Issue 79

LIFE AS A MISSING SPOON, An excerpt

I found out that I was a junkie the next morning. I woke up and headed for the kitchen, urged on by the desire for a hearty breakfast. I had crisscrossed the country hitchhiking, and that is tiring. Hitchhiking is what it is, and doesn't make for an interesting story. Take Kerouac's On the Road, which is considered his best book, or at least his most famous one. Most hitchhikers I know don't like it too much.

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JOKES OF THE MONTH

NOT A SQUIRREL

A band of snails robbed a tortoise taking a walk in the Borisova Garden.

A scandal ensued, and Boyko Borisov ordered Tsvetan Tsvetanov to arrest the bandits as soon as possible. Promptly, Tsvetanov called in the cops and told them to find the snails. A week later the cops reported that they couldn't find the snails but that the tortoise was already behind bars for a traffic violation it had committed five years previously.

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GEORGI LOZANOV

Associate Professor Georgi Lozanov, who has for many years headed the Bulgarian Electronic Media Council, is possibly this country's most important intellectual. A man of many interests and inclinations, Lozanov has observed what has been going on in post-Communist Bulgaria with the keen eye of a journalist yet with the mindframe of a philosopher: always considering the details but striving to go beyond the whims and quirks of the everyday in order to take in the bigger picture of life in Bulgaria.

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JOHN ROWAN

Through the many chats, lunches, dinners and obviously drinks we've had with John Rowan, Ireland's ambassador to Bulgaria, we have discovered that, perhaps surprisingly, Ireland and Bulgaria have a lot more in common than meets the eye. The two couldn't be more different if geography and topography are your guidelines of course, but that's about as far as the differences go. The Irish and the Bulgarians have a very similar history, both having been oppressed by neighbours and both having undergone a sometimes painful search for a national identity.

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WALKING ON FIRE

The unusual, almost Native American-like drum rhythm and the bagpipe tunes echo over the silent crowd, gathered around a large circle of live embers glowing into the night. All eyes are on a tiny group of barefoot men and women in traditional clothes, who dance slowly at the edge of the circle, holding icons.

"They are in trance," says one of the onlookers.

"No, they are afraid," whispers another.

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ROMAN PLOVDIV

Roaring crowds of spectators cheer on their favourite runner. A gladiator bites the dust in the arena, and falls in a pool of blood. Two wealthy ladies inspect the fine silks at the shop run by a Jewish merchant. In the forum, slaves are busy erecting a statue of the current emperor, while others outside the city are preoccupied with repairs to the aqueduct. The people around the Eastern Gate make way for a chariot carrying a senator from his rural villa to his city mansion.

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CHALKIDIKI FOREVER

Crisis or no crisis, the results of an informal survey among friends, relatives and people overheard in cafés, bars and the Sofia metro on how they plan to spend their summer holiday are clear. The overwhelming majority will head to Chalkidiki in Greece.

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ISKAR GORGE

There's nothing deeper than the Iskar," goes the local folk song, with characteristic parochialism. Even sceptics, however, admit that the longest river running entirely within Bulgarian territory is indeed remarkable. Springing from the plain near Samokov, it flows through the Sofia Plain and the Stara Planina mountains, crosses the Danubian Plain and, after a journey of 350 kms, joins the Danube.

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10 WAYS TO FIGHT OSTALGIA

If opinion polls are anything to go by, Bulgarians are the most pessimistic Europeans. In contrast to the Danes who, despite – or perhaps because of – their climate and taxation levels, have persistently, over the course of many years, emerged as the most contented people in Europe, Bulgarians are becoming increasingly unhappy and morose.

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