Ellen (from Gdynia, Poland): “I had a dream in English last night!” my student Bogdan reported happily at our last session. Some dream: a wild pig named Nasty was chasing him, emitting internationally-understood grunts, as well as some colorful English curses. (Have to remember to watch my mouth around this guy, who eagerly requests and jots down explanations of every word he doesn’t already know.)
As for me, the nearest to dreaming in Polish I’ve approached was also a chase sequence. No wild boar involved, just some sinister-looking giant letters pursuing me. Vs, Ws and Zs. Sometimes it seems the entire Polish alphabet consists of these consonants and their baffling combinations with others. So many words are composed of foot-long strings of consonants with a single vowel. Not to mention all the accent marks and whatever you call those dangling below, with which consonants as well as vowels are riddled.
When I first arrived, I was particularly fascinated by the Gdansk train stop one short of my own for church: “Wrzeszcz”. What an impossible mouthful.
“Want to go with us to Jest?” a friend asked one day. At least, that’s what I thought she said.
“What is Jest?” I asked warily.
“You know, you pass it every Sunday – in Gdansk, the place where we went for fish soup? V-zhe-shch.”
Oh, right: Wrzeszcz!
Simple pronunciations remain a task, the grammar too burdensome to do more than dip my toe into. I’ll be satisfied with learning the most basic conversational exchanges. At least, unlike Hebrew, Polish is pleasing to the ear, soft and sibilant. But I suspect you either have to be born to it, a linguistic genius or have your tongue split like a serpent’s to master this complex Slavic language. Even Russians say it’s more difficult than their own headbreaking language.
It’s Purim tomorrow, a day on which it invariably rains in Israel. Here in Gdynia, we’re enjoying the heaviest snowfall of the season. And hardly a blizzard, at that. The outdoor excursion I just took was through enough ground accumulation to reach the top of my boots and dampen my dog’s belly. Beautiful, fun to walk through and not dangerously slick…no ice. In fact it’s so warm, only the strength and longevity of the storm could have provided ground covering. The sun is out, the trees are dripping, and I think the first day of spring will truly look like spring.
It’s also Holy Week. I plan to steal into a nearby cathedral to watch Great Friday processions. Sunday, I’ve been recruited to help serve (fortunately, not cook) the huge lavish Easter breakfast which is a decades-old tradition at Gdynia’s largest church. As for Easter Monday, I am advised to beware of another decades-old tradition: boys and young men chuck water at females on this day. The same sort of tradition exists in Israel on Shavuot, and I got drenched several times. However, Shavuot is always hot. While Gdynia isn’t at all the frozen tundra I had envisaged, it’s still too cold to welcome a pail of water in the face. When I’m outdoors Monday, I’ll rely on my middle-aged invisibility to shield me from youthful pranks.
(Copyright 2008 by Ellen Dlott)