I ask Micky why he doesn’t get coffee.
“You are an American scientist. You will be treated special,” he says.
“But wait, you don’t have ham and I do,” I continue.
“Again. You must understand. You are special. I am not allowed to have ham. It is forbidden. All high quality ham is for export and for foreign visitors.”
“You want some of mine?”
“No thanks. That’s very generous but it’s all for you.”
I eat my breakfast slowly; the taste and enjoyment gone with the conversation.
“I have to go teach this morning. You must go to the Polish Authorities. It’s just down the street from here. I’ll show you the way, but I will not walk in with you.”
“Why? Is there a problem?”
Micky will not elaborate.
Once outside he gives me directions, and I go. The building looms on the right. I walk in not knowing why I’m here. My guess is I have to register my presence in the country as a foreign visitor. My guess is partly right. I sign some papers. All personnel speak English well with a Polish accent. The relationship is formal. Just when I think I’m all done I’m handed an envelope. I’m asked to count the money.
My surprise takes some time to settle down.
Money? I didn’t expect any money.
The envelope contains a fat wad of bills wrapped in an elastic band. I begin to count. I add up the numbers not knowing the value of the currency. The total is satisfactory to the clerk, and I am free to go.
Later I ask Micky about this surprise.
“Our money is the zloty. The money you have received is Scientific Exchange money.”
“There is a scientific exchange agreement between Poland and the USA. The US pays all costs for you to arrive here. Poland pays for all expenses after you arrive.”
“But that’s ridiculous. Poland is poor.”
“Nevertheless. But there’s a string attached.”
“You have to spend all the money here while in Poland.”
“I see. But this seems like a lot of money. Is it?”
“Yes it is a lot of money.”
“Can I give you some? I obviously can’t spend all this.”
“No. I won’t take it.”
Now I understood why Micky would not walk with me into the Polish Authorities’ Building.
“We will be going to the lab. There you will meet Professor Wawrowicz and his students. He will probably ask you to give a talk to his group. It will be informal.”
And so it was. I was introduced to Professor Wawrowicz and his students. The atmosphere was friendly but subdued. The labs and meeting room in the Technical University of Warsaw were drab and lifeless. The lighting pale and barely functional. The stairways dark and gruesome. No one spoke voluntarily. The atmosphere somber and dark.