Issue 94

ANNABEL, An excerpt

It is a kind of painting that rather changes in character, and takes on a richness the longer you look at it. Besides, you know, Gauguin likes them extraordinarily. He said to me among other things – "That...it's...the flower."
Vincent Van Gogh in a letter to Theo Van Gogh

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BERAT

If you are trying to go off-off-off-the-beaten-track and still remain geographically in Europe, look no further than Albania. Tugged among the precipitous mountains of the Western Balkans, it has been under the radar for most of the time since its creation in 1913. During its Communist period, from 1944 to 1992, Albania was sealed off from the modern world by Stalinist leader Enver Hoxha, who dealt ruthlessly with real or imaginary opponents and ordered the construction of over 700,000 bunkers to guard himself from real or imaginary enemies.

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COMMUNISM'S FLYING SAUCER

Bulgaria has yet to produce an architectural site capable of generating a high-degree wow-factor, with the likely exception of Sofia's NDK, Shumen's Founders of the Bulgarian State monument and the urbanisation solutions seen at Sunny Beach. Yet, the country does have a strong contender for world fame in a new, but growing field of interest: abandoned, ghoulish, straight-out-of-a-dystopian-movie-set constructions visited by folks interested in off-off-off-the-beaten-track tourism and captivated by anything from extraterrestrials to Goths, Communists and urban decay.

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BULGARIA FROM THE WINDOW OF A TRAIN

For a foreigner, getting lost on Bulgaria's railway network is easy. You just have to follow the signs at Sofia Central railway station. Or try to decipher the Bulgarian-only timetables at whatever station fate has landed you at. Or try to understand the commands of sleeping coach conductors who think they will make themselves clear to foreigners if they speak Bulgarian slowly and in a loud voice.

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BLUE, BLUEST, SINEMORETS

The name of Sinemorets, Bulgaria's last village on the southern Black Sea coast before Rezovo and the border with Turkey, is relatively new. It means "Blue Sea" and was given in 1934, as a replacement for the older name of the village, which was derived from the Greek galasios, or azure.

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GOING DOWN THE DANUBE

In the 19th Century, cartographer Guillaume Lejean discovered with amazement that the Bulgarian stretch of the Danube was less well known than the Nile. In 1933, Patrick Leigh Fermor described the Bulgarian bank as terra incognita "the least inviting country in Europe, except Albania." Were they right?

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MARTIN ZAIMOV

Geneva-born London School of Economics-educated banker Martin Zaimov has been a household name in Bulgarian banking and political circles since the beginning of the democratisation process in the early 1990s. Zaimov was deputy commerce and trade minister in one of the caretaker governments at the time, and in the period 1997-2003 serves as deputy governor of the Bulgarian National Bank.

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IN THE COUNTRY OF ANGRY WAITERS

I have been asked – repeatedly, time and again, over and over in the course of many years – by various visitors and expats why is restaurant and bar service in Bulgaria so bad. Waiters and waitresses, I am being told, are the worst in Europe. They are surly, slow, do not react to customer demands, and do not count out your change when they do not overcharge. They seem to be constantly angry.

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B. B. IS BACK?

Well, how did it happen that the GERB emerged first in this election? Do you now anyone who voted for them? The second time I got asked this question, I started thinking. When someone asked me for the third time, I knew the answer. Yes, I know 680,838 people who voted for Boyko Borisov. That's the number of votes the GERB garnered at the latest European Parliament election.

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QUOTE-UNQUOTE

Peevski is not The Evil but an unabashed, brutal economic interest.

Former Prime Minister Ivan Kostov

This parliament was smiling, open, besieged and sometimes empty.

Former Speaker of the Parliament Mihail Mikov

The Eurasian project is the project of the future.

Ataka leader Volen Siderov

Everything blossomed when I was in power.

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JOKES OF THE MONTH

An innovative Bulgarian restaurant imported a new Japanese gimmick: robotic waiters.

So, a new robot-waiter approaches a customer and instead of giving him the menu asks what his IQ is.

"170," replies the customer.

The robot brings him a bottle of good champagne and starts up a chat about classical music and abstract painting.

Then the robot moves to another customer: "What is your IQ?"

"80," the customer replies.

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