I meet up with kaval teacher and musician Nikolay Doktorov. "On Tuesdays, I teach the blind to play music. Before dying, my father went blind so I have a soft spot for them," explains maestro Doktorov as we drive to a nearby village. Featured in the photo above are the children we are there to see. Their parents don't have much money to spend on instruments or lessons, so once a week, on Fridays, they gather to learn from the maestro who volunteers his time. A third day of the week he teaches mentally-ill children. Three times a week, this humble man makes a great effort to help his community despite a full time job. He truly believes in the power of music to unite. Witnessing his tender, patience laden approach to teaching I can't help but imagine what the world would feel like with more people like him. Thank you, maestro! You are truly an inspiration!
I meet Nikolai Gospodinov during my stay in Varna. Over a few days we get to know each other. Imagine the surprise when one finds out the humble guard greeting you every morning is a published author. I read one of his books in one breath - his language and the nuances with which he gifts his characters move me deeply. He is currently writing a three part book series which I'm thrilled to read. It was always a dream of mine to use poetry in my films and thanks to Nikolai, my dream has now come true - his voice truly enriches the story and imagery. It will be such an honor to show him the film next year!
My friend and kaval player in Seattle Vasil Denev connects me to a childhood friend of his who works at the Bulgarian National Radio in Plovdiv. In the interview we talk about my documentary film Kaval Park which has been almost two years in the making. I am inspired by Darina Ivanova who works at the radio despite average wages because she loves and believes in her work. Yes, she has thought about emigrating - who hasn’t, yet Darina has chosen to do her part in celebrating and advancing culture here in Bulgaria. We plan two more interviews as the film nears completion. Thank you BNR!
What a joy it was to film these young men and women who are the next generation Banski Starcheta performers. Their singing moved me deeply as did the commitment of their teacher Atanas Yanchovichin who doesn’t charge them anything and has been meeting with them weekly since they were all just children. Thank you Mary Sherhart for the introduction!
I will never forget the wind up on the peak. The monument remains a piece of art and extraordinary vision regardless of what ideology one believes. (Inside the building, mosaics that cover approximately 510 square meters of space commemorate the history of the Bulgarian Communist Party. The mosaics were built with 35 tons of cobalt glass. Today 20% of them have been destroyed due to age and vandalism. On the outer ring of the monument, mosaics were built with natural stones gathered from rivers across Bulgaria. These mosaics have also mostly vanished due to natural causes. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buzludzha_monument)
Our friend, Slavka, who a few years ago moved back to Bulgaria, takes her dog for a walk here each morning. Sunrises and views like this one certainly make it easy to reimagine my mornings. The museum of History is a must stop as is the adjacent art gallery which boasts an amazing diversity of paintings. Благодаря, Славче! (http://www.muzei-kazanlak.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=48&Itemid=1&lang=en)
Our country is full of sacred sites such as this one which Thracians and other cultures, who lived here through thousands of years, inhabited and worshiped. Some of these sites will be featured in my documentary. Having a companion, who harmonises with nature so flawlessly, is exactly the context this photo needed.
A watermelon a day keeps the doctor away! One summer in the late 1980s for two months my diet was 80 percent watermelon with feta cheese! In 2018 watermelons here tastes as good as I remember and they have seeds too! (According to the American Heart Association, the fats in seeds are useful in protecting against heart attack and stroke, and lowering levels of “bad” cholesterol in the blood.)
My second day in Bulgaria I'm greeted by bai Stoyan who every evening sits on the same bench, observing and transposing the world onto his own memories. I'm told he used to live in the former Soviet Union. I wish I was the pages his story is written on. I know I could sit by him one of these summer nights and become a page. And maybe I will! Across him is the playground where children of all ages learn independence as some are left unsupervised for more than a handful of fleeting glances. A few parents smoke close by. Everyone smokes in Bulgaria. When I ask two of the children to sit on the bench, they readily agree! They are best friends and always walk around holding hands. In Bulgaria, unlike the US, the old live off their days in their own homes, surrounded by smells, tastes, chatter, china, habits and faces which all amount to a sense of peace. I can't begin to imagine the shock of uprooting the old, to exile it, to await the uncertainty of death in a nursing home surrounded by the unfamiliar.
The next day, I'm again reminded how beautiful it is to continue to make time for and integrate the elderly until their last breath becomes our first. My step-daughter, 11, and a girl, much younger, walked into church with us. We lit several candles for the living and placed them on a tray where more candles burnt, some elevated higher than others. The candles placed higher dripped onto the lower ones extinguishing and exciting the flames. A grandma, in her 80s, reached up her bony hands to move down the candles from the top. She turned to the children with a voice filled with honest sweetness, “Oh, babinoto, people think God will hear them better if they place the candles higher. But God, my dears, is also close to the ground and you can reach him too. No need to go looking for him high above.”
The meadow above the last row of houses is vibrant with a chorus of life - I could spend more than a childhood here. Just listening. I meet a grandma who collects herbs. Later a goat herder passes by. He agrees to be filmed for my documentary and we talk about the superb quality of food here in the mountain. He explains to me that he left the city twenty years ago for a more peaceful life. The village was once vibrant and prospering. Now it is mostly uninhabited.
Just before the 45th US president took power, a letter arrived: your case has been approved and your green card is being issued. A year later the traffic light of my dreams would remain stuck on red now 23 years in a row. Green was avoiding me in more than one area of life. I visited the local immigration office four times in six months. All the clerks knew me by name, smiled politely, but remained powerless. I finally contacted a lawyer who expedited the process for which I will remain deeply indebted. (If you need a respectable and kind human in the face of an immigration lawyer contact me.) My green card arrived in February of 2018. Landing on planet Bogdan, the little piece of hardened paper opened a deep wound which ruthlessly bled my flesh and soul. I would measure every decision in my adult life against the scales of freedom forevermore. A shadow beyond my imagination unleashed a torrent of emotions and "chance" meetings which unfolded like an intergalactic novel. A framed mind could never compose such poetic justice. Social and family reigns could not contain my ruptured spirit, so I made plans to leave the continent of opportunity as soon as the next ship docked. Cast in turmoil, my life created abroad over two decades was about to implode and cover those I loved in ash. Fortunately, the Universe guided my course in a nurturing direction. An inner journey rippled deep bellow the surface of status quo, pushing me to break a vicious cycles of repetitive destructive patterns. I can only wish this revelation upon foe and friend alike. The mirror held up to my bloodshot eyes showed me a life as devastating, humbling and transcendental as we make it to be. As I redoubled my effort to navigate the deep waters of my own psyche, Bulgaria beckoned me with a voice as sweet as love's whisper. July morning I woke up in my homeland in the ancient town of Plovdiv. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plovdiv) My gratitude to all of those kindhearted souls who loved, supported and reserved judgement extends beyond words. I only hope my actions, infused with divine guidance and discipline, illuminate and expose all the frames of this new adventure in a manner worthy of sharing. Stay attuned! Stay curious!
The journey back to the motherland has begun! The Stairway to Heaven excavated through parallel perception awaits!
Започна се! 23 години в емиграция, на път за България за пръв път от 1995!