Since I left O’Hare last evening at 5 pm, people have been speaking to me in Polish all day, as if they expect me to understand.
I spent the entire plane flight reading the Cambridge Concise History of Poland, and learning more about the contested boundaries and ethnic divisions of this region of the world. I knew the country had been divided many times, but not this many. My head is multiplying with ten-year-old queens and Hapsburg alliances and tripartite divisions, the liberum veto and the Warsaw Pact.
I have spent most of my life thinking of Poland primarily as the site of the second World War. Poland was like a dreidel of history. A Great Disaster Happened Here. Three brothers came to the United States in the thirties, escaping the war and continuing my family. One spin, and everyone they left behind was lost.
But now that war, that trauma, is contextualized in a history of wars before and wars after, scramblings between dukes and kings and countries. The country was divided so many times it looks like a pie chart.