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2014/09
Tuesday 30th September, 2014
Category: 2014/09
Tags: chimney sweep balcony author

September is almost at an end and what with days out, visitors from the UK, jubilee celebrations and other events it's certainly been an action packed month.  The weather during the day has been beautiful and sunny recently though as soon as the sun begins to set, the air turns remarkably nippy.  We had a couple of days of solid rain and despite my best resolve I gave in and fired up the central heating... ahhh bliss. 

With the arrival of autumn I thought I'd better arrange for the chimney sweep to come so I phoned Mitko who did it last winter.  Now, Mitko speaks pretty good English but what's the point in my trying to learn the lingo if I chicken out at the first opportunity, so, having reminded myself of the word for chimney I phoned him to arrange a visit. 

The conversation began predictably with him saying 'hello?' (in Bulgarian of course) and me asking if I was speaking to Mitko which he confirmed.  I then began my little spiel by introducing myself and the village I was calling from, at which point I detected a certain supressed sniggering from his end. You remember me? I enquired and he said that he did, amid more stifled chuckling.  Was I committing some huge telephone faux pas?  Is my accent really that appalling - something akin to 'Allo 'allo... Leesen very carefully, I shall say zis only once... I soldiered on by mentioning that he cleaned my chimney last year and could we arrange for him to come and do it again.  Yet more merriment as he said he would be in the village on Saturday anyway and he'd come to my place first between 9 and 10am.  I thanked him and hung up wondering a) why all the laughter and b) had I really arranged for him to call on Saturday.  Time would tell.

Saturday duly came along with a second day of hefty rain so I really wasn't surprised when he didn't show up.  I tried calling a couple of times but there was no answer.  On Sunday I was out for the morning but when I returned I noticed he'd tried phoning me.  I called him back and he was actually in the village at someone else's house so, since I was now home, he would come down to me next.  When he arrived the reason for all the telephone conversation chuckling became apparent: he is just one of those people who has a sort of nervous laugh when they speak to someone they're not very familiar with.  Phew, nothing to do with my linguistics at all!  It didn't take him long to do the chimney during which time I quizzed him about the Lada jeep he owns (his opinions have now put me off getting one) after which he went on his way with a 'same time next year' farewell and a few more giggles.

The cold nights haven't deterred me from sleeping on the balcony though a few layers have been added to both me and the bed.  The mozzie net isn't really needed now although I drape it round the bed during the day to prevent it from becoming a snoozing pad for all the neighbouring cats (Molly is the one exception of course). The one problem I need to solve is how to keep my head warm without flattening my hair all over the place (vanity, I know).

I've got a lovely cosy hood on the onesie I've been sleeping in, but I need something a bit looser.  I'm tempted to create some kind of pram hood out of cardboard which I could plonk around the pillows and which might provide enough protection from the cold, or maybe stuff a hot water bottle right into the centre of one of the pillows.  Anyway, the rest of me at least is toastie warm and a cold head is a very small price to pay for falling asleep to the sound of an owl hooting, or the polecat screeching as it heads off to hunt; for laying there and seeing the stars and various lights on distant hills; and for waking up just as the sun begins to poke through the leaves of the big old walnut trees in the lane and hearing the rapid fluttering of bird wings as small birds hover briefly under the eaves picking off insects. 

Molly likes it out there too, especially when at 5am she can come back from a night's hunting and creep sneakily beneath the duvet to curl up in the crook of my knees, cheeky cat!

I've spent the last two days varnishing the wooden fence around the garden, just to top up its protection before winter, and whilst I was doing the outside today someone I didn't recognise came strolling up the lane.  As he got closer I said hello to him and it turned out it was Slavi who owns the newly renovated house just across from the park to me.  I spoke to him briefly last year about this time and have seen his car parked there on occasion but not actually talked to him since.

