being the tale of a journey of two Tolkien lovers to a land distant and strange, and yet familiar

by Adam Klein

I wrote this opera, see, not knowing or caring whether anyone would hear it, but just because I thought it needed to be done. A wise acquaintance counseled me to obtain permission from the publishers to use the story and words. So I did, and I got it, in 1991. The contract was for 3 years, subject to mutually agreed renewal, but I read that to mean if no one said anything it was perpetual, so 14 years after I finished writing it, tired of no one knowing about it, especially after having been in several really mediocre new operas, we put a concert on of Part One, and then were told by the publishers' lawyer that permission had ended 12 years previously, but since they thought it was an honest mistake, they reinstated the permission for the period of one year, which allowed me to produce a concert of Part Two, and also put up a web page about the opera. The announcements I put on the Web before Part Two, however, (or it may have been the serendipitous review posted on by an attendee) caught the attention of one Bartek Amnas, henceforth referred to by his Elvish name Osse, who corresponded with me and then put up a page of his own about in on the Cyberdusk website, and this in turn caught the attention of the Rangers of the North, specifically Marcin Oparski (pronounce marr-Cheen oh-Parr-skee), henceforth named Opar, and they put up their own web page about the opera.

By this time I was trying to get a few places interested in putting on concerts of LEITHIAN within the one-year window and I told this to Opar and the Rangers agreed it would be really cool to bring LEITHIAN to Tolk Folk, their annual Tolkien festival in Bielawa (pronounced byeh-Lah-vah), Poland (pronounced Poh-lund), a nice little city nestled in a valley between mountain ranges, not unlike a cross between the Shire and Rohan, without so many horses. Fees were discussed, and eventually Opar's friend and fellow Tolkien fan Jaroslaw Florczak (pronounce Yah-rro-slahv Flohr-chahk), henceforth called Elek Bregalad, who is the director of Mokis, Bielawa's cultural center, managed to procure the funds to fly me and Tami from New York to Prague and then drive us into Bielawa- but not necessarily to sing Leithian, since the publishers had not yet told me whether they would extend the permission to cover the time period of Tolk Folk, which was two weeks after the window closed. So as a Plan B we were brought there to give singing classes and lead the closing song of the festival, "Gondolin zdradzony" (gohn-Doh-leen zdrrahd-Zoh-nih) by Jacek Wanszewicz (pronounce Yah-tseck Vahn-sheh-vitch).

So arrangements were made, plane tickets were bought, and Tami and I set off for JFK airport and thence to Prague. Despite my abhorrence of flying, the transatlantic voyage was trouble-free: in fact there were aspects of the flight which might change my mind about this mode of travel, if American companies would adopt some of the policies of Czech Airlines, for instance: the Stewards and Stewardesses were all as polite as can be, no attitude. Wine, with refills, was served with dinner, no extra charge. It was also served as a separate drink, no charge. What wine was it? Czech wine, and it was as good as a lot of domestic American wine. One of my favorite wines is Riesling, and one of the whites served was what the Czechs call Ryslink: it was very good.

Then, at Prague Airport, there was no Strip Search with Interrogation at Customs. The only snag was a delay in the baggage getting to the carousel, but since that is a universal problem, I will not list it as a problem. Our flight left New York at about 4 PM on Wednesday and arrived in Prague at 6:30 AM on Thursday. We went to Prague because there was no direct flight to any airport closer to Bielawa, and we didn't want any lost luggage problems due to transfers. (Next time we fly to Wrocław (pronounced VRROH-tswaf), just one hour from Bielawa, and take our chances with luggage or just do carry-on.) So there to meet us was Opar, who had gotten up at 2 AM to start the trip from Bielawa, and the driver was Waldemar Reczkowsky (henceforth Waldek), a childhood friend of Elek's, who proceeded to take us to his nice little Pensjonat (pen-SYOHN-at, a hotel) called Villa Rossa (it's red) in Kamionki, a village near Bielawa. (It also has a bar/restaurant in it called Bernie's Bar. If you want to know why it has that name, go stay in the hotel and ask Waldek. <>) The trip took 4 hours due to traffic jams. There are big highways between Prague and Bielawa, but they don't go from one to the other but from Prague to somewhere else east, so most of the trip was on two-lane roads, which have little if any shoulder room and are shared with bicycles and pedestrians. We did see one collision which cost us 15 minutes, but it didn't seem like they have any more accidents than Americans do on their nice, spacious, shoulder-bearing roads. Well, for one thing, almost all the cars are the size of my 1993 Metro named Patsy (why Patsy? Watch the Holy Grail movie, and I don't mean the Da Vinci Code or Excalibur), so there's generally more room on the road to pass people. Patsy, except for the stickers which she's clothed in, would be very much at home in Poland.

