Tuesday, August 4, 2020

IN SOFIA, BULGARIA SUMMER 1990


 30 years ago I was living in Summertown, Oxford, England with Ruth and our daughter Elizabeth who was two and half.  Ruth's mother came for a visit and I went to Sofia for a week.

BEFORE.  



A PREFACE: 

                              reality always tempers 






I had been in Bulgaria six years before when the fortieth anniversary of 9 September 1944 was being prepared to be celebrated.  Of course I knew that things had changed in the previous year and I wanted to see what was going on.






In the weeks before going to Sofia I had been reading in the near medieval quiet of the Duke Humfrey's library of the Bodleian, the little pocket journals of James Thomson BV as I was wanting to imagine  his life--- the life of the man who had written "The City of Dreadful Night" the single greatest poem to come out of Victorian England--- I noted in a journal:  Dr. Karl Marx and his address as both men sat in the same room in the British Library... it is known that Marx approved of Thomson's translations of Heine... but  that is all... James Thomson has been on my mind now for more than 50 years... i have a long book about him FORGET THE FUTURE: a section was published in BOMB https://bombmagazine.org/articles/an-ending/ 








I went by way of Zurich and arrived at Sofia airport which was dark inside even though it was the afternoon... no real passport control...a brief glance at the passport and waved on through...so unlike previous times... and many people yelling taxi taxi taxi... the first change from 1984, and the last time I will mention that word, change.






I was met by Philip Dimitrov and his wife Ellie.  In 1984 I had brought the collected works of Freud to Philip as a gift from his friend George Kamen, who was then living in exile in New York.  Back in 1984 Philip was a young lawyer and doing group therapy inspired by the work of George who had introduced the idea to Bulgaria and then was forced to flee Bulgaria... it was said he had treated the child of someone on the central committee who was seriously mentally unwell: talk therapy was taboo and George was told it would be wise if he ... as if  such a treatment became known to other members of ....  there were always these pauses...but this report is not about George but about this moment in Sofia in July... I stayed in the apartment of Philip's parents in one of the housing complexes not distant from the centre:


People took pride in the interiors of their apartments, it was said, 



but all the public spaces about the buildings were haphazardly cared for, as they were public property and rarely would foreign people venture into such housing complexes...people freely getting together to improve a public space was unheard of and in fact it was inconceivable.




The week went away very quickly.  Between the archeology museum and the great imposing building of the Communist Party. 





was a broad avenue and an open space--- on the other side of the mausoleum and the national bank building, was a space filled with tents and each tent seemed to represent a particular political party, religious group or interest group or...

                                           


TALK                   TALK                               TALK                                                             TALK



The strangest aspect was the appearance of buttons  with photographs of Simeon on them--- the now grown-up former Tsar who had been exiled by the communists after 1944.  He had been educated in America and lived in Spain. I  saw people wearing buttons with his image and the image of his father, Boris.



STUFF 
                 STUFF 
                                STUFF 

                                          MADE VISIBLE





Memory is too often just a bag of stuff...people were playing guitars, looking at screens of one sort or another: conversation and people moved from one tent area to the next... people knew Philip and he was constantly being approached; constant brief conversations... all of this was in no way how it had been even 6 years before...  




Behind our back if we are looking at the encampment is what was the mausoleum:




but of course before the recent events other sorts of gatherings... at one time school children were brought to the mausoleum to view the embalmed  body of Georgi Dimitrov and I too had been there a number of times...wonderful air-conditioning and if you lingered you would feel the finger of a guard in the center of your back to move you along... of course I had seen other bodies on display in funeral parolors, including my own parents...

                                                                               

Before, no one went willingly to see the corpse of Dimitrov... one paraded by on official occasions with one's group--though it was NOT REQUIRED but expected..... and if you wanted something or needed a signature an absence might be noted or not noted...



Another day a tent had been set up and it is being watched by a man in uniform.





And heaps of stuff... and conversation....  normally---well, when I was here in 1984 and so long ago as 1967 and later in the 70s. no one lingered... one walked quickly in this area...

TALK




Here I should insert a photograph from the once upon a time when the leadership of The Peaople's Republic of Bulgaria stood on this perch waving to the crowds marching by


A Bulgarian of a certain age could recite the string of adjectives and nouns that would be pressed into service to describe the person whose hand wrote these letters.  And a person familiar with the movies of Eisenstein might appreciate the lettering on this shop front





Here I need only one word

(Bread)





 the end or an end


an end


or the way it was


 to be more---- 2020--- just heaps of photos... time...1984... 1993...


one wonders what this guy is doing 36 years later...





Across the way from the talking talking talking was another sort of talking: the club of the Bulgarian Socialist party formrly the Bulgarian Communist Party



and of course people strolling by, by by, by...




I WAS GOING TO END THERE BUT OF COURSE THAT WOULD BE CHEATING, 




















only Petkov's grave remains...





















































-  




6- So to see for myself what was going on.  I won't rehearse the political/historical narrative.  It was a busy week with an over-night trip to Veliko Tarnovo and Targovishte. 
7- what remains: a tent city by the archeology museum across from the former communist party headquarters, people playing guitars..while the communists blasted heavy metal music from their club in the former headquarters... 
8- I made lists.  Everything seemed to be uncertain. Of course I could not follow much of it....talking always to mayself and the sheer shock at being in a place in whuich everythig that seemed to be eternal when I first was in Sofia in 1967 was while still there was in a sense not there though hysically still present. 

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