Going to Hungary for vacation was like stepping into an intermediary world between our gray reality and the colorful one of the Western Europe I would glimpse a couple of years later. While Hungary, like Poland, was under the Soviet influence, it seemed brighter than my native country.
We arrived in a small town where we rented a house. In the mornings, we would go to the market to buy the green-red watermelons, and in the evenings we would feast on bright red and green peppers, fresh and fragrant. We would sometimes end the day with one more visit to the market, only this time to buy delicious and crunchy corn pancakes. Not to mention the weather, which was beautiful all month long. If as a child I ever contemplated the meaning of paradise, Hungary in the summer of 1980 must have been it.
Contrast that with Poland, where we came back in the beginning of September, and found that the only item available in many grocery stores was vinegar! I wish I had a photo of the empty shelves to prove to myself that this was the true state of affairs because it is so hard to believe that such was the reality at the time. Naturally, without the cell phone cameras and even little digital cameras, this would have been a difficult task as no store manager would permit me to do that. But over the years I asked enough people to confirm that the vinegar story was not an urban legend.
The vinegar, I have to add, was of the worst kind–smelling badly and strongly. For years after the communist rule has ended, I did not like balsamic vinegrette, and even thought it strange to spoil the taste of salads with it.
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