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5 Things I Had Forgotten About Bulgaria

Drinking a cup of tea at the breakfast table today, I couldn’t help but overhear a young woman talking to her 2-year old daughter in Bulgarian, my mother tongue. The diminutive, gentle words she used caught my attention. Having been away from the Bulgarian language for some time, I had forgotten about this way of speaking to small children that feels somewhat cheesy, but also touching. This and much more had escaped my mind in all these years of absence. Here are some of the other aspects of living in Bulgaria which I have been reminded of during my visit*:

– How markedly tasty fruits and vegetables here are

This is not exaggerated. Go and taste for yourself (especially the tomatoes, melons, and cherries). And don’t forget to check out a local market, it’s an experience in its own right.

Market in Sofia - vegetables

– How important coffee drinking can be

Meeting over coffee can mean anything here. It can happen at any time of the day, usually lasts longer than expected and is often just an excuse to see someone for whatever reason (gossip, romance, catching up, even arguing or ranting).

– How elegant women can be/aspire to be

I don’t mean to make universal statements or reinforce stereotypes, but it’s obvious that Bulgarian women try their best to be as elegant as they can be… it seems to me that they try more conscientiously than female residents of some other countries. The result… many look gorgeous following this ideal of beauty, and some probably deserve the funny looks they get (at least from me).

– How unfriendly public officials and service providers can be

Admittedly, I have experienced a few exceptions in the last days which made me think that there has been a positive change in the service attitude which was almost non-existent years ago. But still… grumpy officials and unfriendly service providers of any type tend to be the norm in many cases.

– How narrow-minded and stubborn taxi drivers can be

Some say that taxi drivers are fun to talk with since they keep their fingers on the pulse of a city and always have an interesting story to tell. While the former might be true, I have rarely (if ever) come across a friendly storyteller as taxi driver. The taxi that I took after landing in Sofia was no exception. In the 20-minute ride I uttered no more than 3 short, friendly answers to simple questions, the rest was the taxi driver ranting against people living abroad and praising what he thought was the only ‘right’ way of living. I wanted to conclude by saying that everyone is entitled to make their own choices which was the worst offense he could imagine… Not such a fun experience for both of us, I guess.

These are only a few examples of how I re-discover everyday life here, very well-known and slightly forgotten at the same time. It’s funny how the place we live in can almost displace previous experiences and perceptions, some worth re-discovering, others probably not.

*Please note that I don’t mean to generalize or judge in any way. These are simple observations.

Streets, smells, and language

A conversation with a German flat mate of mine during my student years in Germany made me aware of the different cultural and personal perceptions of where we grew up. We talked about being abroad and what, if anything (apart from family and friends), we missed from our respective home country. Stefan took a minute to think about it and came up with one significant item that he missed which was the German bread. I needed not more that a second and started pointing out the following: the streets, the smell of blossoming chestnut and linden trees, the language (especially when it came to literature and theater). This didn’t mean that 1. I was particularly home-sick (all of these were simply ingrained in my life for as long as I remembered) and 2. either of us was ‘right’, we just had different ways of seeing it. I have to admit that I envied Stefan a bit for his pragmatic approach which made it much easier for him to handle being away from ‘home’.

This story kept on coming to my mind in the two days I spent in Sofia after a long absence.

Sofia

The streets are still there – some refurbished, others waiting for an overhaul, but all of them wiser than before from so many years of change. The linden trees are there too, blossoming and filling the air with their fragrance. So are the other smells and noises of a bustling city with busy residents. The written and spoken language is also all over the place (to my delight in many more book stores than before and full theaters).

National theater Ivan Vazov, Sofia

But I wasn’t there for way too long, both physically and emotionally… Today all of these feel known AND distant at the same time. I enjoyed the theater performances I saw (‘Airport’ was definitely worth seeing), started reading a good book by a young Bulgarian writer, walked on the streets and marveled at the views and blossoming trees, but they all remained more part of a past experience than a present cultural identity. Or better said, they are my way of building a new bridge to what I haven’t been missing anymore.

Heading home?

I have thought about the concept of home a lot, especially in the last years. It seems to me that we all need it in one form or another – if not necessarily the physical place, then definitely the feeling of being home.

I am heading to Sofia today, the city I was born and lived in for more than 20 years. Today, after more than 11 years of absence and almost 8 years* of not having visited it at all, I am feeling a little nervous about the re-encounter.

By TodorBozhinov; CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

By TodorBozhinov; CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons


I left sad and disappointed after years of political, economic, and personal turmoil. Nevertheless, I was still very attached to what I felt was my beloved home and it never occurred to me that I could possibly be away from it for such a long time. The disappointment prevailed over the years and the annual visits became increasingly difficult. It took me many years to overcome the animosity I held against a place I once adored.

It’s with mixed feelings that I am sitting at the airport today – looking forward to re-discovering Sofia, on the one hand, and apprehensive to confront ‘old’ patterns and emotional memories, on the other. I will do my best to embrace the experience and will have the chance to share impressions in the next weeks.

*except a short 48-hour trip 5 years ago

No Fun a.k.a. The Seagull

“No fun to hang around
Feelin’ that same old way
No fun to hang around
Freaked out for another day
No fun my babe
No fun”
The Stooges – No Fun

I can hardly imagine a more suitable contemporary song in English for Anton Chekhov‘s “The Seagull”… and I was glad to discover it in a staging at the theater of Heidelberg, Germany yesterday. Two well spent theater hours: free of clichés and platitudes, with a number of intertwined elements of humor, surprise or deep desperation, but remaining true to the intent of the author.

Author: Sid Mosdell; CC BY 2.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: Sid Mosdell; CC BY 2.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons


A spectacular Treplew (Dominik Lindhorst) embodying a wide array of disruptive emotions with ease and fervor. A less spectacular Arkadina (Nicole Averkamp). And the perpetual, restless attempt of everyone to escape mediocrity, and to forget who they really are consumed by a tragically hilarious obsession of becoming someone else… None of this is fun and all efforts seem to be doomed to fail amidst love, cruelty, hopelessness.

If it hadn’t been the somewhat too hectic pace and at times inexplicable nudity, it would have been one of the most coherent stagings I’ve seen. Still a clear recommendation and definitely worth seeing.