Issue 45-46

SOFIA'S TEMPLES, PART 3

They are all over Sofia; some with shining domes, some old and crumbling, and some housed in inconspicuous grey buildings. Through the many places of worship in Sofia you can trace back the history of the city for nearly two millennia, although many were only built during the last 150 years and bear the marks of wars and Communism.

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ENCHANTED WORLDS

You rarely see wall cupboards like the one in Gayatri Manchanda's studio. From its depths the petite woman produces, one after another, canvases that portray the domes of St Vasiliy the Blessed Cathedral in Moscow, blue wild donkeys in a greenand- red landscape, a couple of abstract compositions, portraits of women, and a landscape with copper-red buildings against the backdrop of a black sky through which soars a golden aeroplane.

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BUGS

We're kids. We catch ten red ants in a match box. They are "the baddies." We throw them like storm troops on to the nest of quite smaller black ants who are "the goodies." We watch the vicious battle close up. With a matchstick I push back any red deserter into the acid of the battle field. I love the role of God. My matchstick is everywhere.

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WHO DID YOU ARREST TODAY, MY BLUE-EYED SON?

Under Boyko Borisov and his Interior Minister, Tsvetan Tsvetanov, the Bulgarian public has become used to almost daily police operations designed to reassure that the government is doing something meaningful to thwart corruption and organised crime. Bearing exotic code names such as "The Impudent," "The Crocodiles," "The VAT-ers," and "The Magistrates," these early-morning police raids are filmed by a team of Interior Ministry cameramen and then relayed to the major TV stations, which willingly broadcast them.

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10 THINGS TO DO IN ZAGREB

The people of Zagreb are fond of saying that their city is too quiet. For the visitor, however – especially if you began your journey by crossing the western suburbs of Sofia – the quiet of Zagreb is a blessing. It has everything Bulgaria's capital city doesn't – wide streets, well preserved old architecture and a preternatural cleanliness.

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DEGREES, An excerpt

We are out on the ice at the edge of the shantytown that resurrects itself here each winter. Vic is padlocking the door to his shanty. Like everyone else, he's painted his name and town on the side as is required by law. But unlike everyone else, he's added his street address, state, and zip code. And below that, in letters a foot high, he's spray-painted EARTH! in bright red.

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LOST REPUBLIC

"Tomrush is a picturesque village, with grey-roofed houses clustering on the side of a steep ravine; but its beauty has been marred by the wholesale destruction of the surrounding forest," James Bourchier, a reporter for The Times, wrote in the early 20th Century. The village is just a few kilometres from Plovdiv, in the northern Rhodope, but to get there Bourchier had to cross the border into the Ottoman Empire, escorted by Bulgarian soldiers.

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NORTHERN SEAS

For at least four months of the year the Black Sea coast is riddled with tourists, beach-goers and campers. Many people have been put off visiting the coastline – some because of the drastic overcrowding, others because of the newly-built concrete hotels of mammoth proportions that spring up all along the shore.

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STOP! ATTENTION! CROSS!

Over 20 years after the fall of the Iron Curtain Sofia City Council has decided to dismantle dozens if not hundreds of Communist-era signs that still adorn the façades, sides and roofs of houses and blocks of flats. For the time being council employees will reportedly be going around central Sofia jotting down the details, including locations, of the city's long-defunct neon lights in a log book. It is unclear when the actual dismantling will begin, nor how the sometimes massive signs, mainly wrought-iron and electrically illuminated letters, will be disposed of.

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SMOKERS IN, CHILDREN OUT

In a much publicised U-turn, the GERB-dominated Bulgarian parliament scrapped previous legislation to ban smoking in all public places. Instead, it decided to let restaurant and bar owners decide for themselves whether to make their properties non-smoking. Larger establishments will have to provide nonsmoking sections, a requirement critics say will mean nothing in reality.

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YOUR TRUE BULGARIAN PARTNER

"Prime Minister Boyko Borisov chastised the expat businesses in Bulgaria over their failure to operate here the way they did in their own countries.

"The German-Bulgarian Chamber of Commerce had organised a working lunch to let foreign entrepreneurs in Bulgaria share their bitter experiences of doing business in Bulgaria.

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QUOTE-UNQUOTE

It is a fact that many Englishmen, who came to live in Bulgaria, did so owing to the liberal smoking regulations.

Tsveta Georgieva, an MP for Ataka

What we have is something human that is forbidden for some people. But everything nice in this world is forbidden.

Andrey Pantev, an MP for Coalition for Bulgaria

They did ban smoking in Ireland, but then a volcano erupted there. There is always a balance in nature.

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