Issue 152

ERIC RUBIN

Eric Rubin, the outgoing US ambassador, is a man of many vocations. He effortlessly alternates between State Department duties such as enhancing security and police cooperation and going to open-air opera performances, from patronizing the arts to visiting some of Bulgaria's off-off-off-the-beaten-track locations, and from hosting business lunches and receptions to quietly contemplating the beauties of Bulgarian nature. Eric is no newcomer to what used to be the Communist bloc.

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PREDRAG MILINČIĆ: SWEET DREAMS ARE MADE BY MARS

Mars products are so ubiquitous that they have become a part of our everyday lives: we snack on Snickers and Twix, we chew Orbit, we cook Uncle Ben's and feed our pets with Pedigree and Whiskas. A family-owned company, Mars dominates the world market and stepped in Bulgaria 25 years ago. The company realizes its responsibility towards the environment and the health and wellbeing of consumers, and implements policies that are clean and energy and waste-efficient.

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BULGARIA'S ELECTIONS BOGEYMEN

What will probably go down in history as the dullest election campaign in Bulgaria post-1989 was marked with a single trait. Politicians vying to get into the European Parliament (with all the goodies this entails, including salaries of about 8,700 euros per month plus copious allowances plus good pension plans, and so on and so forth – unthinkable for ordinary Bulgarians or for Bulgarian national MPs) resorted to a tried-and-tested technique to woo voters: scaremongering.

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TO BREXIT OR NOT

I have to confess that I am addicted to Brexit, but in the remote Bulgarian village where I live I am not the only one. Even here, everybody is glued to the BBC news. The future for the hundred or so Brits is uncertain and my Bulgarian neighbours are worried too. Their grandchildren are working in London and Manchester and Birmingham, and nobody really knows how Brexit will affect them. We all gather around the TV to watch the crucial votes in the House of Commons, as if it were a football match. But each time nothing is decided and the soap opera continues.

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SUN FORTRESS

Overgrown remains of forts and temples, mysterious rock shrines: Bulgaria's historical heritage often makes you feel like an explorer. Long forgotten and known only to die-hard history enthusiasts, they bear witness to the vibrant communities that created them millennia ago.

Asara, near the village of Angel Voyvoda in the southeast of the country, is one of these.

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POPE OF DETERGENTS

Bishop Nikolay of Plovdiv (the one with the penchant for Rolex watches) even suggested Pope Francis anticipated and would welcome the Anti-Christ, at a later date. However, nothing that emerged from Bulgaria's senior clergy compares to the thoughts of ordinary Bulgarians as they resorted to Facebook to promulgate their hypotheses of the "real" reasons for Pope Francis's visit.

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BULGARIA'S FIREFLIES

Much has been said and written about the beauties of Bulgarian nature and the abundance of its wildlife. Birdwatching, for example, has become a mainstream tourism activity that many travel agents organise for Western visitors. Yet little if anything has been promulgated about another remarkable if not so obvious (for obvious reasons, pun unintended) treasure that Bulgarian forests, meadows and riversides have: the abundance of fireflies.

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BULGARIA'S VILLAGE CHURCHES

At the heart of traditional villages with old houses or in drab Communist-era developments fighting depopulation, village churches dot the Bulgarian countryside and offer a variety of stimulating experiences. Some were built centuries ago and others are newer. Some are covered with masterpieces of church art and other were decorated by self-taught artists. Some are museums and other still serve their communities. Some offer proof of strange rituals or important events in their parishes and keep alive the memory of the times when the now empty villages bustled with life.

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ROUND BLACK SEA IN 3 VAGABONDS. PART 1: THE HISTORY

It encompasses six countries, with wide rivers, majestic mountains and splendid beaches, and the remains of ancient civilisations and modern developments. Peopled with adherents of the three Abrahamic religions, and redolent of times of splendour, confrontation and tragedy, the shores of the Black Sea combine different nations, geographic and climatic features, and history. In a series of three articles, we will cover the most exiting sites in a region that is still underexplored by Western travellers. We begin with the history of the Black Sea.

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40 DAYS, An excerpt from a novel

"Todor, you'll be sorry one day," my mother would say.

"Failure depends on you," my father would repeat.

"Mr. Emanuilov, you've failed the test," my high school math teacher would say haughtily.

"Tosho, you are totally the great evil," Kosey, one of my few friends, would say – the one who would go with me to drink drugstore vodka in homemade cherry compote with the metalheads.

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