Monthly Archives: August 2012

The cripple Olympics

Every day, a furious and silent battle plays itself out on Warsaw’s public transport. It’s a struggle over who gets a seat and I, thanks to my Condition, have joined the fray.

Currently my participation has been limited by the fact that although my central circumference is now larger that that of my chest (no joke in itself), my pregnancy somehow remains mysteriously invisible, or at least ignorable, to the opposition. Let fatso stand, they think to themselves, as I place my bulging midriff in their line of sight. It will do her good.   (I know because I’ve thought it myself in my less charitable moments).

My opponents, though superficially comprised of the halt and the lame, should not be underestimated. What they lack in brute force, they make up for in cunning. Old women arm themselves with stunt walking sticks which they use to beat their rivals out of the way as they race (miraculously unimpaired for a moment) towards the disabled seat on the tram. Young mothers with floppy (fake?) babies breathe heavy sighs of exhaustion and the air is around them is suddenly charged with guilt. Complex calculations of age and frailty are conducted in the space of a covert glance, while badly brought up young people studiously admire the Warsaw streetscape and avoid eye contact.

The interesting thing in all this is the sense of entitlement which we are all carrying.  I too am infected. There’s not really any excuse- in fact I need to sit down far less than I did a few months ago, when I had to concentrate hard at all times in order  not to vomit into somebody’s handbag.  A feeling of being exceptional  comes with exceptional physical states, and a need for some sort of public recognition.

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In the green wood

After our kayaking trip and one more noisy night in a tent in Goniądz, we went back to Białystok and rented a car. Nosing gingerly out of the city in the rain, Greg at the wheel, we found ourselves suddenly in the forest, and there we stayed all afternoon. A deer with her fawns ran across the road in front of us. We drove on through the green tunnel of trees, and found a place not far from the Narew River where we could sleep in a bed without any mosquitoes. Much to everyone’s relief.

In the morning, we drove on to Białowieża without leaving the forest. We stopped to look at some ancient oaks, walking on a boardwalk soaked in green light under attack from swarms of mosquitoes. In the old days the forest was the royal hunting reserve and all the oaks had been named after royal hunters. One of the reasons the forest is in such good condition today is because none of the peasants were allowed to enter on pain of death; the downside is that the royals really loved killing bison, and had no problem sitting in their kingly hunting bower and picking off dozens of them at a time while they waited out the plague in their forest fastness.

On the way to Białowieża itself we also stopped in the bison reserve and saw some bison/cow crosses (bred to be more pliant and edible than a real bison) and some bored deer, who flicked their ears  from time to time and stared back at us without interest, as well as some real bison with a gambolling calf. This was insurance against the near-certainty that we wouldn’t see any in the wild.

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Since we couldn’t get a guide to take us into the primeval forest until evening, we waited out the afternoon in the nature museum, a paradise of stuffed beasts from the forest. Once again, we had to go with a guide, an enthusiastic young naturalist with a ponytail who managed to impart his significant knowledge while exhorting parents not to let their children touch the stuffed badger which- he knew from experience- was almost irresistible for them. Amongst the wonderous corpses there was a great white snow owl from Siberia, which apparently migrates to Poland to enjoy the balmy winters here; Europe’s only poisonous mammal (the rzęsorek rzeczny);  and a stuffed mole (to my surprise more the size of a rat than an echidna. Too much Wind in the Willows, not enough encyclopedia).

In the forest itself animals were in short supply, but we did see some corpse-fingers and found out about the slime mold, a sort of migrating fungus which collects in groups when conditions are bad and creeps across the forest floor in search of sustenance. Franki and Greg put us to shame with their quick assimilation of botanical knowledge while we were still unable to tell our birches from our beeches. Still, there was some deep pleasure in realising that humans aren’t the only animals on earth; there’s something comforting about being part of an ecosystem rather than the master species.

In the evening we slept the sleep of the just in a campground inhabited by peaceful nature-loving Europeans in campervans, who went to bed at 8pm instead of carousing all night like Poles.

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