The Duality of Rural-ity  

Rural life is a funny thing.

It’s gives me immense joy and incredible sadness.

Joy is sitting at a table laughing with your aunt, peeling the potatoes and prepping the sweat peas that you gathered that day, because meals are made from scratch from food you’ve grown yourself. 

It’s picking juicy red currant and gooseberries right off the bush and popping them into your mouth, because they don’t even need to be washed from pesticides, and you don’t care if there’s a bug on them because, hey, extra protein. 

Joy is living day to day, allowing the seasons and the weather to dictate the day’s activities. If it’s raining, you’ll stay inside and clean and cook. If it’s not, you’ll go outside and work. 

Joy is walking into your aunt’s house to visit her and drink her homemade wine, hanging out while she naps because no one locks their doors here and you can invite yourself in anytime, anywhere. 

And somewhere, in your cloud of joy, sitting under a tin roof on a piece of cardboard, drinking raspberry beers with an old friend, you start reminiscing about your childhood. The hours you spent playing outdoors, the bonfires you had and the yard you use to break into to eat plums at night. 

You realize how quickly time flies and that your childhood is long gone. You open your eyes and see how difficult rural life can be, and it’s not all sunshine and butterflies. You notice how many of the people around you are living below the poverty line, and how many are plagued by alcoholism as an escape and your heart breaks. 

It breaks for the bright girl with a promising future, who dropped out of school. It aches for the boy you once cared for, who hung himself two years ago. It hurts for the children who were taken away from their neglectful family and put into foster care. It shatters for boy who said he was going to marry you one summer when you were fifteen, who is now an alcoholic with a jail record and a small child. These were all people you once knew and had happy memories with, and now their lives have changed greatly, all because they could never rise above their lives in this village.

There isn’t much else to say, or do for that matter, aside from count my blessings and still seek the joy I once found here. 

My greatest joy here

A Polish Wedding

It’s been a busy week, a beautiful week.

I am currently recovering from the my girlfriend, Kasia’s, wedding weekend. Both the bride and groom have polish roots and decided to hold their wedding at St. Mary’s church in Kraków, a 14th century church in the heart of the city. The wedding was followed by horse drawn carriage rides around the main square and a reception at Hotel Stary, one of Europe’s most beautiful hotels.

You see, polish weddings are exceptional in term of necessary recovery time, because it’s traditional to have a bottle of vodka at each table at all times. You eat a lot, drink a lot and be very merry until the sun comes up. Then you rest and get ready to do it all over again 12 hours later in a fun polish tradition called poprawiny.

The word “poprawiny” comes from the verb “poprawić”, which means to correct, improve, fix. It’s essentially an after-party the next day to eat more, drink more and talk about the wedding. It was held in an old-style inn, with an all wood interior and taxidermy animals along with walls. Typically, the point is to eat any leftover food, and drink any leftover vodka, but I highly doubt we left any bottle untouched the night before. Each guest was fed to the brim with grilled oscypek, a smoked cheese made of salted sheep milk from the Tatra Mountains, żurek, a traditional sausage and egg soup, beets, cabbage, dumplings, an entire platter of assorted meats, followed by szarlotka, an apple cake, for dessert. If that sounds like a lot of food, it is, but that’s just what Polish people call a party. No one goes hungry at a Polish event, that’s for sure.

The couple did a lovely job incorporating their polish heritage into their marriage, from their traditional highlander outfits to the Krakowian folk dancers at their poprawiny. Kasia and her husband, Matthew, reminded me how proud I am of my roots, as well, and it was an incredible experience to share a part of Poland with the immense number of guests who flew in from the States for the wedding.

When thinking of first generation Americans, most people don’t picture someone like Kasia, the bride, or myself. Yet, aside from my parents and my brother, my entire family still lives in Poland. My parents emigrated to the States about 25 years ago, when Poland was still a communist country. I’m very fortunate to have such a rich culture in my life, another language to call my mother tongue and a home away from home in a city that dates back to the 7th century, where I am currently settling in for the next few weeks, drinking tea and resting after a fabulous polish wedding.

Congratulations Kasia and Matthew! “Be truly glad; there is wonderful joy ahead.”

The bridal party in front of St. Mary's Church in Kraków
The bridal party in front of St. Mary’s Church in Kraków

Wedding Belles

One of my best girlfriends, Kasia, is getting married this Saturday in Kraków, in one of Poland’s most historic and beautiful churches in what is essentially the wedding that fairy-tales, and Pinterest dreams alike, are made of.

The bridal party has spent the first half of the week strolling Warsaw, Poland’s capital, shopping, relaxing and fine dining. The fabulous bride and her lovely family have absolutely spoiled the bridesmaids, showing us the best that Poland has to offer, including private evening concerts from opera singers and tours of Warsaw’s royal gardens. I may actually be ruined after this trip because Mondays without kiwi-basil lemonades and delighting in freshly prepared beef tartar after a day at the spa are not Mondays I want to go back to.

Now, everyone is hanging out in Kraków, in the gorgeous old town square. Being back in the motherland is quite exciting and strange for me. I would spend every summer here, growing up, but it’s been two years since my last visit. It’s changed a little, but for the better. Poland is one of Europe’s most rapidly developing countries, and you can tell; there are more businesses, the infrastructure has improved, and the technology has advanced.

I’m slowly adjusting from speaking Spanish everyday, to speaking Polish. However, the easiest adjustment to make was the currency. Poland, although part of the European Union, still hasn’t adopted the Euro. One dollar is about four zloty, so basically I can live like a king for the next month. Okay, maybe not a king, but some kind of non-peasant.

I don’t know how long I’ll stay in Poland; maybe the entire month, maybe not. In the mean time, I have a Polish wedding to go to!

Please pray for my liver.

Off to Kraków with a few of the bridesmaids and the beautiful bride!
Off to Kraków with a few of the bridesmaids and the beautiful bride!