SIERPC, Poland Who could have possibly imagined that while visiting the Museum of the Mazovian Countryside here on July 30, 2008 we would encounter the very personification of one of Nobel laureate Henryk Sienkiewicz's most beloved, entertaining, shrewd and patriotic fictional characters - Pan Jan Onufry Zagloba, who appears to the delight of the reader in the 17th century-set Polish epic classics of "With Fire and Sword," "The Deluge," and other celebrated books by the author.
After touring the many authentic and unique buildings in this amazing Mazovian skansen, located here 75 miles north-west of Warsaw, our foursome (three Polish friends and I) retreated from the hot summer sun to the 18th century log-constructed karczma (inn/tavern), well protected by its heavily thatched roof, for necessary refreshments.
We were immediately welcomed by the affable proprietor, Tomasz Stelmanski (dubbed ‘Pan Zagloba'), who is pictured above. Excellent ice cold Kasztelan beer was served up forthwith, followed by much engaging conversation and many interesting anecdotes narrated by host Stelmanski, even as more invited guests arrived to our joined wood-hewn tables set outside in the breezy shade of the tall oak trees.
Sadly, our schedule did not permit us to savor the many traditional Polish delights of the Karczma Pohulanka's chlopskie jadlo (peasant's kitchen). But never the less we were served up platters of aircraft carrier sized slabs of inch-thick hearty bread that was thickly slathered with delicious and artery-clogging smalec (seasoned fat with bacon bits), and companion dill pickles.
Our ‘Pan Zagloba' - true to form - then appeared with a wicker-covered glass jeroboam tenderly cradled in the crook of his right arm, which contained a very potent form of bimber (Polish moonshine). After downing it and gasping for breath, everyone agreed and alibied that the bimber was probably a very good antidote for the smalec. Some persons found it necessary to administer more ‘antidote' then others did.
But Drinker Beware: The kieliszki (shot glasses) arrived lying together in a napkin-lined wicker basket. Only after the bimber is poured into it do you fully realize that the kieliszek in your hand has a rounded bottom and you cannot possibly set it down until it is empty! What a pleasant and contrived dilemma for each person to solve - along with the memorable experience of this very unique touch of old-world Polish hospitality.
It's most reassuring to know that even in these modern times the jovial spirit of Pan Zagloba can still be found alive and well in Poland.
With Fire and Sword, by Henryk Sienkiewicz
Jerzy Hoffman Trilogy - DVD