CULTURE

FACE OFF

Bulgaria has many faces. The shadowy thick set jaw of corruption glimpsed behind the blacked out windows of a Mercedes 4x4; the peroxide hair and pouting lips of chalga writhing in seductive flashes of naked flesh; the ruddy-cheeked countenance of folk gaily picking rose petals in the fields of the Socialist dream.

Painter Henrik Engstrom, or "HEN", became fascinated with these last two when, flicking through the TV channels in his native Stockholm, he came across some Bulgarian TV stations.

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ADVENTURES IN POST-COMMUNISM

These figures from the dark underbelly of society seem strangely at odds with the dashing, yet unassuming person of British journalist John Hamilton. But beneath the quintessential English chap lie nerves of steel – “I always get very nervous before interviews,” Hamilton bashfully admits before revealing that his most nerve wracking experience was interviewing an Albanian drug lord whose pizza joint had just been blown up by a rocket propelled grenade.

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KRISTIN DIMITROVA

You may know the name if you are interested in modern Balkan literature. You may have read her short stories or poetry in anthologies and literary journals in Britain, Ireland and the United States; Selected, a trilingual volume in Bulgarian, Greek and English; or A Visit to the Clockmaker, a book of verse published in Cork, Eire.

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BANBURY IN THE LAND OF ORPHEUS

Darren first started taking pictures at university in Bristol where he got involved in the photographic club. “I met some inspiring photographers that helped me get over my fear of approaching people with my camera,” he says. “In a way it helped me get over the shyness I had suffered from during my childhood, because to photograph people you need to get close to your subject and engage with them.”

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ALEK POPOV'S MISSION LONDON

Alek Popov is a leading figure on Bulgaria's contemporary literature scene. Having written numerous award-winning short stories and scripts, which have been translated into over a dozen languages, Mission London is his first novel. In a style "something like Pulp Fiction," it tackles the behaviour of Bulgaria's new elite on the eve of accession.

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FAR FROM THE DANUBE, An excerpt from a novel

There are probably not many English authors who can claim to have accompanied the launch of their book with a live set of Bulgarian folksongs. At the Helikon bookshop in Sofia this October, Christopher Buxton picked up his guitar and sang for the audience attending the Bulgarian launch of his novel Far From the Danube.

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BORDER CROSSING

A Palestinian in Sofia

Outside the Banya Bashi mosque in Sofia, we were taking off our shoes to have a peek inside, when a well-fed middle-aged man with Arabic features said in English: "It's lunchtime but I let you go in, just for you. Where you from?"

"I'm from here," I said, "and Michael is from New Zealand."

"Ah, you life here and your boyfriend visiting you," he interpreted.

"No, we live in England," I said.

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ANDREY DANIEL

Born on 28 March 1952 in the northern town of Ruse on the Danube, Andrey Daniel had no childhood dreams of being a doctor or a lorry driver - he always wanted to be an artist. Andrey graduated in painting from the Fine Arts Academy in Sofia and is now a professor of painting there.

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