An American sat on a train and watched the country pass by the windows. It was an old-fashioned train in an old-fashioned country, but the time was modern. Horse drawn plows passed by, and farmers with sythes in hand. Haystacks in neat piles, like  Monet paintings. A country left in time. The smells were old too: burning wood, the grime of travel, vinegar from a passenger’s lunch, and now and then, a whiff of humid summer, sweet hay, and the promise of a thunderstorm in the evening.

When the train arrived in the city the contrast to the country she had seen through the window was shocking. Hard concrete, dirty streets, poor shop windows. A metallic smell of steel filled the air, and city grime, the smell of rotting garbage, tar, oil and wet concrete, for the rain she smelled before was still lingering over the city. She was afraid for the faces here were hard, worn with years of oppression, and she did not know where she was or even how to speak the language. Czestochowa. She could only hope that she had said it right or that there wasn’t another town by the same name in the opposite direction of where she was going.  She could only trust that the ticket seller had understood her wild gestures and attempts to communicate her destination. Outside the train station all she saw were the cold cruel lines of communism reflected even in the buildings, like a prison cell built to intimidate the soul with the bleakness of life.

It crossed her mind more than once that it would be some time before any would realize she was missing, if she were to go missing. She was staying two full weeks, alone, in Poland, and she still had five days left. Then she wasn’t even going back to America, but on to her job in sunny Italy. It would be at least five days before someone started looking for her if she went missing. A little knot of panic grabbed at her throat. The faces that walked by looked even more sinister. Why hadn’t she stayed in Krakow? Its sunny streets and happy countenance seemed so far away.

But that was one side of the tracks. After a few wrong turns, and some more pseudo sign language, she crossed over to the other side of the tracks and the worry and panic melted away as quickly as a nightmare at dawn. There was monastery fortress of Jasna Gora, its tower and walls rising out of the earth, a thing of beauty. A wide street addressed the structure as a weary traveler hails his host, with expectations of rest and comfort. Now she knew where she was and where she was going. She had never seen this monastery before, but she recognized a structure that matched the beauty she saw in the fields. The ugliness of the city was forgotten behind her. Walking toward the massive fortress monastery, she found like pilgrims traveling to see the Black Madonna, few speaking a common language, but like the punishment of Babble reversed, all understanding the goal.

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