Like, thirty eight degrees is a lot! I don’t want to be complaining, we’ve already been so lucky - the whole of 2021 has so far been one never-ending, deliciously golden, hipster vintage filter Lana Del Rey summer music video. I mean, we had 27 degrees in February, which made our Workaway at the Chateau in South of France particularly enjoyable! Compared to 2020, which we spent almost exclusively in Poitiers, France - a year that will forever be remembered mostly by rain and murder of crows outside our windows, this is clearly an improvement. But, like, thirty eight degrees?! I’m too exhausted to even get excited about icy cocktails anymore. I watched a Netflix film last night, in which an assassin from the future travelled back in time to inject people with a toxin that made their brain literally melt out of their ears and all I could think was - yes! I know exactly how you feel!
First week in Sofia done. Our first ever wheel clamp done too. We are yet to unlock all the mysteries of chaotic parking rules in Sofia. Our friend Florent introduced us to his group of friends (mostly other French expats) and disappeared to spend summer in France, leaving us in charge of his flat - fish (still alive) and plants (mostly dead by now, not our fault though!). We live in an apartment with a beautiful terrace - you don’t go out on the terrace until 10-11pm, as it’s totally exposed to the devastating nuclear power of the Sun all day long. Today, I spotted my first cockroach I’ve seen outside American movies out on the terrace, and I wasn’t even that disgusted. Seeing the little buddy struggling in the midday heat, desperately trying to find a place to hide, I felt a strong bond between us.
The city of Sofia was established in some form 7000BC, later known as Serdica in Anitquity, it sits at the foot of the Vitosha mountain, hugged by the Balkan Mountains from the north and Lyulin mountain on the west. Florent’s flat is situated close to a beautiful Tsentralna Banya park with an impressive 16th Century Banya Bashi Masjid mosque, Sofia Synagogue and Sveta Nedelya Church - all at one place giving this city its moniker of ‘the triangle of religious tolerance’...Having have spent only a week here, I would not go too far with this whole ‘tolerance’ thing, though.
There are 42 mineral springs in Sofia, constantly pumping nutrient rich healing water at the rate of 480liters per minute. The biggest fountain is just across the street from here. Supervised by a beautiful statue of Hermes with a surprisingly proportional penis (unlike in prudishly modest ancient Greek and Roman depictions), the place is heaving with people of all age filling their plastic bottles and water containers at all times of day and year. There’s about two dozen taps, always pumping thermal mineral water (in current form since the fifties!), but one would find this specially helpful during winter, as the hot stream reaches temperatures between 30-90 degrees!
We are about 4hrs drive from a sea shore, and let me tell you, Bulgarian summer in a concrete city feels super brutal. I do not enjoy witnessing the jiggle of my enormous thighs, so chilling home in just my underwear is usually a no-no, however it became a must here, even though every room's got a massive AC. Seeing the sharp summer light outside, though, I often give in to the massive fomo and guilt of not utilizing this gift of a season properly, so we still try to exercise in a park every day. Passing beautiful and fierce looking old Bulgarian ladies in curtains-like floral prints that are flapping in the hot but equally fierce July wind, like something from The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.
Yoga really does unite people everywhere. Or maybe it’s the appreciation for beauty (c'mon, you've seen David doing his balancing poses, right?), or just the feeling of being strangers in a strange place...regardless, on our first workout day at Sofia’s City Garden, right outside ‘Ivan Vazov’ National Theater, we struck up a conversation with Anne, another yoga teacher from California, who unexpectedly got pregnant whilst travelling the world and ended up - blissful but isolated - here in Sofia, with her beautiful son Raven, who’ll turn 1 year old in just a few days. Anne looks like she could be from Norway and Raven looks like an epitome of a Balcan baby, so we do turn some alarming amount of heads. ‘I promise you, I did not abduct your Bulgarian baby, for fucks sake!’, she announces half-jokingly when a third person stops and stares suspiciously, and I have a feeling we’ll become friends pretty quick.
Similarly, a day after, we meet Ivan - a Russian dude, who’s been studying for his Masters and working in Sofia for a few years now. He explains that he and his mother were amongst the last people to successfully leave Russia. If the government suspects you might want to be planning an escape now, they kick your door in at 3am, arrest you (if you’re lucky) and you shall not be seen or heard from ever again. ‘Sounds lovely’, I say. ‘Like an ideal next destination for the two of us, being a homosexual and an interracial couple.’
Ivan did not think that was particularly funny. Being from a rural area close to Mongolia, with a very little love for Putin and his crooked government, immigration was his only real chance at a decent life. Sadly, he did not receive a very warm welcome here in Bulgaria. Whilst for other European expats, five years would suffice for a ‘permanent residency’ status, he and his mum need to wait twice as long, just for the misfortune of being Russian, all the while facing and deflecting racist attacks on a daily basis.
I think the apparent close-mindedness might be a reason this could never be our forever-home. That and the fact that weed is considered as a class A drug here - on the same level with cocaine or heroin, and just lighting up a jay outdoors might very well result in imprisonment, or a massive fine and an immediate deportation for tourists.
‘In the nine months I’ve been here, you’re literally the only same sex couple I’ve seen holding hands out on the street.’ That was Oscar, a Parisian expat working for French Embassy here in Sofia. A proud Bulgarian native would tell you - that’s because we don’t have gay people in Bulgaria. I’m sure those famous (and deeply outdated) statistical 4% were made proportional, so in a country of 7 million inhabitants, nearly 300 thousand identify as gay or lesbian. ‘They do keep it behind closed doors, though. The only thing that’s seen worse than being gay, is being gypsy.’
And that brings me to the other reason we could probably never call this our home. The music. Oh. Wow. There seems to be just one music genre - 1994’s dance music. I’m talking full on - every male singer is a pimp or a gangster living in a mansion, every female singer is a near-naked stripper bouncing her silicon balloons around a pole in between two albino tigers, whilst being showered by rose petals and diamonds. It’s not a joke and worse yet - it’s not even seen as a joke. I mean - young people are obsessed with this Balkan act of music savagery! I implore you, go on YouTube right now and look up a Bulgarian J-Lo called Preslava, or Bulgarian Kylie Minoque called Galena.
The most revered Bulgarian singer is called Azis. ‘Nobody sings better than him, but he couldn’t break through for the longest time, cause he’s got some gypsy roots. Bulgarian people do not forgive stuff like that,’ our friend Zoya told me. ‘In the end, he started to wear fishnet tighs and glitters and high heels and do this super sexual gay routines and now everyone is obsessed.’
Apparently, being gay is only a second deadly sin here in Bulgaria, so by renouncing his gypsy roots, he’s been exonerated. Never mind the shocking fact that all of this is just an act designed to draw attention, his music videos are truly something to behold - go on YouTube now!
So, the first week in Sofia - we do all we can to survive. Sometimes this looks like pushing for some activity regardless of the scorching heat outside, sometimes it looks like giving in and gasping under our AC unit. We made a quick escape to Iskar-Panega Geopark and Prohodna Cave, spent a day at a swimming pool, we consumed copious amounts of watermelons (mainly in diy cocktails), and tried to learn that devilish Cyrillic. Basically, you need to remember that B is in fact V, H stands for N, X stands for H, Y is U, P is in fact R, C is S, I looks like reversed N, the thing that looks like A is in fact D and the sign that looks like nothing else is F,...or B… Easy.
If we live through this heat wave, we will be travelling to Sozopol next week - we’ve got a date with my parents and with the sea. For now, let me see what else can be done with a frozen watermelon. I’m open to suggestions!