After my recent love confession to the city of Sofia, it is now time for dispensing some tough love.
I have a theory – not scientifically proven, but one I know in my gut is true. According to it, the sorry state of Sofia’s sidewalks and streets is directly correlated to its inhabitants’ general indisposition and gloominess.
They – the city’s seasoned inhabitants, are easy to spot, in contrast to its fresh visitors. The former see their street route as an obstacle course they have to maneuver in order to get from point A to their final destination and the sights along the way as distractions that have to be resisted. The latter, on the other hand, naively take strolls around the city, simply “to get a good feel” for it, their wandering eyes often causing them mishaps, ranging from minor stumbles to major falls.
What I mean is this: In other cities, you can walk around with a light heart, observe passers-by, delight in shops’ windows, admire beautiful buildings’ façades or gaze at the sky, safe in the knowledge that your sight’s diversion will most likely not result in tragic consequences.
In Sofia, on the other hand, any distraction of your eyes away from the sidewalk, strewn with potholes, broken, loose or missing tiles, hidden traps and shaky sewage covers, might – and very likely will, have unpleasant results. If it’s been raining and you step on a loose tile, you might find the entire bottom half of your body soaked in muddy water. At best, you will trip, stumble and humiliate yourself in front of the passers-by you’ve been gawking at. At worst, you might end up face down, the pain from your bruised nose, scathed palms or broken bone trumping any feelings of embarrassment.
So, in order to avoid both the shame and the health hazard lurking behind the many wobbly or missing tiles on Sofia’s sidewalks and uneven patches on its streets, we – the city’s inhabitants, diligently keep our heads down, eyes firmly fixed on the ground, our feet doing complicated dance-like routines in order to avoid the endless traps lurking underneath them.
This, as you can surely imagine, severely limits the possibility of walking around with a light-heart, a head held high and an upward gaze. It makes for a perpetually gloomy countenance, a severe glare of intense concentration and a generally dark outlook, which are hard to shake off even in the safety of indoor spaces with smooth floor surfaces.
So, next time you’re in Sofia, trying to figure out why people look so unhappy, remember this: It’s not because of the heavy burden of transition from communism, the high levels of unemployment or the skyrocketing real estate prices and high bank loan interest rates. Or at least, not mainly. It is simply the sorry state of the sidewalks and roads that brings people down.
I used to walk around Sofia like a tourist. Now, I know better. Now, I only avert my eyes from the ground in order to shoot a glance of schadenfreude mixed with a little compassion at those who don’t know any better. Where do you think my obsession with starring down at my feet came from?