‘I’ is for Irena and “idziemy!”


It’s way too long since I ventured into my A-Z of Poland, so I’m going to introduce to you another of my cousins.  A lady who loves to dance and always has a warm smile for me, Irena works hard for a living.  She and Arkadiusz (Arek for short) run a market garden in their home town, Bełchatów.  Arek grows many of his own plants and seeds to sell in his shop, which specialises in garden products.  Whenever she can, Irena helps out in the shop, which she loves to do. Usually this is in addition to factory work, or whatever she can find, to help with the family finances.

Irena with Dad in her garden, 2008

Irena with Dad in her garden, which provides plants for the shop

Irena is the daughter of my aunt Lusia, one of Dad’s sisters, and her husband Zbigniew, whom I never met.  When first we got together the photos would come out, many of them tiny squares of black and white, but precious memories, every one.  I would try to piece together the story and remember the names of family members who died long before I had the chance to meet them.

Lusia and Zbigniew

This is one of several photos that were emailed to us when Dad first made contact with his family. It’s a touching story, which many of you know.

Irena and Arek have two lovely children, Robert, a quiet young man, 22 this month, and his vivacious and beautiful younger sister, Weronika. (remember, the ‘w’ sounds like our’v’)

Arek in the foreground, with Irena behind him and Weronika, with golden red hair at the back

Arek in the foreground, with Irena behind him and Weronika, with golden red hair, at the back

IMG_0554I should maybe explain what’s going on here.  Arek likes a bit of fun.  Several years ago the family were in Zakopane for a Silver Wedding celebration.  Lynne, my stepsister, and husband George, had joined us from Canada, and Lynne was practising with a new camcorder.  Her handbag, containing the camcorder, weighed rather a lot, so Arek was “helping” her to pick it up.

If you aren’t familiar with my Polish story, you could have a look at my Personal A-Z page.

Idziemy!  We go!

And so to grammar!  A silly saying that’s often used in our home, “I’ve already told you more than I know myself” completely applies to my knowledge of Polish grammar.  So, let’s start with a simple verb conjugation:

Iść- to go (on foot)

idę  – I go                                                   idziemy  – we go

idziesz  – you go (familiar form)      idziecie  – you go (polite form)

idzie  – he/she/it goes                          idą  – they go

Well, I got the hang of that.  But did you notice the (on foot)?  It transpires that there are numerous ways of saying you are going somewhere in Polish, and there is a separate verb for each of them! Thus ‘to go (by transport)’ uses the verb jechać.  Sometimes I can remember that verb (and it’s irregular conjugation), sometimes not!  Imagine my consternation when I later discovered that if I wanted ‘to go, by plane’ I needed another verb.  And so it goes on ….

I am a very bad student.  I used to love language at school but these days I have neither the patience nor the memory.  I recently discovered another ‘i’- Italki.  It offers the potential to converse in Polish (and many other languages), at any level, and I have been trying to convince myself to enrol.  I return to Poland on 29th April, for a family wedding, and this time I will be staying in a hotel with my husband, who will rely on my immaculate translation.  You’re right- there will be much nodding of heads and smiling.

Many thanks to Julie Dawn Fox for inspiring the personal A-Z Challenge, and to lovely Frizz, who prompts me to return to it whenever I see his A-Z (but never often enough).  Do visit these challenges if you can find time.  You will be richly rewarded.


P is for Pope, Piotrek and Przemek!

Poland-eagle-150square Poland is, by and large, a Catholic country, and one of the images that stays in my head from my very first visit is that of Pope John Paul II (or Jan Pawel, as he’s known in Poland).  I already had enormous respect for this very human and vital man, but I hadn’t fully realised the reverence for him in his homeland.  When I began to look into the story of his life, I understood why.

Pope John Paul II in 1993- courtesy of Wikipedia

Pope John Paul II in 1993- courtesy of Wikipedia

Karol Józef Wojtyła was the head of the Catholic Church from 16th October 1978 till his death on April 2nd, 2005.  Born at Wadowice in Southern Poland on 18th May, 1920, he was to become the first non-Italian pope since 1523.

