Yesterday, like every other day, my little Jack Russell – conveniently named Jack – woke me by doing his funny paw dance on my chest. He lifts them up in this goofy way and lands them on my chest. It was really cute when he was a puppy and I never trained him not to do it, so now I get woken up every morning to the same thing. Every morning I also have to find new toys or bones while I’m making my bed, because Jack hides them for me under the pillow every night. Yesterday it was an orange ball.
That Orange ball got me thinking of Oranges – shocking I know, and that got me thinking of my cool Navel Orange Pancake recipe, and that got me thinking of the big bag of oranges that’s been on my counter, and that got me thinking and of the holidays, and that got me thinking of the holidays in Communist Poland. It’s interesting how our brains work, huh?
So you might ask, why would you think of the holidays in communist Poland because of oranges? Well, the holidays were the only time that people got citrus fruits under communism. It was such a big deal that the national TV would give us updates on where the different boats were that carried these fruits.
A Boat from Turkey carrying mandarins, a boat from Egypt carrying Navels, boats from South America carrying an array of tropical citrus, each would drop off their specific cargo at the ports of Gdańsk and Gdynia. The TV would show us pictures of these delicious fruits collected at the ports. We would salivate at these bright, beautiful, naturally hued gems, and lustfully want to take every last one of them. And then there would be another boat out in the water. It was slower than the rest, trekking its way across the Atlantic to the same harbors as the other boats and their tantalizing harvests. This boat didn’t have quite the same aura as the other boats, producing a little more smoke from the engine, a little more noise drifting through the air. This boat was from Cuba and carried the annual gift to its sister soviet bloc country.
We called them “Cuban Oranges”. Although I don’t know why we even put the moniker “orange” on them, cause they were usually green, or at least green spotted. They had skin that was about ¾ of an inch thick, full of seeds, often tasted more sour than sweet. It’s quite hilarious if you think about it. All these countries exporting the beautiful citrus and here comes the communist country touting its own gift, bragging that Communism is better than Capitalism in every way, and then they show up with a miserable excuse of an orange.
The Politicians, who were supposed to be the good communist, didn’t want anything to do with these miserable Cuban Oranges. They used their power and influence to monopolize the better fruit for themselves, while forcing the Cuban oranges on us regular folks. They would tell us how wonderful these oranges were, while eating all the good fruit from the non-communist countries.
Despite all of this, I still looked forward to the holidays because of these oranges. It was one of the few things we got that was at least attempting to be sweet. This might be hard for Americans to imagine, not having any kind of candy or fruit available to them at any time of the year. While my American friends reminisce with each other about going to the markets and getting the various candies and sweets like: Nerds, Gobstoppers, Now & Laters, ice cream bars, sodas, and such, they will ask me inquisitively “what kind of sweets did you have when you were growing up?” And I meekly say, “we had oranges once a year.” Usually that initiates a momentary awkward silence followed by a quick change in conversation. Oh well.
All of this I thought while I was getting ready for my day. Then when I was walking to my kitchen to make my Navel orange pancakes I started thinking, “gosh, I’m really glad to have gone through such a time where I didn’t have everything at my disposal. I feel I understand the value and preciousness of all the food I have. When I saw that bag of Oranges, it really put a smile on my face to pull out those delicious… wait these things went bad… Goddamn it… Did I become a bourgeois pig?