Sunday, 16 September 2007

Impertinent questions, ice cream, directions

Our Polish class- no longer 'beginners' but 'been doing this for five months now so no excuses for still being pretty rubbish' has increased in number by two. It might be three, depending on whether or not we scared the Dutch guy away.
We are still working on the past tense: this is made more complicated than you'd think because each verb has two versions, depending on whether you did something often-frequently or only once (thank you W.S. Gilbert for a very effective illustration of the difference between perfective and imperfective). A favourite language school exercise involves taking a little picture card from a stack and describing the activity illustrated on it. This is useful because you can do it in the past, future, negative and so on. The framework question is 'How often did you ... last year?' e.g.:
- Last year, how often did you go to the cinema?
- Last year, how often did you go out to dinner?
- Last year, how often did you watch television?
The answer is 'daily', 'once a week', 'twice a month' and so on (i.e. often-frequently/imperfective). Unfortunately, one of the picture cards shows two faces in close proximity. What's that? we asked.
- 'Całowac': to kiss.
Scandal ensued. One of the new guys in the class, with a big grin, has taken to asking the girls how often they kissed last year, last weekend, yesterday evening and so on. The cinema picture is no longer 'jak często w ześlym roku chodziłaś do kina?' but
'jak często w ześłym roku całowałaś w kinie?' - how often did you kiss in the cinema?
The possible variants are endless. I can only hope that I have been kissed in interesting enough places...

For some reason (maybe because I have a deceptively harmless appearance), people always approach me to ask for directions.
Little do they know.
To begin with, I would listen calmly and then respond with 'nie wiem', 'nie rozumiem' or 'nie mowie dobrze po polsku'. However, now I can just about work out what the question is and where the place is. And, thanks to my Colloquial Polish CD, I am An Expert at telling people to go straight on, turn right and so on.
Today, as I was on my way back from the American bookstore, two middle-aged ladies asked me how to reach ul. Piłudskiego and the National Museum. To my surprise, I realized I knew what they were talking about. I couldn't tell you whether my directions were accurate or not (given that I usually need SatNav just to find my way to the muesli aisle), but there was definitely communication of some description, which is a small miracle!
Visitors to Krakow... watch out...

This weekend the sun came out and we had a short-lived Indian summer [in Polish this is known as a 'golden summer' because of the sunlight on the turning leaves and other sentimental things. I think the British name came about because the reddening foliage, coupled with the fact that the rugby's on, triggers a mysterious craving for chicken tikka masala].
On Sunday, having spent an hour and a half rollerblading up and down the Wisła without falling in, I decided that it was high time I tried out the famous ice-cream place on Starowislna (given that it's been just down the road all this time). This unassuming outlet is reputed to sell The Best Ice-Cream in the whole city, so normally there is a resigned-looking queue of people lined up along the street. In almost six months I've still not managed to acquire any kind of Polish stoicism in the face of queues, so up until now I have always passed this particular confectioner by.
Today, however was going to be the day.
As I approached the shop, I passed several cars parked in the street, each with one or two people sitting inside, vacant, beatific looks on their faces and melted ice-cream dripping down their chins onto the dashboard.
A certain amount of organisation is required if you want to frequent any eating-places in Krakow not designed for tourists.
Once inside the door of the shop, you realise you do not get to see the product. Recommendation by word of mouth should be enough for you. There is a list of seven or eight flavours, primarily forest fruits, on the wall behind the counter. You have approximately six minutes to translate them and decide what you want (although the size of the cones is generous, so you can go for several at a time) before you arrive at the till. There are two things to remember: number of scoops followed by list of flavours. It is a slick operation, and before you realise what has happened you are outside blinking in the sunshine with a veritable tower of frozen dairy product causing you some serious wrist strain.

Verdict: fruit flavours are definitely what this place does best. They have a sharp and tangy flavour (I had strawberry and blueberry) which a good foil for the slight sugariness. The berry ices have a smooth texture as they melt and are not sickeningly creamy, although the chocolate (ok, ok, I had three scoops, I couldn't decide quickly enough) was a bit icy. But more than compensation for this iciness was the fact that it contained chunks of real chocolate: decent stuff too, not that cooking rubbish.
Apparently in the winter they switch to doughnuts.

If you're reading this in the office, I do hope there's a decent gelateria on a corner near you...

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