Wednesday, April 6, 2011
Back in Sofia
Bucharest and Sofia are only 350 kilometres apart – but two European capitals could hardly be less alike. Nowhere in Romania could you find the street life of the neighbourhood of my rented flat in the heart of Sofia. We left Bucharest at 08.30 and reached the flat six hours later after a leisurely drive. It’s just around the corner from one of the galleries with old painting – InterNos - and we paid a visit while we waited for Blago to come with the keys. An elderly lady and a tousled artist were sharing a raki on armchairs with the owner. The flat is in the quiet old area (with narrow streets) between Vasil Levski Bvd and the circle road Evlogi Hristo Georgiev VI just before it hits the huge expanse of greenery on which the vast brutal Cultural Centre squats. We’ve spent many happy hours cycling these parks - which stretch from the University down to the Viktoria Gallery on Yuri Gagarin Street (ever had the sense that socialism once rules here?) on the east.
The flat is the bottom storey of an old house still occupied by the descendants of a dramatist in whose memory a plaque adorns the wall – and next door is a very gracious if crumbling classic house in which the cartoonist Alexander Bozhinov lived and belongs now to the Ministry of Culture who let it out for painting classes etc. Typically for Sofia, tiny shops (many hardly more than a hole in the wall!) are scattered in the neighbourhood which offer services such as dress makers and repairers (haberdashery is an old word which springs to mind), pedicure, pet food (yes some specialise in that!) and products such as coffee and cigarettes (real Bulgarian specialities!), painting and the suberb Bulgarian vegetables. Some of their owners are young – some are old – and often they have pulled a table and a couple of chairs out on the pavement and are smoking a cigarette with a friend. I see this as the essence of the Sofia I love – individuals determined to have their own existence – living a simple life at their own pace. A rarity these days! I almost added “candle-stick maker” to the list of services available in the neighbourhood as I actually went out to look for candles since we weren’t sure if the electricity would be reconnected before nightfall. It was. A sunny evening allowed us to enjoy a bottle of delicious Sliven Chardonnay in the small garden as we tried to entice the various neighbourhood cats to our garden. And then a brief walk across the small burn which acts as a moat around central Sofia looking for the old house which boasts a Restaurant (“The Wall” is I think its name) and encountering instead good food en plein air in a pub/restaurant called Cactus.
The sketch is a Tanev which wasa up for sale here recently