Some weeks ago, a plain white envelope left the west coast of America in the pocket of a woman I had never met, a friend of a friend. It contained a small but very important sum of money. Arriving in France, this envelope travelled overland until it reached a tiny house in a medieval village surrounded by vineyards. The day my husband and I arrived at this house, the rain poured down and the narrow village streets had become small rivers. We knocked on the ancient door of our destination and a cheerful person welcomed us into a cozy room. We sat and chatted, feeling that we had found new friends. After a short visit, we found our umbrella, said our goodbyes and headed home with the envelope now tucked safely in my pocket. At home, I put it carefully in my “Caravan” box…and waited. I didn't have to wait long nor did I need to do any searching for the answer to my looming question, “Where and how to start?” A Polish friend of mine came to visit and mentioned that he knew a small business in Poland where custom horse drawn carriages of all kinds are still being built, often copies of antique models. Together, we sat and discussed possibilities. We decided to arrange a meeting in Poland to visit this company and discuss the possibility of having Tòti's chassis built there.
Last week, on a gusty autumn day, I tucked the envelope once more into my pocket, clasped my traveling bracelet (given to me years ago by Gwen Gibson) on my wrist, and we left for Poland–just the envelope and me. We flew from Toulouse to Munich and then Gdansk. I often caressed the envelope to make sure it hadn't jumped out of my pocket and disappeared while en route. Upon arriving at my friend's home, I tucked it safely under a basket on a top shelf, awaiting the trip to Poznan, 5 hours one way by car. A brilliant sun peeped over the horizon a few days later as we left for Poznan. We were skillfully directed by a GPS, which only spoke Polish, while we travelled down the autostrada at warp speed in a big black Audi, the kind that is always overtaking my slow truck on the highways in France.
And then, we arrived.
Everything in this factory is made here.
I was shown brakes, springs, wheels and construction. I was asked exactly what I wanted.
Notes and small sketches were made on paper; price was calculated and discussed. I was given good advice, and finally the envelope left my pocket, and crossed a beautiful wooden table.
The contents were taken out, counted, and a receipt went into the envelope.
On the way home from Poznan, I was taken to one of Poland's best restaurants for a delicious lunch. Poland has huge virgin forests that are abundant with wildlife; consequently, many restaurants specialize in game such as deer, wild boar and duck. This restaurant is famous for wild duck, and is decorated from floor to ceiling with photos of all varieties of ducks; very unusual and beautiful.
I am now starting from zero to pay for the balance of the chassis. I need time to garner the funds necessary for final payment, so I asked that it be ready in May 2014. This is the most expensive part of Tòti, the solid foundation of the cart and of my dream. Since I don't yet know where I might travel in Tòti, having all working parts fabricated of the best quality means safety, maneuverability, and comfort for the horses and passengers. To save expenses and to have control over the finished wagon, I will build the cabin myself (hopefully with friends) out of wood. My neighbor, who is an expert woodworker, has offered to help me and teach me building skills. My husband, Mark, has already offered good advice on the ways of solid construction as well. It must be as lightweight as possible, but strong, durable and efficient. Designing and decorating the wagon is going to be the most fun part of the fabrication.
The website for the carriage factory: www.szymanski.blink.pl