Bulgaria Journal


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Monday
Sep152008

Never Want to Say Goodbye


The weight of leaving Bulgaria is starting to set in. Maybe its the stark contrast between the cloudy, cold weather of today and the sunny Sofia I have come to love, or maybe its the annoying French teenagers who took over my dormitory and stole my glasses and threw my shower sandals out a third story window and clogged the toilet with tampons and broken glass (though you would think such an experience would cloud my positive vision of Bulgaria). I've been talking a lot to two friends of mine named Peter (Peter Roetke from Minnesota and Peter Rusev from Sofia, Bulgaria) about culture clashes; MN peter and I both agree that Bulgarian culture has changed both of us immensely. Peter Rusev is a Bulgarian actor/director living in Denmark trying to make his films, so he's experiencing the same culture clash that us MNs have (only from the other side)- between the stoic, emotionless, passive aggressive, always “positive”, black and white culture of Scandinavia versus the open, warm, overflowing-with-emotions culture of Bulgaria. Both MN Peter and I are much more open than we were when we came here- we can see it in ourselves and we can see it in each other. Katerina and Annie make fun of me all the time- when I first came to Bulgaria, on my very first night I sat with the two of them at the hostel bar. They were trying so hard to get me out of my shell and I was hopelessly shy and scared- scared of Bulgaria, scared of adventure, scared of new things, scared of the language barrier, scared of the daunting task of my research... And now that they've known me for two months, they can see that I've changed. I speak freely, I bubble over with warmth and affection- I am so much more outgoing than I was when I got here. 

     But its not only warmth that defines Bulgarian social skills- they aren't afraid to point out what's wrong with the world. I've had so many conversations about the government and communism and repression and the education system here and corruption and... and no one is afraid to point out what's wrong with the world. In Denmark, Peter tries to do the same thing and they always say "You must think positive, Peter." Like being constructively critical is somehow a sin- like every human has a switch in their brain: positive, negative, positive, negative. There is no gray, there is no middle ground. I mean, don't get me wrong, there are a lot of things wrong in Bulgaria, a lot of things that are totally backwards. But the people are not one of those things. The people here have hearts of gold. Always kind, helpful, generous. Maybe they have nothing, but they will give you everything. Not like individualistic American culture where everyone has a lot and no one gives anything. All anyone cares about is their career and their status.  You can't just sit in a garden with friends talking about life, happiness, love, politics, whatever. There is no time for gardens in the United States. There is no time for anything but money, career and status.   

Wednesday
Jul302008

Varna

 

I have decided that night trains are certainly not the most comfortable way to travel. At least in buses they give you your own light so you can read all night. I spent most of the night wandering from car to car, wishing the bathrooms had toilet paper and didn't reak of urine and standing by the window to escape the sweltering heat. Of course, by 4am I understood why all the passengers had closed the windows as the whole train was consumed by the early morning chill. You can't smoke on trains anymore as of a year ago, but that didn't stop passengers from sneaking to the windows and lighting up when the coast was clear. I saw one man get fined for it, but most people were able to get away with it. I enjoyed watching the sneaky Bulgarians creeping around for their nicotine.

 

I arrived at Varna at 7am having gotten maybe one hour of sleep. I wandered the streets like a zombie in search of a bathroom (i opted to hold my bladder instead of use the train's) and a coffee.

Varna is one of the most overtly touristy cities I have ever been to. The hostel was totally filled with women, a stark contrast from my male dominated art hostel, and all they wanted to do was sit on the crowded, polluted beach and go to beach night clubs when a small rum and coke costs ten leva (that's absurd for Bulgaria! It should be maybe 3lv).

The mafia runs the whole town- you see saabs and beamers all over the place. The men wear huge chains around their neck and hold themselves with powerful stances. They own all the night clubs and have intentionally designed them to be money making machines. As of last year, they put all the bars in the middle of the dance floor. This way, tourists won't dance and they will just continue to buy rip-off drinks all night. I didn't actually go inside one (I had been warned) but I did walk along the strips of beach where the clubs were trying to find a decent bar. Each club plays their music at top volume, all Chalga music (a synthesis of Bulgarian and pop music always sung by beautiful half naked women and men dressed like pimps. One of the worst musical forms I've ever heard and you hear it everywhere!!!). When walking down the road, it sounds like each club is trying to max out the volume of the one next door- all you hear is a dozen competing bass lines and a dozen competing melodies.

Anyway, I spent most of my time in Varna hanging out with Ben and Roland, two Aussi guys whom I had met at the Art Hostel. We played chess all night and they taught me Australian slang. Their presence at the Flag Hostel in Varna is what colored my time in Varna- they saved the city for me.

 

I returned home to the Art Hostel at one in the morning to find all of my friends crowded at the bar eager to see me! Simeon and some virtuosic french fiddle player were playing amazing rock/folk jams in the room next door. It didn't take long for me to remember why I believe that the Art Hostel in Sofia is the single best place in the whole world. I can't tell you how lucky I feel to be living here, of all places.

 

Yesterday I met a man named James Anthony Gilligan who was just in Germany speaking for Iraq Veterans Against the War. He had lived in Sofia for a year so he came here for a few days to visit old friends. He is coming to Minneapolis for the RNC protests!!!!! I can't wait! This is the first person I've met here who I know I will see again. Its a very different feeling than the fleeting friendships.