14-15 June 2009 (writing on the 16th)
Sunday night, our second night in Sofia, we had a similar dinner to our first night. This time we met with Ilia’s cousin, Plamen, his wife, Tanya, and their two sons, Ivan and Ilia (about our age). ‘The kids’ sat at one end of the table and we all talked and ate and I learned that I need to practice eating much more slowly to handle this sort of dining! It was very fun as well as overwhelming. Ani and I were again greeted with roses, and we were also given gifts (a box made of railway ties from antique wood, varnished and lovely, and a wooden wine bottle holder,) and basically lavished with generosity and affection.
Plamen offered to arrange a hike for us up the second-highest peak in Bulgaria, and yesterday I learned that he has arranged the whole trip for us! Bulgarian hospitality walks an often nonexistent line with sheer force and insistence. So it seems like we’ll be going up another mountain…(Thank goodness Dani and I love this sort of thing!)
Yesterday (Monday) we all slept in a bit and then Ani & I went window shopping and found me a new pair of glasses frames. I’ve been wanting some (I need a change every 2 years or so) and it is a bit cheaper here. The men-folk happily stayed home and read, slept, etc. Ani & I had coffee and gelato-style berry ice cream, which was amazing, and I tried on a silk Cavalli dress which I mistakenly thought was about £100, but was in fact £1000, but it was fun anyway.
We all met Ani’s cousin, Adriana, and Adriana’s father Avraam (Maria’s brother-in-law) who is moving to the US to live with Adriana, who lives on Long Island. Avraam was an actorand film director, and he is a short, bright-faced, bearded man, who is always talking and cracking jokes. Adriana is tall and elegant with a hoarse smoker’s voice and a big, toothy smile. (She reminds me a lot of my mom’s friend Jean Davey.) After we all spent hours over coffee and baklava, Maria headed home and the rest of us walked around the city.
Avraam insisted on giving us a bit of a tour, so we all walked very slowly with this little man with his walking cane as he waved it dangerously towards the tops of old buildings and spouted architectural (and other) history (in Bulgarian) and ignored all the glossy, high-heeled, pouting shoppers dashing around us on ground level, passing Gucci, MaxMara, Converse, and other shops. (Ani and I had decided earlier that day that we love Italian design and we don’t see enough of it in the UK.)
Avraam’s mind and enthusiasm for live are clearly undiminished with age, though his hearing and balance are worse for the wear, and he reminded me of my own grandfather as he told Dani all about ‘back in my day…’ Gramps and Avraam are from the same era, though from different ends of the world, and, at one time, different sides of a war.
After Avraam and Adriana said their good-byes, we took a faster-paced walking tour around Sofia’s downtown, led by Ilia & Ani. We saw buildings where they used to work and where Ani wnet to University; we saw many beautiful old churches and cathedrals and other places of worship; we saw the various government buildings (former and current) and many other sites of historic interest.
The downtown of Sofia is paved with smooth orangey-yellow Austrian bricks, and many beautiful old baroque buildings still stand, all among fragrant, white-bloomed linden trees, from which the berries and leaves are taken and dried to make a light, fresh tea. Scrawny cats and dogs lounge around in the dust, and old Russian cars mix and honk against BMWs. Fountains dot the downtown, sometimes big and decorative, sometimes only a golden-mouthed spout where young and old lean in for a cool, clear drink. The roar of motors clashes with the clop of horses’ hooves. The car alarms are inventive, varied, and numerous. Cigarette smoke competes with car exhaust and cooking lamb, pizzas, and bean stew. Everything in Bulgaria is thick—the air, the food, the fruit juice, the cigarette smoke, the knock-off designer perfume, the linden trees. We eat, walk, eat some more, and all of it, together with the heat, which follows us into the night, makes me want to go horizontal. A wonderful Baltic exhaustion.
After the walking tour of downtown Sofia, the four of us went to a restaurant whose name translates as ‘The Savage,’ and ate outside under awnings, happily not drenched in cigarettes (as much, even though everyone pretty much smokes everywhere). Another massive meal, but not quite so long as the big ‘friend/family’ affairs.