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.
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).
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.