Sunday, 1 December 2013

Lithuania's fans, we have now got a dedicated bookshelf for you

Opening the new Lithuanian literature section. Left to right: Lithuanian charge d'affaires for Bulgaria Darius Gaidys, Sofia City Library's deputy director Spaska Tarandova, EVS volunteer Agne Drumelyte. 

Sofia City Library is known for its international and otherwise eclectic character. Downstairs we have a bar, on the first floor a gallery and a theatre, and on the fourth floor there are multiple reading resources in foreign languages.

So far on the fourth floor there have been books in English, Portuguese, Chinese, Turkish, Spanish & Latin American, German, and in four Scandinavian languages, most of them donated by the respective countries' embassies and cultural institutions.

Although I am officially a UK volunteer and do my best to represent the sending country, I am also a Lithuanian. Since there already were many books at the library donated by the UK, I decided to have a look if there would be any resources from/about Lithuania.

Surprise surprise, with the help of my tutor I found only several dry-ish (and, often, dated) information materials. Looking at the aforementioned countries' example, I thought, it would be nice to have a dedicated Lithuanian book shelf at the library too. I set up (besides the shared EVS blog and my free time Bulgarian travel etudes) a third personal project. 

An email and then a trip to the Lithuanian Embassy in Sofia followed; I was invited to meet the Lithuanian Charge d'Affaires Darius Gaidys. The Embassy took the matter enthusiastically. Soon afterwards Mr Gaidys came to visit the library and to meet the deputy director Spaska Tarandova.

After arranging the place for the new book shelf and the opening date, the donation of books & CDs from the Embassy and from a few people of the local Lithuanian community was brought in. Then the official opening event happened, with speeches from Mr Gaidys and Ms Tarandova, and a small wine reception.

The books will now have to be registered at the library's catallogues. They should be available for everyone to borrow from 15 January 2014.

The new book shelf is at the Nordic & German reading room (402) on the fourth floor. The present reading resources are in Lithuanian, English, Bulgarian, Russian. There are quite a few books for children & beginners in Lithuanian language. The collection is likely to expand in the future.            

The Embassy and the Library have plans to continue the recently set up collaboration.

In the nearest future, at 5 pm on 11 December at the American Corner there is going to be a presentation of a new book, the Bulgarian translation of Lithuanian classic poems by Justinas Marcinkevičius ('Mindaugas', 'Mažvydas', 'Katedra').

In the second half of 2013 Lithuania held Presidency of the Council of the EU.

The new book shelf. In the future I would love to see there also English/Bulgarian translations of 'Vilnius Poker' by Ričardas Gavelis and of novels by Jurga Ivanauskaitė & Kristina Sabaliauskaitė; 'The Jungle' by Upton Sinclair; 'Lost Vilnius' by Vladas Drėma; 'Forest of Gods' by Balys Sruoga; works by the Lithuanian-American anthropologist Marija Gimbutas; arts albums & music recordings by Mikalojus Konstantinas Čiurlionis; photography album 'Unseen Lithuania' by Marius Jovaiša; materials about Lithuanian artists such as Fluxus persona Jurgis Mačiūnas, filmmaker Jonas Mekas, designer Juozas Statkevičius; film 'The Other Dream Team'; Lithuanian jazz music recordings; more history books & memoirs, especially about/from the 20th century /.../ To mention a few.      

Opening, wine reception.
Opening, having a look at the new book shelf.

The immortal Christmas poster from USA. Our former sister library

Season's greetings from Golden branch of the Jefferson County Public Library, USA.

Christmas is mercilessly approaching. People put up festive decorations; Here at Sofia City Library we have got a permanent one. It has been given to us by Golden Public Library, USA, and it has been hanging above the door of the English & Portuguese reading room for several years now.

How come we have got a festive decoration from a library in Colorado, one that is almost 10.000 kilometres away from ours? Not a bad question.

Apparently, the said friendly library and our library had been 'sisters' for some years in the past. They used to exchange books, invite each other's staff over for visits, conferences and trainings, send each other Christmas greetings like the one pictured above.

It all started when, back in 1995, a Bulgarian librarian Iskra Mahailova went to the USA for five months to work at the Colorado State Library. There she met Nancy Bolt (pictured below) who turned out to be a Bulgaria enthusiast.  

Nancy Bolt, the initiator of the American-Bulgarian partnership. She remembers, in the early days of the friendship the Americans used to send video greetings to their Bulgarian colleagues as back then were still the pre-Skype times. Photo (c) Nancy Bolt.
Over the next few years Ms Bolt made repeated trips to Bulgaria: to visit her former colleague, to do a lecture tour, to take part in conferences. Partnerships were formed between various Bulgarian and Colorado libraries - one between Sofia City Library and Jefferson County Library was among the first.

Later a grant from the USA government was received for the ABLE (American-Bulgarian Library Exchange) project. Eighteen partnerships between American and Bulgarian libraries were covered; Bulgarian and American librarians were enabled to visit each others' countries.

''We also did training for 14 Bulgarian librarians on how to become a community information center and these librarians trained anther about 900 librarians'', Ms Bolt says.

The grant in the end was discontinued; some of the partnerships fell apart. Sofia City Library & Golden Library stopped their official sisterhood several years ago. However, some of the librarians have been keeping in touch and meeting informally.

Ms Bolt still goes to Bulgaria every year, usually in May so that she can attend the Rose Festival in Kazanlak. She participates in conferences in Bulgaria, gives trainings, stays in touch with some of Sofia City Library's staff, and is about to publish a paper at the BLIA* magazine on the changing role of the library.  

The Colorado librarians were pleased to know that Sofia City Library still has the poster.

* Bulgarian Library and Information Association.

Chestita Koleda.

Thursday, 14 November 2013

Mi primera fiesta de Halloween

Uy, qué miedo...
Voy a quedar muy mal confesando esto (una ya tiene una edad), pero el pasado 31 de Octubre fui, por primera vez en mi vida, a una fiesta de Halloween. Sí, podéis reíros si queréis, pero es la verdad. La fiesta en cuestión la organizaba el American Corner de la Sofia City Library, y aunque estaba enfocada a los niños tengo que deciros que me lo pasé fenomenal. Quizás sea porque yo aún no he terminado de crecer...

No sé en vuestras ciudades pero en Algeciras, donde vivo, Halloween no suele celebrarse. O no mucho, al menos. Alguna fiesta en academias de inglés, niños disfrazados en el colegio y, eso sí, fiestas variadas en bares y pubs. Pero poco más. Nosotros ya tenemos nuestra propia tradición para ese día, los Tosantos, en los que se celebra un mercado nocturno en el que se compra, sobre todo, frutos secos y castañas. Bastante alejada de la tradición del Truco o Trato que tantas veces hemos visto reflejada en el cine y la televisión.