In Czech Republic we passed miles and miles of wheat fields, making us feel like we were in Kansas or Saskatchewan, then as we climbed toward the mountains the wheat gave way to something I hadn't expected: corn. The Poles call it kukurydza (almost koo-koo-REE-tsa). Miles of it. So we were now in Iowa. (I was informed later by Michal Kara that Czech corn is generally grown to feed cattle because the climate is "not so hot".) Then we got into the mountains and went through country that looked variously like northern New York State, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, eastern Kentucky and central Colorado. When you look at a map of Europe you just see borders, cities and maybe rivers. I wasn't prepared for how many trees there are in western Poland. And people get out on the weekends and walk in the woods, and pick mushrooms and berries and have picnics in the fields. And they are almost all in great physical shape. We saw nonagenarians walking the streets with neither cane nor oxygen tank. Apparently not a lot of people make the old Golden Arches their main gustatory destination- although to be accurate, Waldek, once he heard our opinion about fast food, made sure he took no roads that had a Ronald burger joint on it. The only mickey-dees we saw was outside Prague.

One of the wonders or worries we had before going was what to expect at the Polish border and what to say to the guard. We were used to the Canadian and Mexican border, where when you go to Canada or to the US (not to Mexico, they love having us come over) you need to name your family to the 5th generation and cite the GPS coordinates where you'll be staying and your length of stay down to the picosecond. We got to the Czech-Polish border, Waldek handed the guard our four passports- actually he just handed him his driver license and our three passports- we waited about a minute, said not a word, got them back and drove on through.

So anyway the conversation turned obviously and early to Tolkien, and also things Slavic, and we mentioned this Russian grocery we know of off Route 9 in New Jersey where I bought a jar of pickled mushrooms of the variety we in the States call King Bolete or Boletus edulis (how is this Tolkien-relevant? Remember Farmer Maggot and the mushrooms they stole from him- oh that's right, the movie didn't show that scene! I have learned that in the Polish translation of LotR the mushrooms are specific and called Pieczarka, small and grey: these are not what we ate in Poland.), but I learned from a poster of edible mushrooms is also called Cep, which anyway is never found in American groceries, not even gourmet ones, even though it's one of the tasties mushrooms on the planet, right up there with Huitlacoche (never heard of Huitlacoche? Go to a restaurant in Mexico and ask for steak in Huitlacoche sauce. Americans throw it out because it grows on corn ears and they think it ruins the corn. They call it "corn smut".). So Waldek said he thought I was talking about something the Poles call Kania (KAH-nyah), but then I remembered the German name: Steinpilz, and Waldek said that's not Kania, that's called Prawdziwki (prahv-JEEF-kee). So lo and behold, we're about 30 minutes from Kamionki when we pass a middle-aged man with gray hair and rubber boots which looked susipiciously like they came from Tom Bombadil's wardrobe (Who's Tom Bombadil? Oh that's right, he wasn't in the movie either. If you haven't read the books by Tolkien, maybe you should.), carrying a plastic bag full of freshly picked wild mushrooms, as it turns out both Kania and Prawdziwki, which Waldek bought from him for 12 Złoty (pronounced (Zwoh-tih), and 30 minutes after our arrival at the hotel we had Second Breakfast (first was on the plane) of sauteed Kania tops, or Kania cutlets. Kania turns out to be what we call Parasol Mushroom. (Macrolepiota procera)

In addition to being a hotel manager and great cook, Waldek also exports hand painted Xmas ornaments which have been mercilessly copied by cheap Chinese factories, but which the conoisseur will appreciate. He showed us these after (Second) Breakfast. Really fine work from local artisans. His Pensjon caters to the Skiing Crowd, located as it is near several Polish skiing resorts.

