The first letter my father wrote to my mother from Paris when he learned she was alive, living in Brussels, and looking for him.
My hope was that our short visit to the city might soften the effect of too much reflection and ease the emotional pummeling my mother was taking. I innocently thought we might step into the flow of city life without having to fully acknowledge the persistent cloud of my mother’s past. But as we walked in the late afternoon light she seemed anxious, and it became evident that it was impossible not to feel the thrust of her history pushing at our backs.
We drove from Zawiercie to Cracow, and without a radio in the car I spent time listening to my mother as she tried to recall a world that now seemed so alien to her. The rolling countryside was dotted with small farms and meager trailers parked just off the road where travelers could stop for a pierogi and a glass of vodka. Historically the artistic and cultural center of Poland, during the war Cracow remained all but untouched, and the elegant city I saw from my hotel window reflected a view unchanged for hundreds of years. Though my mother had grown up less than an hour away, her family had never visited, another reminder of the isolation of life in small-town Poland.
I was feeling frustrated and fidgety as we walked through the city, knowing we needed time to decompress before continuing our quest but also too aware of the brevity of our stay in Poland. When the walking tour ended, it was late in the afternoon and we had exhausted our break. We returned to the faded grandeur of our hotel, and I spent time in my room trying to relax and shoot some pictures from the bed. Bryan Ferry was playing on MTV while the wind shuffled in through the double window. The clock barely moved, and the air grew still. I tried to sleep but could not dislodge a gnawing sense of foreboding.