Taller de decoración de máscaras

En la fiesta del American Corner no faltaron los caramelos, por supuesto. Pero tampoco las manzanas ni las chocolatinas. Os podéis imaginar, y con razón, que los dulces duraron poco, y si no llega a ser por un niño muy amable que me dio un caramelo casi ni los pruebo... Claro que eso no era todo. La decoración era todo lo que podía esperarse de una fiesta espeluznante y pudimos ver telarañas, fantasmas, esqueletos y todas esas cosas que hace que nos entren escalofríos.

Además de la música temática que nos acompañó en todo momento, se organizaron varias actividades para los niños asistentes. Por una parte, se organizaron talleres de manualidades, donde los niños (¡y sus padres!) podían decorar caretas o tarros de cristal. La pintura no llegó al techo, pero casi... También había varios juegos con los que los niños podían ganar diferentes premios, y si juzgamos por sus risas, creo que se lo pasaron bastante bien.

Sarah, Chema, Agne y Ricardo. Perdonadnos, era Halloween.

Por nuestra parte, los voluntarios también aportamos nuestro granito de arena disfrazándonos y sacando a la luz nuestro lado más terrorífico. Fue, en definitiva, una gran fiesta para todos. Una gran manera de conocer las tradiciones de otro país, como es en este caso Estados Unidos, estando en otro país tan diferente como puede ser Bulgaria. Un lío intercultural, vamos. Cosas de la globalización. Pero cosas divertidas, al fin y al cabo. 

Monday, 4 November 2013

Hristo Botev and his 20 poems

Bulgarian poet and revolutionary Hristo Botev (1848-1876), approximately one year before his death. Image (c) Wikimedia Commons.

Now, what to write about this poet? His authority in literature - and history - is almost universally unquestioned by the Bulgarians. He is the subject of many studies, books and artworks. He has been so scrutinised that I would probably be unable to say anything exhaustive or new about him.

The person in question is the legendary Hristo Botev. He died when he was 28 years old, leaving behind only 20 poems, plus some opinion pieces and letters - but the short, intense lifespan and the strength of his writings were enough to prove that he was exceptional in Bulgaria, both as a poet and as a political leader.

Today perhaps every Bulgarian city and town has a street named after Botev (along with those named after Vasil Levski, Stefan Karadzha and other revolutionaries). At noon on 2 June every year everything stops and loud sirens commemorate for about a minute the death of Botev back in 1876, during the fight against the Ottomans in Vratsa mountains. He is that important.

As a 19th century author, Botev is a romanticist. His poems are dramatic, expressive, visual, philosophical - all at the same time. Popular topics include homeland; death; a beloved girl; mother, father & other members of the family; freedom fighters (e.g. there are two poems about the death of Vasil Levski and Hadzhi Dimitar); patriotism; solidarity; the struggle for independence. A couple of poems (Patriot and In The Tavern) are sarcastic, questioning the morals of certain people.        

Many Bulgarians will volunteer to inform you that a verse by Botev is engraved in gold at the Sorbonne in Paris among other verses by the world's greatest poets:

“The moon comes out and day grows dim, 
on heaven’s vault the stars now throng,
the forest rustles, quiet stirs the wind,
the mountains sing song of fighters.”

(from Hadzhi Dimitar, 1873)

It should not take you more than half of a day to get acquainted with Botev's poems. If you are at least a little interested in Bulgaria & its history, reading them is a must. You can easily find the texts of all 20 poems on the internet, for example, here

Saturday, 2 November 2013

A thoughtful Halloween afterparty: the Bulgarian Day of the Enlighteners

1 November at Sofia City Library: discussing the Bulgarian history, reading from old, original books.

When much of the Western world are recovering from Halloween festivities the night before, on 1 November Bulgarians commemorate their Day of the Enlighteners.

The day - perhaps symbolically set during the darker, gloomier time of the year - is dedicated to writers, educators, national revivalists, revolutionaries, freedom fighters.

The celebrated heroes include many historical figures, such as the Brothers Cyril and Methodius, the national poet Hristo Botev, the 'Apostle of Freedom' Vasil Levski. Influential books, both factual and literary, are remembered; important events of the Bulgarian history re-discussed; poems and excerpts of well known texts read aloud.

The celebration of the Day of the Enlighteners started in 1909, one year after Bulgaria declared its independence from the Ottoman 'yoke', but the Day did not become particularly popular up until the 1920s. During the communist times (between 1945-1992) celebrations of 1 November were banned altogether.

Nowadays 1 November is listed in the calendar of Bulgarian Official Holidays and is celebrated in places like educational institutions, libraries, museums all over the country. It is also the day of Bulgaria's patron saint, Ivan (John) of Rila.

'Istorya Slavobolgarskaya' (1924 edition) - the first Bulgarian history. Written during the Ottoman times (1762), this was the book that fueled nationalist feelings and motivated many Bulgarian freedom fighters.

'Osmoglasnik', or 'Eight Voices' (1645) - the first Bulgarian printed book. Note the two, black and red, colours, and the detailed decorative ornaments. From next April (2014) the book should be on display at the new Sofia City Museum (due to open inside the yellow former Central Mineral Baths building).  
A page from 'Nedelnik' (1806), the first published book in modern Bulgarian. There are only six known original 'Nedelniks' left in Bulgaria today; two of them can be found at Sofia City Library.  

Monday, 28 October 2013

Getting to know Sofia, the host city of your EVS

Largo, Sofia, Bulgaria. Why two buildings from different historic periods [1920s, the bourgeois era, and 1950s, the socialism] and of different architectural styles were fused into one? You can find out on a 'Sofia (Architecture) Walks' tour...
An important part of the EVS experience is getting to know the host country. Many Bulgarians are patriotic and will spend long hours informing you about their homeland. They have reason: Bulgaria is very old and has an interesting history.   

So does their capital. Although to an inexperienced eye it might appear as yet another character-less modern age city, Sofia actually existed even before the ancient Romans arrived. A big misfortune was brought to Sofia by the WW2 when much of the city centre was destroyed by the bombings. Those were also the times when Sofia lost much of its external beauty.  

