Comparisons of rakiya and other spirits are nothing new in Bulgaria – one such competition takes place annually in Sofia – but those contests consider alcoholic drinks mass-produced by established wineries and corporations. The event in the village, on the other hand, is open to residents of the area who make rakiya in their bathrooms, garages, and cellars. This competition attracts little fanfare and winning is solely a matter of local pride.
"Are all Bulgarians as touchy-feely as you?" The question had never occurred to me, until my friend Jenny asked me a few weeks after we met during our freshman year of college in Saint Paul, Minnesota. This was the first time I thought about personal space explicitly, even though I'd probably experienced it on a sensory level throughout my whole life. I was coming from a high school in Kuwait, which, although American in name, spirit, and language of instruction, was actually a hard-to-disentangle jumble of cultures, customs, greeting habits, and levels of touchiness.
To defrost from a long Arctic Vortex and to draw mangroves in charcoal I flew to an artist colony near Fort Myers, Florida, on an elongated and thin island, a Key. I didn't know there were Keys on the West Coast of Florida, only south of Miami, where I had never been. It seems a Key is a glorified sandbar which has gained solidity through vegetation sinking roots and tides bringing in more sand, mostly white but with specks of black. Some of the black came from thousands of years of shark teeth, and every morning I could see people collecting the teeth. It was an art form.
We're in the time of COVID-19, and I'm in the southernmost country in the world, save for New Zealand and Antarctica.
Restrictions are in place, although I read that ours are nothing like the lockdowns elsewhere around the world. Most days I feel lucky, although this is not luck that you'd necessarily want. It's fate at its purest; my parents moved from the United Kingdom more than forty years ago and settled us first in New Zealand, and then Australia. There but for the grace of a job offer go I and my family into most people's current reality.
I've been to Bulgaria twice, separated by a gap of three years, though it feels like I've actually been to two different Bulgarias. This difference is on my mind as I think of how my home country, America, has changed in about the same timeframe. I feel like I've lived in two different Americas lately, and think back to Bulgaria looking for words to pinpoint this sensation.
Mt. Everest, April 2011
He knew he could conquer the anguish. His head pounded against dehydration and thin mountain air, as if a tiny demon lodged in his ear canal, pitchfork raised, the same demon who might whisper to him, What are you doing here, heading to the top of the world? Are you who you think you are?
The White Gentleman decided that the weather was too beautiful this morning to waste the day in everyday nonsense. Therefore, he put on his happy hat and flung the door open with a flourish. He took a deep breath, then stepped onto the street with his left foot. The town was still asleep.
The street was so quiet that he could hear his footsteps. He'd take three steps and then a hop, because walking in an even cadence was boring.
If somebody's heart stops due to a trauma, such as a car accident or a fall, CPR cannot save them. I know this, but I don't know if it is the same with cycling. I know you should ask the victim if they're okay and shake their shoulders firmly between two hands. Jerry is on his back, one foot clipped into a pedal, legs across the frame like he's resting. It is hot and sweat drips from the tip of my nose onto his face when I bend over. I shake his shoulders and ask, Are you okay?
Once upon a time, a husband and a wife lived in a town. They were very rich, but had no children. They were very sad about this.
One afternoon, the wife sat embroidering by a window in their rich house, near the road and kept an eye on the passers-by. She noticed that an apple-seller, pushing a cart with baskets of lovely looking apples, was walking under her window. She stopped the man and asked what the price of the apples was. He said, “I sell each apple for three gold coins, madam.”