Then Waldek chauffeured us through Bielawa over to the Field where we hooked back up with Opar and met Elek and also many other participants in the festival, including Osse's friend Nifrodel (Anna Adamczyk), resplendent in a green Elvish cloak which set her deep red hair off very nicely. (In fact, many of the attendees were dressed in Elvish- one could say Renaissance- type clothing most of the time, not just during the performance or practices. And most of the guys had long hair. I'd never felt so at home in terms of appearance in my life.) Osse himself could not attend due to an illness in the family. That was for me the only sad aspect of the whole trip, but I gave Nifrodel the presents I brought for him. (Nifrodel, by the way, is the editor of the Polish Tolkien fan publication Aiglos, and she gave us a copy of the only English version edition they have done so far, full of deep intellectual discussions about Tolkien Polish translations, metaphor, social relevance and the like, and also Fanfiction which is stories from Middle Earth written by fans- apochrypha, if you will, quite well written; and also poems in Elvish. I regret that my Elvish is not what it once was, because I couldn't translate them. I've been busy with Portuguese, Russian, Tuvan and Japanese in recent years, there are only so many hours in a day.)

We also met a Hobbit named Agata, and a brighter, cheerier (and prettier) Hobbit we had never seen. (When I say Hobbit, I mean four foot zero. Check out her jewelry at this webpage.) During the Festival, when we weren't being treated to Polish food delicacies or shown cool local sites by Waldek, we generally hung out with Agata and Opar. Among many, many others we met were Kristof, Telperion (photo at left), Bąku (so called because he's crazy- in the good way- and the name comes from an insect that lives there called Bąk that we would call a bumblebee), and Elen, who is referred to on one webpage as the "girl in green".

And so for three or four days Tolkien fans from Poland, Czech Republic and Slovak Republic met and camped on a field on the outskirts of Bielawa, at the foot of Góry Sowie (Owl [pronounced Oh-l] Mountains: the Japanese also pronounce it this way for some reason. So Tami and I have adopted it.) (this might partially explain the Tolk Folk logo, which is a drawing of a very wise owl [singular Polish: sowa]). Here, under instruction from a famous and well respected combat instructor, they trained and staged a reenactment of the Battle of the Fall of Gondolin, which if you're not familiar just read the Silmarillion. Part of the fun training in that field was the occasional traverse of it by a local herd of cows. Also, if you didn't follow instructions, they had methods to MAKE you obey. (kidding) In addition to that, on Friday evening there was an Istari meeting at the Mokis theater in beautiful downtown Bielawa, which entailed several pieces performed in the theater, including something you might call "Middle Earth Idol" where judges judged different Valar on their performance abilities, and a song cycle of the Fall of Gondolin (a Czech translation of a cycle by British composer Alex Lewis) presented by members of the Czech contingent- and an interview of me, Tami and Opar (as translator) by some very nice members of the local media.

Dinner on Thursday at Villa Rossa was Prawdziwki over veal cutlet (Polish: prawdziwki na kotlecie) with potatoes, a cucumber/radish/tomato (ogórki/rzodkiewki/pomidory) salad and blackberry juice to drink, followed by vanilla ice cream inside chocolate ice cream and Jakobs coffee. I noticed growing right outside the restaurant room of Villa Rossa a Fairy Ring Mushroom (Marasmius oreades) but though I said I'd had it many times, Waldek would not consider eating it. He goes with what he knows, which is the key to not getting killed when you pick wild mushrooms.