Nowadays it is one of those cities that not everyone falls in love with easily. Before you start to like Sofia you need to know it. And, in order to know it, you need to explore and dig a bit deeper as the city hides much of its charms in secret yards; underground; in peoples' memories.
Because Bulgarians are so patriotic, there is no shortage neither of tourist materials nor of guided walks here (as well as plenty of cultural events to choose from). Let me introduce you to a few:
  • Free Sofia Tour (also operating in Plovdiv) is a good option to those who have just arrived as it gives a nice overall introduction to the city centre's major (and major hidden) attractions. It lasts around two hours, leaving at 11am & 6pm every single day from the Palace of Justice (the building with two lion sculptures at the northern end of the Vitosha Boulevard). The tour is unpaid but it is customary to give some tips to the guide afterwards.     
  • Sofia (Architecture) Walks - a bit heavier option, ideal to those who are already familiar with the surface of the city and want to dig deeper. These guides organise their walks mainly on weekends, and each walk has a different topic, e.g. Socialist Sofia; Romantic Sofia; Eastern Orthodox Sofia; Sofia Cemetery; etc. The tours are grouped into four 'collections': Pieces of a City, Styles and Ages, Religions, and Influences - according to the topic. Each month they announce a walks' calendar on their website so you can book in advance. These are paid tours (BGN 20/10 adult/student); the meeting place is at the entrance of Sheraton Balkan Hotel.
Then there are a couple of recommendable travel agencies (these, though, are not the only ones in Sofia):
  • Lyuba Tours - a small, rather high-brow travel agency that concentrates on cultural tourism and knows a lot about even obscure topics. These were the people who took many famous and serious foreign officials around Bulgaria. They do some public group tours (advertised on their website) as well as tailor-made private tours.
  • Zig Zag Holidays / Odysseia-In 'travel boutique' - also a personalised, responsible, knowledgeable etc. travel company. As far as I know they were consulting one of the Lonely Planet travel authors as he wrote the guide to Bulgaria some years ago. Plus, they have been on the market for around 20 years now.
True, hiring travel agencies might not exactly be for a volunteer's budget but it's good to know where to go in case, for example, your rich relatives arrive to Bulgaria, or you are organising an event for international delegates.

Some 'real' travellers are snobbish towards any travel publishers, guides or agencies; I used to be one of them but I am not anymore; now I think that selecting bits of what you find useful/interesting from all available sources is the best way to be.  
  • If you, however, only want a free map of the city you can get one at the local Tourist Information Office at the underpass + metro station 'St.Kliment Ohridski' (the Sofia University).
Good luck exploring. You can also check my personal blog about life & travels in Sofia. Yours, Agnė.

The sausages are not mine. Associative photo.
Some of the current EVS volunteers at Matka Canyon, Macedonia (July 2013).

Friday, 25 October 2013

Do you want to write a novel? Session 3

Do you know them?

After a week without class, we return to the work with the third part of Do you want to write a novel?

This week we will devote entirely to the construction of characters. Characters that you fall in love, you want to keep writing more and more words, page after page. The aim is also, of course, your readers will love too, do that they also want to keep reading the adventures of these little so special people.

As I have said many times, in my case the creation of the characters is one of the most important things. It is precisely these, those characters that appear almost out of nowhere, who push me to write their story. It is a reverse of many writers, I know, but hey, everyone is different and it is important to find your own formula, your own way to feel comfortable when typing.

First of all, let's start by generalizing a bit. Although there are exceptions (like everything in this life), it is usual that your characters are those who bear the weight of history. It can be people or things, a priest or a bar of soap, but generally, the stories we read in books happen to someone or something.

In this way, your characters are a key thing in your novel. Yes, we all know stories in which the character is unimportant and the important thing is the action, and also the opposite, of course. But even in cases in which your characters are just a figure at which things happen, readers must be interested in your characters. Otherwise, if you do not care in the least what happens to them, it is likely to close the book and go do something else.

I constantly fall in love with the characters (of mine and others), but you need not be like me…

Your characters, like everyone, want to get something. There has not to be something great. Not all characters have to want to save humanity or destroy the villain. The ambition of your character can be a shower without her son pounded the door without stopping. Or do not be late for a meeting. Or make macaroni without being sticking to the pan. Or convince this guy so cute to marry with her and not with her cousin who is prettier and richer.

Usually, most of the characters, want to be happy and live in peace. It depends on you, as an author, what your character considers 'happiness'. You know, a shower, a wedding, a cup of hot chocolate ... What seems good to you. You know they are not going to complain...

Typically, your characters suffer (a little or a lot, or too much...) to achieve their goals. If not, we would not have history. If your character is dying for a cup of tea, and get up and do it ... because, well, that's it.  Not much more to tell...

It's different if your character wants a cup of tea and it turns out that does not fit a single bag. He goes home to his neighbor to ask her, but his neighbor just drinks coffee. So going to the corner store to buy a box but, oh wait, it turns out that he has forgotten his wallet at home...

If your character is a more or less real, the normal is somehow react to unforeseen events. Your characters are (usually) human, and as such have feelings. They get angry, get overwhelmed, laugh, cry ... Are their reactions that we are going to show what he's made of your character, and that, in turn, will allow us to go take shape history.

For example, if the character you want tea, not the same feel annoyed at having to leave her apartment to buy tea voices that requires a tea bag to each of its neighbors. Reactions are different and, therefore, will take a different path history.

Ideally, your character is as close as possible to a real person. And real people are not perfect, so that we can forget those characters like Mary Poppins, practically perfect in everything. We are not always friendly, we are not always in a good mood or we feel like work.

And the same goes for the characters perfect in his wickedness. That villain having fun twisting necks of chickens as entertainment in his spare time, he hates absolutely everyone and whose highest aspiration is to finish the good of the story just because are not very credible, is that they are also very boring.

The theory is clear, I think.

We all want to write unforgettable characters, those who would follow until the end of the world. Characters who steal your heart or you hate so hard to be taken to keep reading just to see how they get what they deserve. It is not easy, of course, but why we are here.

For me, what helps me is to know a lot of my character. I use to learn many things from them, but then not even use them directly in the story, but it helps to situate, to imagine, to know how they will react, which makes the writing process much faster and enjoyable.

Many times it is something that I made in an unconscious way. I can just imagine them standing before me, his facial expressions, clothing and sometimes even their smell. In my case, I'm much better build characters who develop a coherent plot for them. It's a curse, I know.

Depending on your history will have one or more players, one or two opponents and a variable amount of people just walking by. Perfect. You are the director of your work, so that you're the boss. Typically, your protagonists and antagonists are those who take all your attention, but do not neglect your secondary.
I am always in love with side characters, I know of what I speak.

Of course you do not need you to know the whole life of that lady that intersects with your main character only once in the metro stop, but try that your side characters has something that makes them unique, something that makes them be anything more than a silhouetted against the wall.

The best way to know your characters is, of course, asking. On this page you can see an example of fifty questions that let you know much better  your creatures. I may seem a bit excessive (to me it seems), yet I cannot wait to do the test with my players for this year's NaNo.

If you think is TOO MUCH you can do a shorter version. Shout to your characters basics: name, date of birth, current job, family, etc ... Also I can be very helpful to make a short summary of a typical day in your life: what time is usually up, do breakfast, what to do next ... You can be all you want and retailers, obviously, the more detail you put, better known to your friends...

A key question that we cannot do is forgotten What you want? Since marrying a millionaire to find his lost dog, it's up to you, but it is vital that you know this as it will be what you advance the plot. And I tell you, I'm a mess for these things, but this year I'm being good.

In any case, try to visualize your characters. If it's any help, you can even help you with photos of real people, famous actors, your cousin, your neighbor who lives in the fifth floor ... If you can see it, feel it, probably will be more fluid your writing and your characters come to life for your readers.

