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hello, Raclawice

May 21, 2010

My grandma’s brother, Uncle Johnny, called me yesterday. All little old men sound tinny and far-away on the phone. Uncle Johnny…have I met him? My dad says I met him when I was five and we lived in Atlanta. My mom says my dad is totally wrong–that wasn’t Uncle Johnny, that was Aunt Helen and Uncle Ben. So maybe I only met him at Grandma’s funeral? I can’t remember.

“This is Uncle John. Your dad tells me you might be going to Poland. And you want to go see where our family is from.”

In 1989, Uncle Johnny hired a taxi and a guide (from some sort of visitor’s bureau, it sounds like) and drove into the countryside to Raclawice, a remote village that’s really just a few farms. He did meet a Mika, Roman, who speaks no English. They had a conversation–through the guide–and that’s about it.

I asked him if he met any other Mikas, or if he had any contact information for Roman. He said no, but he could send me the map, “with the general area circled.” I asked if I could find it on the internet, and he said, “this was very hard to find. Even our guide had trouble finding it.” So I gave him my address and he said, “it’s in a guidebook. I will just tear that page out and send it to you.” It’s a good thing I agreed to this, because I looked up Raclawice on Google Maps, and there are several. One outside of Krakow, one near Wroclaw. They are in regions like Subcarpathia and lesser Poland.  Whichever Raclawice it is, this is a place with no internet presence! Well, Raclawice has an internet presence in an indirect sort of way. Housed in Wroclaw is a massive painting, a panorama of the Battle of Raclawice, a 1794 uprising of Poles against the Russians.  But if the Raclawice of the Mikas is not the Raclawice of the famed Panorama, then, yes, this is a place with no internet presence (beyond maps. Google has really mapped everything. But don’t get excited, there’s no street view. Yet.). This piques my interest–even North Carolina’s podunk hamlets like White Cross and Bunn will turn up a handful of substantive results in a Google search.

The Mika-finding trip to Raclawice, then, is going to be a glorious throwback sort of experience, a journey outside of the realm of things known by Google. And outside the Google-able realm, you are not required to look up the answer before embarking on your journey. You are free to float along, improvising and asking humans your questions. Everything is sort of slapdash, and a lot of it is a gamble. Will Roman  be home when we turn up? Does he even still live in Raclawice? Maybe he will be in a bad mood on the day we arrive and won’t feel like talking to unexpected visitors. (I’d be a bit put out if I were lounging around, wasting time online, and people claiming to be distant relatives showed up at my door.) But That will all be fine by me, because even if we don’t meet any Mikas, we will see the countryside, and there is nothing I like more than seeing the countryside.

Here’s where I tried to capture Uncle Johnny’s pronunciation of Raclawice. A jumbled scribble. That elegantly sums up my attempts at pronouncing it. I’ve got some work to do.

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