When I was in Lublin, Poland, I sat in the Old Town square and had a conversation with a young Belorussian man:
Him – “Why do you Americans drive such big cars?”
Me – “To compensate for our small penises.”
Him – “…we in Belarus also have small penises. Perhaps it is the price of petrol.”
It was not only the two of us. The Belorussian man had a young female companion, a student and colleague of his from Belarus also studying abroad in Lublin. When she introduced herself to me, she said, “My name is a bird. Your english word for this bird. Gęś, po polsku.”
“Gęś? ‘Gęś’ means ‘goose’.”
“Your name is ‘Goose’?”
Truth be told, I forgot her name. ‘Gusakowa’ is my best recollection, but from that point on, I knew her as The Goose. In my mind, she will continue to be The Goose.
I can’t say much about The Goose. She was young, energetic, engaging, and I took an immediate fondness to her.
I remember: as I was touring the young gentleman’s home in which I stayed a night, he introduced me to his restroom. I noticed it had no toilet paper. I asked him if he had any toilet paper. He silently gestured to a basket of magazines and old homework assignments. I shuddered.
It was on that very toilet I found myself later whistling, as I often do. My toilet repertoire is never random – it’s usually relevant and pointed, chosen carefully as to add some sort of depth or psychological weight to whatever may be going on.
In this moment, I chose to whistle the melody to Ogiński’s polonaise, “Farewell to the Fatherland.”
Ogiński was a Polish composer of the 18th and 19th centuries. He called himself a Lithuanian at a time when Belarus was Lithuania, and Lithuania was a part of the Polish dominion. Ogiński wrote the Polonaise, “Farewell to the Fatherland,” as Poland-Lithuania was tragically losing its independence to the surrounding autocracies in the 1790’s.
And there, in Lublin, the city where Poland and Lithuania were unified over 400 years prior, sat a wannabe-Lithuanian on a Polish toilet in a Belorussian’s apartment. Ogiński’s polonaise couldn’t have been more appropriate.
When I exited the bathroom, The Goose looked over at me and smiled. “I enjoyed your Ogiński.”
Ah! So she recognized it!
And there’s not much else to say. I left the next morning and never returned. Lublin is but a memory. Belarus is a fantasy. And nothing actually happened anyway, but yet, The Goose remains firmly planted in my brain as one of the few who can appreciate someone whistling Ogiński on the crapper. I may have already forgotten her name, but I’ll never forget her knowing smile, that vague and unspeakable charm of some random acquaintance destined to fade away into the nostalgic and romanticized past.
It’s easy to fall in love with someone you know you’re never going to see again.