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The Ilyushen (IL 18) lands at Warsaw airport.

Three times a week I made the trip from Budapest to the capital of Poland.

The Duck Seller From Warsaw

On my errands, I went first to the PKO to shop with my handful of US Dollars.

I did not need to think about where I would spend the night, because somebody always asked:

"Some Private?"

These questions were common outside the PKO, as Warsaw residents knew that the shoppers here had currency other than Zloty.

From the train station came another group: men in long overcoats with briefcases of money; girls in jeans and tight pullovers; and older women with small children.

They had walked past the drab, grey buildings of the local residents, and would join the queue outside.

Before the PKO was a large park where children play, and I often sat there on a day like like this and read from Tadeusz Rozewicz - faces and masks.

Later in the afternoon I would go to the nearby Forum Hotel (now the Novotel Warszawa Centrum), where people proudly tell you that President Ford stayed; while in Poland during the Cold War.

To stay in the Forum meant caviar, salmon and the mild polish vodka, Wyborowa; and from the Hotel bookshop, a copy of Andrzej Szczypiorski's The Amerykanska Whisky (American Whiskey).

It was on the way to the hotel one day, that I was asked if I wanted a private, and this is how I met Jan, the duck seller.

The next day was New Year's Eve. Jan would leave early for the country to collect ducks and geese from the villagers, and asked if I would like to join him after breakfast, when he went out to sell them to the restaurants.

He return with 150, all very alive, and I have visions of them dressed up on the best tables in Warsaw before the day is out. We begin the rounds.....

We pass the zoo, where a bear claps for food; through an underpass, and out by another residential district. The facades look like prisons, but with a little colourful decoration, the poor city seems rich.

Left at the statue, and we are in Marsalkowska, one of the longest shopping streets in Warsaw, where many people also congregate at the Farmers House; a museum and eating hall.

Selling the ducks to city residents, Jan is offered drinks by everyone and is asked about the countryside, the fishing, and the crops. Poland is a large country, but the Warsawers may hardly ever leave the capital.

The pace is hectic, and we have to speed away from a drinks party to make our business. Jan can not afford to talk about the country, he has to cross the city....

To a restaurant in Mokatow, and Jan makes the time for a hot wine served by a young waitress in an apron.

Fired up again, and on to Zolibocz, and Saska Kepa. Here I also enter the kitchen with Jan to be greeted by a large cook bursting out of her clothes, stirring a massive pot of bigos -- the national dish of meat and cabbage; the smell of it is everywhere. She grabbed the ducks with one hand, continued to stir with the other, and told me to help myself. Jan pulled me away......

It is late in the evening, and we head towards the River Vistula.... ten or fifteen ducks left to sell. There are many hotels along this river where I stayed before, but this time is was back to Jan's house with the biggest goose for the family.

After that meal, I felt a twinge of guilt as my travelling companion settled in my stomach. Every time I land in Warsaw now, I always think of the duck seller.

By Katalin Meszaros.

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