Poland’s roads are barely paved pathways through an older place. It is not just poverty or lack of resource that have kept her roads bare and simple. It is something more raw reflected in her identity. There is an inventiveness here as in Croatia. But there is also a preservational quality.
I have been on many highways, interstates and smaller roads in many nations. But in Poland there is unique way. It is more a route for wagons and carts than automobiles. Alongside the roads, women sell jars of blueberries from old car trunks or wooden stands. Perhaps you have seen them. If you pull off at a service area, there are also sausages being grilled by hefty stout men, and various canned things in small wooden carts or stands. There are aspects of old europe still visible in Poland, which have long passed from some more westerly nations. In this way, she preserves things for all of europe. However, she is not always soft in her preservational processes.
She is not always polite, her road at times seems to lack hospitality. There are large wagon-sized pot holes in certain areas of poland, and strange things are often just sitting in the middle or to the side of her thin two laned highways. Still, somehow, after hours, it is somehow rewarding that the required pacing, somehow allows you to notice more. More of the small villages, more of people’s faces, more strangely spired churches and odd cockeyed jewish cemeteries. I like the pacing that polish roads require, it teaches me things about life.
Some would want europe to be one singular expression, to have a single cultural currency. But I like that her roads are unlike Germany’s. I also like German roads–their sleek vast smoothness, which calls forth the forward in us. In Germany, one is always driving towards a goal, and it is reachable, efficient, knowable. It is comforting that everything works in Germany. That the toilets flush and the meters keep accurate time. I appreciate the strength of efficiency. It has wisdom.
But tonight, i am in Poland, driving down a bumpy road, appreciating the unique reflections of God shining up from the pavement in this old nation. I appreciate the pivo and the roasted chicken, the wild flowers poking out from an old jar, the old bent over ladies gardening their small plots into blooming. I appreciate, the old creased faces of the men, and the warrior glances of the young men. The overcomingness of the youth here. I also for some reason appreciate the lack of order here. How lines form organically and there seems to be no way to tell who will go next. How church bells are ringing everywhere nearly constantly, and they seem to still mean something.
A sense of place is what Poland is teaching me as i travel. That particular places matter and are distinct from one another. The nuances of specific locations matter. Identity is not blurred into one hodgpodge of collectivity. No ideology has yet destroyed this sense of unique identity of place here. Not even in places where some of the fiercest ideals have played themselves out. I like that Poland has kept its polishness intact despite all it has been through. She is an overcomer in this way, just for holding onto her identity, for preserving her own soul.
A sense of place is a hard thing to conjure up quickly. It requires time, memory-a long story. And it requires one to keep singing their songs. Poland continues to sing, in accordion train whistles and church bells, in sounds of old carts being pulled and cars churning their engines or being pushed. But also as one drives along her roads, one starts to hear oneself–perhaps one’s older self sort of humming an old klezmer melody. I appreciate being reminded of this song in myself as I go along.
But mainly, i appreciate the roads and that they force me to pay attention, to not miss this, to not just be pressing on and trying to reach the mark, but to also take note of the journey itself. To stop and just live. We are always rushing, it is nice to simply notice things. Poland’s roads taught me this. I think I’ll stop here and have a sausage and some pivo.