At the Field (which Tami dubbed Farmer Maggot's field) we tried archery, scanned the adjacent pond for frogs, admired the standards which stood by the tents and sat by a fire and were given bread toasted over the fire like a marshmallow by our friend Agata. Very good. Later on, a piece with jam on it. Who needs toasters? It was unseasonably cold and we liked that fire very much. And I'll add here, just to make this paragraph a little longer and there's no more appropriate place for it, that the average size of cars in Poland was compact. So it's not that car companies don't make small cars anymore, it's that they don't market them to the USA. In fact in Prague, the one evening we were there, we came upon a Geo Metro the exact same body style as my 1993 one, with a plaque that "USSR" where on mine the old "Geo" logo is. Waldek's 4 door Mercedes was big for a Polish car. There is a practical reason for this. Not only do most of the roads have no shoulders, they also have thinner lanes than US roads, and the cities are old enough to remember oxcarts in the width of their alleys, or even before oxcarts, as Opar tells me.

The Polish we learned Thursday, besides the food names already reported, were: dzień dobry (good day/hello); cześć (hi); sie ma ('sup, dude); dzękuję (thank you); dobra (good/OK), tak (yes); dobranoc (good night). And the Polish word for "stop" as in stop at an intersection? "Stop". Speaking of stopping, I'm not going to bother with listing the pronunciation any more. Just learn that e with a tail sounds sort of like how snooty Brits say "own" without a clear "n" at the end, a with a tail sounds sort of like how New Yorkers say "own" without the final n, c sounds like ts, cz is ch, sz is a dark "sh", rz is a dark "zh", dz is j, j is y, y is short "i", slashed l (ł) is w, w is v, v does not exist outside of loan words. (But it does in Czech, which has no letter w or sound like w, except the vowel u.) In Polish, as in Portuguese, final o is generally pronounced "oo" (like "food"); o with an accent (ó) is always "oo" so equals Polish"u". Also, ś=sz, ź=rz, ż is a bright "zh". Now you're on your own. Instead of watching 3 hours plus of TV a night, why don't you learn another language and open your mind to another culture? Start with your own heritage and move out from there. Over half the Polish Tolkien fans we met spoke very good English, and at least one other language (besides Polish). Why do we Americans continue to keep ourselves stupid by not promoting multilinguality? And if you're a Tolkien fan who has learned Elvish, why not also Polish? It'll get you a lot farther in Poland than Elvish will. Well, this soapbox has a lot of wear on it, so I will desist. For now.

Friday was started with a breakfast (only one this time) of jajka (singular: jajko) which is eggs, done whatever way we preferred, and like I was told at the Met commissary a while ago, the eggs have a yolk color about twice as intense as American eggs, even organic ones, get. They look like they have cheese built into them. Taste fantastic too. Besides jaika there was locally baked bread, yogurt (Danone brand, with a suspiciously familiar logo behind the name), pomidore, fruit juice and several Polish cured meats available, very tasty and not nearly as salty as most American sausages are.

Then off to work: At the first singing class, with Opar as translator (but we found out that in addition to several people who didn't speak English, there were also a few who didn't speak Polish, but they did speak English, so we needed both) we gave them a basic outline of operatic singing technique, which many seemed to get a lot out of, including one young lady named Agnieszka who got a little solo coaching (in front of everyone) and did very well. It was still cold and Waldek had lent Tami a nice white sweater which you can see in this photo.

There was also an Elvish dance practice which Tami took part in, and then we went to Mokis for the plays and the interview in which I was asked about LEITHIAN and explained to them about the permission problem, and one of the media ladies asked me (through Opar) if I had ever read the Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski, who has written his own story series similar to the Tolkien world ( first one called The Witcher), and would I be interested in writing an opera based on one of his stories. The answers are no and yes, but I'll have to learn Polish first. To that end I have bought an introductory Learn Polish course book and Opar is procuring me a translation of Tolkien stuff in Polish so I can learn it through a story I already know well. Doing the same with Japanese and Harry Potter, but that's another trip. In the room where we did the interview was also a display of local artist science fiction art, all of it really good and some of it excellent.

