First impressions of a country that I know almost nothing about.
SOFIA, Bulgaria- Bulgaria is country number 84 for me, 45 for my wife, 23 for Petra, and 16 for Rivka.
I have two impressions from my first day in Bulgaria: 1) that people here seem to really, really like pizza, and 2) the people here seem to not really like each other very much.
Pizza restaurants rule this city. It seems as if you can look down any given commercial street in Sofia and see ten — no joke, ten — pizzerias. I can’t complain, the stuff sells cheap and is good.
I wish I got a slice of pizza instead of these fast food “Asian” noodles that ended up costing $7. Pizza sells for around $1.25 per slice.
I don’t know how many times I saw locals snarl at each other today. The cashier at the supermarket yelled at an older lady in front of me. Usually, I would think that the cashier was off but this freaking lady decided to stand right in the way counting every single little coin to make sure she was given the exact change. She simply wouldn’t go away. I had to reach all around her to put my stuff in bags. Then the lady tried to argue something and the cashier flipped.
She yelled and flailed her arms at her as she wobbled out of the store.
I didn’t really think much of it at the time. It just seemed consistent with the mood of the place. As I walked around I saw pretty much the same thing happen over and over. But this has nothing to do with me. I’m a foreigner and foreigners are always treated differently — for better or worse.
I’m enjoying Bulgaria. It’s my kind of place: colorless, absolutely colorless. Even where there are colors they are overtly desaturated — as though the glint of life was sucked out of them long ago. Many of the buildings aren’t really grey but this almost colorless off-white. While many other Soviet cities look like military barracks, Sofia is difficult to absorb — it’s almost as if you can see through the place.
I don’t know why I like grey places. I don’t know why, but I just really love old Soviet or socialist cities. There was something about city building that they got right. China, Serbia, Ukraine… For some reason these countries just give me this excited feeling — the feeling of being Elsewhere, perhaps.
I grew up in a place that’s bright green in the summer and sparkling white in the winter. The sky above is radiantly blue with streaks and swirls of white clouds. There’s color everywhere — there are rolling hills and vineyards and orchards. It’s really the most beautiful place that I know of.
Coming from a place like this I can only imagine that my taste for socialist architecture is reactionary — it’s the intrigue of the Different, an intrigue that oddly never wears off. Soviet cities just look like they’re trying to hide something — they are imposing, solid, and strong, and something about this makes them seem a little not sure of themselves.
They look like giant bookshelves — giant bookshelves with volumes of hidden narratives within.
Today was the first night of Passover. My wife worked really hard to put together a dinner. It’s tough doing this abroad, especially when you first enter a country — especially when that country is Bulgaria and the national dish seems to be baked beans (like the kind you get from a can).
No wonder everyone is eating pizza.
My wife always works so hard to prepare for the holidays and then often gets disappointed because it’s not as good as she remembers it being back at home. Then gets grumpy and makes everything even worse.
I’ve grown to view her holidays with a sense of trepidation.
However, this has been better in recent years. Something about the addition of Rivka makes our family seem, well, like a family.
That said, Hannah pulled off Passover today. She worked hard, got everything she needed, compromised what she had to compromise, and didn’t get too mad at me for anything.
We ate chicken, the salad with the crazy raisons, and all the ceremonial stuff they put on the plate in the middle of the table. We didn’t have a bone so the girls made a couple out of paper. Petra’s looked like a bone. Rivka’s looked like a triangle.
The following day I went for a walk with my eight-year-old daughter Petra. We went to a sidewalk cafe and I ordered her a hot milk with cocoa and myself a Baileys latte. We drank and watched people walk by. Groups of kids were doing log rolls in the fountain that didn’t have any water in it.
We then walked down the street, found a bar, and got lunch. I ordered a sandwich and Petra got a salad.
The salad pissed Petra off. She wanted a sandwich too but couldn’t have one because it’s Passover and Jews can’t eat sandwiches during Passover.
Looking at her salad made my sandwich taste better.
“I thought there would at least be some lettuce,” Petra moaned.
Basically, her meal consisted of a bed of sliced tomatoes with a few strips of dehydrated meat, some clumps of mozzarella, and a squirt of pesto.
No wonder everyone is eating pizza.
Petra looked up from her “salad” for a moment and asked why she can come to bars in Europe but not in the USA.
“Because America has a lot of rules about things like that.”
“Is America the most ruled country in the world?”
I thought about it for a moment.
“For stuff like that, yes.”
“And they call it the country of the free?!?” she wailed with a laugh.
On the way back to our apartment Petra and I walked hand in hand. I thought to myself that I’d better enjoy this because it’s probably not going to last much longer.