I don’t speak Polish well. In fact I can hardly speak it at all. What’s worse is that my ears reject it as a barrage of consonants: “chishshkrchshiz”. It’s like a grinder in my head. After a year of struggling I have to admit that perhaps I am just one of those unlucky people who have absolutely no talent with languages. But I learned something new today: I actually can have a conversation in Polish so long as my conversational partner is a drunk. Not a person who is drunk, but a person who is always drunk.
Roman, tipsy at 10am, was weaving down the garden path as I rolled up on my bike. He warned me about the drinkers (pijaków). Under the circumstances I found this quite charming.
Roman asked for my name. I gave it to him but of course the name “Jodie” is not easy for the Polish mouth and he couldn’t manage it. I told him to call me Baltazar. In Polish this is pronounced Bal-TA-zar and you have to roll the r. But he didn’t want to call me Baltazar because ‘that’s a boy’s name,’ he said.
When I took out the key to open the gate, he became very animated. He asked if the garden was mine and I said, “It is now.” He seemed to understand what this meant. We talked about where I live, where I’m from, etc. He said that either he or his brother lived in the blok nearby. I’m not sure which. He left after I went in but was soon back with sausage and buns — one set for himself and one for me. He asked if he could come in. I refused the food, but he thought I was refusing him entry. Once I understood the misunderstanding, I invited him in. I kept telling him I didn’t want the food, wasn’t hungry. Why? I don’t know why! Well I gave in pretty quickly and took the food. A cheese and pickle sandwich! It was awesome and delicious!
Roman is a short fellow. Perhaps as tall as me. He’s not very old — in his early 50s, I’d say. He has a wide face, neither distinguished, imploring, or even curious. Just a nice (red) open face. A cute face. He told me he used to be in the army (wojska) near the sea. Maybe he said the navy. Maybe I heard wrong. We started talking, in very general terms, about trouble in the world. I must have seemed like a goofy optimist to him because I was saying or trying to say that there’s always something that can be done — we can always make things better. At some point he said, “Poland is a sick country.” I’m not sure what he meant specifically and I didn’t have the language skills to find out, so I told him that it’s the same everywhere. All countries are sick. Aren’t they?