White Easter

Dave and I spent Easter quietly. Not only was it April Fool’s Day, a holiday which has suffered greatly in recent years from figure-ground considerations, but it was also Bibo’s birthday. She was birthday’d out over the previous couple of days (it’s never only one person’s birthday, when it’s your birthday) and had only invited a couple of friends over. So, we sat at their house and drank wine (which came from a gas station, as it was Sunday) and roasted vegetables and at the end of the evening, suddenly decided to make a Marble Cake using only most of the ingredients in the recipes on the Internet because it was still Sunday and nobody felt like going out in the Schneeregen to buy Eierlik├Âr and rum. Also, I didn’t follow the recipe carefully enough regarding the division of flour and cocoa, so the brown part came out dry.

The next morning, there was a slice of marble cake at the hotel breakfast, so I learned how it was supposed to be. I can’t think if I’ve ever made one before.

Easter Monday is a holiday in Germany as well. Our friend Philipp came to see us at Thomas’s house, and we had a long discussion about whether we should take his car or our reserved rental car to drive to Poland, a discussion which ended when we read the contract and found out the rental car was nonrefundable. So, Philipp drove us to the airport to get the car.

Travel blogs, like slide shows, like post cards, like memory, never give a notion of what travel is actually like, what life is actually like. It isn’t just the disconcerting crazy touts in deserted subway stops. When I say, “Philipp drove us to the airport to get the car,” I’m actually alluding to the major time expenditure of the day, the major intellectual challenge, the major terrors of the merge, miscommunications, angst, homesickness, but who wants to hear a turn-by-turn description of trying to find where Hertz lives at Tegel International Airport? Better to concentrate on vignettes of the strange and fleeting salad components. Years mature into fruits, so that some small seeds of moments may outlive them. Rabindranath Tagore said that, and I have never had the slightest clue what he was talking about.

We parked Philipp’s car on the side of a road in a north Berlin suburb, and all drove in the rented Opel Corsa to Poland. We had dinner at a supremely Polish restaurant that nobody thought would be open because of Easter Monday, but it was. I’m omitting the customary 45 minutes of chatter about where to go and the 45 minutes to get there past interesting shop windows. The waiters were super nice. The food was the usual North Europe fare: sauerkraut, pickles, big hunks of meat. Afterwards we walked home past the darkening shop windows.

Let’s talk about shop windows. There is a recurring theme in the world, where you come across some crazy thing you have never seen before, and you wonder briefly if it is Local Color and Why One Travels, but after looking at how carefully the colors relate and how precisely the font is kerned, you realize that you have run into an instance of a Chain that you have somehow avoided, and that Five Guys isn’t hometown Sebring at all. I can recite some instances. There was United Colors of Bennetton in Roseau, Dominica. Nando’s chicken in South Africa. Also on that trip, Amarula, a rare creamy liqueur that there was no way to get outside of South Africa except by carrying it with you, until the next year when they got distribution to the inner solar system. Five Guys, I never knew of them until 2016. I don’t care how many outlets they have, great French fries. We bought Justin a crazy plate in an artistic communal compound on the east bank of the Vistula in Warsaw. There’s an outlet in San Francisco.

Anyway, the next day Philipp and I walked around Szczecin aimlessly, unless you count following the red dotted tourist line. Bought stamps. Salad and Panini at the view restaurant that the top of the Capitol Records building, which isn’t called that, but that’s what it resembles. We passed a store with tons of Quirky Stuff. It was called “Flying Tiger” It’s like, IKEA for girls who live in very small houses. Kitchenware that makes Alessi look like Bauhaus. They have a gazillion stores in a ton of countries but only eight in the US, and they are all an hour’s drive from Manhattan. Who is advising their corporate expansion? The look and feel isn’t even New York. You can’t kill people with any of them, nor do they signify that you spent $6,000 on your cufflinks. In fact, I learned a new word from Wikipedia, when looking up Flying Tiger. Flying Tiger is a Price Point Retailer. This is apparently the microeconomics term for Five and Dime store, or Daiso. All the items are priced at the point where the elastic demand would snap in your face if the price went higher. In the US these points often end with 99 cents, but I haven’t noticed that numerology in Europe. Philipp bought a harmonica for ten zloty.

In the afternoon, we had a snack at Mata Tomurska, which has real jazz on its soundtrack, and after we got Dave from work, dinner at a brew pub whose food was better than its beer. Unfortunate. Maybe they wanted their dark ale to be warm and flat, but I don’t see it.

The next day, Philipp and I took the car and drove up to the Baltic Coast. Because it was April, instead of March, it was a little more lively than Nessebar had been the week before but not by much. Their cotton candy awaits sugar-starved Polish families, but they aren’t there yet. What is that smell, that isn’t quite pure vanilla? Does it come in tank cars? Why can’t the manufacturers spend a little bit more time making it smell like good pastry instead of Play-Doh? Is this really what the customer wants?

We bought cheese at a Biedronka supermarket. Philipp bought some doughnuts that he remembered from a camping trip in Poland with his friends, that had made an impression on him. They were pure kawaii horribleness, distilled family beach resort dessert air, the worst doughnuts you ever had. I am glad that he has Dave and me for dining companions now, and not his previous friends. I really shouldn’t have eaten the second doughnut.

The drive back was another elision-worthy travel experience. Traffic stop tedium on the way into Szczecin. Philipp and I were planning to pick up Dave from Avid and bring him back to the Ibis, but we watched and texted with him from across the street as he was walking faster than traffic.

That night we had dinner with a couple of Dave’s colleagues from Avid, at Mata Tomurska again. Their suggestion. It was nice to see Alicja again. Her coworker Maciej, a Szczecin native, came to dinner, too. Most of the people in that office are from somewhere else.