Issue 74

DAN KOLOFF

To be a wrestler in modern-day Bulgaria is a somewhat controversial profession. Memories of the early 1990s, when former wrestlers, or bortsi, became the thugs, or mutri of the then fledgling Bulgarian mafia, are still fresh.

Yet, at the centre of the mountain village of Sennik, near Sevlievo, a statue of a man with trunk-like legs and wide chest stands as proof that a wrestler can deservedly be also a national hero.

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MITKO

There's a porousness to these pages, which are written with a kind of fickleness or fecklessness, so that what happens in the present (in my current present, now, before it becomes a more vivid and significant past) as I think these retrospective thoughts can enter, pervade and shift the currents of retrospection. But it's also true that these pages, which accrue so slowly and with such effort, change in their turn the reception of the present, digging channels which determine how new experiences are processed and perceived.

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FOREVER

(…) Gesh and I kissed for the first time at the Monument. There were bottles of beer rolling around our feet and cigarette butts smouldering beneath our army boots but Gesh and I were frozen in a moment of eternity: two ragged figures, embracing in the silence of the night between the bronze silhouettes and bayonets of Russian liberators. That same evening I went home drunk for the first time in my life. My mother got home a little bit after me. She was more drunk than me, thank God, and didn't realise.

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CONSTANTA, ROMANIA

All the tourist traffic in Constanta, on the Romanian Black Sea coast, revolves around the two focal points of the "historical peninsula" – the statue of Ovid at its beginning and the casino at its tip. Between them is everything worthy of notice in this otherwise drab post-Communist city. Here are the History Museum and the Roman Mosaics Building, the great Art Nouveau Mahmudiye Mosque, several exquisite churches and some traces of ancient structures, and dozens of now derelict mansions that in various degrees evoke pre-Communist glories.

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NOT IN BLACK-AND-WHITE

There were two reasons for starting on The Turks of Bulgaria, the logical follow-up to A Guide to Ottoman Bulgaria (Vagabond Media, Sofia, 2012 & 2012), and both are personal.

Firstly, there was the naivety with which I, along with many Bulgarians of my generation, perceived what was going on around us in the 1970s and 1980s.

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BULGARIA'S CLOCK TOWERS

The first clock tower in Bulgaria is probably the one built at the end of the 16th and the beginning of the 17th Century in Plovdiv. At that time, clock towers were common in Europe, but were a novelty in the Ottoman Empire. The convenience of knowing the time was soon appreciated by merchants and craftsmen, and the clock tower fashion spread all over the country. Their number peaked in the 19th Century, and in Bulgaria there was hardly a city without its own clock tower.

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SOFIA'S BEST KEPT SECRET

"You know, I bought a genuine Genko Genkov! For only 80 leva!," a friend told me, eyes shining with joy at the bargain. It sounded like one, indeed. Genko Genkov (1923-2006) was the artist of primitive, yet vivid landscapes which are sold at auctions for prices ranging from 1,800 to 5,000 leva.

The precious painting was found at Tane's, probably the largest flea shop in Sofia. It is also the most secretive one.

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PLOVDIV TEMPLES PART 3

Strolling through the maze of cobbled streets and old buildings on the three hills that comprise the historical core of Plovdiv is an easy way to experience the long and at times turbulent past of the city. The stones under your feet are slippery and worn out by generations of citizens. Grander and smaller ancient Thracian and Roman buildings appear here and there, rubbing stones with medieval fortifications and the grand mansions of the 18-19th centuries with their bay windows, bent eaves and colourful walls.

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QUOTE-UNQUOTE

Me included, the mayors speak between ourselves two-three languages.

Prime Minister Boyko Borisov on the foreign languages' proficiency of the civil service

The state and the mafia are nothing but competitors in kleptocracy. The latter are less defensible and therefore more attractive.

Economist Krasen Stanchev on Bulgaria's transition to democracy

Bulgaria is an oasis for organised crime and a safehaven for people dealing in it.

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ON SHOOTING STARS, WOLVES AND BEARS

"Let's congratulate ourselves with being able to manufacture semiconductors now, and let's wish that we will be able to manufacture full conductors next year," Zhivkov said. In his time he was known as an uneducated but cunning peasant, whose pronouncements on anything from students to prostitutes and from still-born babies to still-born Socialism usually circulated in the form of jokes.

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ME, MYSELF AND MY OLD MINOLTA

Photography came to me by accident. While living in Paris in 2006, I signed up for cooking classes organised by the city council, but they were fully booked. So up came my second choice: photoreporting combined with black and white darkroom techniques.

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BOYKO KADINOV, ARCHITECT

Professor Boyko Kadinov talks about his profession with infectious enthusiasm: "It is probably because I am convinced that only when you do something you dream about, something which travels inside you, only then is there no entropy, no waste of energy," he says.

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HOLY OR TOADY?

It is sad to see an old man, two years short of becoming a centenarian, pass away. But when you consider that that man had been the head of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church for over 40 years, both during and after Communism, the story gets more complicated.

Patriarch Maxim, who died in November, was born in 1911 and was associated with Bulgarian Orthodoxy from the age of 12, when he became a monk. His was an extraordinary career.

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WHO IS ASKING?

Under Communism ‒ just over 20 years ago ‒ political jokes proliferated, and in the absence of any media not controlled by the state, were the natural outlet for people's sentiments regarding the regime. Jokes in those days travelled faster than the Workers' Deed newspaper, faster than even the announcements masquerading as news the government promulgated through its television channel.

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