I’ve written about Sofia’s Military Club before, but until recently, I’d never seen this spectacular floor mosaic. Strangely enough, it is located in one of the club’s rarely used service corridors, which connects the formal bathroom and another, smaller hall and leads to the club’s otherwise quite unsightly backstage areas.
I would guess the mosaic was an original feature of the building and dates from the beginning of the 20th century, when the club was constructed (it reminded me of the floor decorations inside the former City Central Bathhouse, which also dates from the same period) – as such, it made for a really interesting contrast with the Club’s terrace tiles, which imitate the old style but were in fact put in quite recently, and the utilitarian tiles (I would guess from the 1970s) that pave much of the service areas backstage. Layer upon layer of history, and all that.
One of my favorite places to walk through in Sofia is the staircase that links Dondukov Boulevard to Moskovska Street, which starts right after Budapest Street stops in a dead end.
The two flights of stairs are a convenient shortcut for pedestrians, but whenever I’m in the neighborhood, I always make it a point to go and climb them even if they’re a bit out of my way, just for fun. There’s something whimsical, quite unusual and surprising about this open-air staircase right in the middle of the city, surrounded by greenery (or dried foliage, depending on the season) and built into the slope that separates the two streets – to me the stairs seem kind of like Harry Potter‘s Platform 9¾ and whenever I climb them, I half expect to come up not to one of Sofia’s central streets, but into some fairytale world. Once, I even saw a baby hedgehog on the landing between the two flights, as if it had fallen out of some Brothers Grimm story and ended up on the landing.
I was in the area recently, after having spent a few months away from Sofia, and decided to go by the stairs. This time, they looked even more whimsical than usual, as I found them painted in all the colors of the rainbow. When I got up to the landing between the two flights, I noticed a stencil that read, “Grey is Not the Color of the Balkans.” The colorful intervention apparently dates back to the beginning of September and was done to show solidarity with the “quiet protest” and wave of stairways-painting in Istanbul (where, unlike Sofia, such pedestrian stairways don’t seem to be a rarity) and the rest of Turkey. Also unlike Istanbul, it seems that the Sofia Municipality didn’t bother to paint the stairway back to grey – a feat worth celebrating, especially considering its proven record of speedily wiping away all traces of such colorful (and political) transformations of public space. So, although it’s a little faded by now, the rainbow is still there today. To me, it was a good reminder of a year marked by protests, not just in Bulgaria but in many other places around the world, as well as a welcome burst of color on a drab and grey January day.
The first is the town’s Antique history, testified by the Roman architectural remains, including: the humongous Arena, where – in addition to plays and concerts, corridas are still being held; a smaller open-air theater, which is currently undergoing restoration; the Alyscamps (Roman necropolis); and the Obelisk, located on the Place de la République.
The second is the relatively short period that Vincent Van Gogh spent living and working in and around the town between 1888 and 1890, during which he produced over 300 paintings. All over Arles, there are plaques embedded into the pavements, which take visitors on a walking tour of the spots, where Van Gogh set up his easel to paint some of his best known canvases, such as Starry Night Over the Rhône, The Café Terrace on the Place du Forum, Arles, at Night, and The Yellow House. Initially I thought the image on the plaques, somewhat inexplicably, represented a hiker with a backpack (oops!), though it turns out that apparently it is based on one of Van Gogh’s self-portraits The Painter on His Way to Work, which showed the artist walking on the road to Montmajour. (The painting used to be part of the collection of the Kaiser-Friedrich-Museum in Magdeburg, but is unfortunately believed to have been destroyed by a fire in World War II.)
Arles was very much a delight to walk around in, not just on, but also off the tourist paths, over grey cobblestones and faded mosaics. We went to the enormous Saturday market; visited the Salon international des santonniers (the makers of the simultaneously very weird and strangely fascinating traditional “little saints” nativity scene figurines), which was housed in Arles’ former Hospital (where Van Gogh was admitted, following the infamous ear-severing incident and whose internal courtyard he captured in one of his paintings); wandered around La Roquette neighborhood, where our gracious hosts live and which – with its narrow, winding and deserted streets and colorful doors and windows, looked like a film set; and spent almost an hour in the shop&studio of Léon – the jeweler and international man of mystery, who was probably one of the most eccentric people I’ve ever met (though that’s a whole different story!).
Note: the pictures above can be viewed in a slideshow. Just click on an image to look through them separately.
Each and every day of the week I got to spend in New York was an absolute joy – whether it was while attending my dear friend’s wedding, getting to witness another two friends’ wedding dress and tux fittings, waiting for 2+ hours in the rain to see an exhibition consisting of rain at the MOMA, getting drinks, eating lunches and dinners and hanging out with old friends, visiting my erstwhile haunts (including our former apartment on East 11th Street), roaming around and discovering new places in Manhattan and Brooklyn, even simply riding the subway – I loved every minute of it.
But one of my favorite days (and the only day it didn’t rain) was spent walking along the High Line with my friend Maria. The High Line is New York City’s newest park, which stretches along the former railroad tracks that used to carry the freight trains supplying Manhattan’s largest industrial district until 1980. The structure, elevated 30 feet (about 9 meters) above street level, was redesigned and turned into a public park, whose first stretch opened to the public in 2009. It is an exceptional place – not just because of the extraordinary way in which the structure was transformed while many of its original features were kept (such as the actual railroad tracks, as well as many of the species that originally grew on the rail bed) and incorporated into the park’s landscape, but also because walking along it makes for a kind of green “escape” from the city while never having to take your eyes off of it. And that is my favorite kind of escape from New York.
P.S. I wrote a little story [in Bulgarian] about the High Line, complete with more pictures – you can see it here.
The fleur-de-lis is Florence’s emblem and can be seen everywhere around the city, from the its coat of arms to the manhole covers and the water drainage grates on the ground. Also known as the Florentine lily, its design is distinguishable from the conventional and widely used fleur-de-lis symbol by the stamens between its petals.
Even though we only had time for a quick evening walk around the center of the city, it was enough to reveal that Bologna’s streets and sidewalks were positively brimming with beautiful mosaics, monumental plaques and medallions which indicated walking routes around the city.
My lovely and inspiring friend Slavka is not only my constant and gracious host in Barcelona but she’s also a great teller of stories and – I’m happy to say, she’s become a kind of regular contributor to this blog.
Her latest installment of photos is from her trip around the West Coast of the US this summer and it’s a true feast for the senses, if I ever saw one. Thank you, Slavi! :)
***This post is the fourth and final one from a week-long series of photos from around the world, sent by friends and family, and part of The Ground beneath their feet series.***