After the interview, we caught the Czechs' song cycle, which received a standing O despite a howling and unnecessary sound system, and then Tami and I sang some stuff accompanied by my Mac Powerbook G4, also to a standing O. A thrilling end to a great day. Also, Elek took us to his office and showed us a few more fantasy paintings including a beatiful one of Leaf by Niggle, blues and greens and blacks, by Justyna Rerak. These works of art were submitted as part of a contest, and one winning entry gets used for the lapel pin (and tee shirt print) made for each festival. They are serious about their fantasy and sci-fi in Poland. We were given pins and shirts with this design on them. Elek gave me my shirt at this point, but didn't have a small one there for Tami, so that waited until later.

Then dawned Sobota (Saturday), and we breakfasted on winerki, the tastiest, creamiest wieners I have ever tasted. I don't eat much meat (and by "meat" I mean any macrospopic organism that isn't a plant or a fungus, whether or not it has a "face"), but if American hot dogs tasted like that I would buy them. As opposed to "ball park" franks, these things are paler, with a stronger skin (most American ones have no skin by the time they get to you) and an inside that is almost like custard in its consistency, with a non-saltiness that makes it seem sweet. I could go on about them but I'll stop. With the winerki we had bread, yogurt, pomidore and Polish sausages again. Tomatoes at breakfast is typical, said Waldek. I approve. I'm a guy, tomatoes are good for me.

At this point, we learned from Waldek that the Polka is a Czech dance. (Please make a note of it. Or am I the only American who didn't know that?) Michal Kara later told me that strictly speaking "polka" just means folk dance, but "Roll out the Barrel", the well-known polka song, is a translation of a Czech polka song written in the 1930s or 40s.

For the second singing class, it was very hot that day and though we were glad not to need sweaters anymore, we nevertheless went over to the shade of some trees where we found a nice Kania growing, so we did the practice around the Sacred Kania, as I called it. I was given some finer points on Polish pronunciation there from one of the men singing. He described one of the linguo-velar voiced fricatives as like the sound you make when you rev a motorcycle. No, not "vroom vroom". Like Russian, Polish has a darker and a lighter version of the sound we have in words like fusion and azure, and the lyrics of "Gondolin zdradzony" had one but not the other. I was doing the wrong one. When the class was over, three of the Czechs gave us a copy of a Czech book of songs about Middle-earth. Thank you, guys, we will treasure it.

Waldek picked us up and ferried us at blinding speeds on those two-lane roads back to Villa Rossa in charming Kamionki, and served us a lunch of Sola (a fish from the Baltic Sea with a catfishesque texture) in a white sauce with a base of Knorr white (Biały) sauce with the addition of egg yolk, vegetable broth and the broth from the fish, then finally some cheese added, served with Don Solis, a Spanish wine that curiously reminds one of Nehalem Bay Riesling (Oregon): it was all really REALLY good. This and many other excellent dishes could be yours if you stay at Villa Rossa. <>

Then we went into Bielawa, to Park Miejski to the public phase of the Festival. There was a Hobbit Run contest going on, made up of several stations: a Mount Doom station (throw 3 rings into a mountain), a leap-from-one-stone-to-another-in-the pond station, a go-through-the-scary-spider-forest one, a run-between-moving-hanging-things one (avoid the Trolls-- this one had a "trap" in it such that if you didn't know what happened to Trolls in sunlight you might get hurt- I will say no more, for fear I've already said too much), a steal-two-treasures-from-The-Lonely-Mountain one (this also had a trap: the One Ring was supposedly in the mountain and anyone who found it would get extra points-- but we all know where that ring was really found, don't we? What? You don't? Didn't read "The Hobbit"? Shame.) and a stay-upright-on-the floating-barrel one. Here is a picture of Tami's first and last moments on the barrel. She lasted two seconds. I didn't even last one half second, because my legs were too long to do it properly. And I have bad balance. One of the most anticipated events was the archery contest, (see photo) which was won by a member of the local archery club, and even though he was outshot in the first round by one of his (female!) co-club members, he bested her in the playoff (shoot-off) round. There was more practice of "Gondolin zdradzony" (again see photo) on the stage with the sound system and we learned for the first time that we were not synching our singing to the guy on the recording we learned it from, rather we were the only singers, but we knew it well enough by then not to need any help.

