Sunday, June 27, 2010

{Bulgaria} Anxiety and Free Books

Kyle and I are leaving for Bulgaria on Tuesday. We are both excited, of course, but I'm also a tiny bit anxious. We were home around this time last year and in the months that followed our trip, my grandparents have been getting sicker and sicker to the point where everyone has started preparing for death, my dad's business (subcontracting with real estate developers) has been (understandably) doing really bad, and for the first time since coming to the State (1999), I really feel like my life is not there anymore.

That's a strange feeling to acknowledge. Contrary to the experience of many of my friends, I never really wanted to come to the States. Things just sort of happened that way and I ended up following in love (with a man AND with the country). However, I never lost touch with my friends. In fact, my best friends are Bulgarians living in Bulgaria who I met AFTER I moved to the States.

I'm not sure what has triggered the shift. I think it is not unrelated to finally settling down after so many years of nomadic existence. But that's not all. In the past year I have felt more irritated and exasperated with Bulgarian politics, social conservatism and provincialism. THIS has SOME to do with the conversations on my feminist blog but that's not all. It has to do with the pettiness of Bulgarian media, the total lack of vision in governance, the numerous attempts at creating "The Bulgarian X" as opposed to starting something genuine and authentic. I realize that this sounds both vague and pessimistic and probably, makes little sense to those of you who have not visited Bulgaria yet. Those of you who have... please let me know if you feel the same way.

The ONE thing that has actually helped me cope and clear my head about this is Cynthia Phoel's book, Cold Snap. I read it a few months ago while the book was still being edited. Now that it's out, I am packing my copy for our trip. The book is a collection of related short stories set in a small town, not much unlike the one where I grew up, in the mid-1990s. Many of the characters sound and feel like people I know well: hardworking women who manage, nurture and pull entire families forward; men who don't mean harm but end up harming many; eccentric and creative types who anywhere else in the world would be recognized for their free spirit and authenticity but in Bulgaria end up being laughed at and turning to knitting and mushroom-picking for release.

When I first read Cynthia's book, I just loved how brutally honest it was. I was simply smitten by her ability to describe a life both gritty AND tender, patriarchal AND loving, provincial but remarkably touching. In a way, the book really changed the way I think of Bulgaria and triggered a shift in the relationship I have with the stuff that has bothered me the most. That's why I am so excited that our BookClub is reading the book too!

Kyle and I leave for Bulgaria on Tuesday. Before we go, though, I would like to send a courtesy copy of Cold Snap to two How to Marry a Bulgarian readers. I only ask that if you do end up with a copy of the book, you promise to be active in our discussion of it towards the end of July! For a chance at winning a free copy, please leave a comment under this post with your name and email address. This will be a quick contest, since I need to mail the books tomorrow.

Good luck and happy reading.

21 comments:

  1. would love to read it.

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  2. i completely share your sentiments and in the past 2 years or so have found it increasingly difficult to feel positive and optimistic about the Bulgarian reality..would love to read the book and talk about it here.

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  3. I already have my copy but I just wanted to say how much I am enjoying reading it. I have been away from Bulgaria a long time now but with every trip back I am left with a little bit less of my nostalgic memories, partly because things have changed so much and partly because they have disappeared from the collective memory of the people around me. Sometimes I wonder if it would have been better not to return at all and keep my memories the way they were but then I am sitting in a Sofian cafe, surrounded by great people, and know that I wouldn't have changed this new memory for anything. Ahhh, the push and pull of the migrant. Have fun on your trip, Petya!

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  4. Your thoughts and feelings towards Bulgarian culture in relationships in the family are very similar to mine. I am intrigued by your post wondering how this book changed your views. 12 days ago, I got engaged to a non-Bulgarian and he will be joining the "How to Marry a Bulgarian" club. He has never been to Bulgaria and what he sees of a Bulgarian in my eyes is not what you describe here. Even though I grew up in (almost the same as the one you did) a small town in Bulgaria, I think that 10 years away have stripped a lot of the culture. For the 2 times I have visited since I left, I also saw that some of my core values differ from those of the female friends I have there. But then again, my values were slightly different from theirs before too. I struggle to draw a line bordering what I picked up here and what I have always had. If I don't "win" the book, I will buy it anyway. Maybe it will bring some answers...Thanks for sharing!

    P.S. I knit for fun! :)

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  5. Save travels. Also thanks for putting this book on my to read list!

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  6. I love reading....If you wannna make your vacations more memorable and enjoyable, get here...ferienwohnungen spanien

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  7. I recognize myself in almost every word you write Petya! This anxiety has been with me every time I was heading for Bulgaria and still ... once you are here you start feeling home again. These moments exist though. People wanting me to put up with old-fashioned, conservative viwes, so much ignorance about social issues, human rights, equality and stuff. Even my old friends and family are sometimes making me wonder what world I have actually grown up in.

