I AM eating pierogi.
Or I would be if I could fit any more in.
I have two women standing over me. Their names are Krisha and Maryshka. Their weapons are ladles and kindness and they have been shovelling pierogi into me as if I were the boiler of a battleship.
By now you may be wondering what the hell I’m talking about. I can explain – I’m in Poland.
Poland is the home of pierogi… a kind of miniature pasty filled with every and any kind of food the human race has yet invented, and maybe even some that won’t be invented until the next millennium. When I say they’re like miniature pasties… they’re not that miniature. One of them makes more than a comfortable mouthful, but that doesn’t stop Krisha and Maryska from shovelling them onto my plate as if they were filling a grain silo – which is what I’ll look like if this goes on.
How come this stuff hasn’t become an international fast food? It’s nutritious, it’s a country mile ahead of a MacDonalds’ burger, it comes in sizes that make it quick to eat (so long as Krisha and Maryska aren’t refilling your plate) and it’s delicious.
I’ll tell you why… it’s because it’s the only Polish word it’s possible to say without stripping all the skin of your epiglottis. Pee-eh-row-gee. That’s not quite right, but it’ll have to do.
If you want to order anything else in a Polish restaurant you have to get your head – and your tongue – round words like szczypiorek. If a fast food is going to be popular it needs to have a name that’s a simple as ‘chips’, and in Poland that’s not going to happen.
So… why am I in Poland?
Because it’s maybe the one place in the world about which I knew (until a month ago) absolutely nothing, except that the Germans invaded it in 1939.
That’s a bit like saying September 11 is well-known as the date terrorists hjacked a plane over New York.
Poland was the cornflower in the paths of the tanks when World War II happened.First the Germans rolled across it from west to east, then the Russians rolled across it from east to west.
Then everyone (including the Polish people) fought over it and through it and on it to save it from the forces of oppression. And they did!
The British, the Americans, even the Australians, saved the Polish people from the forces of oppression – until the war was over anyway. Then we handed the country — lock, stock and smoking barrel — over to guess who…? The forces of oppression, but in the form of Russian communism.
Did you know that Poland lost a bigger percentage of its population in World War II than any other country? Britain and America, the main protagonists, lost less than one percent each. Poland, whose crime was being in the way, lost 20 percent! One in every five people. And half of them were Jews.
Today you can talk to any Polish family and they have a horror story to tell you about the war.
And about communism, which only ended in Poland 17 years ago.
I am sitting at this table stuffing myself full of pierogi with two women who have spent three quarters and two thirds of their lives respectively in a communist regime rife with corruption, intrigue and fear. Maybe it’s in defiance of such a life that they are such warm-hearted, generous and hospitable people.
And once again I am reminded that I have lived a blessed life protected from the ravages of war and oppression, and I feel guilty about it.
Actually, I would like to feel guilty about it, but it’s impossible to feel anything except a certain global bonhomie when you’re full of pierogi.
I might see you in a month… I might not. I have music to play and yet more food to eat it. And the beer is three zloty per litre. That’s about $1.25. What’s to come home for?