He was the youngest of three children born to his parents, though his sister Olga had died before he was born.  In reality he should not have been born himself because his mother, Emilia, had been told that she had no chance of giving birth to a live child.  A devout Catholic, she refused an abortion, and the child did indeed live, though Emilia herself died in childbirth when Karol was just 8 years old.  An athletic boy, he loved football and sports.

In 1938 he and his Dad moved to Kraków, where he enrolled at the Jagellonian University.  He took philosophy, and developed a talent for languages (he learned 12, which puts me to shame!).  He had to take part in compulsory military training, but refused to fire a weapon.  In 1939, the German occupying force closed the university and he had to find work to avoid deportation.  His Dad died of a heart attack in 1941, so that, by the age of 20, he had “already lost all the people I loved”.  It was then that he began to think seriously about the priesthood.

Statue of John Paul II in the grounds of na Skalce

Statue of John Paul II in the grounds of na Skalce church, in Kraków

In 1942 he knocked on the door of the Archbishop of Kraków and asked to be admitted to the clandestine undergound seminary.  He had some narrow escapes, but survived the war years to spend a year as a village parish priest, before being transferred to Kraków.  He taught ethics at the Jagellonian University and gathered a little group around him that became known as “Rodzinka”-  his “little family”.  As well as prayer and charitable works the group went kayaking and skiing with him.

You have to remember that these were now Communist times in Poland.  The Faculty of Theology was disbanded at the university and priests were forbidden to travel with students.  Father Wojtyła asked his students to call him “Wujek”- the Polish word for uncle (which I love very much), so that it would not be obvious he was a priest.  The name stuck, and to Poles he would always be their beloved Wujek.

The museum dedicated to Pope John Paul. a beloved local

The museum dedicated to Pope John Paul. a beloved local

At just 38, Wojtyła was appointed Bishop of Kraków, and from there it was a steady rise to the papacy.  His mission was “to place his Church at the heart of a new religious alliance that would bring together Jews, Muslims and Christians in a great [religious] armada”.  He was to travel the world like no Pope before (129 countries in total!) in an effort to do so.

In June 1979 he made his first trip back to Poland as Pope.  His country was still completely under the Soviet thumb but he encouraged them to adhere to their faith and affirm solidarity with one another.  The Communists were not to relinquish power for another decade, but it was with the Pope’s encouragement and “soft power” that Solidarnosc was born as a movement.   In 2004 he was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for his lifelong opposition to Communist oppression and for trying to reshape the world. The full story is in the Wikipedia link at the top of this post.

Beside Wawel Castle in Kraków

Beside Wawel Castle, in Kraków

I was in Kraków in 2007 on the 2nd anniversary of his death, and the crowds and emotion were overwhelming even then.  Candles flickered as his voice was broadcast into the night.  Since then I have always been aware of his presence whenever I am in the city.

P is for Piotrek and Przemek

Piotrek is the English equivalent of Peter, and a popular name in Poland, so of course, I have a cousin of that name!  He’s the carpenter son of Lodzia and Zygmunt, and a lovely man with whom I have danced at a wedding or two.

Within the family we also have a diminutive Piotrek (Piotrus) who is a proper scene stealer, as small boys are.  He is the son of Krzystof and Ilona, whose wedding I went to in April 2008.

That just leaves Przemek!  He is the son of my cousin Adam’s sister, Basia (also my cousin- no wonder I’m confused!).  His English is impeccable.  He and fiance Marta were house-hunting when I was last there, so who knows if there’ll be yet another wedding in the not too distant future.

Przemek and Marta

Przemek and Marta

Well, I’ve bent your ears enough for one post so it’s time to say thank you to Julie Dawn Fox for hosting the Personal A-Z Challenge, and to lovely Frizz for also letting me tag along on his A-Z.  As always the links and logos will take you there.


D is for Dobry (good)

The village of Poronin, on the way to Zakopane, Tatry Mountains

Dzień dobry  (good day or good morning) must have been the first piece of Polish I ever learned.  At the time I didn’t think about it too literally, being more concerned with how to say it. (dz is pronounced like the ds in odds, according to my text book)

It wasn’t until I came to say “good evening”- dobry wieczór– that I realised the significance of dobry, meaning “good”.   You have also dobranoc- “goodnight”.  Noc is night (pronounce the c as ts) and dobra is the feminine form of dobry.

