Letters home , excerpts from Bulgaria

ImagePlovdiv :  Historic city situated between Rhodope  Mountains, ( legendary homeland of Orpheus )  the Thracian Plains and the Balkan Mountain range. One of the worlds most ancient cities and Europes oldest inhabited city. A slightly dilapidated place with a beautiful sense of fading grandeur.

ImageYesterday, I travelled on my own to Plovdiv by mini-bus. I felt rather confident as I now know about a dozen, simple Bulgarian phrases and each day try to learn more. . no one speaks English in village and everything is written in a script called Cyrillic. So first challenge: the bus stop in village Gita in front of posta at 7:30a.m…..I join school children and others, all staring and smiling and running in and out of small local store , shadowed by the huge concrete statute in ruins of Lenin ( only 30 yrs. ago this country was under communist rule) . Inside the store , the shop keeper stands behind a large counter and gets for you what you want from the long shelves behind her ( I was so nervous the first time and forgot completely what I had come for )!  Sitting on the wooden bench waiting , as I watched the villagers begin their day , a young Roma woman wearing a colorful floral printed head scarf over her long dark braided hair , old leather boots , a man’s long woolen overcoat wrapped round with heavy string , dangling silver earrings and nose pierced , carrying over her shoulder a wooden handled garden tool,  walked by like a queen from Constantinople ( Istanbul, Turkey is less than 300 miles from here) . She stood tall and proud gazing straight ahead on her way to the fields surrounding Gita .

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Once on the mini bus , three teenagers and I try to talk….we are each so curious as we struggle to understand one another….”ciao, ciao” as they got off , saying my name perfectly and me , I know , badly pronouncing theirs! Bus stop in Chirpan, 10 miles from village :  a lady in magazine kiosk kindly writes on paper for me the departure times into Plovdiv (35 mi. ). I have an hour so I decide to walk the town streets with my little paper cupped expresso just like I see everyone else doing. I strolled the winding stoned sidewalks with trees forming canopies of filtered sun light. Enjoying the charm , I came upon a brightly painted neighborhood bakery where I bought a big pastry of cheese and fruit.  Now back to the bus stop where six more people are waiting. Half an hour goes by…..no bus appears…..a man drives up in an old car , much chattering between people , and suddenly , young woman sitting on bench next to me who I had shared my pastry with , asks if I want to come along in car to Plovdiv for 4 lev , all in body signals. So , four of us get in , everyone happy and off we go with radio music blaring and windows down ! We pass thru other small villages in this valley of antiquity surrounded by mountain ranges and large fertile back soiled farm lands , past sheep and shepherds , donkey carts piled high with hay and many roadside vegetable stands.  Less than one hour later we arrive in Bulgaria’s second largest city.

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With amazement , I walked the old Roman section high into the hills where many ruins and Byzantine churches stand , passing by monks and orthodox priests dressed elaborately in clocks of velvet with jewel trim and strange looking headpieces alongside traditional women and young modern girls in European high fashion dress .  Further , I find a nearly hidden antique stall of treasures , crowded with a vast array of unusual objects .

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Some English was spoken by the young shop keeper and I joyfully bought a woolen hand stitched folk jacket from the nineteen century and a Turkish necklace . I then headed back to the station where a bus was ready to depart back to Chirpan . …..to be continued 

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Note :  Roma ( gypsy )

Many live here in my village ….. with old wooden wheeled carts filled with others trash ….. for centuries they have been engaged in recycling . They are also often peddlers , traders , herbalists and healers. On some days while I walk thru the village , my path leads me to their music of singing and the violen , bagpipes , accordions and flutes . The sound is like a heavy stream of water rushing in a forest brook with a strong wind blowing leaves and twigs everywhere. ” They are like many stars scattered in the sight of God , many groups in many countries with a common code of behavior that includes dignity and respect for being Roma . Within their culture is a need to go beyond and flourish , to achieve equality and emancipation from poverty , exclusion and misery , to become full citizens in the lands they inhabit and to achieve the potential of the creative genius that their existence so clearly suggests”.

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