Bulgaria Diaries: Part IV

Wednesay, 17th June 2009

Today, sunburnt, we all slept in, especially Dani! Breakfast was the oh-so-healthy (I’m not complaining) halva melted with butter and spread on toast.  Halva is a nutty-nougat thing made from tahini or cashews (it varies) and other ingredients, probably mostly sugar. Ani and Maria are at the eye doctor to arrange Maria’s cataract surgery for the autumn. Various horse-hooves and car alarms sound outside.

One of the many versions of bop (beans). I love them all.

One of the many versions of bop (beans). I love them all.

I’m thinking of some amazing anecdotes I’ve heard over the past few days. When Ilia was five, he and his family took a camping trip up one of Bulgaria’s mountains. He was too little to carry a proper pack, so they fashioned one for him from a messenger bag and filled it with apples. He was proud to carry the pack, and it conveniently got lighter as they made their way up the mountain, eating apples along the way. Once at camp, the boys were instructed to mind the fire and the pot of beans boiling on it. Because higher altitudes lower the boiling point of water, the water is cooler (though boiling, because the air pressure is lower,) so to cook anything takes longer. It took all day to cook the beans.

Another story, incredible but tragic—Tanya, the mother of Ivan and Ilia, our cousins, suffered a terrible accident when the boys were 5 & 3. Driving to a house on the coast on a foggy night, traffic was stopped due to an accident up ahead. Visibility was awful because of the fog, which was probably the cause of the accident. Tanya was driving with her sons. She got out of her car to see what was happening with the traffic, and a truck driver, who didn’t see her, ran into her and actually dragged her along the road under the truck for some distance. Broken everywhere, it is incredible she survived. She was even, somehow, able to tell her little boys how to phone their father. She’s had hundreds of operations—and amazingly, if you didn’t know that story, you would think she was absolutely fine. The only thing I noticed (before I heard the story from Ani,) was that she winced when she got up from the table.

Our excellent cousins.

Our excellent cousins.

Tanya also smokes like it’s going out of style. She enthusiastically ordered nearly every appetizer, and, later, nearly every dessert for us, but didn’t each much of anything herself. Ivan and Ilia were really nice to talk to once we all relaxed a bit. At first it seemed like Ivan and I would do all the talking, but dinner really was four or five hours long, and fortunately everyone warmed up a bit. Ivan has been to Cambridge and loves it, so there was plenty to talk about there! He studies at an American university in Germany, whose ‘parent’ Uni is Rice, in Texas. His English is perfect and he’s a bit more gregarious than his older brother.

Ilia is fluent but not quite as comfortable speaking English. He is studying chemistry and has an exam in these next few days for which he had to learn something like 600 chemical formulae for different drugs, including molecular structure, side effects, etc. No wonder he wasn’t as chatty! Holy crow.

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