Good Intentions | Sofia, Bulgaria

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Slavka’s Over-arching: West Coast Love | California and Oregon, USA

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! :)

Ornithology-obsessed, lovely Sacramento airport.

Good morning, San Francisco!: white fire escape flirting in white nightgown. Marie’s apartment building.

Pavement patchwork love: Ocean Beach, San Diego

The chasing game: Pacific waves in San Francisco and Oregon.

B(L)EACHED DAYS: The white sun of South California

Hollywood Blvd Walk of Fame: Superman Love and an unsung Yellow Superhero

No Dumping: Prosaic Reminders in LA and Poetic Ones in SF.

1920’s San Francisco: Madame Marie plasters her name all over a property that she was denied legal ownership of, out of fear it’ll turn into a brothel.

***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.***

Mayon swims in the ocean, cilmbs mango trees and walks on “jamblons” | Réunion, France / Africa

Last May, Mayon sent me a few photos from Réunion Island, which – as I learned when I met her, is located in the Indian Ocean, off the East coast of Madagascar (but is actually a part of France). The images and her comments are really making me want to go there….

“Here, we’re in “winter” (like 22 degrees in the night), and it’s still hot, and we’re still going to the beach, yeah !!!! Like always I would say! At Saint Leu, Reunion Island! White & Black sand!”

“Toma&Me on a mango tree at Manirou!”

“Toma, the twins, & me! And.. lots of ‘jamblons’ on the ground ;-) Maniron, Reunion Island!”

… so, Réunion has now been added to my long list of places to visit.

***This post is the third from a week-long series of friends’ photos from around the world and part of The Ground beneath their feet series.***

The ground beneath *their* feet | Around the world in a week

It’s been a little quiet around here lately, but this week, brace yourselves for a vicarious trip around the world. In other words, it’s time for several new installments in the Ground beneath their feet series, thanks to some lovely friends and family who’ve been sending in photos from exciting places.

Every day, I’ll be publishing a post from a different continent – Africa, Europe, North America and Asia [links will be activated as posts go up]. I might even throw in a Wordless Wednesday. So, stay tuned!

Where John, Paul, Ringo and George walked (and ate and drank) | Arachova, Greece

My cool and funny friend Madlen recently sent me this photo and I am excited to add it to The ground beneath their feet series of guest posts by friends.

The photo was taken in Arachova – a small mountain town on the north slopes of Mount Parnassos in the southern part of Greece, where Madlen went for what – she says, was the best double-birthday celebration in her life so far (Happy belated birthday, Madlen!!!).

There are a few interesting facts about the place: it is close to Delphi, the beaches of Antikira and the Parnassus ski resorts; its name comes from the Slavic word for walnut – oreh, and although there are many walnut trees in the area, Arachova is known for the production of olives, formaella – a traditional cheese that is sold only there and the grappa-like liquor tsipouro.

But all of these details pale in comparison to the fact that, in 1967, the Beatles visited Arahova – an event that its residents won’t let any visitor forget, judging – as Madlen pointed out, by the photos of the visit that still hang conspicuously in every little shop in the town. Apparently, Ringo was a fan of tsipouro, while Paul really enjoyed the formaella cheese. (As, by the way, did Madlen.)

What’s in a name | New York, USA

I saw this KATSU stencil when I was walking around SoHo with my friend Rino, who’s Japanese, which was very convenient, as – since I decided the word was surely Japanese, she could tell me what it meant. Even though (or maybe because) she said it has something to do with a pork dish, I promptly decided that Katsu will from now on be my Japanese name.