Sometimes, they would be so much lively, which often begin to do things on your own in a way that you can’t imagine...

Homework for next week I think is fairly obvious. You will have to start to get intimate with your characters, begin to know them well. You'll spend much time with them, so you better do it now ... Of course, you can do everything detailed as you like, but try to at least baseline data:

- Name
- Age
- Three physical characteristics
- Three mental characteristics

And above all

- What do you want? What is your motivation?

Of course, when you started to write your story you may have to change one or more characteristics, or even motivation, but remember that all this previous work aims to make writing your novel a lot easier than you thought at first.

Go ahead, little kids!

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

A reader's comment, regarding the political situation in Belarus. Lecture at 17.30 today at ul.Slavianska 6.

Anonymous 14 October 2013 22:18
Michail Vashkevich: , .
16 октомври/сряда/,17-30 часа в зала``Славянско дружество``, ул. Славянска-6, состои се лекция посланика Беларуси Владимира Александровича Воронковича. К сожалению аз на работе. Моля теб, задай посланику два запитване;1/Защо много граждане Беларуси бягат от своя Родина в чужбина? 2/Може ли мой приятел,емигрант от Беларус в България,Михаил Йосифович Вашкевич да се върне в Родината си,да не лежи в ГУЛАГ?— Michail Vashkevich, 14 Октомври 2013 г.
 The comment.
We have got a reader's comment, posted under three of our different authors' most recent blog texts. The comment is unrelated to the topics we were writing about; instead, it is concerned about the current political situation in Belarus. As it is written in Bulgarian we have decided to translate it so that everyone can understand.

Basically, the reader wants to inform that there is a lecture by the Belarussian ambassador Vladimira Aleksandrovicha Voronkovicha taking place at the premises of "Slavyanska Beseda" (ul. Slavianska 6) at 5.30 pm today (16 October).

As well as that s/he wants those who will be attending to ask the ambassador two questions: (1) Why so many Bealrussians flee from their homeland abroad; (2) Can Michail Iosifovich Vashkevich, an emigrant from Belarus in Bulgaria, return to his homeland without being imprisoned in a gulag*.

Here you are, our dear reader, and I hope this will help.

* Gulag is a type of enforced labour camp used by the Soviet Union to 'correct' its (mainly political) prisoners. Gulags still exist in the modern day Belarus as the country's political regime remains notoriously authoritarian and hostile to any political opposition. 

For more information about gulags:

An article at The Independend newspaper about life in a gulag experienced by a Belarussian political prisoner:

A New York Times editorial about Lukashenko's gulags:

Thursday, 10 October 2013

Do you want to write a novel? Session 2

Or not...

After Week 1, we have to face the Week 2.

If you worked for this past week and you must have an idea about what you are going to write in your novel. Have you thought about what you like and what you dislike, what you want to read and what really have wanted to start writing.


Unless you are a genius and then I don’t know you are doing here, it is normal that right now you may have only a slight idea about what you want to write. That is, something like I want to write the story of a young woman who discovers a schoolmate who did much damage and intends to apologize to everyone he misbehaved.

I want to write the story of a pirate who takes as a slave to a naturalist and from that moment her life changes and just wants to look for animals.

That kind of thing. Okay, is normal.

You have great ideas, or small ideas, very original or not original at all, but you're dying to write about it. But, generally, at this stage of preparation of the novel all we have is that, a general idea, vague and imprecise, that does not tell us much more about how our story will develop.

It is time, then, to prepare our novel itself. Here we have several options, because like everything in life there are tastes for everyone...

Plotter VS Pantser

Thus, most writers fall into two distinct camps, and almost opposites. I mean Plotters against Pantsers. Some cannot imagine how to work of others, and the others put their hands to their heads thinking how is it possible that someone can work that way, but you know that each person is different...

Plotters are those who plan every detail of the novel they are contemplating to write. Chapters, numbers of words, important events, plot and subplots ... everything you can imagine they have already planned and targeted.

By contrast, the Pantsers are those who sit to write a novel like an adventure. Usually only know the basics, and from there they sit every day and begin a new adventure.

The plotters say that if you do not know what will happen in your story would be unable to write anything, the pantser claim that they know what is going to happen with all the mystery story would have evaporated and therefore would be unable to write anything.

What is the correct position? Well, neither, or both. But above all, it is a very personal decision and, like everything else, depends much on the character of the author.

In my case, I adopt an intermediate position. I like to plan some, a little , enough to know roughly what will happen , but when more ideas I have is when I'm actually writing . It is in those moments when you're in the middle of the story when the characters themselves are asking you to write this or that. And we all know that you, as an author, you are a mere slave of your characters...

I have to say, in my personal experience, and with NaNo framework in mind, the best times I've done have been the times I've planned something, even a little. I have never come to plan everything everything

everything , so I do not know if I would of much or all the contrary , but sometime I have to try , I suppose ...

When we talk about Plotter or Pantser, if you are a Plotter does not mean that you have everything planned to the millimeter and refuse to include any changes. On the contrary, those ideas that just happen as they write more easily incorporated to already have a specific place where to fit it.

For me, for example, is extremely useful me talk about my plot with some friends. There are authors who refuse to speak anything of what they are writing because it says that then lose interest. For me it is quite the opposite. Talking with my friends (especially those who also write) about what I have planned to write not only makes me even more excited with my story, too, in many cases, it gives me ideas that will be very useful later.

In this case, such that for many of you is the first time that you dare to write a novel, I think it is better to work some basics. If you are Pantser to death as well, not going to hurt you...

I think it is essential that before you start writing your novel have clear some obvious points:

1. What is the story (plot). It's okay to want to be as surprised to see how it evolves your novel, you should not rule out the element of surprise, but I think that this time it would be nice if you prepare a timeline, albeit short, with the most important points of your story. Then return to this, do not worry.

2. Who is in your story (characters)? Just below discover you urgently need a character at that point in the story or, quite honestly, the mother of your neighbor's protagonist is not particularly important, but I think to start you should know at least the basics about your protagonists. We will not talk about the characters now, the next day we will devote the entire session.

3. Where goes your history (World Building). Is not the same build a story around a piano student in contemporary Bulgaria do about a Roman slave days before the death of Caesar. This becomes more important if you are going to write your novel placing it in an alternate universe, for historical fiction and fantasy worlds. If your story is to be placed in a special environment (space, fantasy world) or even in a city you do not know, you should make some guidelines so that everything matches in the best way possible.

Building a map of your story

If you want to write to nail it, sit down every morning with something in mind to write about instead of going mad to see if you get something nearly-good, I think it's a good idea to have a map to keep going.

This map can be as detailed as you want, but in the most basic case, I advise you jot down at least three key moments: the beginning, middle, and end.

The end of what I mean, because I never (NEVER) know how they will end my stories and they are there, unfinished and waiting to have mercy on them. So we're going to take seriously (me too), and we will work on this.

