Dancho Panayotov’s challenge

August, 2013

  1. Dancho Panayotov’s challenge

    August 28, 2013 by Christopher Buxton

    Dancho maintains that Elin Pelin’s Roast Pumpkin is untranslatable

    See what you think:

    Roast Pumpkin

    By Elin Pelin

    Translation©Christopher Buxton 2013

    Once when Christy Goodheart, the District Council archivist, brought a document to his boss’s house for him to sign, he found the Chief Executive with his wife and children tucking into a whole roast pumpkin, fresh from the oven.

    When the Chief executive had signed the document, he cut a small piece of pumpkin and kindly offered it to his archivist.

    “Go ahead, Mr Christy, just you try this excellent pumpkin. It’s only a little burnt, but never mind. You’ll  excuse us.”

    “Oh thank you, thank you, Mr Chief Executive” the embarrassed archivist replied , “I, how can I put it…I don’t like pumpkins.”

    “How can that be?  You’re from a village, good Heavens, how can you not like pumpkin?”

    Angel really didn’t like being reminded of his village origins.  He blushed deep red from shame.

    “Yes but….you know my stomach, Mr Chief Executive, it’s no longer used to such stuff,” he replied as he shook his head and frowned.

    He could not keep his eyes off the sugar coated pumpkin slice with its seductively browned crispy skin and his throat filled with saliva. He didn’t dare swallow, terrified that they’d sense his weakness.

    “Come on, help yourself, don’t be shy, man!” his boss urged him kindly, “It’s been so many years since I put pumpkin in my mouth, and even so my stomach can take it.”

    “I can’t,  Mr Chief Executive, it unsettles my stomach, I can’t taste it even!”  Angel replied, thinking to himself: look what a bumpkin I’m turning out to be, I should have accepted it!

    And so as not to be tortured a moment longer, he bowed, humbly bid goodbye and left.

    Only when he was out on the street, he felt free to swallow his saliva and again took himself to task.

    “I’m a bumpkin, a bumpkin and there’s an end to it!  If they chase you – run, if they give you something – take it, but where was your head, man!

    And Christy stabbed his head with a disapproving finger. The tasty slice of pumpkin swam again before his eyes – beautiful, hot, sweet and over it all there wafted such an exquisite steam.

    “Point of fact, if there’s something I love more than anything else in the world, it’s roast pumpkin,” he began to consider this as he walked down the street with head down. “I eat it like a pig! But what a bloody stupid name! Pumpkin! It sounds so cretinous, damn it. Stupid, country-bumpkin thing! They’ll say, this bloke, this bloke eats pumpkin – get rid of him – a man with no culture, simpleton, in a word a pig. Sometime I’ll go to the village, I’ll just eat pumpkins! Far away from folk!

    And his imagination began to set in front of him only pumpkins, sweet, lovely and savory.

    From that day on, Christy became unsettled and edgy. The image of roast pumpkin began to haunt him.

    Sitting at his office desk,, the thought gnawed at him.  If he wrote something, he wrote till he was exhausted.  But still it seemed to him that the pen as it scraped on the page, whispered pumpkin, pumpkin…

    If he quarreled with his office colleagues, he’d straightaway call them roast pumpkins or  “Why are you blushing like a roast pumpkin” or “Just look at yourself please, what a drunkard – there’s steam coming off your cheeks like a roast pumpkin!”

    At night while he slept the image of a pumpkin tormented him. He dreamt of a field, but what a field! Long and wide, you couldn’t see where it finished. And those there pumpkins were rolled out over it and over each one there wafted such a sweet steam.! Christy wandered over the field, looked at the pumpkins and wanted to pick them up, but when he bent down, the pumpkin disappeared.  He was walking over the field again.  Field, but it wasn’t a field, but some kind of office, like an enormous office!  There somewhere an enormous pumpkin appeared and began to roll towards him and it was growing bigger and bigger, bigger than a house,  a church, a mountain,  bigger still and it began rolling stronger and quicker towards him.  Christy shook with fright and his legs grew shorter and shorter.  The monster pumpkin reached him and flumped on him.