Also the Elvish dancers practiced again, and we were interviewed by several press people with video cameras, some from Bielawa and a pair from Wrocław, always with Opar interpreting for us. The Wrocław people suggested Tami and I sing with the opera company there, and we agreed that would be really cool. (Speaking of really cool, when we came home we wrote to a friend of ours who sent back an answer in Polish which he had used one of those computer translators to generate- but we thought he could speak Polish and had never told us. He then translated our response into "Polish" and back into "English", and we discovered that our phrase "that looks really cool!" came back "it appears to be truly cold." So these translators might appear truly cold, but they don't really work. Learn the *&$%^# language yourself.)

Other things that happened at Park Miejski that afternoon: we got to watch the reenacted battle being practiced with the proper staging for the first time. There were two Balrogs on the Morgoth side, rendered by putting those people on stilts, and they had (truly cold) horn-wigs with long spiky black hair. I met the three Slovaks who had come, and they gave me their card and a button with their fan club logo on it and invited us to their own fantasy festival next April, which honored us but which I'm afraid I think I can't go to due to my singing contracts in New York. It was good that they all three spoke some English, because I know almost no Polish or Czech and absolutely no Slovak. (Speaking of languages, which as you can see is one of my favorite hobbies, in Poland the young people in school study Polish, of course, but a second and third language are required. English is popular as the second language, and also German and French, especially in the west of Poland, where they don't even think about learning Russian anymore, at least not those we talked to, though Opar tells me it is still learned in the East where you're more likely to come in contact with Russians. But gone are the days of the Iron Curtain where it was required. So you see, totalitarianism does not work, whatever name you call it by. I personally study Russian because I sing Russian operas and because the structure is so intriguingly complicated. Anyway, some schools also offer Chinese which is very forward-thinking, IMHO.)

Which brings up something else we found interesting: the apartment buildings built and colored drab gray in the Sowiet era, (yes, Polish spelling) have been repainted in bright colors and make many parts of the cities look like they took lessons from San Francisco. If people in "Project" neighborhoods in the USA had their ugly apartment buildings painted like this, maybe they'd be inspired not to throw so much garbage so far away from the trash cans.)

The background music playing the whole afternoon over the 15-foot-high speaker stack was Vangelis's "Spiral" album. Elek is a fan. Elek is also an Ent. That's why his Elvish name is Bregalad. He is a hasty Ent, but an Ent just the same. When the Hobbit dance got underway, in which Tami was paired with our Hobbit friend Agata, they had a record number of dancers, 89, but they needed an even number and the crowd told Elek to be Number 90, but he said Ents can't dance. But they all chanted his name until he relented, and then during the dance he pulled a muscle in his calf, proving himself right. Next morning he appeared at Final Meeting with an Ace bandage on, his calf injected with something to ease the pain. Never ask an Ent to dance. At least never insist.

Finally, Sunset heralded the beginning of Upadek Gondolinu, or The Fall of Gondolin. Opar was conscripted as spotlight-shiner, and Tami was an Elf dancing in the święto Bram Lata (festival of the Gate of Summer) dance, so I became a Spectator and took some poor photos of the proceedings. The entire reenactment, which started way before the battle began, was done to a musical score written specifically for it (of which Gondolin zdradzony, our final song, was a distillation or recap) with Elek narrating on top of it. It was "truly cold". Also very loud. It was like a rock concert, but the music was scored for orchestra sounds as well as electric rock band instruments. Tuor met Idril and King Turgon, Maeglin got angry, Maeglin was captured and betrayed Gondolin's location to the Orcs, the Dragon came in and spat big sparkler sparks, the battle proper commenced, Glorfindel slew Gothmog the Balrog, Gondolin was destroyed- but Eäendil escaped. I don't recap the story to tell it to you, but to say that these things happened in the show.  The crowd went wild with appreciation. (You can see a movie of it at this page of the official Tolk Folk website.) Then we sang our song with Bąku providing the word "Ryk" in very Orkish style, and the crowd went wild again. After everything was over, a shout of ZŁO ("zwoh") was heard. We asked Opar what this meant: the direct translation is "evil" but it's roughly equivalent to if some boys from the Hood say "we bad" or some Brits say "wicked".

