Issue 24

NO REFUNDS AFTER SEVEN DAYS

And that's how on this late pre-Christmas Boston afternoon, only twenty minutes after she bought them, Martina returns the Italian boots in question along with the receipt for over $450 and asks for her money back.

"But, please, is there something wrong?" the girl behind the counter asks anxiously, still knowing that, whatever the answer, she is legally obliged to return the client's money.

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LITTLE BIG RUSSIA

One of the things that often surprise foreigners on coming to Bulgaria is Bulgarians' attitude to Russia. Go to any former Russian satellite state and they invariably hate them. A Russian friend in Ireland tells how he pretended to be Bulgarian so he could fit in with a mostly Latvian and Romanian workforce who despised Russians. Not so with Bulgarians. The reasons are complex and historical, but one of them – the liberation from Ottoman rule – stands out.

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INDUSTRIAL WASTELANDS

The experts have got it wrong. In 2008, Ruse and Plovdiv have the fastest growing property prices having knocked Sofia off its perch. The most promising holiday sector – spa centres – have gone down the toilet. The logistic and industrial property segment, touted as the next big thing, with Bulgaria harbouring ambitions to become a world-class logistics hub, have badly underperformed. Where did it all go wrong?

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CREDIT CONTROL

Only five percent of all applicants used a credit consultancy last year but the industry is expected to take off in the near future. Securing a mortgage loan in Bulgaria is probably a similar process to that of your own country. One moment you think you know all the ropes and are ready to select your credit plan, the next you realise you forgot to read the small print and you have to reconsider.

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DOES BULGARIA NEED A MUSEUM OF COMMUNISUM?

Everyone born in the 1990s and now attending college wonders how the 20th Century could have been dominated by two extremely absurd ideologies: Nazism and Communism, collectively known as totalitarianism. How could millions of people be led to believe what essentially was a thoroughly imaginary philosophy propagating the supremacy of one race – in the case of Nazism? Likewise, how could millions of people be ruled by a single supposedly omniscient party claiming to rule by decrees in all areas, from biogenetics to sports – in the case of Communism?

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GOING INTO HRISTO BOTEV, GETTING OUT OF VASIL LEVSKI

I walked down the road and ended up in the Georges Danton Square. Diagonally opposed to each other was the Louis XVI Palace and the Levebvre Winter Garden. The Charles Alexandre de Calonne Office Tower was not far away, next to the Jacques-Louis David Gallery. The Mignet River was slowly flowing by. I stayed in La Fayette for a day and had "Fireman's Apron" for dinner. On the following day I set out to Talleyrand.

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18 PERCENT GRAY

The blinds in the bedroom are completely drawn, but the day still finds a way to penetrate with the roar of the garbage truck. This means it's Wednesday. This means it's eight fifteen. Is there a noisier noise than the noise of a garbage truck at eight fifteen?

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BASTARD EDEN

On 27 April 1986, tests discovered radioactive particles on workers' clothes at the Forsmark Nuclear Power Plant in Sweden. The source? Not that reactor, but another one, 1,100 km, or 684 miles, away, in the heart of the Soviet "ideological information blackout zone". Those living in the West found out about the 26 April disaster in Chernobyl days before those in the Eastern bloc.

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WHAT'S IN A SYMBOL?

Sometime during the 1930s, the underage Hollywood star HoH Shirley Temple decided to watch her newest film in the movie theatre. She had become famous long before her 10th birthday for her touching performance as a child who had lost one of her parents. Yet as Erich Kästner describes in his novel Lottie and Lisa, Shirley wasn't able to watch her own movie – children weren't allowed to see the film. She was old enough to act in it, but not old enough to watch it.

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BACKLASH OF THE BOTCHED BUILDINGS

Grey, Socialist buildings became dwarfed by skeletons of colourful resort complexes-to-be as construction in Bulgaria boomed in the mid-2000s. Empty beaches and ski retreats gave birth to literally hundreds of buildings promising to be off-plan bargains, high-rental yields and unmissable business investments.

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BULGARIAN MEN

The CIA claims that there are 0.92 men for every woman in Bulgaria. Yet, despite the unequal odds, you can still catch occasional glimpses of the endangered species known as the Bulgarian man.

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BULGARIAN-STYLE INTERNET

The global information network covers the whole world and is theoretically blind to national borders. However, domestic markets inevitably have unique quirks. This means you can't approach all local markets in the same way. Bulgarian cyberspace is no exception – you'll find a few big players, as well as many smaller fry fighting for a cut of the tempting profits from online advertising. And the battle has just begun – experts estimate that online advertising income will only increase in the coming months and years.

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DÉJÀ VU

Rejoice all you oldies who pine for the atmosphere of Communist Bulgaria. It is alive and well (despite a few cosmetic alterations) in a now private, formerly stated-owned, bank in Burgas. There is no need to sit at home dabbing Kleenex to the eye as you watch your seventh re-run of Goodbye Lenin. Hurry on down to re-experience the thrill of being put in your proper place.

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HERE, THERE AND EVERYWHERE

What would go down in history as the first Bulgarian soap was aired in the late 1960s-early 1970s by Bulgaria's state television's only channel. It was partly a Western (good guys versus bad guys), partly a historical romance (every Bulgarian girl at the time was in love with Major Deyanov aka Bate Sergo, the series' surviving character played by Stefan Danailov – yes, the minister of culture in 2008).

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STREET EATING

As any visitor to foreign lands knows, there is a tendency to play it safe when it comes to eating native. Most prefer to stay out of harm's way at inviting-looking cafés and restaurants with Latin letters or at least pictures. However, by sticking to this practice, they will be missing out on a tremendously tasty part of Bulgaria.

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