Bulgaria 2009

27/11/2009 by Christopher Buxton

What I learnt in Bulgaria this summer

Penyo Penev, the manic depressive young poet of Stalinist Bulgaria, should now be remembered for his secret verse. Forget about his celebrations of factory routine and five year plans. His obscene verse is quintessentially Bulgarian and puts him up with Rabelais. Here is his terse summary of a Bulgarian survival strategy.

When the violets flower
And nothing is going your way
F**k everyone else’s mother
And make sure you are OK

F**ck everyone else’s mother
And stop yourself feeling blue
And if you are still feeling bothered
Go f**k your own mother too.

Anyone interested in a translation of his epic Kuncho Putkoderov can contact me direct via e-mail.(sozopol456@yahoo.com) Warning: this celebration of Balkan virility is extremely brutal if taken at a literal level. It also besmirches the names of illustrious class enemies like Churchill and Eisenhower.

Bulgarian elections throw up the most unlikely candidates. Everywhere in Burgas posters lined the metal fences of building sites. In one a fat bald man with a simpering grin demanded More for Burgas. In another, a fierce unshaven man pointed his finger at me with the slogan Hey ’nuff Shame! Neither man represented any of the major parties and therefore had about as much chance of getting elected as Screaming Lord Such. One turned out to be an ex-football boss who has managed to put off a charge of causing death by drunk driving for ten years. The other used to be described as the fist of Ataka – the far right nationalist party. Following the beating of a driver on the Trakia motorway, he fell out with his boss. Both candidates turn out to be the detritus thrown up by the turbulent sea of judicial failure. They had their weeks of street poster attention; but neither man was rewarded by the votes he believed he deserved.

Galvanized by the unfair neglect of Bulgarian writing on the world’s literary stage, I have begun re-reading the classics – starting with Wolf Hunt by Ivailo Petrov and Gold Mine by ST. L. Kostov. Kostov’s plays have a really contemporary ring – like Armando Ianucci without the swearing. Wolf Hunt has to be one of the greatest novels written in Bulgarian. In Koprivchitza I doused myself in the sad life of the poet Dimcho Debelyanov. Here is a translation of his last poem just before his brain was blown away on the south eastern front in 1917

Orphan Song
If I die in this war
Regret will sting no-one.
I lost my mother; but I wedded
No wife; and I have no friends

But my heart does not grieve –
I live, an involuntary orphan,
And maybe Death waits for me
Bringing comfort in victory.

I know my hapless path.
My wealth is stored within,
For I am rich in sorrows
And in joys unshared.

I shall depart this world
As I entered it – homeless,
Tranquil as the song that
Shores up needless memory