Then Tami and I took Opar to (late) dinner at a local joint called Rodos, and had some Polish beer (piwo), but not the one on all the umbrellas called Piast, which Opar described as worse than Budweiser (Not that Bud is the worst beer. Everyone knows that's Corona. :) Also, a web search reveals that Okocim and Piast are both owned by Carlsberg, so whatever.) Rather Okocim O.K. and Okocim Mocne. Tami had wine. It was really weird seeing Budweiser and Corona on a menu listed as foreign, and also more expensive than any of the Polish brews. Waldek had chilled for us some Cemenoe Igristoe (Russian, not Polish) champagne style Russian wine, but we just couldn't bear to open it and kill its fizz after all that beer, so we waited on that.

Polish learned that day: tutaj=here; słuchajcie=listen up; jeszcze raz=one more time=again.

Sunday rolled around and we had another nice breakfast of pomidore, cured meats, excellent bread, berry juice, and maybe this was the morning we were served fresh wild berries which Waldek himself went and picked in the mountains. By the way, if you're wondering what the people camped at the Field ate, food was brought in and they could buy it by the piece. Good wholesome stuff from the look of it. We noticed, in particular, blueberry-filled pierogi. I don't think we have that in the States, but I really don't know.

Waldek took us back to the Field and we took our leave of Elek, who came for and led the Final Meeting but was feeling sick, in addition to limping. He gave Tami the small tee shirt, and then while telling us that in life there are many branches and you never know where one will lead, but some are very good, or something like that, he presented us with that painting of Leaf by Niggle, to keep. Being the son of an oil painter, I was very touched. Tami, I, Opar and Agata then took a very pleasant hike up into the forest, saw a Bąk(the thing Bąku is named after), a Frog and a Toad (very special for me of course) and many many trees and birds, and a butterfly that Agata and Opar called Paź Królowej (Queen's Page), later identified by my photo as Inachis io, called the Peacock Butterfly. (I'm no longer sure about the Polish name since Opar said he misnamed it, but when I did a Web image search for the name, two different butterflies came up: the Peacock and the Swallowtail. Proving yet again the value of the Linnaean classification system. Whatever you want to call it locally, we saw Inachis io. But I'd still like to know what the Poles call it.) In fact, most of the flora and fauna in this forest reminded me very much of a northeast US forest, except here the Norway maples are natives, not exotic pests. On the way up and back, we walked the long driveway that leads from the paved road to the Field and Agata and I ate many cherries off the trees. But I ate more.

Waldek collected us and asked if we'd seen any wild boar, and we had to answer in the negative- not that we were upset about that. Then he whisked us away past some ski resorts and this picturesque panorama to see Książ castle (pronounced more or less like k-Shah-ownsh). We saw many people mushroom hunting, picnicking and just promenading out in Nature. We also passed the mines at Walim, where the Germans made parts of the V-2 rocket back during that war, where many prisoners went in to work but did not come back out. We didn't go in, but from outside it reminded one of the East Gate of Moria.
     At the Castle we did the self-guided tour, which included an exhibit of a controversial Polish painter named Zegalski, "truly cold" stuff. The lady at the gift shop wasn't sure if we should see it. Hitler in some feminine clothing with a blue silk blindfold on, people drinking cow's milk from the source, a stab at American 50s pop art which was very amusing, and many other weird and/or schocking images. All in wonderfully stark contrast to the various rooms of the Castle decorated in styles varying from Baroque to Chinoiserie. Not great photo lighting but Waldek took a shot of us wowing at a particularly ornately painted ceiling (click on this castle photo to see it).
Finishing the tour we high-tea-ed at the castle's outdoor commissary, on Kaszanka, or blood sausage, which despite the name is more barley than anything else, but contains liver, thus reminding me of a mild Haggis, but VERY mild. Quite tasty, very tough skin that needed a sharp knife for cutting. Waldek had a szaszłyk, which we would call shish kebab, or kabob, whatever. Along with these sausages came pikle. Guess what those are. I'll give you a hint: put a c in the middle.
     On the way back to Kamionki we toured a picturesque lake with big cement dam and lots of slow-driving cars that reminded me of Cades Cove, Great Smoky Mountain National Park, except you could pass them and not be stuck for 2 hours. We then had a dessert of Mak, which is a poppyseed cake, with the rest of the Don Solis wine. Then we took Waldek out, much as he preferred to just be our host, and also Opar and Agata. Waldek chose the place, which he described as nice food as a reasonable price. To our surprise it was part of a gas station (filling station), but apparently that's not as weird as it would be in the USA. Actually many truck stops in the USA have restaurants, but this was not a truck stop, it was a gas station. The restaurant is called Bar Pizza. (son of Pizza? no. Poland is 95% Catholic.) The menu covers were made of wood. Here we had various things. I had this onion soup that was put into a scooped-out hard-crusted loaf of bread, "truly cold" even though it was hot soup. We checked the prices of beer and wine: Corona was twice the price of Okocim. (Yes, Corona. I know.) Gallo wine was more than twice the price of a Merlot Veneto.

