My mother’s side of the family is Polish, but neither she nor my grandmother had ever been to Poland. I felt like if I ever had the opportunity to see where we were from, I should take it. So one summer, when I was 24, I strong-armed my friend Zuzanna, a Warsaw native who was then attending grad school in Moscow, into bringing me home with her.
We stayed with her grandparents, who lived in this very bleak Soviet-style building, in what turned out to be a lovely apartment. I was struck by their hospitality—they rolled out quite a welcome for somebody they had never met before. When we first arrived, they served us a tomato-based soup that had some meat in it, and I was so jet-lagged I ate it without hesitation. It tasted a little iron-y, so I asked what it was, and it turned out to be chicken hearts. By that point, the ship had sailed—I was already halfway through the bowl. I figured my grandmother would be proud. We had so many pierogi, too, the best I’ve ever had—no offense to my grandmother, who used to make them all the time. I wish I had gotten to tell her that she was really keeping up the Polish traditions in Nebraska, but she had died a few years earlier.
After all that eating, I put on my running shoes, and Zuzanna and I went for a jog around this park nearby, called Pole Mokotowskie. It was pretty crowded, with people sitting and having picnics. As I was running, people started giving me the thumbs-up and yelling, “Bill Clinton!” I was like, “What is happening right now?” Zuzanna told me, “Well, when Bill Clinton visited, he also jogged.” It was such a particular thing to do—to run through this park for no reason—that they were all thinking, He must be an American. I felt a little self-conscious, but then I just embraced it. As told to Meredith Carey
Andrew Rannells stars in The Prom, streaming on December 11 on Netflix. This article appeared in the January/February 2021 issue of Condé Nast Traveler. Subscribe to the magazine here.
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