carto-credit: serio-comic map by Fred W. Rose from 1877
The last thing I did in London before boarding a plane to Poland was to go see Magnificent Maps: Power, Propaganda, and Art-- a free exhibition featuring one hundred of the world's greatest maps, picked out of 4.5 million items (world's largest cartographic collection) at the British Library. If you know me, you know this is something I wouldn't miss. I crammed it in last minute, before catching a shuttle to the airport. My favorite quotes were "Maps are rarely just about geography" and "Maps are works of art that need to be visually pleasing in order to convey information successfully. It was particularly difficult to distinguish 'maps' from 'art' before 1800, when they were sometimes the work of professional artists."
By the Marble Arch I sat, awaiting the "coach" (bus in British.) A young couple and a slightly older lady walked up and stood beside me, speaking in a language unlike most others. I glanced over and asked if they too were headed to Luton Airport. The young couple were indeed on their way back home to Hungary, and the slightly older lady was the young man's sister, who resides in London. I explained that I was on a two- month journey through Europe and that this was the beginning of the second half, the part I'd be traveling alone. We became engrossed in a conversation about life's purpose and I was relieved to discover that their spiritual paradigm resonated with mine. Since I mentioned I'd be passing through their country in a week, they invited me to visit them in Budapest.
The flight to Polska was very Polish. The cabin air was filled with that west Slavic twang and 95% of the backs of people's heads either had long blond hair or reminded me of those two clay humanoids in the Gumby animation (the Blockheads.) Do not mistake me for a Pole-hater. My maternal grandfather was originally from Krakow and I feel proud of my roots. I landed in Katowice around midnight and stayed in the airport until daybreak. I had a lovely chat with the part-owner of a 24- hour cafe inside. He served me free coffee as a gesture of Polish hospitality, which I wouldn't see much more of during my two days in south-central Poland. In fact, the great majority of people I crossed paths with in the area seemed downright jaded and miserable.
On the bus into town (Katowice) from the airport I met a petite and modest, but world-class marathon runner from the mountainous, rural Colombian region of Huila, who had been delayed entering the EU in Spain due to the usual visa complications. Owning a Colombian passport isn't always enviable, and I speak from first-hand experience. The race he had dreamed of participating in his whole life was going to begin in less than three hours, in a village (Korbielow) on the mountainous border with Slovakia. He still had 100 km left to travel when we stepped off the bus. A train wouldn't get him there on time. His only option would be by taxi. No driver was willing to rush him all the way up there for under 500 Zlotys ($172), way beyond his means, so I hit up an ATM and off he took in a beat up little station wagon. I was relieved to be letting go of a large portion of my 10% that isn't really mine (tzedakah), all while helping a campesino make it to the World Masters Mountain Running Championships, as well as helping an older Polski taxi driver bring home some bread.
Ad by Western Union, a shameless corporation that feeds off hardworking immigrants worldwide, but the ad has a nice outline of Poland and within it is an entire continent and a half. 'TAK' means 'YES', as in "that's right" or "that's the way".
TO BE CONTINUED........
NEXT STOP: Auschwitz Concentration Camp and Krakow.