    The archivist shook and woke, swimming in sweat.

    This dream tormented him every night.

    One evening the Council clerks had a party.

    They cooked a stew at Cal’s pub and they got together to celebrate. They’d made the stew chili-hot  so they would drink more wine. The archivist was of course invited.

    Wine, speeches, songs! Love songs if you want, patriotic songs. Afterwards they raised their glasses. They drank the health of the chief Executive, provided he stayed in post of course, they drank to the beautiful women in the town, the greatness of Bulgaria, the Tsar, the Bulgarian nation, the fleas in the office etc. etc.

    At last Mr Christy got up on a chair, cleared his throat and lifted his glass in high spirits.

    “Good sirs, honoured folk here assembled, colleagues, my good comrades!”

    But in the midst of this torrent of words that horrible roast pumpkin rolled unceremoniously into his thoughts, that same pumpkin that  continually pursued him and in his head churned up the archive of ideas, gathered over forty years of service.

    Christy tried to continue. He gestured strongly with his arm, and as he reached up to the low ceiling, he held his ceremonious pose a few minutes, casting  his eyes excitedly over his colleagues.

      With my  feet well set, so to speak…in part….more or less…

    But the pumpkin again rolled into his thought stream.  Christy felt quite helpless.  He let his arm drop. He turned to his colleagues and spoke in a mild, sensitive and gentle voice, far removed from any orator’s pathos.

    “Do you know what gentlemen, let’s just once roast a pumpkin! Nice and friendly like.  It doesn’t cost God knows what. And we’ll still enjoy ourselves.”

    There followed a short period of silence.  Then everyone shouted Hurrah and Cal’s pub erupted in applause.

    “Motion passed! Motion passed.”

    “This very evening!” a voice shouted out.

    “Mo-otion pa-a-assed!”

    And inside five minutes, they collected signatures, collected the requisite sum, bought a pumpkin and sent it to the kitchen.  Christy sank into happy thoughts.

    And when after an hour the pumpkin was roasted, he demanded to fetch it himself and left.


    Just as he was returning in the dark with the tray over which wafted the aroma of roasted pumpkin,  who should he meet but the Chief Executive.

    “A-ah My Christy,” he cried. “Well it’s you who’ve roasted the pumpkin…Very gratifying, It’s very gratifying. I’m sure your stomach’s now fully recovered!”

    Christy swallowed his tongue and couldn’t utter a word.

    When he brought the pumpkin to his colleagues, everyone of them noticed that he’d gone as yellow as a corpse.

    “What’s up with you?” They asked in wonder.

    “Not feeling very well!” Christy replied as he flopped onto a chair in the corner and stayed there downcast and dumb. Sunk into some dark musing, he didn’t even look at his colleagues as they ate the sweet pumpkin with joy and relish.

    “Christy, won’t you take a slice, mate,” they urged him.

    “I don’t feel like eating” he replied miserable and crushed as he tearfully insisted: “I’m sick. I’m really sick, lads!  I’m going to die.



  2. Book review

    August 27, 2013 by Christopher Buxton


    The personal name of the days

    Alexander Urumov

    Published by Janet 45 2011

    Bulgaria is currently a cultural battlefield. Village culture and morality survived its transplantation to ugly communist built urban complexes.  Grannies and Grandpas still enjoyed the afternoon sun sitting on benches outside the blocks.  They kept an eye on comings and goings and were very free with their comments, criticisms and advice. Sit next to them and you’d get their life histories along with the lowdown on their neighbours’ dirty washing. This culture endures now despite the entry of Bulgaria into the multi-cultural and politically correct EU, despite fears stoked by nationalists of Gypsy crime, Mafia and Moslem extremism, despite the falling birthrate and increased emigration of Bulgaria’s youngest citizens

    A lexander Urumov’s 2011 collection of short stories are like urgent testimony from this battleground. He renders the typical Bulgarian experience of living one’s private life in public, intensely aware of others’ opinions. His monologues capture that typical Bulgarian combination of secret shame and aggressive unapologetic  self importance. He has such a feel for the real rhythms and repetitions of speech that you can almost feel the speakers’ breath in your ear, his hand gripping your elbow.

