I recently went to a week-long math conference in Będlewo, Poland, which actually was a lot more fun than that first half of this sentence indicates. Since Poland is the land of my forefathers (at least, if Ellis Island records are to be believed), I was especially excited to visit it for the first time. Będlewo, probably pronounced “Bedlevo” (though honestly I’m not entirely sure) is a tiny village of 900 people in western Poland that is home to a conference center and not much else. The conference center is actually a converted former palace, as you can see in these pictures.
The duke who lived in the palace apparently decided to up and murder various family members at some point, so now the conference center is nice and haunted. I didn’t encounter any Scooby-Doo adventures while I was there, but I did take some pictures of an island in the back yard with a mysterious archway and circle of rocks, which I assume was used for ritual sacrifices back in the day.
The first thing I discovered in Poland was that the Polish language is absolutely not anything like German. I assumed they were at least a little related and I’d be able to read a word or two every now and then, but no. I could read nothing. I learned two words: “beer” is piwo, and “thank you” is dziękuję, pronounced “jingkwee.” Good words to know at a math conference.
Another thing I quickly observed is that the Poles really really like meat. Even more than the Germans. At the conference center, every meal consisted of a large piece of meat, often from an indeterminate animal, with a side of potatoes and maybe some cabbage. There were a number of vegetarians at the conference, and it took a day or two for the staff to figure out that fish is not a vegetable. After that, the vegetarian option became cabbage, and tomato sandwiches. That is, two pieces of white bread with a slice of tomato in the middle. Or two slices of tomato if the vegetarian is really hungry.
The conference center’s computer lab may have had only had one computer for 108 mathematicians to share, and the curtains in my room were kind of hard to look at, but all in all it was a great Polish experience.
Coming soon: part 2, in which I venture into the fifth largest city in Poland and think I see my last name written everywhere.