This mind map can be as long and detailed or as short as you like. You can write, one by one, the chapters of your novel, with great detail (points of view, most important actions, dialogue, etc. . .), Or you can target a single sentence mentally remind you what you have to deal in that chapter. The latter is what I usually do, but as always, it depends on the person.

Again, I repeat to create this mind map that not means that you should if you only have to write this and refuse a new idea or a new character. On the contrary, you can always include it and see where takes you. But I have this map says is a tremendous help when you have to write a certain number of words a day , as with the NaNoWriMo , and you sit in front of your computer without you can think of anything.
At that point you're going to say thank you for being announced even a phrase like the girl is angry with the protagonist he has looked to another in the nightclub.

Narrative Structure

Again, even if you are pure of heart Pantsers , I advise you at the time you begin your novel you may have more or less clear narrative structure something that will keep your history.

There are many types of novels, very different from each other , and the structure is not always the same . This will depend a lot on your way of writing and your personality and voice as an author, but , generally , all stories have some key points that are precisely what makes the story forward .

The classical model , we learn that even at school, is that not talking about a story in three acts : Beginning, middle and end.

Beginning : We know our players , we place ourselves in his world, and we know the first turning point , when our characters start having problems (of any type ) , and is when the action begins. This should not be more than 25 % of the story , but there are exceptions , of course.

Middle: Here we are in the heart of the matter. This section should occupy 50% of the story, approximately. The turning point we saw at the beginning if it does become increasingly difficult, so that our hero has to overcome different difficulties, until the final issue, we see in the

End: Our protagonist must face the biggest problem of all (from getting money to buy that ice cream that both want to end his greatest enemy in an epic battle), everything is solved (for better or worse), and we ended our history. Here you will spend the last 25% of the story.

These turning points, these problems, make the most important milestones in our novel and are what gives us the basis to start working. For example, a turning point that our protagonist would become unemployed and have to return to live at home with their parents. His life has changed from the beginning of the novel, but with the following points of inflection thing complicating going until the end, for better or for worse.

Easy, right?

No, at least for me, so that I too I have to work very hard with this.

As a homework assignment for the next session, I suggest that you try to map your story. If you are Pantsers to death, try to at least imagine the major turning points in your history. If it helps you to visualize, you can think about turning points in series / books / movies.

In Frankenstein, for example, there is a clear turning point when the doctor abandons his creation.

In Jane Eyre, Jane's life changes when her aunt sent to the orphanage, and then switch back when it starts working for Mr. Rochester.

Is that clear? Well you know what you should do now...

Thursday, 3 October 2013

"Mid term Training" 13-17 Setembro em Park Hotel Plovdiv

 No passado mês de Setembro entre 13 a 17 decorreu no Park Hotel Plovdiv o chamado “Mid Term Training” em que marcaram presença voluntários europeus EVS a prestar o seu serviço na Bulgária, mais de 30 pessoas contando com voluntários de chegada”on-arrivals”. Este encontro/treino é precedido por outro que já foi descrito pela nossa estimada colega Agne ”on arrival Albena” no dia 4 Agosto.

 É com satisfação que vos falo como participante num projecto EVS na Bulgária e apraz-me dizer-vos que este encontro dá seguimento a 3 meses de contacto com uma nova cultura que é explorada em conjunto com pessoas de outros países com os quais se criou um espírito de camaradagem num ambiente de tal forma agradável que apenas se poderá explicar experienciando.

 Um encontro após metade da duração dos respectivos projectos decorridos é não só uma excelente oportunidade para rever caras conhecidas e amigos mas também para fazer um ponto de situação, perspectivar cenários futuros, melhorar actividades presentes assim como tentar perceber como individualmente nos poderemos tornar mais úteis num colectivo. Que me desculpem por não ser explícito nas actividades desenvolvidas neste meeting mas realmente é algo que deve ser vivido e não relatado sob pena de perder a sua significância.

 Recomendo vivamente aos leitores deste blog com idades compreendidas entre 18 e 30 anos a participação num EVS(european voluntary service). Se me permitem gostaria de acrescentar que ao participarem em tal projecto é extremamente importante que gostem do contacto com pessoas e que ousem descobrir mais de vocês nos outros pelo que ao fim e ao cabo tudo é aprendizagem, ou como diria o poeta “Tudo é caminho e verdade”.

 Este encontro em Plovdiv, uma cidade com particulares encantos, tais como o anfiteatro romano é deveras interessante pelo que as imagens abaixo dispensam quaisquer tipo de apresentações. 

 Dirijo especial agradecimento a todos aqueles que partilharam e partilham esta experiência comigo seja de forma presencial ou outra. Aconselho-vos a colocarem Bulgária no vosso mapa pois há realmente muito a explorar neste país.

Rotina diária 

Concerto em anfiteatro romano 

Em cima: da esquerda para direita, Nasko, Agne, Sarah, Janis, George, Laura, Stanislav, Carmen, Fran e Ani
Em baixo: Sarah, Agnese, Chema, Ricardo, Inga e Ana

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Do you want to write a novel? Session 1

At last, I have the correct letters...

Yesterday we started the workshop Do you want to write a novel? at the American Corner, in the Sofia City Library. We are going to have sessions every week, on tuesdays, at 16:00 h. so feel free to join us!  By the way, if you miss any session, don't worry, because I'm going to post about it every Wednesday...

So, here we go!

Week 1. Motivations and ideas.

If you are here because you like to write or have ever thought of writing a novel. Ok, this is the time. This fall, all of us here are going to write a novel. All of you and me too, of course. In these meetings we will discuss different aspects of writing a novel, the motivation to write, build a plot, create characters, and all other aspects

These talks will serve as training to prepare for NaNoWriMo. What is NaNoWriMo? It's National Novel Writing Month, and celebrated in November. This means that during the month of November we are going to write a novel of 50k words. Fifty thousand words in a month, almost 2k words a day. You may think I'm crazy, but it really is very, very funny.

Except when your characters begin to do what they want. At that point you suffer a little, but anyway.

You can enter by signing up on this page, is free, and there you can comment on forums, have your works listed, see your progression, etc…

NaNoWriMo started as a joke between friends, but you see that little by little it has become an international event, and now people worldwide participate. This is the first time something is organized in Bulgaria and the Sofia City Library has become the first library in Bulgaria to participate in the program  Come and Write In.

By the way, during the month of November we only will write the first draft of our novel. Then we have all the time in the world to rewrite and edit and correct, but we made the first step, the most important. At this point, it's quantity over quality.

Why would you write a novel? Why you want to write, in general? Do you feel that impulse that makes you think Oh my god, I have to tell this? Have you fallen in love for character? Do you have a general idea, or a particular scene and you think you can develop it?

For me, for example, it starts with a character that I fall in love, and since then I cannot stop until  build a world, a whole life around. This is different for each person, of course, but in my case I often build the plots around a character.