    The stories are by turn comic and tragic, a modern continuation of the work of past masters, Yovkov, Pelin and Chudomir. Often the speakers are in thrall to the past, as with the diabetic who was denied sweets as a child by his penny-pinching parents, or the five times married man who continues to hoot his horn by the bus stop where his first wife and child left him.  The compulsion to confess, to share secrets with strangers leads to astonishing revelations of personal weakness  and delusions– as with the brother-in-law who goes along with the astonishing  abuse of a donkey, or the woman who doesn’t understand she is raising a murderer.  In a hilarious study of delusion a modern Bai Ganyo travels to America in the role of an ex-Communist Army officer on a trip to share experiences with his new US NATO allies.

    Self revelation is at its most pertinent  in the story Sinner – a monologue that goes to the heart of the moral conflict facing Bulgaria. The speaker cannot contain his excitement at being appointed producer of a reality TV show. He gets to be God deciding the fate of unfortunate people – based on his boss’s assertion that Bulgarians love to see others’ suffering.

    Urumov  is capable of startling and original poetic insights – as in his metaphor of boys and islands in the love story Daniella and his realization of the dangers of sudden silence in Quiet.  These insights stay with the reader even after the memory of the story’s detail fades.

    My favourite story is the Hollow in which an obstinate man decides to uproot a tree stump with disastrous results. His dogged resistance to his wife’s warnings, and his neighbours’ advice is heroically Bulgarian, particularly after his taciturn workmate and then his dog are sucked into the hole.

    Read my translation here.




  3. Recent translation work

    August 26, 2013 by Christopher Buxton

    I have just finished a commission – translating extracts from the work of Nikola Filipov. What’s all this about London and what’s our bloke doing there? Nikola has accrued decades of experience working in the UK grey economy, at first illegally, alongside Ukrainians, Poles, Romanians, Lithuanians and Albanians. In a series of sharply drawn essays he conveys the exciting, colourful world, living on the edge of legality, making the most of the muddleheaded institutions of the  host nation – especially banks prepared to hand out loans of 120% to immigrants carrying false identities and Immigration officials preferring to turn a blind eye rather than go through  tedious deportation procedures.  The life of the emigrant is fraught with exploitation.  Filipov tells several sad stories about the way fellow countrymen can abuse, cheat and betray one another.

    Filipov has a real knack for conveying vibrant character and incident. His is a voice that needs to be heard in The UK and in Bulgaria.

    Here’s a taster on Bulgarian resourcefulness:

    At the Olympics by Nikola Filipov

    ©2013 translated by Christopher Buxton

    Stalls are set out by the entrance to the Olympic Park (elsewhere it was the Olympic Village or the Olympic Township, but in London 2012 it’s the Olympic Park) – badges, medals, national honours…. Whatever your heart desires is there for the purchase.  You can be a swimming or a weight lifting champion. Look over there by the Russian tricolor they’re selling medals from the Moscow Olympics and gosh alongside them Order of Lenin medals, medals with Stalin’s face…

    My niece married an American but a real Stalinist.  He collects and rides motorcycles from the Stalin era and the bottle of “Stalin Wine” which I once gave him has pride of place in his collection.. Could I not buy him an Order of Stalin medal?

    “Are you Russian?” I ask in Russian.

    “”Yes from Moscow” they answer.