Język polski, the Polish language, is Latin based and I knew I was starting to struggle when I came to do widzenia- “goodbye”.

From the text book:   dobry = masculine, dobra = feminine and dobre = neuter

So : dobry hotel (m), dobra książka (f) and dobre mieszkanie (n)

Good hotel, good book and good flat

In conversation, I kept hearing dobrze and dobra, appearing to mean “good” as in “ok” or “alright” but hadn’t a clue when to use which.  You’ve realised by now that I do a lot of head nodding and smiling, with a bemused expression, when in Poland.

Just to prove that I have applied myself a little, I thought it would be fun to do a Polish question and answer exercise, using photographs.

Co to jest? (What is this?)  To jest moja rodzina (This is my family)

Only a small portion of them, you understand!  Lynne and George, who live in Canada, were visiting the Tatry Mountains with us for the occasion of Adam and Marta’s Silver Wedding.  Arek is having a little fun with Lynne’s heavy handbag, containing the camcorder (out of shot).

Co to jest? (What is this?)  To jest Balon Widokowy (This is a hot air balloon- literally a “balloon with a view”

On the same holiday, Adam was keen for us all to take a ride in the Balon, soaring over Kraków from the banks of the River Vistula.

Co to jest?  To jest kościół (This is a church)

Older churches are very beautiful in Poland.  This one is similar in style to the one in Poronin where Adam and Marta reaffirmed their wedding vows.

Kto to jest? (Who is this?- spot the change?)  To jest Irena, moja kuzynka (This is Irena, my cousin)

I’m not going to get grammatical here.  Irena is my lovely cousin and the wife of Arek, who was clowning around in the group photo earlier.  They have two great youngsters, Robert and Weronika, and this is taken on their patio in Bełchatów.  Arek runs a market garden and they have a shop to sell the produce and seeds in the town market.  The handsome stranger is, of course, my Dad.  Click here to read his wonderful story.

Kto to jest?  To jest Jadwiga, moja kuzynka (Jadzia)

Me, Dad and Jadzia in her garden in Zawady.  I really am spoilt for lovely cousins.  Jadwiga and husband Andrzej have a daughter Ania and son Krzysztof.  Ania and her husband Hubert have a lively toddler Kinga, and their own self-contained flat in Jadzia’s home.  Krzysztof works in Reading with his wife Marzena.  We attended both of their weddings.

I guess it’s appropriate that Dad is heading back to Poland today and will see all of these and more.

I can’t complete this post without referring to my cousin, Dominik.  When I was considering the options for “D” he was heavily on my mind.  He died recently in tragic circumstances, still a young man, and his loss is heavily felt by the family.  Dad will be going to the cemetery to pay his respects, to Dominik and to all of the family who have gone before.

To end on a lighter note, has anyone told you about Polish cake, ciastko?  I need to say only that it is bardzo dobry– very good.  Bardzo dobry indeed.  Dad will be eating lots!

Polish cake. This is shop bought. The homemade variety is even more delicious.

Googling “dobry” (as you do?) I came across an artificially intelligent “chatbot” of the same name.  I could download him and just natter away, or even teach him simple foreign phrases.  I ask you- does that seem probable?  He’d be sure to prove more intelligent than me.

This post forms part of my personal A-Z of Poland, inspired by Julie Dawn Fox.  Follow the link, or click on the banner below, to read some very interesting posts from all around the world.  I may be late with my responses to any of you who are kind enough to read this, as I’m out of circulation for a week or so, but I will assuredly be back.  I just had to post it now because it was churning inside me.

C is for Cousins

Cousin  =  kuzyn in Polish or kuzynka if you’re talking about a lady.

To complicate it a little more:

First cousin is brat cioteczny, or the female equivalent siostra cioteczna (brother or sister’s cousin).

It’s a very literal language and I love it, but it does get complicated.  Please don’t ask me any questions or I’ll have to confer with my Polish teacher!

