Encouraged after this pleasant encounter with a lonely soul, I went up to a woman who was standing alone at a tall table. “Are you alone?” I enquired.
“My friends have left me.”
We exchanged cards. She was a retired Polish diplomat who had had a long posting in Italy. We talked in Italian.
“You have lived here 10 years and you don’t speak Polish!”
As with so many people of her sort of age, it is impossible trying to explain why not. To claim that it is not through lack of trying cuts no ice.
Of course, I could have been bluntly honest. The cultural wave is against Polish. This minority language is difficult, ugly and almost irrelevant.
I could have become personal. Not speaking the language allows distance, objectivity and provides a certain insulation from the oft times absurdity of Polish thinking. But I did not. Instead, like a gentleman, I accepted her distain.
We talked about this and that until a couple from the Polish Chamber of Commerce came over to the table. At that point I thought it was better to move. The husband is always charming whenever we meet. His wife seems to detest me because of my protestations against the Beethoven Festival. A friend of Mrs. Penderecki and sporting the same retro-Mrs. Thatcher hair style, we had what was almost a screaming match last year at the American Residence as the 4th July celebrations were drawing to an end. In no mood for a repeat action, I moved to a table where an Italian businessman I know slightly was engaged alone with a drink.
“Come va?” I asked, always happy to exercise my Italian and knowing that he doesn’t speak much English and no Polish.
“Sono pazzi. Tutti!”
And he should know. He is married to a Pole.