Being prone to worldly distractions, my mind was often occupied with the thought of where my next coffee was going to come from. Polish instant coffee, the kind found in the guest dining room, is charming and evokes memories of other visits to Poland, but in order to think, e.g. understand any Polish, I must drink real, fresh, brewed coffee.
Saturday morning began with prayers and meditation in the chapel. I rushed out beforehand to see if the coffee shop on ulica Kalwaryjska (Calvary Street) was open. Alas, as it was Constitution Day, it was not. So I returned to the the Redemptorist klasztor and went to prayers.
At breakfast I asked Father Paweł for some real coffee, and I was truly grateful when he brought me some. Somewhere in the secret corridors of the Redemptorist house, there was a proper coffee machine. Invigorated and brainy, I joined the throng in the parish hall for Praise and Worship hymns before giving my first talk.
Incidentally, you know that I go to the FSSP Usus Antiquor on Sundays, but you probably don't know that I have a soft spot for "Praise and Worship" music. It makes a cheerful change from solemn plainchant and male-dominated polyphony. I can see the argument that P & W is not appropriate for Holy Mass, which is one reason why I enjoy it so much outside of Mass. Guilt-free enjoyment, and when it is in Polish, there is the educational aspect, too. Singing is fun, and what could be more fun than belting out the following, eh?
Duchu Święty, przyjdź! (Come, Holy Spirit!)
Duchu Święty, przydź!
Duchu Święty, przydź!
Duchu Święty, przydż!
Niech wiara zagości, (Let faith find a home)
Niech nadzieja zagości, (Let hope find a home)
Niech miłość zagości w nas. (Let love find a home in us).
Niech wiara zagości,
Niech nadzieja zagości,
Niech miłość zagości w nas.
Duchu Święty, przydż!, etc.
Of course, there is the difficulty of pronouncing przyjdź, which is something like p-shh-eay-je. But never mind.
My first lecture was on "Catholic Heroines of the 20th Century", and I had chosen Servant of God Dorothy Day of New York, Blessed Natalia Tułasiewicz of Pozńan and Heretical Simone Weil of Paris, who I admitted was an unusual choice. However, she was Single, and I deliberately chose Singles with super-strong principles. My young translator, who chose not to bring the text with him, stumbled over "Servant of God". Simultaneous translation was not his forte, and we painfully gave my speech clause by clause. When I got to direct quotes by Blessed Natalia, I just read them in Polish. The kindly ladies applauded a particularly long one.
Afterwards, the translator dropped a hint that the awkwardness was all my fault for reading directly from the text instead of ex tempore, whereupon Father Paweł and Alicja
When we reappeared after the break for my second lecture, I was relieved to see that my translator now had a copy of the text. This lecture was on "The Dignity of the Unmarried Woman," and it went much more smoothly and--very important--rapidly. Then there were some questions, the first asking why B.A. and I don't adopt, and another asking how to cope with feelings of failure. Then Father Paweł talked a bit about the importance of not being angry at men (I believe) and having good friendships with them.
Then there was lunch and the cake episode. Cake (ciasto) and cooky (ciastko) are, as you see, very similar in Polish, and when I asked my translator what Father Paweł was announcing, he mentioned that there would be coffee and cake set up at three o'clock. He meant "ciastki" but unfortunately I took him at his word. A huge desire for cake overwhelmed me. Cake! Cake! Cake! I ducked out of Adoration rather early in search of it. Cake! Cake! Cake!
There was no cake in the darkened guest dining room, so I peeked into the Redemptorists' dining room. No cake. I looked in the guests' little kitchenette on the second floor. No cake. So I went to the parish hall. No cake. There was another lady there already, so I asked about the cake, and she pointed to the two plates of cookies. She smiled sadly when I protested that the translator had said cake.
I began to ponder how I might sneak out and get some cake. Surely some cake shop must be open, even on Constitution Day. After all, Kraków has a booming tourist trade. Tourists don't care about Constitution Day. Tourists care about cake. And shouldn't there be Constitution Day cake? Or is cake for every occasion sort of a North American thing?
But first I took my seat in the parish hall for Alicja's talk. This was delayed, however, by the sudden entrance of a bishop. The bishop! Father Paweł, naturally very time-conscious, cheerfully gave up any attachment to the schedule. Bishop! Bishop!
The bishop was officially visiting the Redemptorists and joked that he had found their cloister full of us women. (In Canada, everyone would have got very defensive, but in the Krakowian parish hall, everyone thought this was hilarious.) He gave a good ex tempore talk on Women in the Bible, particularly Our Lady and the Annunciation, and then took questions. Boldly, one of the women asked him about the vocation to the Single Life. I was rapt. The bishop said that vocation was an event, and that although you may have an inclination to be married or to the priesthood, you do not have a vocation to it until you actually take your vows. True enough; I agreed with him completely. But this leads to the questions: What event determines that you have a Single vocation? If vocation is determined by an "event", why does the post-Vatican II church list Single Life, a state into which everyone is born, as a "vocation? I wish someone had asked these questions; I didn't have the Polish and it didn't occur to me to ask Father Paweł, helpfully translating, to ask the bishop. I was a bit in awe of the bishop, to tell you the truth. He left us a stack of holy cards.
