The town of Kazanlak is located at 42 degrees 3 minutes North and 25 degrees 24 minutes East, in the pretty Valley of the Roses at the foot of the Balkan mountains in Bulgaria. Around 51,000 people live there at an altitude of 360m above sea level.
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.
As a lover of perfume you may associate Kazanlak with rose oil. For centuries the fragrant Bulgarian rose has been grown there and the attar of roses has been extracted. It has turned into an essential oil production centre.
What only an insider knows is that there, is the only manufacturer of microlights (trikes with wings) in Bulgaria. Avio Delta was founded in 1990, shortly after the political changes from a "people's republic" to a democratic system.
The arms production at Arsenal was drastically reduced as a consequence of the changes and many highly skilled metal workers lost their jobs. But some found a new field of occupation in trike production.
Avio Delta offers a range of models (single and doubleseater) with different engines (Rotax 503, Rotax 582, Simoniti Mini 2 plus, and recently a strong four stroke opposed cylinder engine from the Czech Republic). There are three different types of wings available: the Fun Cruiser (12 sq m), the Medium 18 (18 sq m) and the Classic 21 (21 sq m).
I had the opportunity to visit the manufacturing site as well as to fly one of Avio Delta's microlights with Milen Peev, the manager, as my guide.
He explained that most of the material has to be imported (mostly from Germany), because Bulgarian suppliers' products do not meet their high requirements yet. The most exciting part of the course was the flight with one of Avio Delta's pilots, Todor Tyanov. We took off from a quaint little airfield, a meadow some four kilometers south of Kazanlak.
Soaring across the city - unlike in the United States this is still possible in Bulgaria - as well as an outside landing on a quiet highway to have a break at a roadside cafe, was a thrilling experience for a beginner like me.
So if you are in Europe by chance, drop by, they are very friendly and happy to see you!
Don't Go to Melnik
In early December 2006 several friends and myself visited the town of Melnik, which is supposed to be a charming place full of very friendly people.
We discovered that at present it is a big construction site (hotels, hotels, hotels...) in dire need of infrastructure. Our attempt to drive down the main street came to an abrupt halt at a brand new Audi which was parked in the middle of the lane. "Hogging" was the word that comes to mind, but then we had already read your article on mutri. So much for the charm.
We progressed up the path to the Kordopoulova kushta, a landmark we had been told of, only to find its door shut and bolted even though it was around 5pm. Unfamiliar with the local habits, we knocked on the door and were greeted by two barking German shepherds. No, these were not home pets but real killers who'd been trained to attack. After some really violent barking a woman came behind the closed gate. "Go away, go away!" she screamed. She didn't even bother to open the door and look at us.
Up the road we went into another supposedly famous place, the Mitko Shestaka wine cellar. We entered, and a man immediately came up, his arms outstretched. "Get out of here!" he shouted. "We are closed!" I tried to tell the man that we had come a long way just to taste his very famous wine, but he got really mad: "Get the hell outa here! You won't frighten me!"
We didn't want to frighten the man. We were just customers. Very hospitable people and a very charming place, Melnik!
On page 23 in No. 3 you have translated the name of the Academy in Svishtov as "Academy of Commerce", but the official translation in English is "Tsenov Academy of Economics".
I am an alumna of the academy so I recommend you visit the web site of the Academy www.uni-svishtov.bg, in Bulgarian and English, to learn more about this brilliant educational, cultural and scientific institution in our country.
Bulbank, Member of UniCredit Group
I am an English woman now living in Bulgaria with my husband; in the Village of Rosen, 25 km from Burgas. I have been here now for almost three years. We have been made very welcome by the Bulgarian people and are enjoying our life in Bulgaria.
I am trying to find information about the Bulgarian Social Services, if there is any. A lady in our village is in dire straits. She is immobile and incontinent, and cannot do anything for herself. For the last few months my friends have been doing all we can with the local authorities to try and arrange some assistance or even getting her into a home for people such as her. But to no avail, help is promised but never arrives. It is quite serious now and if action is not taken soon the winter will take its toll.
We are giving as much help as we can including doing the laundry, but I think it is a sad state of affairs when Bulgarians cannot rely on their own people to provide assistance when needed.
Is this just an isolated case or are there other people in a similar situation who cannot get the authorities to listen?
