Nautical theme | Nea Skioni, Greece

Three things:

1. Today marks the 100th anniversary since the sinking of Titanic – an event that caused the death of 1,514 people (making it one of the deadliest peacetime maritime disasters in history) and that, in the century that followed, became the iconic subject of endless paraphernalia, books, movies, exhibitions and proverbial sayings. (I highly recommend reading this unusual story about the mark left by the Titanic’s sinking on an otherwise unremarkable Bulgarian village.)

2. The color of the Aegean that you can see on the left edge of the right picture above is exactly what I had in mind when I wanted to paint my living room’s wall “the color of the sea”. I almost gave up, as I looked for paint everywhere and almost became convinced that this color doesn’t exits anywhere but in my imagination, but finally had it made especially (to pretty great results, if I say so myself – you can see the resulting wall color here).

3. The first glimpse of the sea still takes my breath away, although it was neither the first time I saw the sea this year (after the Atlantic in January and the Mediterranean in February), nor was it the long-awaited first sight of the Black Sea from my childhood (that I have written about here).

I’ve spent the last 40 minutes trying to pick one of these three things around which to spin a nautically-themed post, but then I thought, why not include all of them? Then, I proceeded to ignore the possible answers to that question (such as: because they are neither related nor equally compelling or interesting to read) and did it anyway. I hope you find something worthwhile here either way, and – at worst, that I’ve made you think and dream of the sea, which is never a bad thing. And by never, I mean all the times you do it while managing to banish nagging thoughts of maritime disasters.

Morceaux de Marseille* | Marseille, France

* I’m well aware of how pretentious it is to use French phrases in lieu (ooops, did it again!) of perfectly good English ones, but “pieces of Marseille” somehow doesn’t have as nice of a ring to it, does it? On second thought, I could have named this post “Morsels of Marseille” but that just sounds weird.

P.S. Isn’t the light in the second part of the photos just magical? Almost as magical as walking on the beach in February, I must say.

Off-season girls | Bodrum, Turkey and elsewhere

In Japanese, there is a concise word to describe the feeling, upon first meeting someone, that the two of you are going to fall in love.

In the first week of October 2011, ten women gathered at the Adriatic seaside town of Bodrum in south-western Turkey. They called themselves The Off-Season Girls.

Belkıs | “Once I was a ghost and I was staying in Büyükada. I was found so I got scared and ran to the forest. They found me. Somehow we started to dance and it rained colorful paint.”

Yasemin Nur | “When I found out Uranus entered Aries, I decided that I would from now on do whatever I felt like. So, when I wanted to, I would wear high-heeled shoes to art openings and, if they made my feet hurt, I would simply take them off. I didn’t mind the dirty streets.”

Rebecca | “The sun is retreating, the blossoms have been scorched and paper lantern like litter the ground. Life is drawing down into the good earth beneath our feet. I feel its lingering warmth still.”

Iz | “this is where i dream of being when i am not there...”

Ekaterina | “In anticipation for my magic carpet to materialize. The one that just now appeared in my coffee cup’s fortune, that is.”

Şafak | “Our feet are our connection to the Earth; they are our roots to the Earth. A solid connection with the earth helps to keep us grounded which helps to balance the whole body. Capricorn is an earth sign. I love to sleep as a Capricorn and wake up as a Sagittarius. GET UP, GIMME FIRE!”

Swantje | “..green feet in the german fall, colorfully expecting to go walk into the blue or bodrum or somewhere else, but then the knee breaks, the achilles' heel is the lack of light, is the missing place, is the rain on the leaves of the fig tree in my garden in cologne...”

Nazlı | “Art is what makes life more interesting than art.” - Robert Filliou

Disorientation is loss of the East | Sozopol, Bulgaria

As I walked along the harbor – my feet still unsteady from the rocky boat ride, and watched the sun setting to the West, I was reminded of a passage from the book that gave the name to this blog – Salman Rushdie’s The Ground Beneath Her Feet:

“Disorientation is loss of the East. Ask any navigator: the east is what you sail by. Lose the east and you lose your bearings, your certainties, your knowledge of what is and what may be, perhaps even your life. Where was that star you followed to the manger? That’s right. The east orients.”

That’s the official version. The language says so, and you should never argue with the language.

But let’s just suppose. What if the whole deal – orientation, knowing where you are, and so on – what if it’s all a scam? What if all of it – home, kinship, the whole enchilada – is just the biggest, most truly global, and centuries-oldest piece of brainwashing? Suppose that it’s only when you dare to let go that your real life begins? When you’re whirling free of the mother ship, when you cut your ropes, slip your chain, step off the map, go absent without leave, scram, vamoose, whatever: suppose that it’s then, and only then, that you’re actually free to act! To lead the life nobody tells you how to live, or when, or why. In which nobody orders you to go forth or die for them, or for god, or comes to get you because you broke one of the rules, or because you’re one of those people who are, for reasons which unfortunately you can’t be given, simply not allowed. Suppose you’ve got to go through the feeling of being lost, into the chaos and beyond; you’ve got to accept the loneliness, the wild panic of losing your moorings, the vertiginous terror of the horizon spinning round and round like the edge of a coin tossed in the air.

