It's astonishing, after all these years, how difficult small talk is for Alex Trebek. Last night one of the contestants said that she had studied in Krakow and Trebek noted that it is a beautiful city and that he and his wife were there in the days of the Soviet Union and enjoyed a five course meal for the equivalent of $13. Now that capitalism has come that's no longer possible, he said. The young woman reluctantly agreed. What she should have said is that the city is even more beautiful today and that, back in the day, most of its residents could not have afforded Trebek's $13 feast.
So I went back in Artermis Cooper's biography of Patrick Leigh Fermor, which I'm reading very slowly, and found a couple pages about Countess Sophie Tarnowska and her husband Andrew and the house they all shared in Cairo during the war. When I told Hania this she said, "Our books met."
Wanting ribs but not wanting to go far, we drove to Outback. Our waitress, Olga, was from Crimea.
After we ordered, Hania told me about the book she was reading about the Tarnowski family, which left Poland during World War II and yet managed to land on their feet, through a beneficent chain of similar well-established families, wherever they went.
I said it was like Patrich Leigh Fermor on his walk across Europe: Early on he met one landed family and they gave him introductions to others all along his route.
"In Cairo," Hania said of the Tarnowskis, "they lived in a house with Patrick Leigh Fermor."