Gdynia, Part 5

posted 29 April 2005

Written 23 April 2005, ca. 6:00 p.m.

Today, Olek picked us up at 10 a.m. and drove us to Gdansk. We stopped partway to tour his parish church, which is the Cathedral of Oliwa. It's one of the loveliest in Europe and has a magnificent organ, the finest in Poland and probably in Europe as well. The concert series, alas, doesn't start until May. It was a wonder just to look at. The oldest building on the site dates from the 12th century, but the present one was begun a couple of hundred years later.

On the way into Gdansk proper, we passed the Gdansk shipyard, birthplace of Solidarity, and the monument that has been erected there. Then we walked all over the old town, which was heavily damaged during World War II but has been beautifully restored. On the "Long Quai," we saw the only extant medieval tower crane. It was a tall, stout brick tower, now some feed back from the edge of the water but, at the time it was built, right at the water's edge. Partway up its height, it jutted out over the water, so that a large hook hung on a thick rope out over whatever ship was tied up in front of it. At the top, a longer overhang held a second hook even farther out over the water. The hooks and their cables were raised and lowered by means of two huge wooden treadwheels, which you can see overhead if you stand under the tower. Men (we estimate 4 to 6 at a time, in two rows of 2-3 abreast) walked inside the wheels to turn them, like hamsters in exercise wheels. Cargos of grain could be unloaded a ton at a time, and masts could be stepped in major sailing vessels. Very impressive.

The town was extremely prosperous under the Hanseatic leagues, and we visited the guildhall, now a museum. Its great hall was spectacularly decorated with wall and ceiling paintings (life size—on two of them the heads of deer portrayed in the paintings jutted out into 3D; the antlers were real, but the heads weren't, although I suspect they were originally), gorgeously grained wood paneling, intricate wood inlay, and gilded moldings. It was heated by the largest tiled stove I've ever seen, probably the largest ever built. It's at least 25 feet high and decorated with dozens of hand-made painted tiles, surmounted by one of the crest of Poland. Apparently, many details of its construction and ornamentation are veiled symbols of protestantism. Ten-foot-long model ships of all kinds hung from the ceiling of the hall, and a few of the ornate wall panels had been opened to reveal colorful paintings on their inside faces and silver-bound locked compartments behind them. Upstairs, as part of a temporary exhibit, they were displaying the Oscar won by a Polish director; I'd never seen a real one before.

For lunch, we first went to a restaurant that Olek knew on the main square of the old town, but they had renovations going on inside and were only serving outdoors. Since it was about 3 degrees C and blowing a gale, even Olek thought they were crazy. The alternative they recommended was another place that Olek knew, more in keeping with the hundred-yard rule. It was a tiny family-run cafe that specialized in home-made pierogi. David and Olek ordered game pierogi, and I ordered forest mushroom, then David and I traded a few—excellent and, yes, a little different from the ones we've eaten elsewhere. The restaurant lost power for a while during our stay, but we already had our food, so we were minimally inconvenienced.

We also visited the Cathedral of Gdansk, which the the largest all-brick structure in the world—it seems strange to see medieval structures of brick, but it seems to have been the favored medium in this part of the world. The cathedral has a gigantic astronomical clock similar to the one we saw in the Strasburg cathedral. If you know how, you can read the time, date, astrological sign, year, phase of the moon, etc. off its huge clock face and calendar dial. On the quarter, half, and hour, mechanical figures at the top strike bells to announce the time.

Tomorrow, Olek will pick us up at 7:00 a.m. for the five-hour drive to Szczecin, with two-hour stopover at the national park, weather permitting. Besides my writing workshop and David's talk, my project in Szczecin will be to find someone who can repair the tripod of my little folding computer table. When I went to fold it up last night, the knob broken off in my hand, so there's no way to pull the spring-loaded release that allows the legs to fold. I doubt they'll let me on an airplane with it in the expanded state. Perhaps someone Teresa knows can drill a tiny hole in the broken shaft and screw or glue in something that can be used to pull it outward. If not, I'll just present the whole thing to Teresa, since it's perfectly usable if not foldable, and order a new one for deliver in Brest. It has turned out to be indispensible.

Written 23 April 2005, ca. 10 p.m.

For dinner tonight, we went back to the Da Vinci. David had pork tenderloin with mushroom cream sauce and the same trimmings as last night. For just one euro more, I had veal with a similar sauce. Both were excellent, though I think the veal had a slight edge on the pork. We've been eating a lot of pork, though, as the cooks around here do such a good job with it. There was, of course, the hilarious incident in which the waiter reached between us to set David's gravy boat full of extra mushroom sauce on the table, just as David leaned toward me, with the result that the gravy boat did a lazy flip in mid-air and landed with a splot face-down on my starched linen placemat. Not a bit landed on either of us, and only one drop hit the outside of my water glass, but the entire wait-staff and the hostess instantly clustered around and whisked away all evidence of the incident, then insisted we change tables because they couldn't readily remove the three little streaks remaining on the otherwise spotless pink tablecloth.

We really like the Da Vinci—great food, wonderful atmosphere, restful decor, competent and welcoming staff (despite the occasional moment of cabaret). The one thing we would change about it is the muzak. Both evenings, we were treated to some female American singer (whom I should probably recognize but don't) wailing the same list of songs—"IIIIIIIIIIII will always love youuuuuuuuuu," then "Ooooooooone mo-ment in tiiiiiiiiiiime," and so on ad infinitum. A place like that should be playing Verdi or Vivaldi or at least Dean Martin.

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