Alicja's talk was on "To Be Pearls", a meditation on biblical texts that talk about pearls, especially in the context of good women. She had very kindly given me a copy of her notes, so I could follow along. Polish is hard. Have I mentioned this?
Then there was supper, and an hour or so before Holy Mass in the beautiful Basilica of Our Lady of Perpetual Help. I put on my rain boots and went in search of cake. My plan was to walk towards the touristy "Jewish Quarter" for half an hour, and then walk back. And lo, after 25 minutes I found an open cake shop. Victory! I carefully explained in Polish which cake and how big a piece, opened my handbag and discovered that I did not have any money with me. I walked 25 minutes back to the Redemptorists' house, offering up my disappointment in reparation for my sins, etc. I still longed for cake. Alas, I never got any cake. I went to sleep thinking "Cake!" It was really very sad. Okay, it was really very pathetic. I was sad.
On Sunday I woke up no longer obsessed with cake. However, there was still the coffee problem. Instead of going to morning prayer, I went to the Calvary Street coffee shop, but lo, it was closed for Sunday. However, thoughtful Father Paweł made me a proper coffee, and it was waiting for me in the guest dining room. I was delighted.
My first lecture was "On the Theology of Women", and it was all about St Edith Stein (Teresa Benedicta of the Cross) and her theology of women, and then about St. John Paul II and his additions to her theology. (I have promised to translate this one into Polish for Alicja, which will take me a few weeks.) My final lecture was called "Warnings from the West" and was very bitter about hip-hop culture, the sexual revolution, how much North American men and women distrust each other and what the Poles call "gender theory."
My lecture, which I thought rather depressing, ended with a lot of suggestions, which unfortunately I had couched as commands, i.e. "You must... You must..." I heard my translator inexorably repeating the bossy "musicie", and I felt that I had made a grave rhetorical error. Nobody, least of all the Poles, likes bossy foreigners telling them what to do. So I added to the end an explanation of what I admire so much in Poland, aspects that have been lost in my own country and, to my horror, I began to cry.
But this actually was very lucky and appropriate for a Polish audience, perhaps especially one of women. Poles are rather less afraid of expressing tender emotions than Canadians, especially British Canadians, are. (Sudden memory of myself weeping in a crowd before a library television, live broadcasting on 9/11 and a fellow Canadian lady with an artificial smile asking me if I was all right. Of course not, you silly cow. I've just seen a tower containing perhaps thousands of people collapse before my very eyes.) In Poland, it's alright to cry. In fact, if a woman doesn't cry, other women might think that there is something wrong with her.
Father Pawel made a speech thanking me and presented me with a copy of his latest book and a pillar candle commemorating the commemoration of St. John Paul 2. And then there was lunch.
After lunch, Alicja gathered together some women from the "Brave Women" society, and we all went to a meeting room to chat with a journalist. Eventually Father Paweł sat beside me and began muttering an English translation in my ear, for which I was very grateful. In short, the women meet one Saturday a month for prayer, testimony and workshops of different kinds. There was one on personal style, and what colours look good on you. They talked about the importance of women from different states and stages of life coming together in fellowship and about spiritual motherhood. Afterwards, the journalist interviewed me, and with Alicja's help we muddled along happily in English and Polish.
Then I went for a proper walk in "the Jewish Quarter" before going to a pizza supper with Fr. Paweł, Alicja and Katarzyna, the flamenco teacher. And then we all walked, in the unseasonably bitter cold, across a bridge over the Vistula to "the Jewish Quarter" where at last I had some cake. It was chocolate with raspberry puree and whipped cream. When the others chatted in Polish I listened very hard. There is so much vocabulary I don't know.
And that was the retreat! The next day I made a beeline for the French cafe near the beautifully baroque Main Market, but as it was packed with students, I went next to "Tribeca u Szołayskich", which is in the same building as the principal collection of "Młoda Polska" art. (I visited the latter on Friday morning and loved it.) There I had a beautiful cup of coffee with milk and a chocolate croissant, which is to say, kawa z mlekiem i czekoladowy croissant.
I am very grateful to all the women who bought books and asked me to sign them, and who asked me questions, and for my prayers, and those who promised to pray for me, too. I am especially grateful to Alicja, who as always was very supportive and kind to me, and of course to Father Paweł, who was an excellent and generous host. And I must also mention the delightful counter service of Kraków, the waiters, waitresses and cashiers, all of whom listened to my Polish, spoke to me in Polish, and switched to English only as a last resort. Nothing is more helpful to my acquisition of Polish than being forced to speak it.
Update: Alicja's report, with more photos! Alicja mentions that I am going to send her two of my talks translated into Polish--one fully, and one just notes. I am just going to my dictionary and, like the heroic Oates, may be some time.