"You know, I bought a genuine Genko Genkov! For only 80 leva!," a friend told me, eyes shining with joy at the bargain. It sounded like one, indeed. Genko Genkov (1923-2006) was the artist of primitive, yet vivid landscapes which are sold at auctions for prices ranging from 1,800 to 5,000 leva.
The precious painting was found at Tane's, probably the largest flea shop in Sofia. It is also the most secretive one.
Situated in the basement of the St Paraskeva Church, at 48 Rakovski St, Tane's is not marked by any signage and its opening hours are unpredictable. If you want to submerge yourself in its cat-haunted labyrinth of old furniture, lamps, cupboards, glassware and books you need to know that there is a shop at the end of the right hand-side steps of the church, and be lucky enough to find it open.
With its characteristic smell and claustrophobic chaos of artefacts crammed into every available corner, Tane's is a nostalgic time travel through Sofia's past, both distant and more recent. Yellowed photographs of families who lived before the Great War mingle with fine cutlery, moth-eaten bowler hats, Socialist tin toys and cheap Made-in-China souvenirs.
Most of the stuff at Tane's is on the cheap side of the trade, more a covered flea market under a smart antique shop. Many of the things for sale have been scavenged from the street rubbish bins, where they ended up after the death of their owner or the demolition of old houses in the city centre.
In spite of its cheapness, however, Tane's has charm and is frequented by nostalgia lovers and antique hunters who rummage through the piles of stock. Some of them firmly believe that one day they will find in this chaos Something Big And Real, like that Genko Genkov.
At the end of the day, however, my friend discovered that his Genko Genkov was not genuine at all, but his faith survived his disappointment, and he continues to visit Tane's and buy stuff. It probably has something to do with the church above