As I gradually rose from my state of slumber this morning, I became immediately aware of the tantalizing aromas emanating from our kitchen. That unmistakable scent of home cooking.
I think that everyone will agree, there is nothing quite like it. My own mother back in Australia is a wonderful cook, and has honed that craft from years of experimentation and adaptation, the result of which is always something that I sadly have probably not taken enough time to appreciate. This realization now has me stop when I can as a meal is laid in front of me to take in the sights and smells of the plate. Try it sometime. Those extra seconds of anticipation really heighten the enjoyment, and the space is often made a little more special if you can have someone fill it with a short message of thankfulness.
This morning’s tickling of the old olfactory nerves was courtesy of Pani Maria (or Babcia to our three year old) She is my Polish mother-in-law, who is now visiting for the holidays. It is fair to say, from a combination of tradition and opportunity of exposure to a wider food culture, that her menu offerings may be rather narrow. No shortage of meat and potatoes here. However, in this simplicity, we may find a deeper knowledge and understanding of the merry dance that we as humans perform in honor of our food, but there is probably a whole other blog that can be written about that.
For now though, it is safe to say that It took me a while to swing my legs out to the cold floor. I found myself swimming in the smells, trying to pick up on ingredients and game myself a little on what was being prepared. I could even envision Maria moving about the kitchen, a space somewhat uncomfortable for her in unfamiliarity, but as is the skill of the Polish in general, constantly adapting and slowly making it work. For keep in mind that even the use of the gas stove is something new to her. She has spent her whole life cooking on a wood fire stove, in a kitchen that was adapted from the chicken coop that was once attached to their two room house. Over the years, upgrades have been made of course, including the installation of an actual floor instead of the original linoleum covered bare ground. It is in this heritage that the true message lies, for in such a kitchen, the very food she prepares for us today has been produced with love and care for her family. Through the hottest of summers, to the depths of the cruelest of cold winters. And through all this, this wonderful woman has left her house every morning to walk to her church and give thanks for all the blessings she has.
Of course, meeting and marrying a native of Poland was always going to bring me to this country. From my very first trip there it has captivated me through it’s architecture, culture, traditions and (at times troubled) history. From my Australian orientated lens, it has at times been mind boggling to wrap my brain around the long timeline of events that have shaped this land and its people. Early on I committed myself to learning to speak the language (OK even if my first motivations were to impress a girl!) I searched and found books on the country. From coffee table picture books through to novels such as “Poland” by James A. Michener. I sat inquisitively in the presence of my wife’s family and friends, eager to learn how they thought and acted in their daily lives. This was no more valuable when it was with her parents. Both old enough to remember the very darkest of days, when much of their time was devoted with simply trying to stay alive. But they always expressed joy and thankfulness for what they had.Many observe the people of Poland from the outside and consider them a little cold and unfriendly. In the world of cross cultural training, this is analogous to the coconut. The somewhat hard exterior, once cracked, exposes a warmth and generosity that is genuine and heartfelt.
So there will be more on this subject in the future, but for now, I can only say that you should if you are fortunate enough to travel, take time to at least add a short visit to some part of Poland and just see what I mean. I can recommend many places, some on the usual tourist trek, others not so mainstream, that will leave you with a lasting impression of this beautiful country.