“I was born in Warsaw”. These are the words Maria Skołodowska-Curie (Marie Curie), great Polish chemist and physicist used to open her every public speech with. Why? Did she have to remind herself every now and then who she was? Where she was coming from? Having moved to Paris in her early twenties, having married a French man, having built a new home in a foreign land did she develop at least a slight trace of a National Identity Crisis?
Maria Skłodowska-Curie; by some French believed to be French, by all Polish believed to be Polish.
Fryderyk Szopen (Frederic Chopin) one of the greatest Romantic composers was born in Poland, moved to Paris in his early twenties, where he changed the spelling of his name from Polish Fryderyk Szopen to French Frederic Chopin; had a long-lasting love affair with George Sand, reached the peak of his career and died at the age 39 of tuberculosis. Chopin; by some French believed to be French, by all Polish believed to be Polish was buried with honors in Pere Lachaise in Paris, but his heart, following his last will was transported back to Poland (smuggled by his sister Ludwika, in a glass jar under her crinoline dress) and buried in Warsaw in The Holy Cross Church, where I received my First Holy Communion at the age of 8. His music can be played beautifully by virtuosos from Russia, Japan or Korea (who were frequently winners of the International Chopin Piano Competition in the years 1927-2000), but it was Rafał Blechacz, who received grand prix in 2005 at the age of 20 (and whose performance I was lucky to have heard), who played not only with virtuosity but also with great feeling and understanding of the music. Running his fingers flawlessly through the keyboard he painted Chopin’s native landscapes he told stories from his childhood and all of us lucky ones in the audience could tell that this is it; it couldn’t get any closer to perfection, because this is what this music is really about.
What makes us who we are?
I (and so do we all) come from a certain cultural heritage, which I was not fully aware of before I moved across the ocean from my Slavic childhood playground. I sure had an idea of what it was, but I didn’t have anything different to compare it to, so it used to seem merely obvious, and not exactly comprehensible. I feel like dividing my heart between two places as distant as Warsaw, Poland and New York has allowed me to dive deeper into the understanding of my native land and culture, but also brings me closer and closer to understanding all the countless cultures and points of view I come to encounter here; across the ocean from home.
Only when you’re away from the land that bore you are you fully able to grasp what it stands for. And I don’t mean that in any way politically or socially; but purely in the sense of getting to the core of your roots. And understanding others. Or at least making an honest, genuine effort at doing so.
I was born in Warsaw.
Now I live in New York.
Even though we’re now in the 21 Century and the world is getting smaller and smaller the two places are still very distant from each other. Not only in the sense of geography and mileage.
Being so far I sometimes find myself caught up in an identity crisis and ask myself “Who am I?” “Where am I coming from?” And then I have to tell myself again and again:
I was born in Warsaw. I have my Grandmother’s hands. When I see myself smiling in the mirror I see my Mother’s smile. I come from a line of beautiful, strong, fearless, independent women. They all live in me. I am a part of a bigger picture. I carry Slavic folk tales within and my heart beats to the rhythm of Slavic folk tunes. I carry the landscapes of forests, lakes and vast plains inside me, wherever I go. Wherever I go the land that bore me comes with me, that’s why my feelings are like my native seasons of the year; they range in temperatures from the passion of our scorching summers to the indifference and disdain of our freezing winters. Wherever I go I am like all people from my corner of the world. We are certainly not ‘mellow’ or ‘cool’. When our hearts are jolly we want to embrace and kiss the entire world all over; drink till we fall, dance till we drop and laugh till we’re out of breath. When our hearts are broken we feel like smashing them into even smaller pieces and running them over with self-driven heavy-duty tanks of sorrow.
Now I am in the US, but I am still me, and I can’t change. People are like galaxies. You can’t pretend that certain constellations are not there, when they are. If you try to cross some out the entire galaxy will collapse.
Starting my life from scratch on the new continent wasn’t easy, especially that the culture I come from is so different from what is a common norm in modern New York, but at the same time it has probably been the most exciting, stimulating and rewarding task I have ever encountered. It has put to a test everything I am, or believed I was.
Above all it has been an inspiring quest full of humbling priceless experiences. Being a keen traveler hungry for learning about any place on the planet I have been lucky beyond any measure to have met amazing people from all corners of the world and all possible walks of life practically without leaving New York for the last few years. And their stories turned out to be what I became more and more hungry for. Some of them crazy, some of them sad, some of them barely believable, but all of them unique and inspiring. I came here chasing a dream, I ended up chasing stories. I am now putting myself on a mission to share these stories as I go on reporting the Cross-Atlantic experience of a girl from the heart of Europe.