Issue 4

WE'VE GOT MAIL

Bulgaria is a relatively unknown part of Europe even for me who comes from Austria. For decades it was cut off by the Iron Curtain and not a destination for visiting. If you are a historian you may think of the Thracian tomb there, a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1979.

If you are interested in arms and weapons the name Arsenal may tell you something - a factory located there, which built a lot of small arms, among it the famous AK 47, the Kalashnikov.

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MY OWN CHOICE: MY EPICURIAN ADVENTURE

Every nation's folklore probably has a special section of proverbs relating to eating and drinking. The Bulgarians are no exception, though the essence of our wisdom throughout the centuries has given expression more to our problems than to our everyday pleasures. Anyway, let me try to take you on a culinary tour of this country with the help of some lesser known sayings from a "people's guidebook".

"When he goes out, the dogs will follow him to lick him"

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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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THE BULGARIAN UMBRELLA

On Waterloo Bridge in Central London, on 7 September 1978, a man was "accidentally" stabbed with an umbrella. Four days later, at St James's Hospital in Balham, that man died in excruciating pain. The autopsy at Wandsworth Public Mortuary revealed a tiny pellet had been injected into his thigh. The pellet had gone undetected on the X-rays. It was later taken to the Chemical Defence Establishment in Porton Down. A team of forensic experts, including a CIA operative, examined the pinhead-sized object and found it to be concave, with two tiny holes in it. But it was empty.

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A BRUSH WITH HORSEHAIR

"Nobody comes for a shave these days!" Boris says sadly, emphasising "these days". Boris is the barber in the only barbershop in Vurshets, which we came across a few months ago, just opposite the bus station.

If Bulgarian melancholy could choose the site of its museum, it would be right here.

Vurshets is a small town with mineral springs in the northwest of the country. I have known it for a long time but, for some strange reason, I find it is the first place I have ever felt excited about. So I decide to go back and find out why.

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COMPLAINING TO THE ARMENIAN PRIEST

Scholars disagree about the exact origin of this relatively recent Bulgarian idiom. Some claim that the priest in question was an important man in Istanbul in the 19th Century, who even had connections in the Supreme Porte. Those wishing to express their dissatisfaction with the inefficiency of the Ottoman bureaucracy would use him as an intermediary for their interests; a simple call from the Armenian priest was said to be more helpful than dozens of official letters to the various levels of the administration.

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A WEEKEND IN SALONIKA

It is very important to always have a place close by where you can go and forget about everything. In the Apennine Peninsula this may be Rome, in Iberia there is always Barcelona, and in the Balkans it is Salonika.

Less than 200 miles south of Sofia, this is the city that an increasing number of Bulgarians and foreigners living in the area are using for their customary January getaway.

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EXPATS WITH INFLUENCE

Everything you wanted to know about the big boys in Bulgaria. In a special two-part series, VAGABOND spoke to leaders in the fields of banking, communications, technology, agriculture, education, development, real estate, travel and beverages. Find out what the EU means for them, how the people at the top got to be there, and what they really think about living and doing business in Bulgaria.

Read Part 2 here.

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LET`S GO FOR A SWIM

After the suicidal amounts of food and rakiya devoured in Bulgaria from 5 December until 5 January, the indulgence of the festive season will have taken their toll. In order to clear your head for the first working week of the new year, you decide to take a stroll by the water (a river, lake, sea or swimming pool), wishing secretly to dive into it and stay there at least until springtime. While contemplating this, you notice you are not the only one to be thinking this way.

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COMING IN FROM THE COLD

Bulgaria has entered the EU after 17 years of economic transition on the thorny way to market economy and Western values. Unrivalled celebrations, lavishly organised by the government, spread the "spirit of Europe" across the country. The new European millennium for Bulgaria started at the beginning of 2007. Mr Balkanski, dressed up in a tailored three-piece pinstripe suit, met old Madam Europe and seduced her with his charms and promises over a bowl of tripe soup and home-brewed rakiya.

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WHEN GIANTS COLLIDE

Sport stages some standout fixtures. In football, for example, there's Brazil versus Argentina and Celtic against Rangers. In tennis there's Roger Federer versus Rafael Nadal, or, in ice hockey, the USA against Russia. And, of course, England playing Australia in any sport would be a needle fixture.

One contest that probably hasn't featured on most sporting radars is Lebanon versus Ireland in the Rugby League World Cup. It certainly hadn't on mine until I saw it listed recently.

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BIG BROTHER'S LOOKING THE OTHER WAY

With the collapse of the Soviet regime and the subsequent opening of borders, the Russian diaspora in Western Europe and the US has lost part of its charm. The romantic image established over the years by Tsarist emigres and dissidents has been shattered by the invasion of the crassly-mannered nouveau riche into tourist hot spots and the immigration of hundreds of thousands of people ready to do anything to survive.

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A NEW COLD WAR?

There are ingenious crimes in terms of scale or the perfect concealment of their perpetrators. Recently, we have witnessed a crime that is ingenious as a scheme.

Every day following the murder of Alexander Litvinenko brings new details to the symbolic message that the evil genius behind this plot is sending.

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