Why you want to write? What is it that made ​​you come here today?

We talked about the reasons we have to start writing, so now we have to talk about an important point. What to write? I do not know if you already have something in mind or going on an adventure, but at this time we will work on it.

Every writer is different. Some writers think it's best to write about what you know. On the contrary, many others think is best out of that comfort zone and venture to discover things we never thought. About this there is no single valid opinion so for this reason we can findso many different stories and so many types of novel.

For me, one of the most important tips on this issue gives us Ray Bradbury. I love Ray Bradbury, so you can expect it mentions more than once. Ray Bradbury tells us to write about what we love. Write about what you love, whatever it is.

Bradbury loved the planet Mars, dinosaurs and circuses. So he wrote about that. When you read his stories you can feel his passion, his love for those things.

Write about what you love. No matter if what you like is cooking, or if you prefer ghost stories. If you like vampires or if you prefer stories based on real events. Never mind. You'll spend a lot of time writing about it, so choose something you're passionate about, what makes you get up every morning wanting to write. That story that you cannot stop thinking, that character you are madly in love.

Another tip when choosing a topic to write about is this Write the story you want to read. I think it is very logical, and in a way has a lot to do with what we talked of love. You need to want to know what will happen next, and only you can do.

Imagine your book as a movie.

Think for a moment: you can do whatever you like, no limits. You have absolutely everything at your fingertips. You can put your characters in a castle under the sea, or in a London neighborhood. On an unknown planet or in this same library. You can have as many characters as you want. You can have your favorite actor as a protagonist, if you like. You can dress them in the clothes you've always wanted to take, or not dressing at all. Make traveling to that country you've always wanted to visit, or even make time travel.
There are no limits.

You own an universe, so imagine the possibilities.

Let's do a little exercise. Think for a moment in a movie, a series or a book that you really like. Already? Perfect. Now think of a scene or a situation that you would have liked to change.A small change, or a bigger one. As you want. Write down. When you get home, write about it. They can be a couple of paragraphs or thirty pages, which you want.

What I want from this exercise is that you feel the power you have when you write. Feel that power, do the characters behave as you want.

Where do you find inspiration? Well, every person is different, and what I find inspiring to me may not work with you. It can be a song, a work of art, or why not, a character in a movie. It may be that you come across someone that catches your attention, and begin to imagine his life. You may find what you are looking watching the news while having breakfast, or on the cover of a book while giving a tour of the library.

Almost all writers recommend carrying a small notebook in which to jot down little things that caught our attention, so rare that dream we had those ideas that suddenly assail you. Be not deceived, many of these ideas never you will use, but it is comforting to know they are there, if you need a moment of inspiration you can always read your pages. I also use Pinterest, which is an image file and can create different boards by theme. It is free and is very easy to have a collection of images that you like, you remember what you like and that at one point you can serve as inspiration.

Ray Bradbury (yes, again) for example, recommended to make two different lists with the things you liked and things you dislike. I have to admit that I have never used this, but it seems as good a way as any to learn more about our true interests.

Maybe some of you and you may have some idea of ​​what you will write. Great. Maybe some, as happens to me, you may have several ideas lurking in your head and you may have to choose only one to start working. In any case, you have homework for this week: find (or decide) what are you going to write your novel in November.

Well then, to work!

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Dora's organic garden - a few principles

An autumn sunflower field I found while hitch-hiking in Northern Bulgaria. Associative photo.

Following the recently discussed topic of sustainable agricultural practices, we might as well talk about organic gardening. Permaculture itself is not necessarily organic but the two go well together.

Our fellow EVS Dora from Vlahi (mentioned in the previous post) cultivates an organic garden as part of her project and has shared with us a few tricks of how to be most efficient and to naturally avoid pesticides, herbicides and other similar evils. To me, some of them have been a nice discovery and, I thought, why not to forward them on to you too, our dear dedicated reader   

(1) The Three Sisters of pre-Colombian American agriculture, starring corn, pumpkin and beans. According to Native American wisdom, the three plants help each other to grow and to feed. They have a symbiotic relationship. For example, the bean plant grows wrapping itself around corn, and the two exchange bacteria that keeps pests away. 

(2) Planting companion plants, such as onion & carrot; tomato & basil; aubergine & beans, together. They keep harmful insects away from each other, and therefore, the gardener does not need to use pesticides.

(3) Taking advantage of friendly garden animals. Apart from singing nicely, birds eat many harmful insects and produce manure which is a natural fertiliser. To attract certain birds to your garden you may need to plant certain bushes, e.g. raspberry or goji berry for sparrows & tits. Grasshoppers eat insects, and so do bats - the latter during the night, so your garden may be protected 24/7.

Wasps also eat insects - build a place for them to live in your garden. Ladybirds feed on plant lice - they like to settle on nettle and yellow flower, so make sure you have some of the said plants present to attract ladybirds to your garden.    

Yellow multipeds feast on slug eggs. Ducks eat insects and slugs, and produce manure - make a pond for them in your garden (in the pond, grow some gambusia fish - they will eat the mosquito larvae). Chickens do similar deeds to those done by ducks.

Hedgehogs, besides generally being sweet and charming animals, will cut down the numbers of slugs, caterpillars, multipeds and chockhafers. Snakes will eat mice; lizards will eat insects; and toads love to snack on Colorado beatle (toads, like ducks, will need access to a pond in your garden). Frogs will feast on insects and slugs.     

(4) You might want to plant your herbs in reinforced spirals. The said constructions help the gardener to use water efficiently. Higher in the spiral should be plants that need less water; those needing more should sit a little below. On the south side put plants that like sunlight; on the north side put those that thrive well in the shadow. Spiral works well for growing herbs, medicinal ones and kitchen ones alike.

(5) Finally, put up a tank for collecting rain water, and instal solar panels to have hot water available.         

A vine above the street, Veliko Tarnovo. Another associative photo.

Monday, 30 September 2013

Permaculture: respecting your place within the ecosystem

Worm bin, permaculture. (c) Wikimedia Commons.

Life is not just about reading and writing great books. One has to eat too.

As creatures of Mother Nature we may call ourselves animals and be reminded that, initially, we were supposed to - at least before the Industrial Revolution of the 19th century messed everything up* - live as an integral part of an ecosystem and, along with other species, participate in the nature's food chain.
Similar thoughts re-entered my head several days ago at a Sofian community centre 'Adelante' where our fellow EVS volunteers Marko and Dora from other Bulgarian organisations were giving a lecture about permaculture.

Talking about permaculture: (right to left) Marko from Serbia, Dora from Hungary, and the translator. Judging by the amount of people who turned up at the event at the community centre 'Adelante' that day (all the seats were filled, some people had to stay standing), the topic was up-to-date and relevant. 

Permaculture (= permanent agriculture), the movement started in the 1970s by the Australian naturalist Bill Mollison, seems to be promoting an updated version of the lifestyle that our farmer ancestors had practised for thousands of years: staying in harmony with the nature.

