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Wednesday, December 23, 2009

I'll Be Home for Christmas

Phew! Transition from Warsaw to Denver, or more particularly to suburban Denver, is always jarring. For a number of reasons: I can speak English. I have my family all around me. The aesthetic and actual comforts of my home are substantial. My favorite foods are easier to prepare and enjoy. Real Mexican food, Hatch chilis! But the most dramatic change is this: in less than an hour, I drove to the eye doctor and picked up new glasses, drove through the drive-through dry cleaner to pick up a coat, stopped in at the office supply store to pick up notebooks and pens, drove over to the mall to run in and get my daughter a shirt she wanted, and then went to the post office to buy stamps and mail a package. I covered roughly eight miles, back and forth, completed five errands. In Warsaw this would have taken me all day. Even with a car. We have a phenomenon here in America that has fueled our consumer binge spending: the strip mall, the mini-mall, the neighborhood shopping area. And, of course, wide roads that expedite driving several miles in minutes. Never is this more obvious than now at Christmastime. We literally do have one -- or ten -- of everything. A store for every possible consumer wish. And some we hadn't even thought of yet. The shops in Warsaw are packed with parkas and scarves and sweaters and jackets, tennis racquets, skiis, books, fine crystal and gorgeous pottery. The mall makes me feel at home. Sadly, pathetically, whenever I'm homesick in Warsaw, I head for the Zloty Terasy, Arkadia or the Galleria Mokotow. I find all the top European shops, Zara, Marks & Spencer, even H&M. There are luggage stores, a zillion jewelry stores, outdoor recreation shops, home furnishings, and, most curiously, dozens of fine lingerie shops. But that's nothing compared to what I find when I come home. It is over-saturation. Complete over-saturation. Stunning over-saturation. My first trip back to Warsaw a few years ago, after a long absence, was a shock. It seemed then a consumer paradise. And compared to the bleak communist period, it was. In the course of just a few hours, I took a bus across town to buy a CD player, groceries, had a lovely sit-down dinner of fajitas and fine wine, got notebooks and a framed poster for my apartment wall. That would never have happened before. It was a marvel! I was blown away. In the following weeks and months, I easily furnished an apartment with the linens and dishes, pots and pans, rugs, towels, and could have bought chairs and sofas more to my taste too. It felt like a wonderland! But, then I came home. And realized that even with all the new consumer razzle dazzle in Poland, it didn't come close to the craziness of home. And now. And now. Christmas. Williams Sonoma, and Hollister, and Crate and Barrel, and the Pottery Barn, Anthropologie, and Eddie Bauer, and 250 shops in the mall plus the acres of stores surrounding it, speciality shops for hair extensions, Bosum Buddies for specialty bras, Pampered Passions for exotic lingerie, twelve different furniture stores, fourteen cosmetic shops, and, surely, a store that sells a partridge in a pear tree. As exhausting as we say it is to negotiate the crowds at the malls, trust me: it's nothing, nothing at all compared to the hassles of driving from one side of Warsaw to another, no strip malls with ample parking and a vast variety of options. If you're into consuming, America is heaven. But if you would rather wander through parks blanketed with snow, and amble around gorgeous architecture sculpted by ice, marvel at a castle in the heart of town lit up by fairy lights, and spend your time in a steamy-warm cafe and a tall mug of hot chocolate, I heartily recommend Warsaw. I have just the place in mind. Ummm....