Thursday, July 16, 2009

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Greetings from Sofia Bulgaria. Kevin here.

Yes. It’s true. I left my passport in the bathroom of the train, along with my wallet--for an hour. Whatever. And yes, I’m glad I’m not being held in a cell on the Romanian/Bulgarian border. What Michael didn’t tell you was that I also left my glasses in the pub where we ate dinner tonight.

In the wee hours early this morning, as our train purposely climbed over the Balkans, and the clickity-clack of the tracks dragged on an on, our train car was occasionally ravaged by violent thrashing, crashing and screeching noises. Without evidence that would suggest any other reasonable alternative, and considering the folklore of the area, we naturally assumed that a dragon was assaulting our heroic little train.

Although sleep during dragon-assaults comes only at fits and starts, the creature left off as sunrise approached, and I did sleep a little. I was awakened shortly thereafter by the porter who rapped on our door a couple of times. As I opened the door he leaned in and said in a very ominous Bulgarian accent “Sofia.” I nodded. He paused for effect, then added very dramatically, in a very low tone, “Prepare.” You might want to see a short film Michael made of sunrise from the slow-moving train, taken as we “prepared”:

Today I think I would have to admit I was quite tired, and pretty hot. I never thought I would travel to Bulgaria. Until this week the word “Bulgaria” elicited from me nothing other than romantic notions; I pictured Bulgaria in the Balkan Mountains, snow-capped and deeply forested--filled with villages where dark fairy tales were likely to come true. What we’ve encountered today, however, is the city of Sofia, a cosmopolitan, and one might say, a very civilized urban environment. Compared to Bucharest Sofia is quiet and doesn’t have some of the tough ragged edges that we had seen in Romania.

Although I was impressed with Sofia I would have to say that a few of the building we visited were somewhat glum. Orthodox churches, for example, are very beautiful from the outside with their polished gold domes and sprouting towers, but they are frankly eerie and morose on the inside--caked in hundreds of years of lamp oil and candle residue--dark and foreboding. (Much more lively was the excellent pub Michael found for us later in the day (where I left my glasses). I believe Michael already shared with you an image of the latrine.)

Like Bucharest, one of the most striking elements of Sofia are the traces of Soviet-era influence, in terms of aesthetic design of public spaces. In the days of communism, throughout Eastern Europe, buildings of epic proportions were constructed. The second largest building in the world, in fact, was built by Ceausescu in Bucharest. These buildings and edifices are cavernous, and often “modern” in their post-art deco design. Now, some of these mythic spaces, built to inspire, are left mostly empty and without much function. One such space is the murky and bizarre Palace of Culture in Sofia. It is huge, imposing, and looks like a giant truncated rocket ship. But when you go into this building there is almost no one there, and most of the doors are locked and the empty halls run on and on forever in loopy weirdness, like the architecture from a Dr. Seuss book. Occasionally you catch glimpses of lone security guards, wandering the long halls at a distance--with nothing to do. I won’t soon forget the empty posh restaurant that sits atop this edifice, nor will I forget the hundred set tables draped in red table-cloth, with not one person to sit at them, nor will I forget the long brooding expression of the maitre de, when he realized we had not come in for a meal, but only to snap a photo of the view from the terrace:

Tomorrow it is back to nonsense in earnest, with our second meeting, the scholar Lilia Ratcheva, a native Bulgarian who teaches at the Institute for Children’s Literature and Research in Literacy in Vienna. She will be our guide to Bulgarian (and possibly some Russian) nonsense literature.

Until another time then.



  1. There is a similar Palace of Culture in Warsaw--a gift from the Soviets to the People of Poland. During the communist era, the people of Poland made it a tradition to pee against the Palace of Culture, a gesture which, I am sure, will give Kevin much delight. You should inquire about this while in Warsaw.

  2. You should know that I have created an anagram for the honourable and mysterious Wim Tigges. As can be witnessed at my blog, one option is Sim Wegtig. Sim is rather too close to be a truly admishious anagram; however Wegtig is an Afrikaans portmanteau: a combination of "weg," which means "away," and "regtig," which means "really" (as in, Q: "so, do you really have lions and tigers roaming the streets of South Africa?" A: "Regtig, man"). The pronunciation of Wegtig is very important, and impossible to be performed by the American mouth. The "W" should sound like a "V," the "e" should rhyme with sack, lack, crack, shack (as in, sackademia, lackademia, crackademia, and shackademia), the "i" should sound like that in win, whim, and minim, and the "g" (here lieth the crux of the matter...) should be a soft gutteral, produced by grating the air against the top of one's palate - a sound found in, and mastered by, speakers of just about every language but Engrish. As an alternative to "Sim Wegtig," I also proffer, simply, Wegtigism: one word, as is sometimes adopted by great renowned personages, such as Madonna, Cher, Prince, and Obijuankanobi. This would be an interlinguistic portmanteau (which is really quite exciting, in my book), suggest the practice of really going away. Really, man. Finally, I think it would be propitious if you would establish whether the so-called Wim Tigges has what Americans call a "middle name". And, for that matter, whether "Wim" stands for anything. In South Africa "Wimpie" is not uncommon. It might also be "Wiminy," "Wimin," "Wimpelstiltskin," or "Wiminimy Pandextral Shoelace The Fourth". While you're at it, please tell Wiminimy Pandextral Shoelace The Fourth Con Tiggitty-tiggity Flambastrous Firequandrant that I send my most enduring and endearing tears, fears, and headgears in lieu of my disastrous absence.

    Really, I am insanely jealous. Perhaps he has a copy of his *Anatomy* which costs less than $72? Perhaps he would sign his name on it? In blood? (Lymph or pus would also suffice...)