Although at times it sounds rather hippie-like and New Agey because of all the love and harmony it promotes, the ideology of permaculture is, actually, quite a rational way to be - if your aim is not to leave any ecological footprint and to be self-sustainable.

You are supposed to look after the earth and the people, and not to take more than you need. You have to arrange your farm's plants and animals in a way that mimics the surroundings and relationships they would be having in the wilderness. The arrangement has to fit nicely into your farm's natural landscape: hills, forests and water sources.

You zone and layer all the living components of your farm around your house according to certain rules that are designed to give the most benefit to you, to the plants and the animals, and to the environment. You create around yourself a balanced ecosystem of which you become a part.

If you like to live close to nature, permaculture seems quite a creative and philosophical way to be. With all the myriad rules and principles to take into account, it is not the easiest craft to learn, and a good way to learn is through practical experience.

Both volunteers have worked at permaculture communities. Marko has been at a few workcamps and farms around Europe, and Dora is currently helping at a small village of Vlahi located in the Bulgarian Rhodopi mountains. 

* Although I am not necessarily saying that we all should go back to the gloomy pre-industrial times.

Friday, 27 September 2013

Do you want to write a novel? Join us!

Is our time, baby...

Have you ever thought about write a novel? Do you have a lot of ideas, but never find the moment? Do you want to write but don't know what?

 Maybe today is the day, my dear. 

 We are preparing a workshop about all the things you ever want to know about how to write a novel. How to find the motivation, how to develop the characters, how to create a world only by yourself. Is a challenge, of course, but it deserves so much fun. 

 Our goal would be to take part in NaNoWriMo and write a complete (or something like that) in November. 50000 words in one month… An entire novel from your heart to the paper in only one month… Are you prepared?

 The workshop starts the Tuesday 1 of October, at 16:00 h. at the American Corner, in the Sofia City Library. Every Tuesday we will meet at the same hour, to talk about our novels, about our fears, about our writing. We’ll share our motivations, our tips and tricks, our ideas. Maybe it wouldn’t easy, but it would be funny.

 So, if you want to write a novel, this a great opportunity!

 Would you miss?

Sunday, 8 September 2013

Blaga Dimitrova's 'Scars': the elegant visions

Scars. Poems by Blaga Dimitrova. Ivy Press Princeton, 2002.

Yet another Bulgarian poetry anthology by Ivy Press Princeton is Blaga Dimitrova's 'Scars'. To me personally Dimitrova's poetry book was more appealing than the previously reviewed selection of Konstantin Pavlov. 

Like Pavlov, during the soviet era Dimitrova was known as a dissident poet (and a socially active person: in 1992 she became the first democratically elected Vice President of Bulgaria). Her poetic style, however, is quite different from Pavlov's.

Lighter in style (although no less serious), more precise, more elegant, very articulate. Dimitrova does not talk abstract; instead she reflects on things around her, including her own body parts (hair, tongue, throat), and uses them to make philosophical statements about life, love, and the universe. Although Dimitrova is very aware of her immediate environment she is not mundane because she puts things into perspective. She notices details but does not get overwhelmed by them.

In this book, Dimitrova never gets drowned in emotion, even though some of the experiences she is talking about are among the strongest (loss; dementia of a loved one; near death experiences). The poet remains quite rational; all her emotions get distilled and rearranged into logical compositions before they land on paper as poems.

Perhaps it is also a better quality translation than the previously reviewed Pavlov's book (the translator of the both is the same: Ludmilla G. Popova-Wightman). The translator was a friend of the poet, and, possibly, because of this reason was able to understand the author's inner workings better.

'Scars' consist of five sections: Ars Poetica (poems about writing poetry); Lullaby for My Mother (mainly about the poet's mother ill with Alzheimer's; although the father is occassionally mentioned too); Love (self-explanatory); Delirium in Green (the author's near death experiences at the hospital); and Sentence (heavyish reflections on the life that has already passed).

'Scars': the poet does not like to bleed in public. She heals her wounds in privacy and all that is presented to us are her remaining scars. Here scars = poems.


I create you out of sadness 
out of loneliness 
nothingness -
to come to me.
And unnaturally,
you arrive,
as you think,
of your own free will,
not doubting it
for a moment. 

[Conjured, pg. 147]

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

'Literatura finlandesa' de Kai Laitinen

Los libros siempre saben mejor con un poco de té

La verdad es que me sorprendió mucho encontrarme este libro en la Sala Escandinava de la Biblioteca de Sofía. No por la temática, claro. Un título como Literatura finlandesa de Kai Laitinen es justo lo que una espera encontrar en una sala dedicada a la literatura y el idioma de los países del norte de Europa. Hasta ahí correcto. Lo que no me imaginaba es que me iba a encontrar un libro en español, y como ya sabéis que me puede la curiosidad, pues me lo traje a casa.

No sé vosotros, pero yo sé más bien poco de literatura finlandesa. De hecho, aunque Arto Paasilinna es uno de mis autores favoritos, creo que es el único de esta nacionalidad que he leído en mi vida. Tengo en casa, pendiente de lectura, Purga de Sofi Oksanen, autora finlandesa ganadora de numerosos premios europeos, pero hasta ahí llega mi conocimiento que, como podéis comprobar, es bastante limitado.

Animada por las pequeñas dimensiones del libro (formato pequeño y apenas 160 páginas) lo adopté durante un tiempo para echarle un vistazo y aprender algo nuevo, que nunca está de más. Suponía (y no me equivocaba) que el libro me iba a dar una visión bastante somera de la historia literaria de un país que, reconozcamoslo, es casi  desconocido en España.

Desde las primeras canciones populares hasta los autores contemporáneos, de la ilustración a la desgarradora novela de posguerra, del sueco y el latín como lenguas predominantes en la literatura finlandesa hasta el finés como un idioma literario. Y, en medio de todo,  El Kalevala, la gran epopeya finlandesa, la gesta inolvidable de un pueblo,  una compilación de repertorios populares realizada por Elias Lönnrot en el siglo XIX y que se ha convertido en el símbolo de un país, de una cultura y una tradición.

Sin embargo, en más de una ocasión, el libro se convierte en una mera lista de autores, aportando muy poco a la historia de la literatura propiamente dicha. Sí, es demasiado corto, ya me imaginaba que no iba a profundizar demasiado, pero en algunos casos me he quedado con ganas de saber más de la evolución real de su literatura que un nombre tras otro de autores...

Su autor, Kai Laitinen, es catedrático emérito de Literatura Finlandesa en la Universidad de Helsinki, por lo que me imagino que algo sabe del tema. Además, se trata de una figura muy influyente en las letras finlandesas desde los años cincuenta. Ha trabajado como crítico y director en diversas revistas literarias, además de ser jurado en varios premios literarios por toda Europa.