    But I'm sure you'll quickly find the small things you are in love with, you will be once again amazed at how many stories people have to tell and how much inspiration one can actually get from the stay here. Good luck :) And maybe we can meet for a drink in Sofia!

    I'd be happy to read the book too. My name is Anna Tzvetkova, and my parents' address is: Bulgaria, Pleven 5800, Drouzba, bl.333, vh.V, ap.8.

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  8. Sorry, it was the e-mail you were asking for ;)
    anna.tzvetkova@gmail.com

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  9. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  10. I'd love to read the book!
    Nikola Ivanov
    celniko[@]abv.bg

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  11. i had this really strange feeling reading this post of yours, petya. not strange because i could recognize myself as well in your words, but rather because of the fact that i am living in bulgaria (by choice) and feel this way..
    anyway, it's a great news that you and kyle are coming - would love to see you guys if you have time! have a nice stay. as for the book, would love to borrow it, you definitely got me interested. hugs!

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  12. i want to read it very much and would love to participate in the july session - yoanitta@gmail.com

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  13. Now that I read your post I realized, that it's been quite a while since I read a real book. The one you are talking about sounds like a very interesting one, and instead of wasting my summer days in front of the computer at home I think I can get a copy and read it in the park. I already ordered one, so thanks for suggesting it!

    Have a nice trip in Bulgaria, I will be going at the end of the summer too. I recently started thinking about the same things, after 10 years I started asking myself did I take the right decision when I moved here? I have great friends here (most of them Bulgarians), but I will never be as close with them as with my Bulgarian friends from college. In other words, if we were in Bulgaria, they wouldn't be my friends, maybe just people I now. Anyways. If can turn back the time, I will probably do the same thing, I love this country too, even though Varna will always remain the best city on the planet for me.

    I am writing way too much considering that it is Monday morning and I have so much work to do ... so once again have a very nice trip and I'll wait for updates in your blog when you come back!

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  14. This post evokes so many mixed feelings and thoughts that I really don't know where to begin but I will try to be short...Though I feel the same anxiety I think with me it is more pronounced on my return from Bulgaria rather than right before I leave the USA. I think it has to do with my idealistic nature and the fact that I never consider the real disconnect with my home country until I have actually experienced it. Of course time dilutes emotions and since my trips back home tend to be rather spaced out you can count on me returning to my idealistic state before it's time for the next trip.

    I would also like to say that it is greatly refreshing to "hear" you speak of falling in love with this country not just with the man of your life! To see that there are Bulgarians that can fall in love with another country especially this one (given all constant criticism that I have encountered).

    In any case, I am truly looking forward reading this book now! Thank you for suggesting it! (btw I already ordered a copy so I am not posting a comment for the sweepstakes). I hope you have a great trip and safe travels!

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  15. I have a lot more to say to your thoughtful post but for now I am just putting myself in the pool :)
    Have a wonderful time in Bulgaria!!

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  16. I hope that once you are there, you fully enjoy your trip to Bulgaria, your family, and friends.

    I'll be making my first trip there on July 9th. If you see a dude with big ears, that's me. Wave and I'll wave back.

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  17. Roland: Let's try and get together. We'll be checking facebook during the trip, will try to post regular schedule updates... hopefully, we'll be able to meet up!

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  18. I am an American woman married to a Bulgarian man. We both have lived and worked around the world and are now living in Sofia. I have to say, every time we return to Bulgaria from anywhere else, we are both struck by the negative attitude that permeates this country. Of course, there are exceptions, but we find that overwhelmingly, the first answer here is "No," "It can't be done," "It's not a good idea," etc. It makes me sad, as I think there is so much potential here, so many smart, good people. How can we start a positive "yes" revolution in this country?!

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  19. Petya, have a great trip and savor the unique opportunity to observe how our country's culture is changing in front of our eyes. It is an amazing phenomenon that stays a lot less visible for those who live it every day. I can't agree more with your insights (as well as those of many other readers here) and assure you that the future generations would appreciate the perspective.

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  20. It was so refreshing to read your post! I am a Bulgarian but currently finishing my postgrad studies in the UK while before studied in Germany and the USA. I absolutely, 100%, share your frustration with the recent developments in Bulgarian society. Since I am looking for a job now, I was thinking whether I could go back to Bulgaria but realized that I cannot. I just cannot stand the same pettiness that you describe, the constant complains, and the entire absurdity of norms and morals (if they still exist). First I felt horrible for having such feelings to my motherland... that's why I was really refreshed after reading your post; apparently it is not only me who sees the current situation in the country as a problem and who cannot accept it. And that's sad, it just makes me feel sad for the future of Bulgarian society and for my friends who are still there.

    Well, on a more positive note: I hope your grandparents are well and that your father's business will start recovering very soon! If you can, enjoy the holiday in Bulgaria. At least it is always nice to go back for some time.

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