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Felice: A Travelogue

  • Also available as: E-Book
  • Published: January 2002
  • Format: Perfect Bound Softcover(B/W)
  • Pages: 345
  • Size: 5.5x8.5
  • ISBN: 9781401026066

Felice Gentry, just recovered from a hysterectomy, is told by her celebratory husband that he’s booked a trip that will take them to Poland for a visit with friends in the Canadian Embassy there. After that they will tour Europe. He will close his dental practice down for a couple of months and they will leave their university age daughter to house sit. Dutiful wife, Felice says yes, although reluctantly. She is persuaded to give in only because old friends, Ben and Beth Collison, will host their stay behind the Iron Curtain. She and husband Ray pick up their visas in Montreal and, on the day before they board the Polish liner that will take them to London and then Gdynia, they go to have a look at the ship in its berth. There, Felice sees a strange sight: a woman squatting suddenly to urinate beside a van in the parking garage. The woman’s husband sits on the nearby curb, hardly bothering to notice. On the ship, the woman appears again. She has dyed black hair, a ruined face, does not speak to other passengers, and during the whole voyage (16 days, including a stop in London) wears the same shiny black dress patterned with large yellow flowers. Among the people at Felice and Ray’s table in the ship’s dining room is a professor of Slav Studies from Ottawa, who knows a good deal about Poland. Felice does not know that she will meet her, as well as the urinating woman, after the voyage to Gdynia is done. When the ship leaves London, a third woman of significance to Felice’s adventure appears. Felice thinks she is Brittany who, along with her twin sister Pam, was sent from England at the beginning of WWll, forty years ago now, to live with cousins of their mother, an older couple who lived next door to Felice (when her name was Phyllis) in Medicine Hat, Alberta. A year older than Felice, they were different from Prairie folk. They had lovely accents and lived in a fantasy world of What If that also included Felice. But the woman does not answer to Brittany and merely smiles graciously at Felice, who feels dismissed but still curious. Ben Collison meets the ship and drives them in his VW Rabbit to his embassy home in Warsaw. This is a new posting for him, and for the moment he lives alone, looked after by a daily housekeeper, Pani Irena. His wife, Beth, and their children are not due to arrive until Ben is better settled. His plans for his guests include going first to Warsaw Old Town and later on down to Krakov in the south of the country. One afternoon on the ship, Felice saw a documentary about the rebirth of Warsaw from out of the rubble left behind by the Germans, re-built, brick by brick, by people who did not have enough to eat, but whose love for country and city and Old Town was bigger than the need for food. She watched old women and men dressed in tatters move bricks and stones to reconstruct precious buildings again. Not Communist propaganda, this was a look into the Polish heart and mind. She wept. Now in Old town she weeps again, but there is the beginning of something else, an unaccustomed anger that would begin her personal transformation. Near the centre of Old Town there is a free cinema where a film of the rise and fall and rise again of Old Town is shown in a number of languages. When she passes by she is told that the next showing is in German. Stunned, she asks how Germans could show themselves here after what they did to Warsaw. The ticket-taker shrugs. During a trip to Krakov, Ben turns off the highway and takes them to Auschwitz, a place he is curious to see. Here, Felice’s mind and senses almost immediately begin to be assaulted by strange sights. Ben opts to see the Holocaust film that plays continuously at the cinema just inside the reception centre. Ray won’t let Felice go into the camp alone. He follows her, his camera constantly at his eye to prevent him from seeing too much. At the gate to the main camp, Felice buys a book written by a German who was a guard here during the

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