August, 2009

  1. Chaos in Starosel

    August 28, 2009 by Christopher Buxton


    I rob banks for a living, what do you do?

    My name’s Ivan Dillingov – yes that’s me – the leader of the best band of robbers you’ll ever see. I’m careful on my recruitment policy – only hire the best.

    Let me introduce the team. There’s Babe Nelzov – he’s crazy but he’s got a face as round and smooth as a billiard ball. But don’t rile him. He’s meaner than Balkan bear – only not as hairy. There’s Kalashnikov Kelsky – he’s kind of sweet natured but he can’t exercise no more control on his machine gun than he can on his women. And driving the getaway-mobile is Clyde Barovski – both feet on the gas and both hands around his moll, Miss Bonnie Parkova, possessor of the cutest ass you ever did see perched on a steering wheel.

    Well Bulgaria’s been good to me. Police, lawyers and judges all return my calls for a just a little percent of the takings. I feel well looked after wherever I go. There are so many banks! Gee whizz! I can’t remember all their names. Still – it’s pretty dang straight forward. Clyde just drives us up, and I shout “Hey boys, time to make a withdrawal!” We go in, ignoring the signs that say no guns allowed. Everyone’s happy to hit the floor. Babe Nelzov gets to scare the pretty tellers a little. I shout: “These few levs you lose here today are going to buy you stories to tell your children and great-grandchildren. This could be one of the big moments in your life; don’t make it your last! That usually cracks up the public and gets us reported in all the best newspapers. We grab the cash. And hightail it out while the police go off in the opposite direction and crack a few heads in the gypsy part of town.

    Everything’s just high and dandy till I get this recommendation. Go rob a joint in Starosel. Boy did that turn out to be a hedgehog in the undershorts!

    Clyde picked it out on the map. One road in and one road out – straight through the centre. It looked such a knockover! We didn’t even bother to case the joint. Besides it’s in Plovdiv county and I’ve got good friends in that state. Bonnie Parkova said there’s some old tomb just outside the town. I say it’s probably the resting place of some ancient gangster – but we won’t have no time to pay our respects.

    We spent the night before holed up in some wooden dive in old Koprivchitza. Bonnie thought it was kind of pretty – she’s cultural that way. We set out late the next morning, due to Babe finding it difficult to locate anything worth shaving.

    I should have known we were in for a rough ride even before we got into Starosel. Boy the bumps and holes were like a drive on the moon without the low gravity. Clyde had his hands full of steering wheel for a change and Bonnie felt neglected.

    Coming in to Starosel was like coming into the Oklahoma dustbowl. Clyde nearly went into the diggers, cranes and earth movers. It was like the town knew we were coming and had barred our way. Bonnie had to rip off her skirt to wipe the windshield and Clyde drove us down a side street that looked like an alley in some foreign legion film. I rolled down the back window and hailed a local. “Hey old timer! We’re the Ivan Dillingov gang. Tell us where your bank is at!”

    I have to say – he kind of looked confused. He spent so much time scratching his head I had to stop Nelzov from shooting him. In the end he just told us to follow the signs.

    Well there were no signs at first – then there were some arrows – but none of them labeled – so we had no idea where we were headed – except everywhere was just dust and sand and holes and raised manhole covers. I reckon we’d have got to the bank faster by drain.

    We met lots of foreign folks coming the other way. At first I thought they were from a rival outfit. I almost got Nelzov to shoot them up a little. But it turned out that they were just looking for this old bloke’s tomb. Some of them had been driving round Starosel for hours. Mind you when they got an eyeful of Bonnie in her bloomers they soon found her mounds a whole lot more interesting.

    But every five yards of road was a burial mound as far as I was concerned. I just had to grit my teeth to stop them from falling out. One point we were directed off the road and through a children’s playground. At least there weren’t so many bumps past the slides and swings. I could see Babe was hankering after a go but I had to remind him of our mission.

    At the end of the park we rolled into the dust again. As Clyde took a track down to a hump bridge, I was feeling pretty gloomy about a quick getaway.

    Over the bridge, there was some big swanky restaurant – well it was dust-swanky and there was a whole mess of reversing cars. Well, dang me – if we don’t see some asphalt – the only asphalt in the whole town – but it’s being rolled by a steam roller. This is it boys, the centre!

    I wave my gun. “ Yonder’s the bank! Let’s make a withdrawal boys!” But Clyde’s in no mood to argue with a steam roller and the prettiest waitress you ever did see jumps out waving her hands at me to reverse.

    “Sorry, Mr. Dillingov, but our little town centre’s closed for traffic – even for important folks like you.” She then burst into tears. “Gee! It’s been like this for a year – all the streets of our town ploughed up. Mr. Dillingov, you know some important people in this country! Please use your influence. We ain’t got a mayor worth a rattlesnake hide and the contractors are so ornery. It’s getting so even local folks don’t know their way around. And all these foreigners bashing up their cars. They don’t stop no more and so there’s no money in the bank.”

    If there were any police I’d have got them to guide us out of town. But they’re only interested in good roads where they can fine speeders. I got Clyde to reverse out and don’t ask me how we found our way out of town.

    Babe says next time he’ll bring a tank.


  2. Annoyed at NOI

    August 16, 2009 by Christopher Buxton


    Across the whole world dark clouds gathered. Rains began to fall and everywhere the young animals were threatened. In Brussels, God was awoken by their cries and put on his raincoat.

    Let the young sink or swim, he cried, but the old who have laboured all their lives, let them have shelter from the storm.