He lives in Sofia most of the time but likes to come and check on the house whenever he can, though unfortunately his visit this time has been cut short as his wife's father (or was it her mother) died only yesterday and so naturally he's heading back to Sofia.  He invited me back to have a look at his place during which time he told me quite a lot about his family and his connection to the village.  He's the middle child of three and the place he has in the village was actually his childhood home.  When the parents died the place fell more and more into disrepair, and since he's a trained engineer by profession his siblings said that he should be the one to do the place up, so he took the project on. He's got two sons himself, both in California, and he has put the house in the youngest one's name (not sure why, maybe the older son wasn't interested).

Slavi is very well educated; he's writted two books on engineering but his big passion in life is Bulgarian history.  As we sat there he tried to tell me so many things; about the first people to settle in Bulgaria; about the various invaders; about how the Bulgarian kingdom is so much smaller than it once was; about the problems of villages dying due to dwindling populations... I confess I was only catching snatches of what he said and getting the general gist but his love for his country shone through it all.  Amazingly then he undid a little package of books and presented me with one!

It's called Thoughts and Comments for Bulgarians, and is a collection of essays he's done.  He even wrote a little message inside for me:

"To Miss Julie with heartfelt wishes to always love Bulgaria and Gostilitsa!"

How lovely was that! I shall make it my mission to try and understand the book a bit at a time, beginning with the prologue and the first essay which is called "What kind of partisans have Bulgarian freedom fighters been?"

The next time I see him I shall also ask him more about his memories of the people who used to live in my house.  He said it was an old couple he recalls from when he was a boy, and the husband was a war invalid with an injured leg.  I hope he won't mind if I record our conversations though, that way I can decipher the information at leisure and not lose a single drop of what he says!

Sunday 21st September, 2014
Category: 2014/09
Tags: Community centre jubilee Gostilitsa lake

120 years ago the community centre was founded in Gostilitsa and this week has seen a series of celebratory events for the jubilee. From humble beginnings in a spare room in the village school, it has flourished and in its heyday it boasted various folk groups, choirs, drama societies, brass band and even a film and photography club. Cultural traditions have always played a big part in village life and the community centre has provided a focal point for the celebration of these.

One of the events this week was a little film show of a dvd made by the Eurofolk TV channel back in 2009, featuring the 'babas' singing in various locations around the village along with little improvisations to illustrate the lyrics. It was brilliant to see the people you meet in everyday life taking on roles in the film, like the milk man Mitko being a taylor and Gancho come to woo a young lady.  Slavi from the corner shop was playing his accordian and also did a solo song and various others became farmers and young maidens.  Another film was a black and white one from the early eighties taken during a celebration of 'Yalova Ponuda' and showed an enormous number of people dancing in the square and a sizeable band playing.  There's apparently a huge archive of photos going back over 100 years in storage and Raicho brought out a few to show us.  Solemn family portraits from the early 1900s and proud men in uniform from the war time.  One was of a little boy, maybe 8 or 9 years old, who Raicho told us went on to become a well known professor with several publications to his name.  Hopefully now that all the repairs have been done to the roof the archives will be once more available to look through; to see how the village has changed over the years would be quite something.

The main celebration was on Friday though kicking off with folk dancing and music in the square:

We all then headed into the theatre for the main performance.  I wasn't expecting the amazing number of acts which then took place; not just people from Gostilitsa but from other towns and villages in the region too, all here to help celebrate.  There were folk songs, a band, choirs, musicians, comedy skits, speeches and readings. Some of my favourites were the comedy sketch about the two households, the priest's and the mayor's, at war with each other until the wedding between their respective son and daughter; the band and singers from Turkincha; and seeing Slavi from the corner shop playing his accordian and singing solo:

     

After the final performance there was a little party held upstairs for the performers and organisers (and cleaners who wangled an invite!).  There was lots of wine (three glasses later I just about made it down the stairs in one piece) and a delicious buffet.  Many of the musicians were there and they played in turn whilst people sang and danced:

 (Click the picture for video)

Partway through the party we were all told to go out into the hallway where the lights were dimmed. Then Snejana came out carrying an enormous cake with fireworks sparkling from it and everyone sang 'happy birthday' to the community centre:

 (Click picture for the video)

All in all a very fitting celebration for such a key part of village life, and here's to the next 120 years!

