The Balkans, milk and honey, the Rhodopes, the forest, the plain. A history lesson, the parallel customs of the peasant Bulgarians and the American Indians. The mountains, the forest: places to hide, the knowledge of how to survive is like a second sense.
Throughout my visit there is much talk of the protests in Istanbul, admiration, affirmation. From Luchezar I learn of Ottoman rule, Ataturk’s time in Sofia, his Bulgarian lover, her influence. I am shown the unfinished communist buildings, like concrete skeletons along the road. We drive by a neighborhood of apartment blocks, all occupied, known only by a letter and a number where the concrete structure breaks off in chunks. We drive by a gypsy neighborhood on the outskirts of Plovdiv, made of plaster and tiled roofs. The external building no more than stables, human stables, where young men hang out of open windows and doors like human animals. Inside and outside are equivalent, outside may even be better. In the middle rise the gypsy baron houses, like villas high above the destitution that surrounds them. I hear of places where the Roma live in the old communist apartment blocks, on the cramped space of a balcony the successful among the lot will keep a satellite dish and a horse alongside each other.
Plòvdiv is the second-largest city in Bulgaria after the capital Sofia and was at one point the capital itself. Plovdiv was known in the West for most of its recorded history by the Greek name Philippopolis. It is on the banks of the Maritsa river, in whose valley where Orpheus is said to be from. I walk up the cobbled streets, past the Roman theater, and numerous churches where weddings are taking place. I stand in an open door and watch the back of a priest’s head as he chants and I inhale the sound and the smell of incense.
Luchezar makes sure to take me to my next appointment, dinner with an architect I have been put I contact with by a friend in London, and we wait in the car, though I have told him I think I would be fine on my own. Turns out the architect is his own cousin, and a reunion is had on the sidewalk.
Dinner is vegetarian: pasta and wine and a very vegan tasting dessert. Talk is mostly about relationships, people, the urine painter comes up again. I bring up some epiphany I have had of late, which I have now forgotten the gist of.
Later I drink an Irish whiskey in bar at the edge of the city garden, look at the yellow bricks imported from Austria that pave many important streets downtown. Again is mentioned how slippery they are in winter. There is a lot of Austria here, the older intellectuals speak German or French, I suppose the subsequent generation speaks Russian and the current manages English quite well. Evgeny speaks with and English accent leftover for his time in London, but seems quite happy to have returned to the home he was brought up in, the streets he walked as a child. His German friends tell him he is less European and more Bulgarian every day, he does not mind, he is at home.
Traveling along the highway past the Balkan Mountains, milk and honey, over the Plain of Thrace like a bullet to Plovdiv.