Posts Tagged Bulgaria

Exploring Abandonment at the Goat Milk Festival in Bulgaria

Woman with Umbrella

In late May, Carl and I went to the Goat Milk Festival in the small, shrinking village of Bela Rechka, Bulgaria. It was my second time there but Carl’s first. I was very glad Carl could come this year – last year the Bela Rechka magic worked in ways I couldn’t really articulate but had me doing positive things afterwards, such as ask him out.

Again, I’m finding it hard to put the Bela Rechka experience into words after the event. All I find I can talk about is its affects – the feeling of your body giving off a relaxed, satisfied and satiated sigh. The time and openness to listen intently, reflect quietly, discuss around the fire passionately and maybe find some inspiration over a few rakiah’s (“Create drunk, compose sober,” as Sandra often said.)

As I can’t find the words to describe it, I’ll try using someone else’s. Murat Yilman Pomak, Turkish drummer, dancer, teacher of both and socialist, called it a ‘sabbatical for activists’, where they can share, learn and get the reassurance that they’re on the right path before going back and being the strong, creative voices in their communities.

Abandonement Map

One thing I can describe and illustrate is the artistic process Lee and Sandra of Friction Arts with Bulgarian artist Antina Zlatkova put us Brummies (namely Carl, Soesen Edan, Simon Walker and I) and Gita Hashemi through to contribute to the festival and its theme of abandonment.

Friction teamed up with Antina, who had been mapping the many abandoned houses in the village and the stories they contained. We went inside one of these houses, silently carrying out our instructions:

Observe how you move

The Blue House

Gingerly. Not just because of the creaking floorboards and beams, but because the house was so personal to its previous inhabitants – old family photographs on the walls, trinkets on the shelves, clothes in the bedroom and food in the kitchen – an amber jar of peaches being the thing that left an impression on us all.

Find something that is still

Snail shell

Whilst wandering I found an old snail’s shell stuck fast to the wall, its inhabitant long gone. It struck me as being an abandoned house within an abandoned house, so I took a picture of it.

Find something that moves

House beams

The things that I noticed moving were the very things I didn’t expect or want to move – the structure of the house, its floorboards and beams. The night after our first visit we decided to go back and take another look. Most of us sat outside whilst Antina, Lee and Simon went inside. We were horrified to hear a loud CRASH, followed by the fizz of falling rubble. The, “We’re okay!” that followed came as a huge relief. As Soesen said, there was something about the house that said, “Don’t push me, I may break.” The house seemed to shout HANDLE WITH CARE.

Find a sound

I had to search for this a lot more consciously than I did the other things but I finally found it in the bedroom’s wardrobe. It was strangely empty of clothes, which were strewn all over the floor, as if the place had been ransacked between its abandonment and our exploration. The wardrobe hadn’t been opened in a while and was rusty and dusty, resulting in the wood-stuttering sound you can hear in the audioboo above.

Find a smell

Moth in shoe

The smell was with the sound but presented itself a lot more obviously – the dank, musty yet not unpleasant smell of a pile damp clothes. It bought to mind my wayward childhood moments of exploring abandoned sheds and spaces, and the thrill of danger of discovery and the unknown that came with that. I didn’t take a picture of the pile of clothes, but did photograph the old shoe with a dead moth inside that Simon noticed.

Find something that is to come

Jewellery Box

In the bedroom I found an old jewellery box balanced on top of a pile of old clothes. I opened it to find odds and ends within and myself reflected in the mirror glued to the inside of its lid. And it occurred to me that this was what to come for most of these abandoned buildings and spaces – people like me rediscovering, exploring and ultimately changing them, for better or worse.

Sandra at window

I took a photo of myself reflected in the mirror. Then I looked at the items in the box – old costume jewellery, pill packets and a broken pair of spectacles. I arranged some pearls around the mirror and took another picture, almost as if I was wearing them. Then I put on the glasses and took another picture. I was placing myself within someone else’s story and shifting it. I didn’t feel much guilt over this – those that had emptied the wardrobe had done the same before me and those who were due to demolish the house in the next couple of months would so afterwards. This process of people finding, disturbing and re-purposing the abandoned felt inevitable.

Find a pattern

House roof

The pattern I found was one of the structure of the house, a pattern that was unravelling with the house itself – its wooden beams, self-supporting and criss-crossing.

Find anything else!

Simon in bedroom

We all took away different impressions, thoughts and feelings from the house and did not share them until after we had left, eaten lunch and reflected. After lunch we shared our findings – Soesen’s feeling of its fragility, Simon’s looking at it through a child’s eyes, Carl and Gita making us see things from a different angle and Carl’s wondering at seeing me wave at him from the front window – when was the last time a villager had seen someone wave from there?

We discussed our experiences in the house and possible ways and means of sharing this with others without a risky and intrusive mass-invasion. Some of us spoke of the need to bid it farewell in a way its inhabitants mayan’t have done. Gita spoke of the need to give something back to it.

