Letters Home continued … excerpts from Bulgaria … February 2014

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I haven’t been out of the village for over a month until once again going to Plovdiv for the third time the other day . I had run out of drawing paper and all of my pens were dry . But once I had arrived the shops didn’t interest me this time and I didn’t desire anything the way I did before , not even the beautiful European clothes in the windows . So I sat in the park and watched the people of this foreign land . Is it true that no two humans look exactly alike ? Does that mean thru out all of history too ?

 

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Photograph by Ellen Rogers

 

An old man gazed at me and I thought he was Ulysses . And some young girls looked like Trojan women . I was sitting near an olive tree wondering if I might decide to travel to Istanbul before leaving here the first of April . It’s a bit risky as my visa has expired now and yet it’s so close with buses leaving and returning three times a day and I could stay over nite in a hostel since my responsibilities with the home owner in Gita end a week before my flight home . The cultural crossroad between Eastern Europe and Asia and the market stalls of Turkey are a huge lure .

 

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I had an hour before the bus left so up the hill I wandered into the old part of the city to the church I had been in before . From my travel book I remembered that it was St. Haralambos Day . I was not prepared ( I never seem to be here in Bulgaria ) for the inner beauty I found on this rather melancholy day . Hundreds of jars of honey in the form of a cross appeared looking like fire from all the candles lit and the glowing chandeliers  . I learned that when consecrated , honey is believed to possess curitive and magical power . All the faces were illuminated and the high priest chanted .

 

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This morning when I went to let the dogs out from the back studio room , I found Polly dead … not in her bed but laying in a cardboard box she had never laid in before . I started to cry a lot . I will have to bury her now . I’ve never done this before . I carried her out and laid her in the grass where I washed her stiff body with warm water and some dried lavender … then watched the sun dry her and made her paw nails as white as I could … wrapped her then like a baby in her favorite blanket … she was curled up on her side … and I placed her in a two foot hole I had dug … she liked to eat the fallen walnuts so I put some in the grave next to her for her departure back into the earth … and on top of the black soil I placed three large stones … she is in the apple orchard now .  I wish I could have embalmed her little animal body with oils and salts and spices and wrapped her instead in linen bandages preserving her for a passage to immortality in paradise . I would have decorated a wooden casing for her to lie in with gold leaf and written , ” Farewell Polly “.

 

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The moon finally receded after a nite of sleepless loneliness . How is it that a new day can appear so unlike the previous one and so suddenly like running deer on the road ahead the way they do back home in Michigan . In the last week the temperature has gone from close to zero to now 55 degrees and my hands are finally warm . I walked alone without my little pal today far out to the fields following the cows . There is an old cement bridge I like to sit on and today I stayed here ( photo below ) most of the day .

 

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I love watching the sparrows and falcons and saw an eagle too , a bird of prey like Peter the Great , with its wide wing span floating over the valley gently like Ghandi . I’m sitting here with my notebook thinking of how I want to live my life when I return home and hoping I take Bulgaria and it’s creative and spiritual realm with me . I feel the eyes of God . Will the vibration follow me … the music …the harmonies … the memories of these days ?  Will you notice that I’ve changed , changed so much and that I am old now … the haunting of Bulgaria embedded on my face …

 

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One Thousand First Chapters ….. continued

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Up from the ground a daisy grew by the border of the fence behind the house . A house where there floated a pale cloud , an umbrella of protection , above its roof . A roof under which lived a family of two parents and three children . A bedroom of yellow papered walls faced the front street of Clover Drive . Walls where sunshine illuminated thru the wooden louvered window shutters . Shutters that opened and closed with the changing shadows of a childhood world . And sometimes opened to other rooms in other houses like Polaroid snapshots of landscapes far in the distance .

 

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The mother wore a hat in the garden as she knelt to pick the weeds and made the flowers look like concert choir girls all in perfect rows . And behind the garden , the pasture that was the grandparents land extended along the other properties of homes along the avenue and around onto the Main Street where the old Tudor house was like a castle uprooted from Europe . The house showcased like a movie billboard its wide beams , cut glazed windows , with an expansive front yard of tall pines and a faded awning over the entrance to the shed to the side of the cement shuffleboard court . And the barn down the hill , a Medieval stage of scented hay , leather saddles , horse blankets and wooden beams to perform on .

 

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And in the field adjoining these two houses of this world , the dad , I adored , who wore wingtip shoes and handsome suits during the day , would sometimes dig a hole in the rich manured earth and place coals of fire around tin foiled potatoes or water soaked husks of corn to eat late in the night . The night before the nightmare of great dread would fall from the cloudless sky above . All because my brother showed me the sewer rat . A rat so ugly and huge that fled in and out of the metal grating in the street by the mailbox . The shutters stayed shut for weeks out of fear of catching site of the monster from the window .

