The space between reality and dreams

imageMay 1 in Poland is Labor Day, a vestige from Communism that people don’t want to give up just yet, and May 3 is Constitution Day, so I decided to take my extra two days to visit Łódź, the city where my grandmother is from, and Kalisz, the town where my grandfather was from. I did it alone, not because I felt like this was a special journey I had to do by myself, but because in all honesty, I don’t know of anyone who would want to come with me.


This weekend has felt like an exercise in liminal spaces, where the real and unreal merge and separate like oil and water, like a mirage from the asphalt, like my meaning from my limited Polish vocabulary. Maybe it’s because I didn’t have anyone to talk to because my hostels were empty and there were far fewer tourists, so I just had the thoughts in my head and by halfway through this afternoon, it was starting to freak me out.


I came to Łódź and Kalisz hoping to find some piece of history, some sign that what happened to my grandparents is not just remembered or acknowledged but actually felt, perhaps even mourned. But that would be asking too much. (especially if you know the history of Jews in Poland, but we won’t get into that) Like everything, life has gone on in the almost 80 years since my grandparents left–well, were forced out of–these places. Even though half of Łódź looks like no one has repaired the buildings since someone bombed the shit out of them during WWII, people still live and walk around because life has moved on, it has to move on, and the profound historical moment has not been preserved except for maybe the spray paint on the sidewalk saying that the Łódź ghetto was here.

This is the address where my grandmother lived in the ghetto, and judging by its state of disrepair it might even be the same building.

So this afternoon I was sitting at a cafe on the main square in quaint little Kalisz, a town where you would never guess so many people were forcibly expelled… There is not much in the way of memorials here, even less than Łódź. I walked around, wondering which of these buildings were ones my grandfather would have seen himself, which of these cafes used to be Jewish cafes or if that was another part of town altogether. My grandfather is no longer alive, and his only sister’s daughter no longer speaks to our side of the family, so I have no one to ask for directions. There is not much tourism, so there are no walking tours to point out historical districts. The wikipedia page on the history of Jews in Kalisz is pretty thorough, but the street names have changed, so there is nothing useful there.

Watching the sunset in Kalisz

 I don’t speak to anyone because even though I usually understand what people want to say when they speak to me in Polish, I still don’t have anything to say back. So I’m sitting on the square reading Roberto Bolaño in Spanish, because for me he is a poet and author all about the in-between: between democracy and dictatorship, between revolution and apathy, between real and imagined. I’m reading his words and hoping maybe some new words or new ideas will occur. And in that space between reality and dreams, the mysteries of poetry, of the Polish language, of my family’s history will reveal themselves to me.



todos en la misma senda,
Donde se confunden y mezclan los tiempos:
Verbales y físicos, el ayer y la afasia

all on the same path,
where time gets confused and mixed up:
verbal and physical, yesterday and aphasia

“El Burro”, Roberto Bolaño (from Los perros románticos)

10 Replies to “The space between reality and dreams”

  1. In a strange way, I can relate with you. There aren’t any similarities in our grandparents’ lives, but I understand this quest of trying to understand what has happened, the legacy of our ancestors, all too well. My family history paternal side is pretty clear, but on my mother’s side not so much.. and I, too, don’t really have anyone I can ask. At least no one really willing to speak; I might try to make a photographic project out of it, but there would be many barriers I’d have to breach (one of those the language barrier).

    Where did your grandparents go after they were forced away? From which country are your other grandparents? And where are you from?

    Also, I think it’s quite impressive that you can read Spanish poems 😀 I’m reading my third Spanish novel and it’s a struggle haha

    Have a beautiful weekend! 🙂


    1. Yes, my mother’s parents are from Polish towns that are pretty close to each other, but WWII sent them in very different directions. They met on Cyprus in 1947, waiting for the state of Israel to be opened in 1948. They moved to California in 1956. My father’s parents are just, like, white-bread Americans.


      1. You have a really interesting heritage! Were you able to learn through your grandparents about it? or through your mum?


      2. My grandmother told me a lot, she likes to talk A LOT. My grandfather actually never told me much, but I was only 11 when I died so most of what I know about him is from my mother and grandmother.

        Liked by 1 person

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