    They show me stamped and signed certificates vouching the medal’s authenticity – just that the name of the medal has not been filled in But there’s a problem… the London police don’t allow them to sell, just to swap like collectors. Like Communists, like in Stalin’s time. And so: following their instructions I go to one side and leave the agreed £15 between the pages of a brochure.  After that I hand over the brochure and pick up the package that has been prepared in the meantime. A fantastic conspiracy like those guys trading drugs in Brompton Cemetery.

    I take a step and I spot a Bulgarian tricolor.  In the same moment I hear: “Give me another Stalin, just as well we took more of them…”

    Huh! I turn and stare: “Well but…you’re Bulgarians?”

    The three of them stare at me and at least two of them in manage an answer through even greater amazement: “Well but, are you Bulgarian?”

    “And why did you say you’re from Moscow?”

    “E-e-y we’re at the Olympics, we’re in London. What difference does it make whether we’re from Moscow or Sofia?”

    Then they asked me where I was from. We chatted. I found out that every international event on each of the five continents whether sport, culture or business related is sure to include their attraction. Just one of them has to jump back to Sofia from time to time to restock. Lenin and Stalin are the best sellers. My medal was produced in 2009, on the 130th anniversary of his birth and if I believe the signature on the accompanying document, G.A. Ziuganov, the President of the Central Committee of the Russian Federation Communist Party has personally awarded it to me.

    Now as a fellow Bulgarian my countryman pulls out more and more treasures to offer me. Medals – the Order of Stara Planins, Order of Kyril and Metodii – all first class for those deserving highest honour. The authenticating documents are ready, signed by the Bulgarian President, the stamp is also authentic. I’m sure if I express a whim I can get to choose which President has given me the award.

    Bravo, Bulgarian brothers. You’ve amazed the world and the universe.


    His book in Bulgarian can be found on the following link


    Further translations can be found here on my site

  4. Nationalism begets nationalism

    August 4, 2013 by Christopher Buxton

    (Or when you’re bending to spit at your neighbour watch out for the folk behind you)

    We were waved to the side of the road by police motorcyclists on our way back through Macedonia towards the Bulgaria border.  Thirty seconds later a cavalcade of black windowed limousines sped past, bearing as we learnt later, the Macedonian Prime Minister and his entourage to a meeting with his Bulgarian counterpart in Kyustendil.  According to press releases, the Macedonians were seeking Bulgaria’s support for their entry into the EU.  In return the newly installed Bulgarian Prime Minister’s counter-demand was as modest and unassuming as his curiously uncharismatic character. Rather than complain about the violent persecution of those Macedonian citizens who have the effrontery to claim Bulgarian ethnicity, he simply wanted Bulgarians and Macedonians to celebrate their joint heroes together in a spirit of mutual respect, allowing for the extraordinary historical distortions that have taken place over the last 70 years.

    It’s difficult to imagine what form such celebrations might take.  It might stick in Bulgarian throats to be told that ‘Macedonian” Nikola Vaptsarov’s tragic fate was not that he was executed as a Communist terrorist by the bloody fascist Bulgarians but that he was forced to write his poetry in the language of the oppressor rather than the beautiful Macedonian that was his birthright. Ке бда стар; ке бда множко старdoesn’t that sound so much better?

    How about a celebration of Tsar Samuil’s battles against Bulgarians and Greeks from his Turkish fortress in Ohrid?

    Skopje is now a sight to behold with its French style arc de triumph, its London-style buses, its gigantic statues of Alexander and Philip of Macedon, Justinian and Tsar Samuil, and its museums chronicling Turkish, Bulgarian and Communist oppression.  Any patriotic Macedonian will feel history on his side as he spits at his Bulgarian neighbour and kicks any fellow citizen who claims the language he speaks is in fact Bulgarian.

    Meanwhile travelling westwards from Skopje the mosques grow larger in every village and Albanian flags flutter in the breeze. Extreme nationalism begets extreme nationalism. Macedonians as they build their extraordinary Skopje theme park seem to be blissfully unaware of this.

