Poland Dispatch: Where The Ostriches Roam

It’s Thursday, but it feels like Sunday. In fact, every day feels like Sunday in rural Poland, having traded the cacophony of New York for the relative silence of the Wielkopolskie countryside. Gone are the Big City’s perpetual sirens and the aural assault of mobile, hyper-bass stereo systems. Instead I am surrounded by the low-fi offerings of crickets, barking dogs and distant farm machinery most likely harvesting the miles of surrounding wheat fields.
The pace of life here is much slower than New York, requiring you to actually experience it. One is forced to spend quality time with others, read books, make pickles and watch ostriches shit on themselves – things you don’t do as much when in your hyperactive society, fretting about terrorists and bitching about the celebrity du jour.
Here among family, friends, 15 ostriches and the half-wolf/half-dog Caucasus beast, The Boy celebrated his first birthday. As is Polish custom he was presented with a table of symbolic offerings which are said to determine his future. He approached the table and immediately smacked his palm on a few coins – cheered as a sign he’d be successful in business. But in short order the coins lost his interest. He proceeded to run off with a shot glass and rosary beads – sealing his future as an alcoholic priest.
With no Fox, no CNBC, and internet browsing a painfully slow affair, I’m forced to make do with local news. There’s not too much of it. Someone has a new tractor. Someone’s extra-marital affair was discovered. And unfortunately, a gentleman from the village, whom I’d met before, was driving drunk a few weeks ago and killed a woman from the village. He’ll most certainly go to jail and lament the fact that he drove drunk in a village a pedestrian can cover in a fifteen minute walk.
The most interesting news was the discovery of some communist-era mischief. Apparently in 1985 a corrupt official engaged in the sale of a tiny portion of my mother-in-law’s farm without her knowledge or consent. Lacking any regard for the concept of personal property, the official quietly sold a small plot of the land that wasn’t his to the national electric utility and pocketed the money. The illegal sale was done to facilitate the construction of a small transformer tower – which true to communist organizational savvy was then built in the wrong place. The end result is my mother-in-law has a transformer tower on her legal property, next to the small plot of hers which was illegally sold. The electric service can’t access either, as the area is surrounded by her property which she has the right to refuse them access to. No doubt lawyers and money will be required to address the 20-year old crime. Meanwhile, in a show of defiance we built a sandbox on the land in question.
Although the Poles are quite pro-US as it is, I’m still concerned about reversing any possible negative opinions stemming from our unilateral foreign policy. While at a neighbor’s post-Christening party, as a gesture of goodwill I offered my services to a 78-year old man who still plows his own fields, fells his own trees, and chases after 19-year olds while his wife of 50+ years looks on and laughs. He had requested help shoveling wheat from one place to another, or something to that effect, and after several vodkas I was fully committed to getting up in the morning and assisting him. He should have retired twenty years ago, but his Type-A personality forbids it. He’s as workaholic as any Wall Street investment banker, though the rewards are far less substantial and he’s destined to collapse among corn stalks rather than on a yacht. He’s as rugged as you’d expect any life-long farmer to be, with skin leathered by the sun and reddened by the drink. Quite charismatic and dapper in a suit, too. As lively and as happy as can be. Despite the age and the vodka, he woke before any of us who’d offered assistance did and moved the wheat without us, so that he might beat the rain which never came.