I arrived at the San Francisco Airport at about 7:00 AM on Saturday. Amir dropped me off with a goodbye that was curtailed by the fact that we were parked illegally in some kind of bus lane. I was following the maxim "dress for your destination," which involved wearing (fake) fur-lined boots, a wool blend coat, and carrying mittens/ear muffs in my bag. Appropriate clothing in Poland looked pretty bizarre in San Francisco, but there were probably three other people in line at security, so no one had time to gawk.
The flight from San Francisco to Newark is five hours, a time span during which another plane might fly over ten European countries. However, since it's domestic, no amenities are offered with the exception of non-alcoholic beverage service. Thanks, United! For some reason I thought that the thing to do would be to take a massive bag of pre-popped popcorn on board with a Kale-Spinach-Coconut water juice and a fruit cup. I don't have a fear of flying, but I do have a fear of being hungry on a plane. That fear was far from realized; I felt like I ate my weight in popcorn.
In Newark, I met the rest of the Fellows along with our tour leader, Andi Milens, at an Irish bar near the gate. There group consists of four men and four women from all over the United States. We had drinks and chatted for a few hours before boarding. For the thousandth time, I was struck by the fact that it's a lonely position to have no interest in sports. I really just don't get the whole thing, and I doubt that I ever will. I don't mean that I'm pursuing loftier interests, I'm probably divesting time that could be spent on sports into Netflix and aimless internet browsing. Really though, I wonder what life would be like if I were conversant in sports talk. I imagine that my heart would open up to so many people and their hearts would open up to me, and it would be this glorious kinsmanship that would look like a Keith Haring painting.
"You like sports? Me, too! This takes our interaction to a whole new level, emotionally and spiritually!"
Anyway, sportstalk notwithstanding, I was happy to meet such an easy-going and friendly group of people!
We boarded the plane, which was Lufthansa, the epitome of class. Everyone gets their own seatback TV that they can control, and I was pretty excited that one of the movie options was Locke. I've been meaning to see it since the premiere, but it skipped San Jose. It's a psychological thriller with Tom Hardy, AKA Bane from the last Batman movie. Basically, it just follows him taking calls in his car for an hour and a half, during which time a personal drama unfolds.
I was pretty focused on the movie, so I missed the first part of the real-life drama unfolding a few rows back from me. Basically, a middle-aged drunk man was repeatedly standing up and refusing to sit back down. Threat turned into action, and the crew drove the plane from the tarmac back to the gate where the guy was forced to de-plane. It started out with two Air Marshalls, but as he initially resisted arrest about ten guys from the NYPD came on board. There was a struggle to handcuff him, and having all of the extra officers on board didn't really help since the aisles are so narrow, it was still really only two guys doing the work. The French couple in front of me sighed and said "This would never happen in first class," which was absurd enough to make me giggle and also make me feel happy that I studied French in college.
After the guy was off, the officers had to look for his bag, and then the jet had to be re-fueled. It was becoming increasingly clear that our 45 minute connection in Munich was not going to happen. This was a study in how one person can inconvenience many people, perhaps without even being aware that he is doing so. We missed half a day in Poland because of this guy, and we were only nine out of all of the passengers. Who knows what other flights were delayed, who missed their concert, who was stranded at a hotel as a result of his actions? Oh, well, more time to enjoy the movie selections of Lufthansa!
Locke, frankly, wasn't quite the suspenseful epic I was expecting. I think that's a result of so many movies in the vein of Memento, Inception, and Fight Club. I spent the first 40 minutes wondering what the twist would be, and as it became increasingly clear that there would be no twist, I began to lose interest. It's like an adult bildungsroman: all character development and no intricacies of plot. The car doesn't even explode at the end.
I also watched Fading Gigolo, which I was ready to write off as a cheap stereotype of Orthodox Jewry, but I actually found pretty touching. The trailer has a terrible Sofia Vergara clip saying something like "A woman is meant to be looked at, otherwise she fades away." The idea of a woman existing for male gaze is obviously anti-feminist, which is how I imagined the entire movie would be. The plot is basically that Woody Allen hires out John Turturro as a prostitute, although he bills him as a therapist to an Orthodox woman. She hasn't been touched by a man since her husband died two years ago, so he helps her open up her soul again (without ever having sex, by the way.) It was sweet, and more like early Woody Allen than his recent work, which was probably helped by the fact that it was actually written and directed by Turturro rather than Allen.
The third movie I didn't finish, but I want to watch the whole thing and write it up. It was called "Qu'est-ce Que On Fait Au Chinon?" and involved a racist French Catholic family and their four daughters, which is pretty interesting given the recent La Suicide Francais phenomenon.
After landing, we had a few hours in the Munich Airport. Pictures follow:
Bonding with another Frank Fellow in the art store, where we were admonished for being loud.
I can't imagine the existence of a person who has a few hours to kill in an airport, and on a whim spends a few thousand dollars on a handbag. But apparently, these people exist among us, because the airport is filled with stores like these.
Luxury car: would this count as my personal item, or do I need to check it?
I don't think anyone could accuse us of not taking full advantage of our time in the airport. Every corner was explored.
The flight from Munich to Krakow was short, and the airport didn't have a gate for our flight when we arrived, so we had to take a little bus from the plane to baggage claim. Have you ever been with a group of Jews, standing crowded in a car that's heading for Poland? If you were in that situation, would you be able to avoid making a Holocaust joke? If so, you're a better person than I am! But after I said it, everyone else confirmed they were thinking it too, which completely validated my comment, in my opinion.
After baggage claim, we were picked up by our Polish tour guide and led onto a Mercedes bus. No hard feelings, Germany!
We went to our hotel, the Radisson, which was gorgeous. It was directly across the street from the Philharmonia building. In general, I wasn't sure what to expect from an former Eastern Soviet Block country in terms of central heating, technology, and cleanliness, but Poland absolutely surpassed all expectations. There was even a tablet mounted on the wall of the airport bathrooms asking customers to rate the cleanliness. Seriously, when I compare America to other countries in those terms, it's America that falls short of expectations.
After dropping our luggage off we went out for dinner at a small restaurant with our tour guide. Walking to the restaurant, we went through a main square that very distinctly resembled Prague. She gave us a brief overview of Polish-Jewish history and life in Poland today. Afterwards, we went out for drinks at a bar where an Irish man was singing covers. Here are pictures of the restaurant, the square, and what I ate:
This picture really doesn't do the architecture justice, but you can begin to get the idea.
Dan, Brandon, Leslie, and our group leader Andi.
After drinks, we went back to the hotel. I hadn't slept on the flight, or for more than four hours a night in the week prior to our trip, so I was happy to get to bed for a few hours before our historical tour the following morning.