Here is what Wikipedia has to say on the matter:

Katsu may refer to:

  • Katsu (Zen): a type of shout used in Chán and Zen Buddhism, as well as in the martial arts
  • Katsu: a band from Central Pennsylvania
  • KATSU!: manga by Mitsuru Adachi
  • Tonkatsu: a Japanese pork dish
  • Katsudon: a bowl of rice with tonkatsu
  • Kappo: a resuscitation techniques also known as katsu

People named Katsu include:

  • KATSU (angela): Japanese musician, member of pop band angela
  • Katsu Kaishu (Awa Katsu) (1823-1899): Japanese statesman and naval officer
  • Shintaro Katsu (1931-1997): Japanese actor
  • Katsu Aki (born 1961): manga artist
  • Katsu (active ca. 1800-1810): Courtesan in Edo, Achieved the ranking Oiran, premier class prostitute. Katsu was a woman of letters and associated with the intellectual elite (bunjin) of her days

Isn’t that crazy? From my quick google search, it would also appear that Katsu is a somewhat well-know stencil/tag/street artist in New York.

Anyways, to go back to the original story, after spotting what I thought was this unique stencil and taking the above photo, in what must be a simplified case of the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon, we continued to walk around and I started noticing it literally everywhere: on sidewalks, walls of buildings, trash cans…. at that point, I had been in the city for a few days, so I’m sure I had simply glossed over dozens and dozens of these stencils until I saw that one and just could not stop seeing them.

If that story doesn’t blow your mind, here is another, also Baader-Meinhof-ish one in the loosest sense of the term: Rino and I ended up buying the same shoes (they are actually in the paper bag that’s also in the picture) and we agreed that – when she goes back to Japan and I go back to Bulgaria, we’ll each take a photo of our feet while wearing them on some typical Tokyo and, respectively, Sofia grounds and I’ll do a post about it here. Now that I uploaded the image, I realized that I also own (and currently wearing as I type) an identical pair of those black Havaianas flip-flops that Rino has on in the photo. Ok, they’re probably among the most common summer footwear there is (which is likely why it didn’t even register with me at the time), but still a nice little coincidence.

So, how about it, Rino? Send me your photo from Tokyo?

Things were different back in 1626 | New York, USA

And the fact that the East River covered what are now several square miles of streets, sidewalks and buildings in Lower Manhattan back then was the least impressive.

In 1626, the Dutch – who had been using the southern tip of Manhattan as a fur trading post, purchased the entire island from the Lenape, a Native American tribe, for 60 guilders (whose value was estimated at about $1000 in 2006) and called it New Amsterdam.

About four decades later, in 1664, the Dutch surrendered New Amsterdam to the English, who promptly renamed it New York, in exchange for Dutch control over Run, which was deemed to be a much more valuable asset at the time.

The fact that I just had to look up what Run is (a 3-by-1 km island which is now part of Indonesia, if you’re curious) just goes to show the Dutch lack of foresight, although it is anybody’s guess if New York would have become what it is today had it remained under control of the Netherlands. Somehow, “If I can make it there / I’ll make it anywhere / It’s up to you / New Amsterdam, New Amsterdam” doesn’t have the same ring to it, but who knows, it might be just a prejudice on my part.

Falling in love, through the eyes of others | Sofia, Bulgaria

In the last couple of months, I have been falling in love with Sofia all over again. My turbulent love affair with the city has been fairly well documented here – both its shining moments of glory and the rough times, but lately I feel like my crush on it is reaching new heights. There have been a few times in the last weeks, when I haven’t been thoroughly annoyed with it, that I’ve felt like my heart was going to explode with affection.

It’s a combination of things, really, that leads to this renewed enamorment. I was gone for a few months, so being here still has a fresh new feeling to it – I get to hang around my house, see old friends and family, walk my favorite streets and pop into my usual cafés and bars. A bit like falling back into the arms of an old and comfortable lover, after being away and forgetting the reasons you left in the first place.

Another reason for my renewed affection is that spring is finally here, everybody is coming out of their winter-induced comas, the sun is shining, the days are getting warmer and longer, the air is filled with the smell of blossoming plants and there is plenty to do and see. Spring and the beginning of summer is arguably the time of year when Sofia is at its most charming – it becomes that bright-eyed boy with the disarming smile whom you simply cannot resist.