Here are some Polish words learned at Bar Pizza: frytki=fries; sos=sauce; smacznego=bon appétit; zup=soup; żurek=a kind of soup (with no onions although at this place there were definitely onions in it); chleb=bread; żurek w chlebie= żurek in bread; zupa z jajek =egg soup.

On the way home we saw a jeż ("yesh") cross the road. The Brits call them hedgehogs. I was not expecting it to be so long. And flat. Really cute prickly little animal, and alive and well in western Poland. Back at the Pensjon we opened the bottle of Cemenoe Igristoe, which had a plastic cork that was easily reinserted, so my worry about killing it had been unwarranted.

We stayed an extra day because the fare was cheaper, for some reason intelligible only to those who make up plane fares. So Monday we woke to another nice Polish breakfast which I accompanied with the rest of the bubbly, which actually makes an excellent breakfast wine. (Thanks, Steve Beck, for the concept.) The liquid served, though, besides the coffee and tea, was aronia juice, something like huckleberries. For the bread there was a jam of czarna porzeczka (currants). Like every morning there, it was almost a challenge to see if we could eat everything, and we never met the challenge.

We swung by the Field where several Tolkienites were still camped, and said our goodbyes. As we were leaving a salute, led by Bąku, was shouted our way: "Zło! Zło! M$*%^& f#!&@* zło!" We were honored.

Polish words learned: kościół=church; krowa=cow; owoce=many kinds of fruit; dowidzenia=bye bye.

And off to Prague. Waldek's "old German lady," his Mercedes, who had performed flawlessly all week, got a fever in the 110 degree Fahrenheit weather near Prague and we stopped to give her a big drink and rest. Then with some difficulty we found the hotel that Waldek had taken it upon himself to reserve us a room at a few days earlier, and treated him to some coffee before his long trip home, and then we went into Prague and after wandering through what is called the Jewish section had a very nice Czech meal, with Moravian Riesling and Cabernet Sauvignon, Moravian duck over cabbage (Tami) with cooked apples and bread dumplings, and Moravian pork over cabbage (me), and then the next morning back west to the USA on Czech Airlines with another nice dinner with free wine. A little older, a little wiser, a little more appreciative of what we call the Old Country but which seemed to us in many ways to be very young indeed, and with a bright future. A very Hobbit-like excursion indeed. Thanks from the bottom of our hearts to Opar, Elek, and Waldek for all they did to get us there and give us such a great taste of their country, and also to Osse for taking notice in the first place, and all of you for caring about culture and art as much as you do. If all the leaders of the world had your values we would not be in the mess we are in.

Some of the photos in this story were taken from other web pages. To see more pictures of Tolk Folk, please visit Edme's photobucket and the Czech site Pulkaweb while the links last.

Thanks to Opar also for help in Polish spelling and general memory correction, and to Michal Kára for clarification of matters Czech.