I sometimes think that Newspeak has taken over. For years, for example, the journals have been full of talk of “innovation” and yet we live and breathe in ever more (globally) homogenised societies where “innovation” is, as often as not, simply what we used to call “product differentiation” – ie minute tinkering in design.
One of the reasons I am fond of Sofia is that I am constantly coming across here the quiet assertion of real (as distinct from pseudo) individuality and creativity…..Its art galleries and bookshops have been described in these posts as “the last sanctuaries of originality” – with the Astry Gallery as the leading example. It’s not just the way interesting (young and old) Bulgarian artists are cultivated and presented in her small gallery - it’s the friendly almost family atmosphere.
And the tastefully-designed bookmarks which mark every exhibition – real collectors’ items – are a simple gesture of that aesthetic commitment. They are produced by a young couple who have also become a great help to me eg in the production of my booklet on Bulgarian art (just about to go into a second edition) and in setting up my new website. Danail in particular has an exemplary “Can-Do” attitude as a result of which his little company has won more custom not only from me but from at least one other foreigner who found not only the quotes and deadlines unbeatable but the professionalism of the work deeply impressive.
Let me give some other examples - last Saturday, returning from the tribute to the Paris dead at the nearby French Embassy, I stumbled across an incredible little pub (intriguingly named “Sterling Club”) just round the corner from my flat…It looks old but has in fact been operating for only three years….my next visit (with friends) I hope to get the story…..
Last year I was struck with two beautiful and highly original books about aspects of Bulgarian history and culture by two Bulgarians I now count as friends – Ivan Daraktchiev, with his amazing Bulgaria: Terra Europeansis Incognita 700-page celebration of some 2000 cultural artefacts and photographs from his own personal collection - in A Fairy Tale about Bulgaria. Each was a labour of love – paid for by the author….
And this Wednesday I shall be at a winetasting in a small shop at the Russian Monument which I have been cultivating almost since its start 4 years ago. Vinoorenda is run by a young man, Asen, and his father and, to judge by the cards and references at last weekend’s Annual Wine-tasting, has already built up an impressive reputation amongst particularly the smaller, craft vineyards in the country….
The blog has previously noted the proliferation in central Sofia of tiny shops run by both young and old……..a powerful expression of individuality which is repressed by the large stores which are the feature of most downtowns in European cities.
Is this just an accident of the narrow streets? ……I have a feeling it reflects something more cultural. Bulgarians, for example, don’t seem to have adopted the debt life-style of other nations……. They’re not taken in by fashions. They have a respect for healthy foods and vegetables (and for their country’s history and culture)…..
They are a small, relatively isolated country, surrounded by indifferent if not unfriendly neighbours – perhaps this has developed an awareness of being on their own and needing to work at something about which they’re passionate?
Coincidentally I’m reading one of Robert Greene’s recent books called Mastery. Guardian readers, as you will see from this review, turn their nose up at Greene but I confess I enjoy his books – not least for their layout and charming tales of emperors and great men.