Custom Search

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Home, Bitterness Forgotten

Today, for the first time after 15 years, I met one of my best friends age 7-14. We had a great time together and for me it was a very positive reunion. One of the things he shared made me think quite hard. He said he liked my blog post about our town, its positive mood and the memories it awakens and it made him remember the past in a nice way. However he can't help being disgusted by many of the things that are happening here (I am still here) which spoil his memories.

As I don't want to be cheesy and present a distorted picture of my town I would like to list some of the things I don't like:

- the fact that a big number of the Amsterdam prostitutes and pimps come from Sliven;
- the fact that the current mayor (ex-football player) is known for conflict of interest and a quasi dictatorial way of managing the town thanks to his past glory;
- the painful fact that one of the rich business women (ex-MP) managed to get a permission to build an office building on one of the prettiest and symbolic squares in town;
- the fact that for some safety reasons (admittedly) they cut hundreds of beautiful poplars that lined the small river for kilometers on end. These poplars have been painted by local painters for hundreds of years and...yes, they fall easily when the strong local wind blows.

And I am sure there are many more things that I simply don't know of because I don't want to be immersed in the local press.

I am looking for some kind of forgiveness or at least an excuse for not mentioning (this is the least) and not thinking or trying to change any of these things. I feel my powers are so limited and I am not in a position to change any of the above. How can I make a local teenage girl read a book and not dream of a well-paid job in Amsterdam? It's impossible and it is so fundamental.

I also need this place in my thoughts as we all need our Ithacas. And I cannot hold it in my thoughts with its negative everyday problems. I need my happy memories, the lightness of my childhood, the enthusiasm of my father as a young local poet and doctor, the impeccable home of my mother, the small cottons of the poplars in May, the smell of the linden trees in June and as long as some local pimp does not force me to go to Amsterdam, I will chose to have a selective (and no-doubt one-sided approach to Sliven).

And for the rest, no doubt that every little effort in the right direction is praiseworthy. I learned some time ago that we are all like Sisyphus pushing our rocks uphill. It seems that this is the normal state of affairs and I will personally not dispair as long as I know that this is at least the right hill.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Home Sweet Home

After a cold and hectic stay in Lazarevatz and Belgrade, we continued further south first to Sofia and then - to Sliven. My notion of home is turned upside down as I have lived in several cities. However, Sliven is my home if I adopt a definition that home is where I spent my childhood and where parents live. That's also the place where my father's familiy belongs historically, where I have lived the longest (from age 3 to 19) and where I have been to school.

Sliven is also the place where every street speaks with layers of memories as I had written in an old post. Here the air is quite nice and sweet as it is constantly refreshed by the wind from the mountain (Stara Planina or also known as the Balkan Mountain). As I often joke it is difficult to find someone more Balkan than me having grown up with the sight of the Balkan in front of me and having roamed the mountain with friends.

So here is a short photo album of Sliven. Yesterday, when we arrived the sunset was quite beautiful as photographed from our terrace. After icy Belgrade (it reached as low as -19) todays' 15 degrees and sun feel like a premature spring. I associate such sunsets with the arrival of spring.


One of our usual and quite nice passe-temps in Sliven is walking (or rather dragging) along the main street and buying all king of stuff to the kids while meeting old friends and acquaintances. This is a portion of the main street with the old clock tower at the end. I have crossed this street thousands of times. It is usually packed with people and cafes which mushroom in summer of course. An usual evening in high school consisted of walking the street several times and meeting all your friends who, of course, were doing the same (and what else could one do at that time?).

Main Street (Largo)

That's a nice house built in 1910 that is now one of the galleries in town. Fortunately, many of the old houses were preserved and painted.

Gallery (1910)

That's the municipality with the old clock tower. The clock strikes at noon now (also 10 pm in the past) with the first chords from a 19 century revolutionary song (Rise, rise, Balkan hero, wake up from your deep slumber!). My father use to work for some years in the municipality as a health care coordinator for the region on top of his work as a doctor.

Sliven Municipality

This is a place friends used to meet and I have spent some time here waiting in the pre-mobile phone times. The place used to be known as the Russian bookstore as it used to sell Russian literature. Naturally, pre-1989, that was one of the ways for cultural transfer and ideological influence. It is a bookstore now as well. The poster features Dan Brown's Lost Symbol instead of Dostoyevski. I am not sure which cultural influence is better but this is a separate discussion.

ex-Russian Bookshop (now - the Penguin Bookshop)

This is a tree that is more than 1000 years old and is one of the symbols of the city. I can't remember the English word for this type of tree. I checked and it is an elm tree - ulmus campestris.

The Oldest Tree in Town

That's a monument of a cool guy - Hadji Dimitar - who was heading a group of rebels in the mid-19th century fighting the Turks. Expectedly, he died at the age of 28 killed in a fight. I like the place as this is a nice monument and because of the cypress trees behind. When we were kids we used to organise cypress cone fights there.

Hadji Dimitar

This is a church - Saint Dimitar - which is opposite the monument and you can also see the clock tower in the distance.

