Poland might be the most surprising country thus far. Surprising because it has such a depth of history, culture, and conflict that I’ve never before realized. Before, it was that country between Germany and Russia. Now, it’s moved to the top of my list for places to visit.
I’m going to admit right now that I didn’t go to a Polish restaurant because there is none where I live. That I could find via Google and Yelp. However, if you happen to know of a place in the Salt Lake City Valley, let me know! I have no problem visiting one after my wrap-up. Because I love food.
After much research, I decided to make bigos or Polish hunter’s stew. It’s very meaty, which makes me wonder in retrospect after my research in to the country how often the common people and peasants actually ate it because meat for the little people was scarce. I’m talking once, maybe twice a year on Christmas and Easter.
That aside, this stew has cabbage and sauerkraut in it, three or four different kinds of meat, and veggies. I pulled from a couple of authentic recipes, but omitted the prunes. Yes, I said prunes. Weird. I used kielbasa, Polish sausage, stewing beef, and bacon. It was amazing.
What Poland Has Taught Me:
Poland has been the bone of contention between its neighbors for centuries, but somehow the country and people always manage to come out victorious (even if the process takes a few hundred years). Poland has taught me that:
- Unique governments have existed long before the United States came along. One of these was Poland’s elected kings and fiercely independent land magnates. This has been both a blessing and a burden throughout history: Poland: A History.
- The gaps between social classes can widen, instead of close, over time. Polish peasants had more freedom and rights earlier in history than they had later on. While English serfs were tied to the land, Polish peasants could go where they willed. But as those same serfs slowly gained freedoms over the centuries, the Polish peasants lost them. Similarly, commoners were looked down on by the nobles, especially as merchants began to gain money and popularity and power. The aristocracy rested on their laurels of centuries ago, and this is partly why their country was partitioned, and they didn’t have the power to stop it. In the end, the aristocrats ended up being a useless class of people and a drain on Poland: The Doll.
- The enmity between Poland, Russia, and Germany has been an ongoing thing. In the last 100 years, this had manifested as Nazi occupation and death camps and then as communist rule under the Soviet Union. Before it’s appeared as wars with the Rus and Teutonic Knights or the partition of Poland: Poland: A Novel.
- The loathing that Germany had for Poland, probably because it kept slipping from their grasp, culminated in the creation of death camps—notably Auschwitz—on Polish soil. This has irreparably scarred the Earth and sent millions of people to their maker: Auschwitz and The Boy in the Striped Pajamas.
- A country can be fiercely religious but still tolerant of other religions. Poland has always been largely Catholic, but it has a history of religious toleration for Protestants, Jews, and Muslims. Unfortunately, the toleration was strained during World War II, and many Poles gave up their Jewish neighbors to the Nazis. On the other hand, many Poles (Christian and otherwise) hid Jews at great personal cost: The Zookeeper’s Wife.
- Poland has never had much of a military, but they have determination and strength of character. The Poles have an ability to endure the hard until a brighter day: Escape from Warsaw
- Some countries straddle the West and the East with influences of both. Poland is one of those few countries. While it has taken architectural influence from France and Italy, it has traded extensively with the Far East to create beautiful cities and a unique culture.
Poland has never captured my imagination and curiosity…until this last month. It’s a culturally and historically rich place that has always and continues to pick itself up and rebuild when tragedy strikes. I’d like to believe that it’s an embodiment of the indomitability of the human spirit.