You won’t do it. Most of you won’t do it. The world’s head laundry is pretty good at washing brains: Don’t jump off that cliff don’t walk through that door don’t step into that waterfall don’t take that chance don’t step across that line don’t ruffle my sensitivities I’m warning you now don’t make me mad you’re doing it you are making me mad. You won’t have a chance you haven’t got a prayer you’re finished you’re history you’re less than nothing, you’re dead to me, dead to your whole family your nation your race, everything you ought to love more than life and listen to like your master’s voice and follow blindly and bow down before and worship and obey; you’re dead, you hear me, forget about it, you stupid bastard, I don’t even know your name.

But just imagine you did it. You stepped off the edge of the earth, or through the fatal waterfall, and there it was: the magic valley at the end of the universe, the blessed kingdom of the air. Great music everywhere. You breathe the music, in and out, it’s your element now. It feels better than “belonging in your lungs.”

Just in case you needed another reason.

Traveling without moving | Byala, Bulgaria

For all its lackluster, the otherwise uninspiring Black Sea resort town of Byala had a surprising variety of exciting grounds.

I couldn’t find out exactly what period the intricately arranged pavements in the town’s otherwise dismal center date from, though, judging from their quaintness, I would guess that they are from the socialist times.

Byala’s architecture is an unappealing mix of communist-era rest homes and community buildings, new marble hotels, uninspired (and often unfinished) private houses, shoddy shops and folky restaurants that border on tacky.

But at least the town seems pretty consistent with its pavements, including those that will be laid out in the future.

One of the place’s saving graces for me was, predictably, the sea (although a long hike up and down steep paths and roads under construction was required to get to and from it).

What also filled my five-day sojourn in Byala were the series of workshops, presentations and actions as part of a trans-border project on mobility and movement. It was run in part by uqbar, the same people who organized the Transient Spaces / Tourist Syndrome summer camp in Palanga, Lithuania, which I had the luck and pleasure to be a part of almost two years ago and which, in a way, provided the initial spark for the start of this blog.

But the most thrilling thing about being in Byala, by far, was the chance to see a few of the lovely people from Palanga again, meet several new exciting people and hang out with them (and infect them with the feet-photo obsession).

I’m still buzzing with excitement.

In the Palace | Balchik, Bulgaria

I just got to spend four days at the northern Black Sea town of Balchik, courtesy of the In the Palace Short Film Festival.

The festival itself was a pleasure to be a part of. Its atmosphere was friendly and relaxed  – surely helped by the location, but also by the very international group of filmmakers, volunteers, journalists, organizers and other film people who attended. They were numerous enough to make the town buzz with excitement, but not too many, as to overwhelm it. The fact that only short films were shown, in this case, also assured that much of the pomp that sometimes comes with bigger festivals was missing.

The town of Balchik itself is, at first glance, plagued by many of the ever-present annoyances of other Black Sea resort towns – the crappy pop music constantly blasting from every possible eating establishment, the hoards of loud Russian tourists and the services industry’s general attitude towards visitors, ranging from negligible (at best) to aggressively appalling (at worst). The town also boasts many communist-era hotels, which would have had a certain kind of old-school appeal if they weren’t so hopelessly decrepit.

In spite of all that, Balchik is one of the most charming towns on the Bulgarian coast. This charm is owed entirely to the so-called Palace, located in the southern end of the town, which is in fact an enchanting complex of small buildings scattered around a lush and beautifully arranged botanical garden. The complex was built in the 1920’s by Queen Marie of Romania, who established her summer residence there.

The queen was the first royal to declare herself a follower of Baha’i faith.  Her belief in the unity of religions is apparent throughout the complex in the unlikely combination of symbols: from the minaret topping the main residence to the Roman-Arab bathhouse, the traditional Bulgarian-style verandas, a Moorish courtyard, the huge earthenware pots from Morocco, a Hellenistic marble throne from Florence, the giant inscribed stone crosses from monasteries in Moldova and the Muslim gravestones. The whimsical garden has a slightly overgrown feel to it, although the thousands of flower, tree and plant species it boasts are in fact all meticulously labeled and diligently looked after. The sea can be seen from everywhere, as the whole complex is built on a steep hill overlooking the water.

While best viewed (and photographed) in the daytime, I discovered a special kind of pleasure of walking around the Palace’s grounds at night, when they are at their most peaceful and quiet and one can hear the leaves of the old trees rustle, the frogs croak and the waves breaking against the nearby shore. In addition to running into other festival guests along its alleys, walking around the garden at night also made for other memorable meetings. Although it almost gave me a heart attack when it happened, one evening we had the rare pleasure of running into two stocky badgers, which – in retrospect, were probably much more startled by the encounter than we were.

The other image that I am definitely keeping from this visit to Balchik is the dozens and dozens of flying paper lanterns, which the guests released from the beach on the closing night of the festival and which twinkled and drifted slowly over the sea in a display that obnoxiously tacky and exploding fireworks have nothing on.

