But at least the trains ran on time.
Years ago I gave a lecture at the University of Lublin and invited the participants out to dinner. Over 40 people came, so we went to “the nicest restaurant in town,” at the state-owned Urania hotel, mainly famous among foreigners as a place where the state pimped Polish girls to visitors who could pay in hard currency. Dinner came to a little over a dollar a person (not counting the five dollars I gave the terrible “rock band” to stop playing and go home, so we could talk). Each participant was introduced and stood up and bowed. Many of the introductions were like this: “Professor So-and-So teaches linguistics/history/philosophy/etc. and was for 17 years in prison, first under the Nazis, then three times under the Communists.” When I asked the chair of the faculty if she came to the restaurant often, she blanched and informed me that, no, it was really very, very expensive and people like her would only go for special events, like weddings and fiftieth wedding anniversaries.
(I can’t help adding that on my first visit to Prague, I was offered a great treat — a glass of Coca Cola! I was not that enthusiastic, but I told my host, “Sure, that would be nice.” In the pub they dunked a dirty glass into much dirtier water, so it came out nasty and greasy, and then poured in the coke, which had little spots of oil floating on the surface. I somehow managed not to drink it. That was quite mild compared to Communist Albania, where I managed to throw up after almost every meal, an experience I had in some other socialist countries, as well, where the food was sometimes actually slippery from the bacteria.)
Monday, November 19, 2007
The good old days behind the Iron Curtain
Tom Palmer , just back from a trip to Poland, recalls what it was like before the wall came down. He can't believe the positive changes in Eastern Europe since the fall of Communism: