As I wait in central Forum Hotel for the start of the Training of Trainers session which I am, as team Leader, to kick-off, I have a nice chat with Belin Molev (an architect by background and ex-Deputy Minister of Regional Development here for some years) who is now a key trainer for the ToTs for Objective Three SF work. I declare myself a terrorist as far as Malls are concerned and extol the civility of central Sofia - now hanging by a thread. The word „globalisation” is like a red rag to a bull – „more of us can and need to say simply NO” I thunder. Not the most diplomatic of ways to introduce oneself - but I feel a kindred spirit. Six local officials selected by an intensive process Dicon explain to me later have beaten the snowy conditions to get to the Hotel by 09.00 from various parts of Bulgaria – and are clearly keen to start this 2 day session which will launch them into about 25 two-day courses over the next 18 months. I open the session by saying how much I enjoy coming to Sofia (so true!); describing very briefly the training work I did here 3 years ago and saying that my favourite activity was the work with trainers like themselves (true again). They are the engine of the system! Not only do they need the (theoretical and practical) technical knowledge but they have to develop an understanding of (and sympathy for) the trainees’needs and, finally, they need to develop the methods and skills to meet those needs. And they need, above all, an open mind and passion. To treat each workshop as an opportunity for them to develop their understanding and skills. This was the lesson I took from my last project here – and whose philosophy and tools is captured in one of the papers on the website - What do we have to do to ensure that training helps people learn?.Then back to the Dicon Office – for a presentation of the draft Progress report. Very impressive how they in just 20 days (including Xmas and Boxing Days!!) got 140 CVs and whittled them down to 36 trainers for 6 modules (with 10 reserves) – and now have more than 3,000 officials designated by all 2oo plus municipalities available for workshops which will start in March and be held in each of the 40 Districts. This is a new role for me – hands-off, supportive, reflective. I’m glad I’m able to offer a couple of practical ideas – to which they seem receptive. The staff I meet are also impressive – particularly young Danny who is helping me produce a personal visiting card which I want to use to market my website. I’ve (almost) decided to use the designation „explorer”. Perhaps „explorer and epicurean”?? At lunch, he introduces me to a great dessert - honey, nut and whipped yoghourt!
I’m free by mid-afternoon – and in a hurry to get to Neros gallery – but I discover that the trams are no longer coming past the synagogue and mosque to Vitosha; the metro works are still going on and I have to walk. Par hasard, I pass the antique shop where D and I bought a couple of old carpets last summer from an old guy (Nedko) who was very knowledgeable about painters – and lo his son Koso has a colourful 60 year-old Chiprovci kilim for me at 50 euros! It’s nice to see Ruhman again at Tsar Samuel ulice and, this time, I have my list of painters - many of which he has! So 2 Russi Ganchevs and one Petar Boyadjiev are now under consideration. Then off to my friend Yassev’s Konus Gallery (Xan Aslarich 32) who sells contemporary paintings but knows the older painters and with whom I always have great chats. This one is enlivened with some tasty Yambolski Raki – and a visit to a friend Biliana who has a new Gallery a few minutes away on Tsar Assen ul – all of these are tiny little streets. She has some superb large aquarelles by a 35 year-old Bansko artist Atanas Matsoureff – and also some tasty champagne! A woman worth knowing.
I raise with Yassen my idea of producing a booklet in English about Bulgarian painters of the last 100 years – and learn from Biliana that he comes from a literary family. He is also working with some friends to try to bring some honesty into the tricky market for older paintings. He is perhaps the partner I have been looking for! When I ask him about the absence of the trams, he raises some doubt about whether they will actually return to the area - whose future planning has some uncertainty. Alarm bells start to ring - since, as I;ve said above, the Sofia centre is a unique European asset for me.
To round off a great day, I also find opposite this new gallery the small one I had bought my Bahar sketches in (an eccentric bearded guy) and also stumble across another gallery which combines paintings with wine; a few books; and weekly happenings (chamber music; folk etc) I am invited to come on Thursday evening. The place is called „Snezana’?? At this rate Sofia could get a nice little niche for itself as a European art centre! And what's even more satisfying is that it apparently replaces one of these dreadful "Diesel" branches. Now that is real progress - although I have to wonder about the economics of the cavernous Gallery - even although it does rent the place out for business functions. I manoeuvre round the metro constructions works at the Sheraton and have to wait only one minute before a 22 tram picks me up at the Mosque. Now there's divine design!
The photo is one of the walls of my Bucharest flat - already replete with Bulgarian paintings. The large one is by Milko Kostadinov - whose paintings also grace the Snezana walls