But perhaps most importantly of all, I’ve been spending a lot of time in the company of people who were visiting Sofia from abroad – and there is nothing like seeing the city through their eyes to make me discover it anew and fall in love with it all over again.

I first had this feeling last spring, when much of April, May and June were spent hanging out with old and new friends visiting from abroad (the fun-fun-filled visit of my favorite twins is documented here and here), randomly encountering travelers and the regular hunting down of foreigners I had to find and interview for the weekly column “The Road to Sofia” that I was writing for the One Week in Sofia magazine at the time.* This year, it started again when I worked for the Sofia Film Fest and spent two weeks running around the city in the company of filmmakers from all over the world and more recently, when I hung out with my dear friends Mark, Melody and their daughter Jenna, and read some of my favorite blogs by ex-pats in Bulgaria, Karolinka and Whitney.

I love hosting, hanging out and showing around Sofia to visitors from abroad, as well as hearing their stories for many reasons, but perhaps the biggest, and not entirely altruistic one is that – although I often take them to my usual haunts and do things I would normally do, being with them makes me experience the city through their eyes, rediscover it and fall in love with it all over again.

Simply as a resident of Sofia, I’m more likely to notice and be consumed by the usual downfalls of living in this city, from the petty annoyances to the pretty serious and horrific symptoms of an inefficient city: the broken sidewalks, the packs of sometimes aggressive homeless dogs, the shameless rip-off taxi drivers, the persistent lack of universally good customer service, the mostly inefficient public transportation (although I hear the metro is quite good, if it fits into one’s daily route), the relative homogeneity and blatant xenophobia, racism and homophobia, the lack of infrastructure to make biking around the city safe and accessible, the questionable new architecture and the tragic fate of much of the old. It’s a very long list.

And it’s not that I ever forget about these things. I think about them all the time (also in the general context of the difficult decision to stay and live in Bulgaria). It’s just that it becomes easier to overlook them in favor of all the great things about Sofia (and, by proxy, many of the things I love about living in Bulgaria) when I am with people who can’t stop marveling at them: the lush parks, the delicious (and cheap) food, the cool bars, the old Socialist monuments (especially when they become a platform for contemporary art discussions), the view from my flat, the super affordable taxis (when they don’t cheat), the charming cobbled streets, the proximity of the mountain, the coziness of being in a city of two+ million and always running into friends on the street. Kind of like that boyfriend whose issues you’re all hung up about but who becomes irresistibly appealing when your friends gush over how great he is, having visitors who notice all the great things about Sofia makes me stop taking them for granted and appreciate them, and – in big and small ways, fall in love with Sofia again and again.

I don’t say all of this lightly. My fraught relationship with the city started about eight years ago, when I came back to live here after spending half of my life up to that point abroad. I came back tentatively and without plans to stay permanently. Although I continued to travel extensively, in that almost-decade I made Sofia my home.

I am still very much torn, on an almost daily basis, over the dilemma of whether to stay and live in Sofia or to go elsewhere (or, to put it in other words, on top of the proverbial dash). Luckily, the times we live in make the dilemma bearable, if not entirely avoidable – the national, political, economic and even technical impediments to living not in a single place, but rather between different places are becoming fewer and fewer.

Because I strongly believe that home is where the heart is, Sofia will always be a home, as a part of my heart will always be here. I will always think of it and sometimes even miss it when I am away and my heart will grow more enamored with the city with every visitor and at every return from traveling.

But before my inconstant lover of a city and I get sick of each other (again), I’m already making plans for my next trip, only so that I can come back with a renewed affection.

*The perfectly illustrative photo above was taken last spring by – and with – one lovely visitor to Sofia, who even submitted to be interviewed by me. Thanks, B.!

Some serious reading | Sofia, Bulgaria

Two-fifths of our unofficial book club, where we mostly read wine labels*. The book club’s five formally inducted members include Vessi, Mariana, Bistra, Silvia and me – pictured here.

Taken at the American Corner in the Sofia City Library.

*This reminds me, we still need to get our hands on some of these.