July 26, 2008 by Christopher BuxtonInevitably we had first to endure the overdressed male and female presenters whose unnecessary task was to whip up the audience. They exhibited an overenthusiasm that betrayed a lack of inner conviction – even when it came to plugging their sponsors. What better way to accompany a meal of Krasi Mayonaise than with a bottle of Hisar water? Come on applaud the sponsors please!However it was heartening in these Dogan days to see an audience going wild over a succession of Bulgarian Turkish and Gypsy musicians all described as Bulgarian virtuosos and playing an increasingly complex mixture of Balkan folk and free form jazz.The sound balance in the Burgas summer theatre were not good and the first group featured a duel between effect looped clarinet and electrified violin where shrill screeching at the top register had Annie and me pressing tissue paper into our ears. Orfei played for over an hour with little variation and relentless speed. I began to worry that the headline band would inevitably have their playing time cut.One hour and ten minutes later, men in pink shirts and virgin white trousers appeared on stage and led by a constantly grinning accordeonist began their set. Atanas Stoev’s’s Kanarite featured a subtle combination of clarinet/gaida with saxophone and kaval, where variation of tone and pace showcased the brilliance of the musicians and the three singers.At last at thirty minutes after midnight, some ageing musicians shuffled onto the stage and the man we had all come to see peered out into the gloom with the puzzled air of someone out way past his bedtime.. “It’s getting very late” was his comment and he got a roar of sympathetic applause from all the pensioners.His band played for two hours of tight brilliance, driven by anger at the inadequacies of the sound system that had Ibrahim hurling a water bottle into the wings and the white haired accordeonist Neshev in constant sign dialogue with the engineers at the lip of the stage.The problems drove the band to ever higher circles of creativity culminating in a breathtaking drum solo from Michailov where Ibrahim seemed to threaten to break his clarinet on the cymbals like some latter day Jimi Hendrix.Returning home, I pinched myself again. Yes I had at last seen Ivo Papazov live. Like many wonders of the world, the experience had exceeded my already high expectations.
July 2, 2008 by Christopher Buxton
Once upon a time, two old ladies were presented with a large house in the middle of Burgas. It had been restored to them following the fall of Communism. Let’s give them non Bulgarian names to protect the innocent. Cherie Wolf and May Shepherd.
Cherie’s father, Jack, had built the substantial house in the late 1930s. It consisted of three floors, an attic and cellars. Beaten and tortured till he was yellow, Cherie’s father had seen all his lands and buildings confiscated in the name of the people in the late 40s.
So you can imagine Cherie’s excitement when after years of poverty and discrimination, she and her sister-in-law, May, were handed the title deeds of her father’s old house.
In spite of some internal damage and difficult tenants, the house was in good condition, which was as well since Cherie had no money for expensive repairs.
May sold her half of the building to a large Russian firm, whose boss is now in a Siberian prison. But in spite of the little street filling up with black sedans and shaven headed wrestlers, Cherie was determined to keep her share of her father’s house. It still has her father’s name carved into the stone entrance slab. Cherie had seen enough of the harsh new world of crashing banks to know the security of property. So with a minimal pension and significant care needs, Cherie let her half – a shop/fast food outlet on the ground and two offices on the second floor. After time Cherie found she had enough money to share in the repair of the roof.
Meanwhile – as happens in these cutthroat days, the Russian boss fell foul of the new Putinocracy and the enormous firm was split. A Bulgarian firm with Russian connexions took over the other half of the building.
Its boss was and still is Mr Dimo Podlev. Dimo, a sharp economics graduate, son of a Communist General and protege of the one time party elite, became the boss of one of the richest companies in Bulgaria. We have given him a Bulgarian name to protect the guilty. He was obviously very talented but it took more than talent and ruthlessness to get where he now is. He is sparing and modest in his speech. He told me that “above him there is only God.”
Mr Goshko Rutzov was and still is Dimo’s main man in Burgas. He inhabits the towering hotel Dimo has bought and looks like a Roman Emperor. While Dimo is slight and prickly, Mr Rutzov is effusive and stuffed with social niceties. His office is packed with expensive presents from grateful clients. He acts with the confidence of a man with photos of his yacht on his office wall. But he has been seen to grovel in front of important Russians in the hotel foyer.
A year ago Mr Rutzov became very concerned about the state of the shared building. Suppose it was to fall down! Over the last year he has spent thousands on more and more “experts” to prove the building dangerous. He even tried to bill Cherie after the event – to pay for experts she had never heard of.
A commission from the town hall came to inspect the building and despite tremendous pressure from a perspiring Mr Rutzov could find nothing wrong.
This did not stop the morally responsible Mr Rutzov from sending Cherie’s tenants expensively produced reports from his paid experts to impress upon them the need to evacuate the dangerous building. His aim through sensational graphics was to scare the tenants away and cut off Cherie’s only source of income.
Behind all this lurked Mr Dimo Podlev, his desire to have the 1920s building knocked down and have in its place a prestigious modern block which would be entirely under his control. Last year he and God sent Cherie an ultimatum. Either sell to him or agree to take a 25% share of the new building but lease all control of that share to him. Cherie consulted with her friends and came up with a counter-proposal. This was met with six months of silence. Mr Podlev had very important negotiations in Israel.
In the last two months Mr Rutzov has brought in commission after commission. Cherie sits in her badly repaired flat, not knowing what will happen next as neither Mr Rutzov nor Dimo Podlev feel the need to talk to her – the sole surviving child of the house that Jack built.
Who gains the most from this? Why lawyers of course. A frightened Cherie has consulted a lawyer and now has to find 2,000 leva.
This David and Goliath story will continue.