VAGABOND: We are very sorry to hear about the plight of that old woman in Rosen. We will investigate, and bring an article in VAGABOND No. 5.
My Very Own Warhol
I'd like to share my joy at a really incredible bargain I was happy to get in Sofia.
I recently went to a shop at 1 Dobrich St, which sells TCM/Chibo goods imported from Germany. I usually buy utensils, accessories and sportswear there at reasonable prices. On the wall, between the shelves loaded with casserole dishes, frying pans and food mixers, I noticed a large reproduction, no doubt, of a picture by Andy Warhol depicting a sports car in several different colours, in the style of his famous pictures of Marilyn Monroe and soup cans. "Not a bad reproduction and the frame is good too," I thought and went to take a closer look at it. And then I saw I was holding a Warhol original! An individually numbered copy, No 562, from a limited edition of 1,000, printed jointly by the Andy Warhol Foundation and DaimlerChrysler for the TCM/Chibo art series. On the back of the lithography, there was a certificate of origin with the name of the art gallery which realised the project, Gallerie Burkhard Eikelmann Dusseldorf, and the lithographers who made the prints, Gefeller Siebdruck Neuss. I asked the price and could not believe my ears: 95 leva (42.50 euros).
In less than an hour, Andy Warhol's Cars was gloriously hanging on my living room wall. Impatiently, I did a quick search on the Internet and found out that the limited edition was printed in Germany in May 2006, was offered for sale only on the Internet and sold out almost immediately at an initial price of 250 euros per print (frame not included). What a windfall...
Look After the Gap
Plaudits aside, issue must be taken with your "Silly Past" feature in VAGABOND No. 2.
You seek to demonstrate the mindless control exercised by Bulgaria's Communist regime by reference to the signs it used to regulate people's lives. I suggest that in several respects you fail to support your thesis.
First, there are signs which you mistranslate, unwittingly or deliberately. Given the apparently Bulgarian (albeit westernised) surname of your writer, one must assume the latter.
Space permits only a couple of examples. The sign "Паметници - Достъпницени" (sic) does not in context translate as "Monuments - Affordable Prices". Such a sign would typically, then as now, be found close to a cemetery and advertises the business of making and selling gravestones. "Pametnitsi" (sic) (singular: pametnik) (sic) is used both for monuments and gravestones. And the sign "Внимание! Опасност от падащи тела" does not warn of falling bodies, dead or living. "Tela" (singular: tyalo) can also mean "objects". So even though Bulgarians would no doubt smile at the double entendre, they would understand perfectly well that the message of this sign is "Attention! Danger from falling objects".
There are many English words whose meaning also changes with the context. Indeed you choose as an example of "sensible" English signs, one which is famously not sensible without knowing the context. "Mind the Gap" could mean, as intended, "beware of" the gap but could also mean "look after" the gap (as in, could you mind my son this afternoon?) or "be annoyed by" the gap (as in, would you mind if I smoke?). So, with these Bulgarian examples is the joke on the Communists or on your uninformed readership?
Of course many of the signs you illustrate are unmistakably ideological in origin or function. But in striving to appeal to national or civic pride, how do they differ from the plethora of similar exhortations in, for example, wartime Britain? Or indeed in today's directive obsessed EU?
Others in your collection do indeed sound quaint in their English translation. For example, the lengthy treatise on jaywalking. But to a large extent that is the nature of the Bulgarian language, which can appear convoluted in literal translation into English (though it can also be surprisingly economical). In lampooning such signs from the workplace, school or hospital in their translation into English, you poke fun as much at the Bulgarian language as - indeed, rather than - the recent Communist past.
I venture to suggest that there are many, many Bulgarians today - ordinary people living ordinary lives - for whom the Communist period is remembered not for its repression, control or bankrupt ideology, but for order, cleanliness and, if not plenty, at least enough.
And for whom the subsequent decade and a half has been the complete antithesis. For such people, surviving amidst the rubble of the so-called Transition, most of the signs you use in your thesis would be unremarkable and indeed worthy in objective and of compliance.
By all means let's poke fun at Communism, there is much to ridicule. But let's take care that we do not from atop our high horses mock the victimised as much as the victimiser.
VAGABOND: We don't. We are just looking after the gap.