The great white shark


  1. The great white shark

    August 31, 2008 by Christopher Buxton

    He sits opposite me and with a breathy certitude that brooks no challenge, he poses what he sees as a series of rhetorical questions.
    Do you like football? – of course you do- you’re English
    You remember the team of 1966? –how could you not?
    Bobby Moore, Bobby Charlton, Gor..don..Banks? you know where this is leading. It’s irresistable.
    And what colour were they all? time to sit back – as though his case is proved.

    Couldn’t the Americans have found one white man to represent the Democrats in the coming election? Are there no intelligent white Democrats – that they had to choose a black man?

    He was very disappointed by Paris. Yes of course there was the Louvre and Notre Dame, but he might as well have travelled to Africa. Where were all the Frenchmen? He’s worried for the survival of the great white race, the race of Balzac and Dumas. I point out that Dumas was mixed race. He expresses shock then confident disbelief. This cannot be true.

  2. Stalinworld

    August 31, 2008 by Christopher Buxton

    The English are proud of their eccentricity. It has not occurred to me till recently that we have serious rivals in the Bulgarians.
    On the street that my mother-in-law now inhabits, there is a table. It is set well back from the uneven pavement so that passers by, careful of their foothold, have little reason to notice any oddity.
    But a Bulgarian pavement can form a frontier between worlds beyond CS Lewis’ imagining. On the one side of an invisible line is the world of pedestrian struggle involving uneven shifting paving stones and badly parked cars. On the other side in artificial gloom is the table. It sits in a dark space behind and between two tin kiosks and against an old garden fence. From one kiosk which appears to sell little beyond lemonade and those savory sticks that make gums bleed, there is a muted cacophonous stream of modern folk music.
    Like so many knights posed for a Tussauds tableau, a group of men sit from morning till night, playing cards and drinking. They are rightly protected from the world of struggle for they are acolytes at a shrine that seems to date back sixty years.
    Screwed securely to the fence above their heads are huge black and white portraits of the members of the first Bulgarian politburo. And there in the middle underneath a red drawing of Georgi Dimitrov himself is the oath that every child took in 1949. Fighting back the tears caused by the great man’s unlooked for death, each child promised a life dedicated to the Party’s cause, with unswerving loyalty to its every decision, bowing of course to the ultimate wisdom of Comrade Stalin.
    These men are too young to have taken this oath, yet they keep this absurd spirit alive with their rakia laden breath.

  3. Updates

    August 7, 2008 by Christopher Buxton

    Sorry – if you were tempted by the stunning offer of a flat with views of the Wonderful Rocks, in Aitos and were just getting ready to e-mail us an offer, you’re too late. The flat was sold two days ago.

    The State Savings Bank in Burgas has made a giant leap forward in customer relations. Previously I had written about the invisible line between two pillars, behind which a large crowd had to jostle, waiting the nod of a grandfatherly ex militia man towards one of the three tellers avalable for customers. Now this ex militiaman, who was not averse to manhandling clients who stepped across the line or sharply ordering customers to stop making jokes, is relaxing outside the bank. His job of marshalling customers has now been taken over by a ticket machine. Relying on experienced customers to explain the near incomprehensible options to novices, our man can relax in the sun, secure in the knowlege that despite waiting times of up to an hour, and the frequent preferential treatment offered to those with connections, the customer will stand or sit in stoic silence. Such is the result of successful conditioning.

    There have been few developments to report on A Bulgarian Story. Only that Cherie Wolf received a threatening letter from Burgas Council, which contained curiously contradictory statements – that there was no danger of her building falling down, but that in the event of some unforseen major incident, there might be. When approached for clarification, Burgas Council asked why Cherie hadn’t paid for her own expertise to counter that paid for by Mr Dimo Podlev. The answer to this is obvious. Dimo Podlev has loadsa money to pay for Professor Doshko and Architect Boshko and Cherie has not. So for now, progress on this has halted. Cherie’s tenants continue to believe in the building and Cherie awaits Mr Podlev’s return from holiday.

  4. Ibryama Summer Theatre Burgas

    July 26, 2008 by Christopher Buxton

    Inevitably 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.

  5. A Bulgarian Story

    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.