Przemian w Rolnictwie i Przemyśle Węzłów 02/09/2010Posted by brendan in Avions, Trains et Voitures, Leçons Culturelles.
Tags: Carpathian Mountains, Dębica, eastern european trains, history, poland, Przemyśl, tarnów, travel
She wouldn’t take a credit card. People stoop over to yell through a little window cut in the protective plexiglass, wait for the gate to be raised, pass their cumbersome packages through or pick them up, and then carefully count out however much zlotchy is required. Heavy parcels with high tariffs from abroad probably aren’t an everyday event but they certainly don’t make it one you would want to repeat.
Rain had given way to a vicious heat and I would rather have sat in the park eating ice-cream than running across lanes of traffic to the nearest ATM. We bailed Janice’s camcorder out from the post office and visited the next little window cut in the protective plexiglass. A notebook was passed back and forth, furious scribbling conducted, hands waved. They took credit cards.
Prospective passengers ate prepackaged sandwiches outside the main lobby’s quickie-mart. We chose to share the soulless coffee shop upstairs with a homesteading pigeon. Dust from on-going renovation swirled in weak sunlight piercing the station’s shrinkwrapping, falling on a collection of donuts underneath a tupperware dome. I ordered from a girl wearing an apron that said “esspress yourself”.
Lonely engines danced the switchyard. Passing commuter lines paused to instigate waves of migration through subterranean passages which echoed with excited chatter and plastic wheels. The thirty-year-old, clattering automated schedule board couldn’t relate much information so the length of this delay was anyone’s guess.
Tin cans began blaring static so dense it baffled the native speakers. Janice abandoned attempts to decipher and asked a girl who told us that, yes, that’s our train on the wrong platform. I sprinted downstairs, underground and back up stairs, forcing open a metal door dangling until Janice could drag up her suitcase and double-check with an exasperated conductor.
Despite this being a second-class car people chose to clog the narrow aisle which left me muttering excuse me and ramming a human roadblock repeatedly with various pieces of luggage. Janice stormed a cabin while babbling foreign at some people who begrudgingly made way for two more. I expressed my appreciation by dumping my backpack on a seat and joining the zombies in the hall to watch the scenery pass.
Birch trees climbed the foothills of the Carpathian Mountains. Foliage was so thick along the tracks that sticking your head out the window became an act of willpower. Hills receded into the distance as plains asserted themselves. Joanna says that this is the poor side of Poland, and it certainly mirrors large swaths of middle America. Towns are built along intersections of road, alternating between agricultural and industrial hubs. Not many benefit from a rail station.
During the 1930’s the government enacted a series of projects to modernize the economy of highly-populated agricultural sectors. Dębica saw the rise of several factories, one of the longest enduring being a sprawling tire manufacturing complex. The grimy grounds of this corrugated nightmare churns out the goods on behalf of Goodyear. It’s the city’s most prominent landmark.
In the late 1800’s the reigning Austrian government constructed a rail line between Krakow and L’viv which included a stop here. Successive armies tromped through during the Great War, leaving it a fair mess for Poland’s brief independence. Partisan fighters with Armia Krajowa struck German occupiers from the southern woods, then were murdered or exiled by the Russians. The Soviets increased industrial investment in Dębica during the 70’s, but after the fall of communism in Poland the city slumped into high unemployment and a mass exodus of youth.
The train passed through the tiny market towns of Ropczyce and Sędziszów Małopolski. Rusting heaps of cars and crumbling pipes were joined by bands of wayward youth strolling along disused tracks. We were held next to an abandoned chain of tanker cars for half an hour without explanation before rolling into Rzeszów.
A little boy had grown restless and joined my watch at the window. He complained about my not speaking Polish while I worried about his fingers getting snagged in the bouncing frame. Dominic, as his name came to be, was traveling to Jarosław with his grandparents who had previously taken offense at when I sat with my backpack in my lap and insisted I store it properly. A pack of teenagers were getting sloshed and cracking wise at one end of the car while a couple very young pregnant girls with babies in strollers occupied the cabin next door. Almost everyone disembarked together and a nearly empty train carried on to Przemyśl.
Renovations had taken their toll here, surrounding the terminal with concrete traffic barricades and dust. The whole town was dusty and baking under a sun which had menaced the mercury into high eighties. Murals depicting happy workers toiling away adorned the interior, barely visible in dim lighting. The plaza outside was as shuttered and weary as Beirut’s green line, with every doorway lurker a Phalangist or PLO operative.
This border town bears the scars of its position now and throughout history. It’s the first line of defense against swarms of cheap Ukrainian goods, and before that the menacing Soviet Union. When Galicia was absorbed by a victorious Red Army populations shifted over the border with Ukrainians expelled east and Poles west. During the second world war twenty-four thousand Jews were sealed in the Przemyśl ghetto.
Przemyśl was a garrison city, fortified by the Hapsburgs during the 19th century to stand against any Russian incursions. In 1914 the city was besieged by over a quarter-million troops, eventually repelling the invasion. It fell a year later, the defenses destroyed, and immediately following the war the city was divided between warring Poles and Ukrainians who became entrenched on either side of the San River.
Dominic’s grandparents had told us of a cathedral we should visit, although this immediately followed the disappointment of learning Janice and I are not married. The city’s official website courts investment by boasting of cheap services and the lowest salaries in Poland. We spotted an open bar across the plaza and headed there.