Como primera toma de contacto con la historia de la literatura finlandesa es correcto, aunque ya os digo que en ocasiones se parece más a una lista de la compra de autores que a un ensayo de historia literaria. Es sí, su función la cumple a la perfección, porque lo cierto es que ahora me han entrado ganas de conocer más sobre la peculiar historia de este país, leer más a Arto Paasilinna, empezar 'Purga' de Oksanen de una vez, y sí, conocer a autores de los que nunca había oído hablar y que tienen nombres imposibles de pronunciar. Si a vosotros también os ha entrado curiosidad, lo tenéis disponible en la Sala escandinava de la Biblioteca de Sofía en la plaza Slaveikov. Allí estará, esperándote...

Jos mum tuttuni tulisi
Ennen nähtyni näkyisi.
Sillen suuta suikkajaisin
Olis suu suden veressä.
Sillen kättä käppäjäisin
Jospa kärmä kämmen päässä!.
(Si mi amigo viniera/ si mi amado se dejara ver. /
Le besaría en la boca/ aunque estuviera manchada
por la sangre de un lobo./ Le estrecharía la mano/
aunque contuviera una serpiente.)
 Canción popular finlandesa

ISBN: 951-1-17301-4
Traducción: Úrsula Ojanen y Joaquín Fernández
160 páginas

Sunday, 1 September 2013

'Sofia Breathes' a handmade market in the streets

Sofia Breathes at Pirotska Street

Ah, the summertime. Most of the people expend all the year dreaming about August. Not me, because I’m a bit allergic to summer and a little freak, too. People think about the summer, about travels, about the beach, about long hours al fresco. And then, the naked truth. You have to work in these months, you can’t go abroad, you have to stay at home.

 Ok, it’s not so bad. Don’t kill me, please.

 It’s not so bad, I insist, especially if you see initiatives like Sofia Breathes. This festival took one street every Sunday of August and transformed it in a place of joy and celebration. Music, drinks, exhibitions, workshops, and a really beautiful handmade market. Perfect for expend a few hours in a very special environment.

I never told you? I love cups and mugs!

 This is the 4th year we can enjoy Sofia Breathes, and I’m pretty sure that every year is gaining more and more reputation. Of course, for me was my first time, but when I talked with the people there they told me the same. A place for art, for culture, for think about the environment and the sustainability in a very relaxed way, having fun with friends and, yes, buying things.

 I have told you once, but I’m really fascinated about handmade markets. I’m so bad with hands that really amused me how can they do such a beautiful things. Porcelain cups, earrings, notebooks, toys, soaps… You could find nearly everything there, made with love and patience. And, for a cheap price, you could take one of these treasures and use it at home. Isn’t great?

Steampunk jewels and notebooks! Lovely!

 This year, Sofia Breathes took place in the streets Ivan Shishman, Angel Kanchev, Pirotska and, finally, in boulevard Vitosha, and I can assure you that it was a success. Fun for all ages, in a lazy summer Sunday, who can imagine a better way to expend the evening in Sofia?

 I went two of the days (to Angel Kanchev and Pirotska) and I enjoyed a lot. I drank lemonade, bought a few things, talked with the people and took part of a workshop. I’m very proud to announce that, now, I can make paper flowers. Not perfect, but I’ll try to improve…

 Until the next year, Sofia Breathes!

Monday, 26 August 2013

The soviet martyr: Konstantin Pavlov

Let me tell you about yet another Bulgarian writer, Konstantin Pavlov.

Capriccio for Goya. Selected Poems 1955-95, the bilingual edition. Translated to English by Ludmilla G.Popova-Wightman.

Chances are, you already know him as Pavlov is said to be among the Bulgarian classics of the 20th century. To me, however, Capriccio for Goya. Selected Poems 1955-95 was the first Pavlov's book I have read.

There is an important thing to remember while reading these poems: Pavlov happened to live most of his productive years under the communist regime. Being an artist of any kind during the communism meant facing state censorship. All the artwork had to be politically correct; socialist realism style was the only allowed.

The imposition of socialist realism meant all the artwork had to be simple, happy, of an uplifting mood, expressing proletarian values and glorifying the socialism. One was not supposed to show any doubts about the meaning of life or about the virtues of the socialist system. Those who did were censored and silenced.   

As a result, two phenomena emerged in soviet literature: Aesopic language and samizdat. The first one meant using ambiguous, allegorical phrasing so that the piece passes the censorship but the readers are still able to decipher its hidden antisocialist messages. The second one stood for underground publishing, sharing and multiplying the banned texts. The samizdat texts were exchanged in private, read at homes when no-one was watching, discreetly discussed in trustworthy friends' kitchens, and often rewritten - by hand or a typewriter - so that more people can get 'enlightened'.  

Konstantin Pavlov was one of those socialist poets who did not want to write texts glorifying the system. Although he did manage to get his first two poetry books published, starting with the third one he fell into disgrace with the socialist critics and was condemned to long years of samizdat and Aesopic language. He was no longer officially recognised as a poet; his texts were regularly refused by literary magazines and publishing houses. Despite his popularity in the underground and abroad, Pavlov had not been acknowledged as one of the Bulgarian classics up until very recently. Some fans claim, the severe stroke Pavlov had experienced in the early 2000s was a consequence of the years of rejection.     

I will have to be honest: Pavlov's Capriccio for Goya is not one of my favourite poetry books. Too much suffocation and helplessness can be felt here; too much of a small town mentality. I have missed sharper irony, wilder thoughts, higher flights. It is way too easy to state:

I wake up
And what horror -
I find that I'm alive ('Endless Poem', Second Fragment, page 123)

I would prefer a curvier virage before one declares his/her desire to die - but, remember, we need to put things into perspective: Pavlov lived under the socialist system. One cannot, for example, expect truly untamed virages from a socio-economically dependent teenager (however poetic) who lives with possessive parents.

Likewise, in another poem, 'The Insight of a Sparrow' (pg.169), Pavlov simply declares 'us' the small socialist sparrows who breed the eggs of the cuckoo of Stalinism. In 'Shoe, Loyal Like a Dog' (pg. 231-33) a morning turns out duller than last evening when the poet, in his real life or allegorically, lost one of his shoes. 

The whole book feels like poetry in which the author never really takes off to another dimension, never really leaves his claustrophobic, realistic environment. Although he keeps disapproving of the system he is in, he never actually gets out of it.

Poems are not the easiest literary genre to translate. Perhaps because of this reason the said Capriccio for Goya edition is bilingual: on the right side pages you have the English translations; on the left side the same (original) poems in Bulgarian.

'Capriccio for Goya. Selected poems 1955-95' contains only a fragment of all Pavlov's work. Selecting certain poems over others is a subjective process and this book surely does not represent all Pavlov's talents.      

I would recommend this book as a historical document - one that illustrates a mindset of a person living under the socialism - rather than a source of good poetry but you are welcome to disagree. 

Konstantin Pavlov, 1933-2008.

The review is a subjective opinion.