheels.
There was something garish and unsettling about whipping around Jewish ghetto of Krakow in a golf cart. But such paradoxical situations are part of the rationalized moral calculus of tourism, of hovering detached over the site (particularly if it is impoverished) and convincing yourself that somehow your presence is driving some segment of the local economy or at least helping someone buy his next meal. If this attitude remains latent and doesn’t mutate into grotesque entitlement, things remain even keel.
But it was hard for me not to imagine that had golf carts existed post 1939, they would have been a rather expedient way for SS men to patrol the ghetto. A scene burgeoned in my mind – perhaps one directed by David Lynch – of a Nazi shooting a Jew in the head then strolling back to the golf cart, punching down on the gas pedal with his boot – the snap-release of the parking brake – and whirring off to the next hole where he’d tee off again. A juxtaposition of the banal and the horror. And while cruising through the Jewish ghetto in 2017 is obviously a galaxy away from that macabre scene, it’s that lax acceptance and herd-mentality and entitlement that would ultimately lead one to moral desolation, which often comes through misplaced and perverted loyalty. “Loyalty,” writes Charles D’Ambrosio, “—in its darkest form, which left so much death as its legacy to the twentieth century – rids the divided self of anxiety and guilt, so that murder smiles.” (Or uses a golf cart as a getaway car.)
Still, it was an undeniably convenient and quick way to see much in a short amount of time. Our driver, a sturdy man in his late-30s with close-cropped hair named Kris, was the consummate guide, suggesting different historical sites that we would have likely glossed over if on our own. Many of these sites, much like the Schindler factory, were monuments to hope through subversion. Apteka Pod Orlem(Eagle Pharmacy), for instance, the last Polish run store to remain operational in the ghetto, became a social hub as well as a place to secure falsified documents, food and medicine, still sits quietly on the corner of Plac Bohaterów Getta(Ghetto Heroes Square), across from 70 large empty metal chairs placed rather surrealistically in a square to commemorate the departure and absence of the Jews from the Krakow ghetto – a literal life and death crossroads.
From there, we wound our way back towards Rynek Glowny(Main Square) via a succession of churches and cathedrals, each one more ornate and colorful than the next. Kris pointed out the building in which Roman Polanski lived during the war years, and at the Skalka and Pauline Monastery, off the beaten path of many tourist routes, I drank the sulfuric holy water of St. Stanislaus, Bishop of Krakow during the 11thcentury. The water is said to have miraculous powers, and though I’m still waiting for a miracle clear-cut, perhaps the miracle is that I drank from this fountain at all.