Monthly Archives: July 2012

The Polish Amazon

Another highlight- the wonders of the Biebrza. When looking for a place to go kayaking, there were several things to take into account. Franki had told me Greg would sink like a stone if he fell into the water, so we needed a place where he could put his feet down and touch the bottom. We also wanted a place without too many boy scouts and adolescent campers, since the school holidays had already started. Also, a place where Marcin hadn’t been before (he was once one of the adolescent campers.)

I had some misgivings about the Biebrza. The word ‘swamp’ did not fill me with delicious anticipation, and I couldn’t find a better English version of  bagno.
After mulling this over for days, it finally occurred to me that marshes are marginally more attractive than swamps, and that I could have pulled off a PR coup by describing it this way to begin with.  The description of the area as the  ‘Polish Amazon’ did nothing to allay the fears induced by the word swamp; I imagined a shadeless muddy bog filled with malodorous brown water, plagued by clouds of biting insects (this part turned out to be true).  The main lure was the possibility of seeing an elk, and the promise that this was a wild part of Poland.

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Though I had quietly scoffed  at the idea that any part of this densely inhabited country could be wild, I soon had to eat my words. Our route ran through a national park which limits visitors during the bird breeding season, which had only just ended.  We paddled for 4 days and every day, had to walk at least half an hour to a shop for food. This had kept away the boy scouts, along with everyone else, so we didn’t see anyone at all on a longer trip apart from us.

It was hot and the heat and silence clamped down over the water like a lid. The river sent off its river-smell, stony and organic all at once. The whole area was alive with birds: a field full of grazing storks high-stepping their way between delicacies, ducks with their ducklings foraging along the banks, a little fine-boned beaky creature like a  sandpiper beating up and down above the reeds and occasionally dropping down and skimming the surface for some invisible prey. Little eagles and herons; great meaty swans and their families. Everything was poison-green; the reeds, the grass on the banks, even the frogs had a metallic green sheen on their backs that gleamed for a second as they leapt for safety.

Camped in a bird hide  at Biały Grąd on our second night, the others saw an elk picking its way through the marshes, and a pair of Danish twitchers (after informing us that Poland is paradise for them, since there’s only one stork left in Denmark) let us look at a rare black stork through their binoculars. Even a seven- kilometre round trip to the shop and a pile of empty beer cans under our haven couldn’t spoil the mood. Herds of cattle grazed in the bogs, smelling sweetly of hot grass. As they moved their   bulk sluggishly homeward in the afternoon, I felt a sort of mindless bovine contentment myself: the hot sun, the tea-coloured water, the smell of woodsmoke, the (comparative) absence of nausea.

Needless to say, after 4 days of this bliss we were dirty and exhausted and  sunburnt and ready to stop.  But it was wonderful, and I hope the pictures show it.

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In the Tatras

Although it already seems long ago and not entirely real, and my sister and her partner have disappeared back to Australia leaving us with an empty flat and a new kettle, I wanted to publish some stuff about the wonders of Poland which we saw with them.

 

One of the most wonderful of these was the Tatras in summer. I have only ever seen them in the winter, and am happy to report that the ski run from Kasprowy Wierch which made me cry like a little baby looks just as terrifying without snow. An unusual failure in Marcin’s mapreading meant that we ended up hanging off chains on the precipitous slopes of Świnica for 8 hours, instead of the little stroll along a ridgetop which he had predicted. Apparently the contour lines were so close together that he hadn’t noticed them. (To be fair, neither had anyone else).

 
We were all carrying our own internal impediments on this climb; I had my still-invisible twins and a couple of extra kilograms, Greg had a heart problem and (we found out later) a dislike of heights,  Franki  a faulty sense of balance.  Marcin was bearing the burden of knowing that he was leading this group of invalids  down a vertical rock face. Strangely enough nobody complained (except me) and though we were all completely unable to walk downstairs for about five days without grabbing the handrail and wincing, there was unanimous agreement that this was one of the highlights of the trip.

 

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The Tatras are nothing like our rubbed-down Australian mountains, which is why none of us suspected what lay in wait.  They are thrusting ambitious young mountains, and covered, in late June, with pillows of moss and little blooming Alpine flowers.  Blue lakes lie in the hollows and there is the sound of wind and water.

 

There is also the smell of the hundreds of other frightened souls (many of them even less capable mountaineers than we are) trying to get up or down the mountain as soon as possible without dying, drenched in anxious sweat.  Our relief at getting off the chains and onto a normal path is unadulterated, because we still don’t know we’ll have to walk for another 3 hours downhill.