Cousins are hugely significant to me.  I have a couple of English ones but they have been far outnumbered by my Polish family (apologies called for?).  Almost my first correspondence from Adam, son of much loved late Aunt Anna, in Kraków, informed me that I had “26 cousins, in the front line”.  That is before you start to count partners and children.  Overnight!  You could say that I was surprised.

I need to get past the sad part before I can throw myself into “cousins”.  Not ALL of them- you really don’t have THAT much time!

First I must pay tribute to Małgorzata, who I knew as Goscia.  Still in her 40s, soon after our family reunion she was diagnosed with leukaemia and within months was dead.  She was a hub in Adam’s bakery business, and a lovely vibrant woman.  I wish I’d had time to get to know her better.

Weronika,Goscia and Ula in Hotel Wierzrynek

Also I must mention Dominik.  The family are still recovering from his death in tragic circumstances.  Also in his 40s, I have lovely memories of dancing with him at the weddings.

Dominik with Dad in happier times

I have so much to be grateful for.  Not the least of these is…


Meeting the family with Adam

My first cousin and first point of contact in the family.  He is a very special man.  Deeply religious and active in their parish church, he describes himself as “all accepting”.  What a wonderful way to be, and I wish I could be more like him.

He and his family could not have been more helpful and loving if they had tried.  Adam does not speak English, though he understands a lot more of it than I do Polish, but from the outset he was reaching out to us.  He used the help of the translator on the PC and his son, Łukasz, to introduce them to us and then to organise a full itinerary so that Dad and me could visit and “meet the family”.  No detail was left out.  From our emotional arrival at the airport onwards, he escorted and transported us everywhere.

Initially we stayed with Adam and his wife Marta in their lovely 3 storey Kraków home.  Adam had extended the property so that his mum could live with them after she was widowed.  Goscia lived there too, with Adam’s children Weronika, Łukasz and Ula.

What a time we had, strolling in Kraków’s medieval square, Rynek Głowny, Aunt Anna’s arm tucked alternately into mine or Dad’s.  It was Easter week and there were flowers, corn dollies and special Easter bread rings on the stalls, in the pale wintery sunshine.  We had coffee and cake at celebrated Hotel Wierzrynek- so special, Yehudi Menuhin, George Bush, Lech Wałęnsa  and Polish royalty are among those who have dined there.  For one day only I had celebrity status.

Adam and Marta in Hotel Wierzrynek

More was to come.  Adam drove us the three and a half hour journey north to Belchatow, to the old farm house where Dad was born.  Unbeknownst to us he had arranged for ALL of the cousins to be there waiting for us.  He honked the horn as he drove in through the gates, and in seconds we were surrounded by smiling faces.  Each wore a button badge to identify them to us.  Of course, Uncle Jakub and Aunt Lusia needed no introduction.

So here we are in tears again, but tears of joy this time.

Just one more little anecdote.  Not long after we had met, my husband Michael and me were holidaying in Tavira with son James.  Adam had not met Michael or James as they didn’t make the initial trip to Poland, so he undertook to drive all the way from Poland to the Algarve to  meet us.  He had only a few days available away from the business and the drive took him 2 days in each direction.  He, Marta, Łukasz and Ula stayed in nearby Cabanas and spent their days very happily at the beach.  There was some Portuguese dancing in the square one evening and his toes were tapping, itching to join in.  That’s the kind of man he is.  Caring, full of life.

Adam and family in the Chinese restaurant, Tavira

We have been on numerous visits to Poland now, Dad sometimes even travelling alone, but one thing we can always rely on is that Adam will be there to organise and take care of us.  Full credit to Marta too- they have a wonderful marriage and we were privileged to spend their Silver Wedding celebrations with them in the Tatry Mountains.

Luckily there are lots more letters in the alphabet.  I shall need most of them to finish introducing the Polish family.  But this A-Z challenge isn’t just about me.  There are lots of fascinating stories and lifestyles being introduced on Julie Dawn Fox’s My personal A-Z challenge.  Visit the hub site or try out some of these.

That last one’s a cheat- it’s me with my “Portuguese head on”, for those who don’t know me.  See you soon.