Saint Dimitar Church

This is my old school where both my father and I studied from 1st to 7th grade. I can see my old chemistry and biology classrooms. I have played hundreds of football and basketball matched in this yard and it is usually filled with kids. Memories of what has happened in this yard are so numerous.

My Old School

And this is a nice old clock tower which has been recently reconstructed.

Old Clock Tower

Saturday, December 19, 2009

White Whitecity (Belgrade)

If I have to choose between the moderate and the marginal and dramatic, my preference goes for the latter. This is the reason why I love dramatic weather in either directions - both hot and cold. That is also why heavy snow, thunders, heavy rain and heat waves attract me so much. I have a liking for the marginal behaviour as well provided it is in an intelligent direction and that it is an intellectual statement. While Arthur Rimbaud's life story - quitting poetry at 17 and dealing with trade in Africa - is to be respected in its marginality, Partizan fans marginal threats to a reporter who disclosed their criminal links is to be immediately repudiated.

These days were of metereological marginality. It snowed a heavy snow in Serbia and the temperatures were very low. On top of that Belgrade taxi drivers were on strike because (hear that) they were against the introduction of obligatory meters in the cars and because they wanted minimum tariffs. How funny that we all want to be European but when the European way is against our financial interests then the Europeanness is easily forgotten.

Anyway, I acted as my own taxi driver and I drove 200 km in snow and ice between different meetings. On Friday I took some time for a nice slow walk in Belgrade, a visit to some bookstores and have a nice lunch.

This is Vojvoda (Chieftain) Vuk in a small park. I don't know what he did but he died aged 35. I imagine he was a marginal personality and logically did not die in his bed. I took a picture of him as I liked how the snow looked like some strange creature is strangling him.

Vojvoda Vuk

Knjaz Mihailova is a beautiful street and here are its cute lanterns.

Lantern on Knjaz Mihailova street

Kalemegdan fortress was fantastic under the snow. There was hardly a soul in the cold and all I could hear was the sound of me walking on the snow.

The small and the big

Kalemegdan Fortress

There is a beautiful view from the fortress both to Sava and Danube rivers. In a cold and snowy weather water looks like mercury and so does the sky.

Frozen Sava River

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Santa Clause, Cherry Nose, Holy Night

I haven't written a blog post for weeks. I don't know what got me - it's been a bad period for me - too much stress at work, too many travels and things to do, too many sleepless nights and hectic days. And....inspiration is such an delicate thing. Sometimes you think it will stay forever, the next day - it is gone.

This period of the year time usually accelerates for me. It is probably because December is kind of short because of the Christmas and New Year holidays and I want to cram the same number of things in less days.

And there is the accumulated fatigue from the year. I haven't counted my days of travel this year but I have been away for at least 50 days and 20 of them were during the last two months. That's a lot, at least for me.

And there is also the end of projects and books I have worked on. Although, on one hand there is a sense of relief that something is over, there is also a sense of emptiness and the questions 'was it worth it?', 'was it good?'. Some new things are starting as well but I still can't get motivated enough about them.

I definitely need some slow time, some long mornings and evenings with friends therefore I am waiting for the Christmas break. I am really looking forward for around 10 days of no work thoughts and laptop use only for blog purposes. I just have to get rid of this terrible habit of answering e-mail at 3.30 am just because I have the instinct of checking my work e-mail any time. That's too bad, constant connectivity is terrible.

I guess I just need Santa Claus to come for me with some peace. Several days ago Santa came at my work place and my kids were quite happy to get to meet him.

Here is Boris reciting a poem to get a bag of chocolates. He had to overcome his initial fear from Santa though. The day before he shared with me that he doesn't like Santa as Santa who came to their kindergarten had a gun and wanted to beat him up. I hope this is not true. This reminds me though of an article I read recently on how in 1951 a group of French Catholics burned an effigy of Santa protesting against Santa's growing importance to families and commerce in a way 'stealing' some of Christmas original symbolics and passing it on to a pagan symbol.

Claude Levi-Strauss reacted to this and tried to explain the Santa Clause phenomenon as marking the border between childhood, adolescence and adult age. He calls it a 'myth of initiation', mysteries that adults know and kids - don't. I still remember my horror and disappointment when my mother told me that Santa doesn't exist. I also remember the wonderful December evenings when Santa came to my mother's dental clinic bringing me a nice toy (toys were fewer these days and their value was higher) or...New Year in Veliko Tarnovo when Santa left gifts in front of the door.

Levi-Strauss also explains Santa's existence by the need to limit the 'obligatory' gift-giving period to once per year (he must have forgotten the birthdays). It seems that the origin of Santa Claus is found in the Abboth Liess, Abbas Stultorum, Lord of Misrule. The good Santa Clause appeared as a symmetric personality to Roman Saturn who ate children. He has something to do with the Scandinavian Julbok - underground demon bringing gifts to the kids.

And.... there must be something about Santa Claus if Bob Dylan started singing carols.