Carl from window

After Gita, Soesen, Carl and I had gone to bed Lee, Sandra and Simon discussed things further, which resulted in an idea they shared with the rest of us the following morning. Sandra and Lee lined us up against a wall, stepped back and paused.

They then walked towards us. Lee caught and held my gaze, came up to me, kissed me on both cheeks and simply said, “Goodbye” before walking away. As the house had known a human abandonment and farewell, so did I. I burst into tears.

Photos in house

Afterwards we gathered our thoughts and discussed ways of doing this in a larger group. Gita spoke of wanting to give something back the house as well saying goodbye, which resulted in a moving, late-night ceremony that Friction Arts have done a much better job of describing than I could.

The Bela Rechka magic worked itself once again this year. Some of it because of the amazing place we were in and the amazing people we met but a lot of it due to the process Friction Arts created to help us connect to an abandoned house in a way I’m sure I’d never have done otherwise and bid it farewell the way we would a close friend.

I unsurprisingly took a lot of photos in Bulgaria, which you can see here.


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The Dark Place

Bulgaria - David Cerny's Entropa

Bulgaria - David Cerny's Entropa

Artist David Cerny upset pretty much all of Europe with his hoax artwork Entropa, with its cliched representations of each European nation, but it managed to particularly outrage Bulgaria by portraying it with a series of connected Turkish squat toilets.

I actually found these to be few and far between and they weren’t that bad – they took a little bit of getting used to but they did seem well designed to let gravity take its natural course, as it were.

But before we got to Bela Rechka I was warned about ‘The Dark Place’ – the one toilet behind the old school building used by  Goat Milk festival goers.  When I got there we discovered that a load of portaloos had been bought in for this year’s festival, which I was told I should be thankful for.  I discovered why when I found the old school toilet:

The Dark Place

The Dark Place

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A strange and slightly sinister Bulgarian folk song

Above is a very short film (my batteries ran out) of people singing a Bulgarian folk song we all learned in a Singing Society Workshop of Bela Rechka Songs at the Goat Milk Festival.  Of course, we sang it in Bulgarian but the English translation really got me thinking.

The lyrics are pretty funny in a sort of sinister way.  They made me ask all sorts of questions in my head – were the narrator and the object of his affection involved in an affair?  Or, what creepily occurred to me, was he a total stranger/mild acquaintance to her?  Was she blissfully sailing through life, happy with her husband, unaware that this man silently watched them whilst they slept, plotting murder?  Is this song the narrator’s declaration of a fully requited love, or the moment some poor woman learns she’s being stalked by a psychopath? Have I watched too many thriller films? The mind boggles.

Todorka’s Song

Now you ask me in whose name
Last night to your place I came,
Why I jumped o’er your quickset,
What was there for me to get.

I am younger than your husband
And I’m not afraid of strife,
In my belt I keep my hardened
Trusty friend, my sharp-edged knife.

The night was dark, on top of that
I sneaked as slyly as a cat,
Through your window I did peep,
You and he were fast asleep.

There I sat down in your yard,
Knife in hand bot strong and hard
Waiting for your man to come
For to crush him like a crumb.

By your bed a candle’s burning,
You’re asleep, my stomach’s churning
With a flame so wild and hot
That I’ll burst there on the spot.

Gazing at your candlelight
I didn’t notice that the night,
Weakenig, had taken flight
And the dawn was shining bright.

The nightingale had just begun
Singing for the rising sun
And I saw your face again,
Smiling through the windowpane.

Recognizing your dear face
I stopped short and checked my pace:
“Next time, nightingale” I said,
Through the quickset back I fled.

That is why I came to you
Last night in the chilly dew.
Mind you, one of us will die –
It is either he or I.

(Translation: Kristin Dimitrova)

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Bread-making workshop at the Goat Milk Festival

Last month I was lucky enough to go the amazing Goat Milk Festival in Bela Rechka, Bulgaria with Friction Arts:

…an event that tries to put the questions about personal memories and collective memory (a ?high voltage? question in our society) in a new perspective and environment – offering at one hand the relaxed ambiance of one authentic Bulgarian Balkan village like Bela Rechka with its hospitality, goat milk and walnut trees and, on the other hand, innovative and new approaches from the European debates and art world in the field of memories, identity and new culture.

As you can probably guess, it was pretty amazing and although I’m not going to blog any big conclusions from the experience just yet, I’d like to put a couple of odds and ends here.  Thanks to a lost camera, they don’t amount to much but there are a couple of recordings I wanted to publish.

Sunmoon baker

The first is a small clip and photo from a bread-making workshop at the festival, lead by the baker at Sunmoon Organic Bakery & Vegetarian Restaurant in Sofia.  If you ever find yourself in Sofia, be sure to seek them out for a good meal washed down with some nice beer.

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