Wednesday, May 11, 2011
Restoration and identity
A great drive from Assenovgrad via the Plovdiv old town to Velingrad yesterday. In Plovdiv the main purpose was to visit the Phillippolis Gallery which had really been responsible exactly three years ago for starting my passion for buying Bulgarian paintings (mainly from mid-20th century). So far I have more than 50 – and not enough walls to hang them on! It was therefore not difficult to resist the temptation to buy another Dobre Dobrev (950 euros) – but I could not resist 7-8 small and highly original ceramic pieces at the small shop BG Art Gallery nearby. Before I left I had to revisit the Atanas Krastev house where local painter and conservationist Atanas Krastev lived until his death in 2003. His constant striving to keep the old buildings (at a time in the 1960s when tradition was viewed with some hostility) and to have them as active centres of cultural activity earned him the title of Mayor of Old Plovdiv – and he deserves wider recognition. The cosy, well-furnished house is strewn with personal mementoes, and the terrace offers superb views. His self-portraits and personal collection of (mostly) abstract 20th-century Bulgarian paintings are displayed. The garden also houses exhibits.
I thought it might be difficult to find the Olymp Hotel in Velingrad – since the spa town has so many. But the difficult part of the journey was actually negotiating round Pazhardik which (like Plovdiv) is very badly signposted. I have to say that everyone I stop to ask for guidance is enormously helpful.
And, as I drove straight for the mountain range, I could not see how on earth a road could be there – it is in fact one of the greatest engineering feats I have ever seen – cut right through at the side of a strongflowing river gorge. There is (or was) actually also a small-gauge railway which I seem to remember running 3 years ago when I used this road in the opposite direction. I hope its active in the summer season!
Vilengrad is 800 metres in a lovely valley surrounded by mountains – so the cold has followed me here! But I've warmed up in one of the 70 hot springs with which it is served!
For those who have been following passionately the development of next week’s Conference paper about EC Technical Assistance, I have posted an updated version here. And you can see the thread of the argument on the slides here.
A typically clear and provocative from Simon Jenkins – this time about the issue of Scottish independence which has been put firmly back on the agenda by the results of last week’s elections to the Scottish Parliament.
Kenneth Roy (equally typically) puts the matter in proper perspective.
Namely the Labour vote held up; only 22.6% of the electorate voted SNP in last week's election, while 26.7% insisted on voting for the boring old unionist parties. It was the Liberal Democrat vote which transferred to the SNP and gave it their strong victory. But Jenkin’s article remains one of the best summaries of the substantive issues I’ve seen (apart from the small matter of the dual negotiations which would be involved – first with the UK government and then with the EU!)
An equally good piece on the Scottish question is here.
Finally, an interesting discussion about central europe 20 years after the fall of the wall
The pic is a wood sculpture by Hristo Genev, the Director of the Kazanluk Art Gallery about whom I will write later