 

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And the roller skating stopped in front of the house and the key used to tighten and loosen them onto the shoes was put on a chord and hung around my neck as I fingered it now out of a nervous habit until the silver shone clear like the inside of an oyster shell .

 

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Amelia , my sister , knew none of this as she hadn’t been born yet and a lot can happen and change in a decade or even in a moment . The world in the sun can change to one in the mist and a smiling row of daiseys into a weeping meadow of weeds . The year is 1959 and I am eight years old . My grand mother died , I was given a puppy for Christmas , Walt Disney released Sleeping Beauty , Elvis Presley hit the charts , Ringo Starr received his first drum set , the Guggenheim Museum opened in New York City and Alaska and Hawaii became states . And on the other side of the world in Communist Bulgaria , in the forced labor camps at the edge of the Balkan Mountains , the prisoners led a hunger strike . A hunger strike that many were unaware of or even of the camps existence . But for those that did , it was a place from where one might never emerge alive . And so , side by side , lived an elegy of paradox staged into future events of which Amelias’ history would be perplexed to uncover .

 

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to to be continued ……

 

” Memory is the scribe of the soul “.        Aristotle

 

Personal note : I’m not sure just where this story is going ….. only that I want to continue writing it ….. and in working the flow of it into blogs helps to encourage and inspire me not to stop .

 

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Letters Home continued … excerpts from Bulgaria ( nov. 2013 )

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There is a daily flow to my life here , alone , that is new to me . An important part of this is that I think of God a lot . His love surrounds me in everything I see , hear , taste and smell . I think there is a spiritual power in repetition , a devotional quality like saying rosaries or reciting mantras . I have found a personal routine that is peaceful in its simplicity . This week my art has become a part of this as I once again am working on sketches for the “momento mori ” series begun this past summer . There is great synchronicity and this awareness brings not only humility but also joy .

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I have become enchanted with the dirt pathways , garden fences  and stone enclosures . I was invited into a village home while on one of my daily walks . I could barely hold back tears as a plastic yard chair was brought into the room for me while everyone else sat on the cracked cement floor and stared at me … a warm fire tended by a father who obviously cherishes his four children and a mother trying her best to keep everything clean with loads of hand washed clothing and blankets hanging on the line on this cloudy , cold day .

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The weather has turned colder now and my fire skills are slowly improving and the routine of chopping wood is making my arms stronger . It is in these daily survival tasks and in picking the apples and walnuts from the orchards that brings meaning to me . You all know that I am not a “foody” but I so much enjoy and appreciate the fresh vegetables and fruit , and because everyone labors so hard on their land , it makes the taste of every bite very delicious … and all organic and I feel the energy of the sun from these foods of the earth . I made kumquat (tree in front) salsa and roasted a large chunk of village made cheese on the open fire , added some chopped walnuts and thought I must be eating the food of the gods !

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My day trip to Stara Zagora … sometimes called “Middle Earth”. It is the 6th largest city with its history going back 7000 years .

The bus driver was so kind . I must have looked a bit lost … and the depot was large . I tried to ask him where the city center was but he spoke very little English and so he left the bus and walked me all the way thru the noisy station and down the street until he pointed to the first street light and motioned three blocks further to the right . And so off I went with a thankful wave not knowing what lay ahead … Seriously , I was guided and blessed this warm autumn day as I wandered and experienced exactly what I had hoped for . I do have a Lonely Planet guide book that Nani told me to buy and I had read about this city the day before . First I came upon a huge and elegant city park as beautiful as any in the large cities of America . Once again , like in Plovdiv , this tree lined park was alive with affectionate families , young children , lovers , and many older men playing chess and just hanging out together talking and laughing , each with woolen caps or berets on and old suit coats , all smoking cigars or cigarettes . Suddenly , in front of me , was the largest open street market I had ever seen , with an amazing array of items from neighboring villages as well as from Turkey and Greece and fish from the Black Sea , pottery and colorful rugs , antique baskets brimming with nuts , flowers , cheeses , sheepskins , hand knit woolen socks and whole pigs hanging on hooks . I was definitely overwhelmed ! So much so that I instinctively turned towards the quieter narrow side streets . And then there it was , right in front of me , a most gloriously beautiful and ancient church .