    Let every country build themselves an ark after their own fashion that every elderly animal can ride out the storm.

    And in Bulgaria, that magical land beyond seven mountains, forests, lakes and rivers, God said let there be NOI and NOI came to be.

    And NOI built smart arks in every city with gates to prevent disabled animals from parking their cars and ordained that in every ark there should be a dozen windows with confusing signs and behind every window there should be one of his daughters engaged in an important telephone conversation. Animals could queue for hours and then be told that they should have queued elsewhere. And at every window there were a hundred different forms for the animals to fill in.

    For only animals who had worked hard all their lives could enter the ark and get out of the rain.

    But NOI wanted documentary proof of this work. Surely the animals cried NOI must know of our hard labour. NOI is God’s servant and God knows everything.

    God may know everything in Brussels where he lives, but Bulgaria is a magic land. You animals must provide proof of your service.

    And the animals scurried back through the rising flood to search through their nests and holes and dens for their magic work-books, which once recorded all their labours.

    Back at NOI, Mr. and Mrs. Beaver brought their books stamped by the Forestry Commission, recording forty years work of industrious logging. In the long queue that stretched to the only relevant window, they chatted with Mr. and Mrs. Lion who had worked for ten years in the state slaughter house back in the seventies until they had migrated to England to work in a Butcher’s shop. It’s incredible. God is really powerful there, in the English ark, all your details are on something called the Internet. They key in your number and your whole English work record comes up on screen.

    As they stood in the queue, Mrs. Beaver could not help noticing that behind all the other windows, NOI‘s daughters sat chatting with each other. She wondered why NOI couldn’t get themto help out with the long queue.

    Just ahead of them at the window a row had broken out amid a flurry of clucking and feathers. Mr. and Mrs. Eagle were migratory like the Lions. They had booked into the Salt Lakes hotel for just a week and thought that they could sort out their shelter in that time – especially as they had taken special care of their work books. However NOI had spotted that their stamps from Bulgarsalt were round instead of square and that Pest Control had only numbered the days and weeks of their work – not the hours. Unless the Eagles could sort out these anomalies, they would be denied shelter for the coming flood.

    But…but…the Eagles knew that Bulgarsalt had been privatized in 1995 and the Pest Control had become part of the newly abolished Ministry of Extraordinary Situations. How could they find anyone to provide the right stamp and the correct details.

    Not Noi’s problem. It’s down to every animal to search out the information themselves if they need shelter. You can’t expect God to be bothered to go and find things that weren’t properly recorded in the first place. You just have to find the appropriate archives.

    The Lions looked at each other as disquiet spread through the queue. Surely Noi was ordained by God to help the weak and helpless. Everywhere in the world God knew everything – except apparently in this magic land beyond mountains, lakes, rivers and forests. Mr. and Mrs. Donkey who had lost their work books in a barn fire informed everyone with gloomy satisfaction that they had waited two years for their right to shelter to be recognized and now had to fill in Form OP30 before a new recalculation.

    Meanwhile outside the rain continued to pour down. The young were already drowning. Inside the ark, behind the windows, amid stacks of files, Noi’s daughters looked bored. At least it would be lunch break soon. They’d have a rest from watching the ebbs and flows of desperate animals clutching antique worthless documents. And NOI had put up posters reminding everyone that they should speak in quiet tones, no matter how outrageous his requirements seemed to be.

    Just as well – otherwise the animals might get seriously anNoied.

    Note NOI is the acronym of the National Insurance Institute, responsible for the calculation of Pensions. Fortuitously it is also the Bulgarian variant of Noah.


  3. An ideal launch pad for mountain tourism

    August 4, 2009 by Christopher Buxton

    We have just returned from a week in the Rhodope mountains – at once Bulgaria’s most accessable and most breathtaking mountain region – ideal for hiking, biking, fishing or just lazing, gaping at lakes, valleys and forests. It is also the region where folkloric traditions have best survived the changes of the last seventy years.

    We began our journey in Belovo with our friends Gary and Veni, their delightful daughter Ellie and a purr of cats.

    A year ago Veni and Garry decided to exchange their terraced two-up-two-down house on the noisy Military Road in Colchester for a three story house in the town of Belovo. Standing on their balcony it is easy to understand why.

    The house stands on the banks of the bubbling river Maritsa – the river which according to legend carried Orpheus’s singing head all the way from his Rhodope home to the Aegian. Looking upwards from the valley you see the steep forests leading towards higher mountains. Just above Belovo there are lakes and mountain pastures full of wild herbs, strawberries, blueberries, raspberries and blackberries.

    Garry and Veni have opened their house for guests who wish to explore this region and made a whole floor available for families with bedrooms and bath and cooking facilities. There is a lovely garden with fruit trees, lawn and vegetable patch. Belovo itself is a bustling little town with good fruit and vegetable markets ideal for stocking up prior to a trip up the mountain. Come at the right time and you will be able to attend folk festivals where the mountains ring with the stirring harmonies and disharmonies of authentic Bulgarian voices and the heart stopping call of the bagpipes.

    Belovo is only a short trip away from historic Plovdiv with its ancient theatre and Bulgarian renaissance merchants’ houses. It is also handy for Sofia airport.

    Veni, Garry and Ellie are warm hospitable hosts and ready to help with advice about the best spots to visit in this most beautiful area.

    For more information and pictures, visit their site at:
    http://sites.google.com/site/caravanseraisbg


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