CBB*: isolacinema 7 | Izola, Slovenia

I was sad to miss this year’s edition of Kino Otok/Isola Cinema film festival on Slovenia’s Adriatic Coast. Happily, one of the fine2meline was there again and brought back some memories from last September, as part of our Cross Balkan Blogging Project.* (Coincidentally, in the last couple of days, I have been constantly reminded of Izola, where I was for last year’s Kino Otok, as I am now at another film festival taking place on the coast of another sea. But more on that coming up later.)

from 8th till 12th of june -isolacinema- film festival was the place to be.

here we were drawing an animation. it was a part of the film workshop.

* More about the Cross Balkan Blogging project and all posts from it.

It’s all Greek to me | Nea Plagia, Greece

At the end of a long weekend – both literally and figuratively, I am now finding myself in Greece for a few days.

The reason for the long weekend in Bulgaria (the literal one at least; the figurative one is the subject of another post altogether) is that today is a national holiday. On May 24 – the Day of Bulgarian Education and Culture and Slavic Literature, Bulgarians celebrate literacy, the Cyrillic alphabet and the two brothers credited with its creation, the Saints Cyril and Methodius. Incidentally, they were born not far from where I stand today – in Thessaloniki, present-day Greece, but at the time (9th century) – a part of Byzantium.

Although the Cyrillic alphabet is supposedly based on the Greek one and Greek words are at the roots of many words in other languages, I find Greek pretty much impossible to decipher. Even if I manage to make several letters out, I am still utterly lost, as the words – even those that are usually the same across most Western languages, are completely different. I mean, come on! When hotel is hotel pretty much across the board (ok, Hungarian excepted), why does it need to be ξενοδοχείο (pronounced xenodocheío) in Greek!?!? I mean, I get the xeno- root (same one as in xenophobia), but give me a break! I guess I just take for granted being able to read and understand at least a bit. (Thinking about it now, I remember feeling a similar kind of frustration in Budapest.)

So, the English saying “It’s all Greek to me” is making total sense right now.

As in, if someone were to tell me that the Pythagorean theorem states that, in any right triangle, the area of the square whose side is the hypotenuse is equal to the sum of the areas of the squares whose sides are the two legs, I – being the total math idiot that I am, would say, “It’s all Greek to me.” (All right, granted that this example is further muddied by the fact that Pythagoras himself was an ancient Greek, but you get my point.)

Anyways, a quick look at the expressions used to describe something incomprehensible in different languages shows that, in addition to Greek, Chinese also has the reputation for being unintelligible (at least to Dutch, French, Hungarian, Lithuanian and… ahem, Greek speakers, among others).

The Serbs, Croatians, Slovenes, Macedonians, Czechs and Slovaks, on the other hand, find Spanish villages utterly confusing. More particular geographical, historical and social factors seem to play a role in the understand of the Italians, for whom Arabic is incomprehensible; the Egyptians, who find Hindi mind-boggling; and Punjab speakers, who have an issue with Farsi.

The Chinese, meanwhile, have dropped potentially offensive comparisons in favor of more poetic idioms, describing things that are indecipherable as ghost or heavenly script.

The ground beneath his feet | Lisbon, Portugal

Remember Tiago – my Brazilian friend, the contagious enthusiast, the tireless dancer and musician, the modern nomad and the ceaseless charmer? He also turns out to be quite the perceptive photographer. Just as I was starting to really miss him (and trying to hold him up to his promise to come back to Sofia in April – in print for those of you who speak Bulgarian), he sent me several beautiful pictures of the ground (and in one case, the sea) beneath his feet taken in Lisbon. (Hi, Tiago!)

This post also goes in the “wishful thinking” category, as Lisbon is in the top of my wish list of places I’d like to visit (another one being Stockholm). The complete, ever-changing list is here.

Being careful what I wish for | Izola, Slovenia

The first day after I arrived in Izola, on Slovenia’s short but charming Adriatic coast, the sky opened up and it seemed like all the rain in the world poured out onto the little quaint town. The narrow, stone-covered streets became impossible-to-cross rivers, the sky was a foreboding shade of gray and the wind found ways to get under and through all the layers of clothes, scarves and hat that I had wrapped myself in, and pierced my skin.

Although I am usually happy to be on the coast when the weather is bad – as I don’t see the appeal of sitting on the beach and baking in the sun amidst hoards of tourists and screaming children, this time I was annoyed that my time at the seaside would be ruined and kept hoping that the bad weather would only last for a short spell.

The next day, we came up with an idea to shoot a small video based on the access we had to empty movie theaters and the premise of the disappointment of being at the seaside when the weather is bad. And then, the gloomy clouds started to let up and the waiting started. Just as I had wished that it would stop the day before, I now found myself hopefully looking at the sky, praying it would rain. Instead, it just got better and better each day, the wind subsided and the sun shone more and more brightly.

On the last day, after shooting an adjusted version of the film (minus the rain), half-disappointed and half-happy, I lay in the sun on the wood-covered platform by the sea, and reminded myself to be careful what I wish for. Because I just might get it.