Aside from all the partying there was one other lovely aspect to the week and that was visiting the lake at long last.  I've known about its existence for many years and have kept on meaning to go for a walk down there but somehow I never made it, until Thursday that is.

A friend called round unexpectedly and said she was going for a walk to track down a plant she thought might be found around here and would I like to come.  Well of course I would!  So we set off down the track which leads to the lake.  It's probably about a two mile walk, passing corn and sunflower fields on either side until the path approaches the forest, then, as you turn a corner there's the first glimpse of water.

I'm not sure what I expected, but probably something more like a barren quarry landscape with a muddy pool at the centre of it. What I saw couldn't have been further from this. 

The lake is surrounded by forests and the water's edge broken by tall clumps of reeds.  The water was right up to the banking because of all the rain, but you could see areas where the shore slopes more gently into the water here and there.  A little trio of ducks took off noisily but another bird stayed and could be seen diving under the surface of the water now and then as he bobbed around.  The only sounds were of birds calling with the occasional stronger cry of a buzzard in the forest, the buzzing of insects and the gentle rustle of leaves.

I scrambled down to the water's edge and sat on a large rock, just listening and watching.  A little frog popped his head out of the water and just sat there, maybe hoping for a tasty dragonfly to skim the water nearby.

We headed up into the forest to make our way back to the village and just up from the lake path was this little nest in the ground with what I think are snake eggs inside!

That was the icing on the cake for me.  I'm so pleased to have found this place and will be making untold numbers of walks down here in all weathers.  Can you imagine in springtime - would the storks come to the lake? And how about a picnic on a hot summer's day followed by floating out onto the lake on an airbed and paddling around.  Ah, Gostilitsa you just keep getting better and better!

 

Monday September 15th, 2014
Category: 2014/09
Tags: birthday revenge

Yesterday it was my birthday (doesn't seem two minutes since the last one) so I headed down to Dryanovo Monastery with a couple of friends to spend the afternoon there.  It was a gorgeous day so we had a wander round the monastery grounds first before taking a stroll along the riverside path to the pool and waterfall at the end. I'd taken the precaution of bringing some old sandals to change into so I could have a proper paddle in the water and managed to wade across to a little rocky outcrop on one side of the pool.  My bravery in crossing the 6 inch deep raging torrent astounds even me.

Later we made our way back to one of the restaurants where I had pork medallions with mushrooms, a huge shepherd's salad and of course the cheesy chips I love so much. I also tried cherry cider for the first time which was delicious (basically like cherryade with a little kick). Despite being stuffed I bought some chocolatey donuts which we had out in my garden when we got home, though to be fair the cats had the biggest share of them much to their delight.

All in all my ideal way to spend a birthday; friends, food, sunshine, nature.  Perfick!  Best of all the day past without once being summoned to the bottom of the garden by my neighbour.

I've doubtless mentioned hundreds of times how my old neighbour thinks nothing of shouting for me across the garden, even going so far on one occasion to bang repeatedly on a saucepan when she thought I couldn't hear her (I was hiding on the balcony at the time).  There have even been times when I've clearly been laying on a sun lounger with my eyes shut, and when I peevishly make my way to the fence after being shouted at she asks 'were you asleep?' I always tell her yes, even if I wasn't but she seems impervious to guilt.  Anyway, last week I had my revenge.

A family who live in Varna own a village house just along the street from me, and from time to time they come and stay.  Since it was still the school holidays they came last week along with the ten year old daughter.  As soon as the girl discovered that my neighbour has not only a very friendly dog and cat but also a tiny cute as can be kitten the pull became irresistible.  Several times each day I could here her in the street shouting at the top of her voice for my neighbour who then had to let her in so she could play with the animals and feed them the treats she'd brought.  Everytime I heard the little girl's voice I laid back on my sun lounger and smiled.

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