Tour05 Day 44

The Sudenten Mountains on the Polish-Czech border

I made a mistake today. After riding my unloaded bike to the centrum - you can tell it is the centrum in towns like Jelinia Gora because there is a McDs there - I decided that the weather was improving and that I was in good enough shape to do a short ride today. I went back to my hotel, packed up and headed out. That was when I made the mistake.

Heading west out of Jelenia Gora

The weather was no longer improving, pedestrians were wearing long winter coats, and I was riding into a stiff cold wind. Now, at the end of the day, it has been raining for several hours, but that hasn't affected me. I've been in bed, with fever and chills, since before 2 PM.

It was pretty today, even with the lousy weather, and I did enjoy some of the riding. Without the wind and with some sun, it could have been a pleasant ride. Even then, the steep hill only about 10 km from Jelinia Gora, which I needed my lowest gear to grind up, probably would have made me sick again. My body was just not well enough to generate that kind power output.

My stomach really hurt as I climbed that hill, and I was chilled from riding with windchills below 50 F. I had realized earlier that I had made a serious mistake in riding today - I was too woozy to be able hold a good line in the gusty wind and light traffic - but there were no places I felt like staying and I was too stubborn to turn back.

Looking back from the top of the steep hill

At the top of the steep hill was a simple sign - bed and food, 500 m - and I was very relieved to see it. Most of the hotels here are three star resorts, which I really didn't want, but this is your basic country hotel. No stars.

Looking out my window in the rain, late in the day

I stopped, had lunch, which I could not eat all of, but that was not the restaurants fault, and asked for a room. At 80 Zlt with breakfast, This is the cheapest hotel room I've had in Poland, That is good since I will probably stay here two days. My room is nice, better than some rooms I've paid twice as much for. There is no internet access ;-), but I was able to get a simple report out in Jelinia Gora, so folks shouldn't worry about me for couple of days. The bed is not as nice as the ones in the three star places, but the view is quite nice, even in the rain and the proper German window has miniblinds which do a better job that the woefully bad light blocking cutains at most Polish hotels - it also has a lace curtain for privacy, but unless I stand right in the window so I can be seen from the parking lot, there are no other structures out there from which could see into my room. Just a pretty pond and lots of pretty trees and hills. Oh, and a big cellphone tower on top of the hill ;-(.

Looking towards the hotel from the top of the hill
The arches you see are part of buiding next to the hotel

Another view along the way

(the remainder of this report is something I needed to write but may not be something you want to read)

This afternoon, when I wasn't huddled under my duvet, shaking a bit, I've been reading Faulkner's Light in August. It is set in a world I lived in as a kid in small towns in the deep south of the USA. I only lived in it from when I was 8 to when I was 11 or 12. It was an evil world, which Faulkner knew well and portrays accurately. My mother was welfare supervisor in Marrianna Florida - 30 miles south of Dothan, Alabama. On our way home from the end of my tour last summer, my wife and I visited my daughter Sara in Tallahassee for her 21st birthday, we drove around Dothan and through Marrianna. It was interesting to see how much that area has changed in the last half a century, but it was also sad to be reminded of what that culture was, and to some extend probably still is, like.

We found the West-Davis house. which I think is the original plantation house. They give tours there now, but when we lived next door, in the former slave house with a bathroom and kitchen added on one end, Slade West lived there. He was a man about 50 who had never married - he was in the merchant marine for many years - and he liked boys around my age.

My father died when I was three, and Slade West was, for two years, like a father to me. We did all that stuff that fathers and sons do - he taught me to shoot - mother was horrified - and we spent weeks together at his cabin on the Gulf of Mexico doing gulf things ;-). I spent a lot time with Slade, in his house, in his big yard, out in the woods, etc. - probably as much time as I spent at home. He was the most important man in my childhood and I think he loved me as much as I loved him. Of course I didn't think of it that way when I was 11, I just knew that Slade was my good friend and was doing things with me that my father might have been doing if he had been alive.

My mother was offered a better job, as a psychiatric social worker, down in central Florida and, since she was not happy living the deep south - as welfare supervisor, she saw a lot of the dark side of that culture - we moved 250 miles south to an entirely different, and better, culture for her kids to grow up in. I never saw Slade again.

Meanwhile, back in Marrianna, a local woman accused Slade of molesting her small child. Now I almost literally lived with Slade for much of two years and he never showed the slightest sexual interest in me or any other kid. He liked boys. Since he had no children, we were his children. I was his most special child for that period and I was damn cute ;-), much cuter than this odious woman's son, if he was going to expose a dark side, I'm sure I would have seen it.

Mother knew this woman well both personally - she lived near us - and professionally, and said she had a long history of mental health problems. By the time I found out about it, Slade West had been run out of the town his family had founded. It didn't matter that Slade had all the credibility in the world and the woman had none. He was different and that culture was quite intolerant of people who were different. It was ready to believe evil lies spread by a crazy woman rather than a very respectable, but different, man who was a member of the cities founding family. If you've read Faulkner you may see this could be a sub plot in one of his novels. If you haven't read Faulkner, you should.

The main issue, more evil than the smallness and nastiness of that culture, was its treatment of black people. In Marrianna in the 50's, you would get in more trouble for killing a white man's dog than for killing a black man or raping a black woman. Black people were not people, they were lower on the social scale than dogs. I never thought that intellectually, but I certain felt it emotionally. black people were not people, they were some lower form of life. Faulkner brings this out beautifully in his novels.

It is good, as I sit here near the Polish border, to be reminded that, in the US, as recently as 50 years ago, we treated Black people almost as badly as Poland, when encouraged by the Nazis, treated its Jews during WWII. No we didn't do mass murder as the Nazis and some (many, unfortunately) Poles did here, but we did, as they also did, turn an entire 'race' (whatever that means) into subhumans.

Jews in Germany were systematically excluded from all interactions with 'real Germans' before they were forced into Ghettos and then to extermination camps or work camps where most of them died. Jews in most other European countries went through speeded up version of this 'process,' sometimes, in Poland. simply being killed by their neighbors before the Germans arrived. The almost 1000 year tradition of the Church in Poland teaching contempt for Jews, made this behavior possible. From what I have read, that tradition continues today in many churches in Poland.

Blacks in the deep south were forced to live in separate, and usually desperately poor, communities and only allowed to do the jobs no white man wanted to do. The only contacts whites had with black was to see them working in the fields or as servants. A black person arrogant enough to try to interact with white person as a person, would be beaten, and sometimes killed. We had to keep those niggers in their place, because, we needed them as cheap labor and because we were afraid of them - there were often more of them than us. If they got uppity, we reacted with violence to intimidate them. This system is still in place, in a weakened form, in some parts of the US.

I don't believe that Poles are any more, or less, evil than the nice folks I knew in the deep south. The folks who created the 'Jim Crow' system in the south, did it for power and economic advantage, the same reasons that the Church and State here taught contempt for Jews and the State used Jews, as did many states in Europe, as scapegoats for its failures.

Although I think Poland is now one of the most antisemitic states in the world, I also know that Poland had more Jews, per capita, than any other country before WWII. It was a, relatively, good place for Jews to live in Europe for hundred of years.

I know, this isn't directly relevant to bicycle touring, but what's a Jew who grew up in the deep south to think about while reading Faulkner with a fever on a cold and nasty afternoon in western Poland?

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