Category Archives: Ageing

WARSAW II: Five Days in May

Warsaw Old Town

Warsaw Old Town

We had no illusions that the days we would spend in Warsaw in the year’s merriest of months would be filled with unmitigated delight. For what could such a visit be but a heavy-duty history lesson, one not lost on people already interested in the subject and people who, although not German, have lived all their adult lives in Germany.

The tragedies suffered by the Poles did not begin in the 20th century, but as I mentioned in my last post, had already culminated in 1795 with the partitioning of the country between the Russian, Prussian and Austro-Hungarian Empires. Not until the end of World War I did Poland resume its existence as a nation. Barely had it recovered its national identity when it was once again under siege by Germany, and soon afterwards, by Russia.

A morning visit to the Museum of the Warsaw Uprising was an eye-opener and I covered that in my last post. The old Jewish Cemetery and the new Jewish Museum, designed to look live the wave that parted the Red Sea for the Jews to escape from Egypt, both bear witness to the rich past of the Polish Jewish population and its abrupt demise at the hands of Nazi Germany.

However, I am very pleased to be able to report, on a much more upbeat note, about what we experienced of Poland in the here and now and beyond the historic sites. It seems we had inadvertently chosen the time of our stay well. The weather was perfect with sunshine and temperatures in the high 70s centigrade. This meant the whole population was out and about enjoying their city. Everywhere we went something was going on.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Festival in the Old Town

Festival in the Old Town

Along the main thoroughfare of the old town, a children’s festival was in full swing with lots of clowns and balloons and music playing. The street restaurants and cafes were busy; the cold beer tasted refreshing as it washed down our lunch of grilled kielbasa. One thing jumped right out and struck me in the face: What a young population lived in Warsaw! Kids, teens, babies in buggies, young-marrieds and lots of young pregnant women(!) – everyone was having a good time; everyone looked well-off.

On the Sunday we crossed the Wisla River to Praga on the other side. In Praski Park, located along the river, families strolled by, on their way to or from the zoo. Kids rode bikes or whooshed by on skates. We followed the sound of music and landed at a pavilion where a 4-piece band was playing. People sat on benches, consuming their own picnics and fetching cold brews from a stand. We couldn’t resist joining them. Soon the musicians were substituted by a group of seniors who sang and danced. The dozen or so ladies all wore straw hats and gloves and floral skirts. The three token gents had cloth caps on their heads. Although the music they sang was foreign to our ears, it wasn’t to the multigenerational crowd. They sang along. One lady in the audience danced with her poodle in her arms. Others danced, too, women with women or mothers with sons. Small children wandered onto the stage and danced in circles.

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At home we are always hearing about the flood of young Poles who leave the country seeking work in western Europe or beyond. Either there are still plenty left behind or they were all back visiting on that May weekend. Assuming the latter is unlikely, we had the distinct impression that Poland will not any time soon be suffering from the demographic problem – the ageing of society – that plagues many of the world’s advanced industrialized countries.

Discovering whether the Polish baby boom can be attributed to their strict adherence to the anti-birth control policies of the Vatican, or if their fecundity is more a reflection of their deep love of family, would require a visit longer than a few days in May. What I can conclude from the visit though, is that Poland has made great strides since the walls and curtains of eastern Europe fell 25 years ago.

After all the tragic history lessons, how great it is to leave Poland with a positive feeling.

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Seeing the World through New Eyes

Getting older does not have many up-sides. Looking for them is like panning for gold: You have to sift through a lot of water and dirt in that mountain stream before a nugget flashes in the pan. But at least gold is worth something. If and when you do think you have found one redeeming aspect of old age, you still have to spin it in every direction until you can twist it to your advantage. Indeed, it’s extremely rare to find a side effect of aging that can be spun so successfully that you wind up seeing yourself in better shape than when you were young. But bingo! I have just discovered one and it’s a real winner. A simple operation, well, two to be exact, can change the way you see your world. And I mean that quite literally.

I’ve just experienced those two painless little operations that removed my cataract damaged lenses. In days of yore, having them treated would have left me suffering, dependent on wearing spectacles with Coke bottle bottoms for lenses (…if you are old enough to remember when Coke was sold in glass bottles and what they looked like…). Now I exited my clever eye doctor’s operating room with sparkling new models inserted into my eyes, little plastic affairs that never need cleaning or replacement. No more traveling with contact lens solutions, cleaners and a pair of specs (just in case). It was a pleasure clearing the clutter off my bathroom shelf.

This is what “days of yore” means.

Before the operation I was counting the days until I would be healed. After the right eye was done, I was stunned by the real color of sunlight. For you out there who aren’t aware of it: Sunlight is WHITE! I tested it back and forth – the yellowed, muted vision of the world through the old lens, then the the same scene bathed in pristine white light through the new lens. What a revelation!

In the meantime the second eye has been rejuvenated; the jaundiced perspective is gone forever. After a lifetime of relying on glasses and contact lenses, I have now been granted 20/20 vision. With reading and writing as my most favorite activities, I see this medical miracle as a little insurance policy that improves my chances of actually being able to read the library of literature I’ve been hoarding for retirement. Not to mention write the novels still lurking somewhere inside my being.

So if you have been told you will be needing this surgery, I can tell you, do not postpone it. Book it today!

Now, I’m thinking, if I can just keep my own teeth, maintain bladder control and not lose my marbles for the duration of my dotage, old age may just be more tolerable than anticipated. Pretty big “ifs”, you say?

 

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