 

Anyway, when it was all over,  Franki and Greg took us for an anniversary trout in a restaurant manned by goraly  in leggings, and we were rewarded for our travails by one of the best nights’ sleep in the history of the world.

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On getting pregnant

At the end of April, I found out that I was pregnant. This commonplace discovery, made by countless women all over the world and through the ages, threw me into turmoil. I have spent the last two months vomiting and grappling with this knowledge- hence the long hiatus in blogging. It had not occurred to me that breeding would be such a psychologically complex and physically demanding process.

 
In fact, it had not really occurred to me that I could get pregnant. We had had an inconclusive (to my mind) discussion about it, of the ‘let’s-stop-not-trying-and-see-what-happens’ variety. I had thought that this was perfectly safe, since a lifetime of what I consider to be haphazard contraception had not led to either a monstrous brood of brats or a series of trips to the abortion clinic. So imagine my surprise when, after not-not-trying approximately once, my period was late.

For somebody of ironclad personal rhythms,  immune to the effects of intestinal disorders, stress, international travel, weight loss, weight gain, heavy exercise and all other known hormonal disruptors (apart from cerebral malaria), it worked as a very early warning system- on the day my period was due, we were having a party and I did a test to make sure I could get drunk. It was positive. I was not convinced . Two days later, I checked again. Even more pregnant. Over the next week I did another 4 tests, each one getting less and less equivocal. After comprehensively searching the internet for precedents of 6 false positive pregnancy tests in a row, I had to go back to the Occam’s razor solution and admit that the only really logical explanation for this was  pregnancy. Although there is a rare type of bladder cancer which produces pregnancy hormones and can lead to a positive test.
I told Marcin.

“Oh,” he said. “We won’t be able to go to Australia this year.”

And then- “We’d better go and watch We need to talk about Kevin.

It’s difficult to describe the mixed feelings which the news produced in me.  I suppose this is why it’s easier to fall back on platitudes about the miracle of life and the wonders of fecundity. Initially, I had the ridiculous sense of having performed some complicated and difficult trick. I felt stupidly proud of being an evolutionary success. I also had an odd materialistic joy in the idea that I could have a thing which other people have, a possibility which I have  doubted for some years.

This cheerful speculation about what a wonderful biological specimen I was came to an abrupt end with the onset of morning sickness, which began in early May and continues (though erratically) today. The next few months were  probably the closest I have ever come in my life to depression: waking up day after day, week after week, in a fog of nausea and exhaustion, wondering how I was going to get through the day.  Vomiting into patriotic  red-and-white Euro-geraniums on the Plac Zamkowy, vomiting on the Dworzec Centralny tramstop, squatting down behind the hedge outside Metro Ratusz Arsenal to vomit some more. Warsaw (and especially its public transport, where I am doomed to spending a large part of my day) had become a malodorous  and sickening place, full of foul denizens emitting the horrible vapours of recently eaten garlic.

For these months, I was not myself. This is another platitude, hiding  a reality which was terrifying for me.  I had lost all my customary resources of patience, curiosity, energy, enthusiasm. I had lost my appetite, which is only now beginning to return in the 4th month. I lived on chocolate milk and potato chips and cornflakes and could not stomach the idea of cooking anything. This had its inevitable knock-on effect on our social life, which consists, in large part, of inviting people round for dinner.

In the middle of this chaos, which felt to me like the end of the world, I went to have an ultrasound, just to see how things were progressing. In the Marriott medical centre, Doctor Neuberg, in his clean white coat, inserted his magic wand and to my horror, proclaimed twins. I went into shock. There were two little hearts, blinking like fireflies and galloping away at 150 beats per minute. Mine was doing the same and my teeth started chattering. I thought, stupidly, “How will we afford to teach both of them to ski?” Marcin was spellbound.

I am almost halfway through the pregnancy and I am only just beginning to grudgingly allow these creatures into my future. Part of it is a pure  failure of imagination- I can’t begin to guess how our life will look this time next year. Part of it is the major adjustment of life plans- I had quite simply thought that I couldn’t and wouldn’t have kids, and felt perfectly alright about it. Now for the first time I really have to contemplate what Being A Woman means and it’s not such a jolly job description, frankly speaking. On the other hand, there’s something magical about the idea of twins- it’s so unlikely, and it’s happened to us.

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