I decided to make this the first stop on my tour of this friendly host to many cultures and nationalities, where Poles lived side by side with Jews and Germans.

Take a look at what the young women in the 1934 photograph lower left are holding. Notice that the curators chose this photo as part of the background for the display.

This morning I stood for a while gazing at the cathedral and thinking about a game we’d played in class Thursday. All of the students but one were shown a noun, and the remaining student had to guess the word by asking questions about the mystery object’s attributes, all in third week Lithuanian. One student’s word was “bažnyčia,” and questions enthusiastically answered in the affirmative included was this thing beautiful and was it perfect. I sat there in class a bit perplexed. Were I the student on the spot “beautiful” would not assist me in guessing “church” — I do not find churches inherently beautiful or “perfect”. What does that mean anyway, “perfect”? Is a school, ministry, hospital, store less than perfect? So this morning I stood looking at Białystok’s Catholic cathedral and thought to myself I do not find this building particularly beautiful. It is recognizably a church, and I can recognize it as a Catholic church.

This got me to thinking, as I do pretty consistently when sightseeing, about the nature of tourism and about my and other tourists’ approaches. Across from the cathedral is the Branicki Palace, which was one of the sights I’d come to Białystok to see. But why had I come to see this? It’s a palace, a celebration of class domination and oppression. I was reminded of young Maria’s glowing eyes at Petershof, telling us the romantic tale of Tsar Alexander II. Neither we nor anyone else was standing in hundred-person-long lines to see the dirt-floored hut of a 19th Century Russian peasant. In this world where would I have been? Dead? Imprisoned for political crime? A dependent tutor of the pampered children of the aristocracy? I’ve never been one to celebrate palaces, though I try (despite what ex-wives may say) to be social and go with the flow. I think that left to my own devices my approach to tourism is to ask “Wo ist das Konzentrationslager?”

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