Warsaw: Constantly Surprising and Enchanting

by M. L. Longworth

It’s been a long time since my last blog post (sort of sounds similar to being in the Confessional when I was a young girl!) but I’ve been busy teaching, writing, editing, and…being invited to Warsaw to promote the Polish edition of Death at the Château Bremont, the first in the Provençal Mystery series. And what a time it was!

It was my third time in Poland, which surprised and delighted my hosts. They hadn’t expected that I would have already visited Poland, and as a tourist at that!

I went for four days in mid-March, arriving in the city on a freezing cold Saturday evening. We were met at the airport by Anna, my wonderful contact set up through the Polish publisher, Smakslowa, and soon my daughter Eva and I were downtown at our hotel, The Rialto, an Art Deco gem.

Our room at the Rialto. We went crazy over the 1930s furniture; it has been restored with love, right down to the Bakelite light switches!

I would be having two full days of meetings on Monday and Tuesday, so Eva and I explored the city until then. We first came  to Warsaw over ten years ago, and although we found the Old Town charming–it was rebuilt, brick by brick, after WWII–it was the vibrant and less-pretty “new town” that we adored. That hadn’t changed on this trip. Funky bars, hip restaurants, and Polish-designed craft and fashion shops share the streets and alleyways with mom-and-pop shops stuck in time; some of them selling a few vegetables and bouquets of flowers out of small wooden kiosks. Hand-crafts are still revered and practiced here, like in this shop below:

This is a tiny shop across from a bustling Mediterranean restaurant called Tel Aviv…

The proprietor didn’t speak English, but did manage to tell me, “Grandfather make brushes, father make brushes, I make brushes.” He makes hair brushes, brooms of all sizes, and lovely shaving brushes. I bought some hair brushes (ten euros a piece); a teenager toting a backpack and bike helmut came in to buy a scrub brush. This is what so delighted us the first time we visited Warsaw, and on this trip we were just as thrilled by the city.

That night we rubbed shoulders with well-to-do locals and some trendy young Russians at one of Warsaw’s best restaurants, Nolita:

It was worth the splurge! Eva and I had the six course tasting menu–Polish ingredients fused with Japanese influences is the best way to describe it–and we ordered the wine pairing as well. We explained to the sommelier that we live in France, so could we have some wines from different countries? He grinned and replied, “How about Polish wines?” The two Polish wines he poured us–one a dry white, the other a sweet mead–were fantastic, and set us on a quest to track more down. And we did find some, at a more low-key and in some ways better restaurant, Butchery and Wine, the following day:

The Polish have always been masters at poster art. There’s a Poster Museum in Warsaw that we visited on our last trip. Oh, and that’s Eva! Our 25-year-old daughter who works as a Communications Officer at a foreign embassy in Paris.

 

A Polish Pinot Noir that was outstanding.

Here’s a photo of Eva in the royal park, the Belvedere, right downtown. You can get an idea of how cold it was, but sunny too:

The next day Eva flew back to Paris, and I went into writer-mode as interviews with journalists began bright and early. It was thrilling to meet so many people who had read Death at the Château Bremont and had so many generous comments and interesting questions about it! On that first day I had interviews with press journalists, and after the first two interviews something very odd began to be apparent: I was being compared to the “Agatha Christie of Poland,” Joanna Chmielewska. She was a prolific writer who died a few years ago, after selling tens of millions of mystery novels in Poland and Russia. I had been forewarned by Anna that this may happen, as she too had thought the same thing after reading Château Bremont; she had, luckily, filled me in on Joanna’s books (they are not translated into English or French) before the interviews began.

From what I can gather, we share these similarities: 1) Joanna’s books are funny, and I hope that mine are too, especially as the series progresses. 2) Joanna writes about her fellow Poles with all of their blemishes, quirks, and shining qualities, and I’ve been told by French friends that I capture our fellow Aixois in the same way. 3) Lastly, Joanna was often “present” in her books, as a character named Joanna, or one who looked like her, or by a female architect (she was an architect before turning to writing). I guess I may be a bit present through Marine Bonnet, who teaches in a university as I do; but I’m also present in Antoine Verlaque who loves cooking and eating well. What do you think?

Here we are in the bar at the Rialto, where some of the interviews, in Polish, took place:

Me on the left, Anna on the right, and our translator Weronika.

The next day it was again early up and out the door as a Polish television station invited me on their breakfast slot; but instead of filming in their Warsaw studio the show’s host, Klara–a huge French enthusiast–chose a château an hour outside of Warsaw, the Palace Mala Weis:

Anna outside the palace; again, another cold and sunny day!

The room we filmed in was gorgeous, and in its warm colors and simplicity reminded my of a Provençal château or manor house, so it was a perfect choice:

 

Klara’s questions were interesting and insightful (she spoke perfect French and English), so I had a great time and my nervousness quickly went away. It was a full day of shooting; we got back downtown at 3:30pm, just enough time to grab a quick bite to eat before the radio interview!

That night I was on my own, so I returned to a bar, Koko and Roy, that Eva and I had discovered our first night there, just down the street from the hotel. It was like being amongst old friends–did I mention how friendly and sincere the Polish are?–and I got to chatting with the barman; other patrons; and the co-owner, Koko, a dynamic Polish woman who lived for years in Brooklyn before coming back home.

One quick meeting the next morning, before my flight, in a converted produce hall turned into restaurants and food shops, with my Polish-rights agents from Macadamia (“We are nuts for books”!) :

Kamilla and Magda, who did the great job of finding a home for my Polish-translated books with Smakslowa.

If you’ve never been to Poland, I recommend it highly! I’m retuning in August, with husband and daughter, to a literary festival in Sopot on the Baltic Sea. Can’t wait! And if you have Polish friends who had read both my books and Joanna Chmielewska’s, ask them what we have in common!