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I enter and a heavy scent of incense surrounds me like the morning fog hovering over the distant plowed fields I had left only earlier that day . A small choir is singing and grounding the sweet sound of the soprano voices was a deep chanting from a man on the other side of the isle . Hundreds of candles are lit and a priest in resplendent robes of velvet and a crown like high black felted hat trimmed in fur , is also chanting . The walls and ceilings of frescoes of Jesus and religious scenes depicting Biblical stories with gold leafed halos are all shining like stars reflected thru the light from the narrow stained glass windows . The people begin moving down the tiny tiled , wide center aisle  of worn red carpet for the communion sacrament and I find myself amongst them and I am blessed as a young girl next to me sheds silent tears down her cheeks .

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After this wonderful time in the city , I finally had a mishap . I got on the wrong bus once back in Chirpan to go back to my village . I didn’t think it was right but didn’t want to insult the old man who sat next to me on the sidewalk bench and had given me a wrapped hard candy . He kept on nodding that the bus would be coming soon and motioning for me to just sit and wait . A bus came and he smiled letting  me know this was the bus to Gita , my village . I got on and saw that I was headed right back to Stara Zagora as I noticed the turn off dirt road to Gita . I yelled , “Gita ! Gita! Stop , stop “! … so I was dropped off and I knew that it was about an 8 mile walk …. the sun was still shining near the horizon but it would set within an hour and there are no street lights . The valley was very quiet and ……..

…….to be continued

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And so for LIFE , this beautiful life , I remain so grateful . And when the difficulties of our human existence arise , may we seek the light that abides within us and choose to Love , not only others , but ourselves . For it is then that new choices appear and become possibilities and we can act on them …..

One Thousand First Chapters ….. a tale from Bulgaria

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Looking out into the early morning fog she could just barely see , near the inner gate , an object on the wet ground . I am her younger sister by fourteen years and she is much older now as I listened to her story . It lay there white as the snow that had recently melted in the coming spring of 2014 , a large , once emptied , plastic soda bottle now filled to the very top with a soft white liquid . Someone must have thrown it over the stone wall the night before . She opened it and tasted with her finger … something I wouldn’t have done … as she thought it might be fresh goat’s milk . And so by this one simple act of her accepting this anonymous village gift on this one balmy day that would end with one unpredicted sighting of one moons eclipse , a strange and mysterious , to me anyway , chain of events would be unlocked.

 

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I asked her hesitantly like a first tee off shot with my driver on the golf course , just what the day before had been like and who would have given her this unpasteurized milk from a goat and how could she even consider to drink it , wasn’t she afraid of getting sick from some unknown germs , the kind our mother warned us about !  And so she began her story of which I had no preparation for other than that the past reputation she had in the family was one of craziness of which I didn’t agree with .

 

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” Yesterday , I awoke to the chanting of my name . It was early and the fire had gone out from the night before and I was cold so I wrapped a blanket of wool around me and walked outside to see who it was . Angalinas face appeared from under her ever present hooded jacket. She speaks no English and me only a little Bulgarian . Someone was with her slumped against the outer gate . I recognized him from the streets and as he stood I noticed that his clothes were extra dirty as he pointed to a gash of drying dark blood on his forehead . We tried to communicate with some frustration as he lifted his shirt and showed me an old , long , jagged scar like a rough charcoal line on canvas , that crossed his exposed rib cage . Sadness touched his face and I thought of a lost bird feather falling to the earth . He let me understand that he was tired and suffered a heavy headache . I recognized the word “aspirin” from Angalina so I went and got him some from my room and gave it to him . He held long onto my hand and bowed his head as they both walked down the  dirt lane with the fog and disappeared “.

 

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My sister began whispering and I had a difficult time listening as her words became misunderstood all flowing together without proper sentences. I tried to make it all out as I heard phrases of a dead bird falling from the sky , her picking it up , it’s body still warm as she carried it home and took photographs … little girls playing circle games in front of one with the same always flowered dress too large on her and sitting on the steps of the deserted and dilapidated village church , always sad and watching . She went on about a sleeping newborn she had held and a cow separated from the herd in the grass fields of black dirt . She sighed about some new flower blossoming that she had not known existed , gold flecks in the trees , some song lyrics I didn’t know by Nina Simone and Pink Floyd music drifting too loudly out of a broken window of the bee keepers house . She wanted me to know what had happened to her those five months she spent away from America …. but all I’ve told you so far took place on just one of those days and how could I listen to about the remaining one hundred and fifty days that had still been unspoken off … let alone just this day before the appearance of the goats milk in that old bottle ! I could see I was in for a very long golf tournament …….. to be continued

 

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“In the midst of winter , I found there was , within me , an invincible summer “.    … Albert Camus

 

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Dedicated ,  with love , to my little sister , Amy .