    Once in Albania, the flags disappear.  The mosques are modest and there are many churches. The casual traveler gets the impression that here priorities are quite different than those in Macedonia. No time for artificial patriotism, this is a people who want to catch up with the modern world. They are working hard on infrastructure. Their attitude to foreign tourists is extremely welcoming.Compared to their Adriatic neighbours they seem genuinely thrilled to see you and do their utmost to ensure you want to come back.

    Durres Town wall

  5. The Sofia Burgas motorway

    August 3, 2013 by Christopher Buxton

    Sometimes it’s hard to be a Boyko, wond’ring where the love disappeared. The current coalition is busily digging into the Gerb party sewers  frantically shoveling wagon loads of shit to pour over Boyko’s head – accusations of financial mismanagement, corrupt cronyism, gross intrusion into citizens’ privacy etc . – in the hopes that this muck will be so sticky that its stink will remain in voters’ nostrils come the next election.  So what will the Greatest Living Bulgarian’s legacy be?

    If Bate Boyko is remembered for anything positive, it must be the motorway linking Sofia with Burgas. Such excitement – my friends and neighbours all boasting how they can now drive to the capital in just over a couple of hours. The speed limit is 130 kph but my friends assure me that the police grant a 10 kph margin.  This mysteriously translates into a cruising speed of 150 kph.

    How hard to remember those golden days of leisurely motoring when Bulgaria’s only stretch of motorway ran from Sofia to Plovdiv and the KAT police put trestle tables across all but one lane at the beginning of the highway just to remind comrade drivers how lucky they were to pretend that their Ladas and Trabants could be temporarily transformed into formula 1 racing cars for the 120 kilometres.

    Now Bulgaria is in Europe and Bate Boyko boasts that the motorway built with European cash is his creation. However whether this road deserves to be called a motorway is seriously open to question. Unlucky foreigners can easily be fooled into believing that driving down this road at the prescribed speed limit is safe. They should know two things. First the oldest part of the road  – between Sofia and Plovdiv is in serious need of repair and second that there is little or no warning of roadworks.  Those beloved autobahn signs that advise you kilometres in advance of speed restrictions and lane closures are entirely absent.  Instead the unwary driver in the fast lane faces a sudden unheralded line of traffic cones fifty yards from a parked bulldozer.  Ninety-nine times out of a hundred he swerves and because of the relative lack of traffic intensity he survives to rain curses on the bulldozer’s mother.

    On Sunday traffic on the motorway was intense. At the end of July Turkish gastarbeiders are making their summer migration in cars filled with children and luggage. Just one more country to cross and they are on home soil.  Outside Plovdiv, two policemen were flapping their arms and directing traffic off the motorway.  Like inept toreadors they were risking their lives with just a line of plastic traffic cones to protect them from the cars charging at them at phenomenal speeds.

    Elsewhere diverted drivers expect to see further signs, directing them through back roads towards that magic point where they can safely rejoin the motorway. On this occasion the traffic column sent off down the dual carriage way into Plovdiv took the first opportunity to perform an illegal u-turn and return to join the motorway just a few yards down from the flapping policemen. No-one had thought to close the slip road back onto the motorway.

    A mile on down the road the traffic slowed to thread its way through the wreckage of five cars, that had swerved, crashed, shunted in trying to avoid an enormous bulldozer left over the weekend in the fast lane. In a nearby field a stunned Turkish woman wept beside her smashed up car – a car filled to the roof with luggage and presents for her friends and relations back home.

    Meanwhile thanking our lucky stars that we hadn’t embarked on our journey half an hour earlier we drove on towards Burgas down the remaining 250 plus kilometers of BB road. The Turkish drivers had now left to join the still largely single track road towards the border and the only snake in this motoring heaven is that there are no petrol stations, no toilets – just a very few treeless shrubless high fenced parking lay byes.