“Hey, you, what’s your name?”

“Maximiliano, but call me Max!”

The girl took a long drag on her cigarette, moved closer through the smoke in the bar.

“That’s no good. Shorten your name, shorten your luck!?


“So, what are you doing here?”

“Making plans.”

“Oh, cool! So am I!”

“Unfortunately, most of my plans are still just plans,“ Maximiliano said. His voice trailed off.  “Lately, I’ve left life to lead me. When I try to lead it, it doesn’t work.”

“Oh god, I could never live like that!” said the girl. “No matter what happens, if I don’t have plans for the future, I’m an anxious mess.”

“Well, that’s normal!” Maximiliano said. “That’s how it is at first, until you get used to it. Wait long enough and the chaos becomes routine.”

His companion thought for a moment, exhaled some smoke, and asked:

“Who are you here with? Where are your friends?”

“I’m here with everyone. Everyone’s my friend. Everyone in this bar is equally close and equally a stranger to me,” Maximiliano said dramatically.

The girl waved away cigarette smoke with her hand as if she had not heard the last remark.

Abruptly, she said:

“Well, I want to write a book!”

“Interesting! And what will you call it?”

The Women of My Life!”

“Oh, you go in for women?”

The girl smiled.

“No, no, it’s not like that. It’s something completely different. My book will tell the story of all the women in my life, those who impressed me somehow. I’ll start with my grandmother. Her story’s amazing! At the age of fifteen her future husband stole her from her father’s house and they married in secret. Off he went to war and never returned. My grandmother, pregnant with his child, gave birth to my mother, who at fourteen was raped by her stepfather. As a result, I was born. And she became a terrible lush. It’s crazy, isn’t it?”

The girl raised her eyebrows.

“Next will be two chapters, one for each of my best friends.”

“Cool! A writer!” Maximiliano said admiringly.

“Almost! I haven’t yet written a single line!”

“Sure, you’re in the planning stages,” joked the boy. “But the chapters for your friends. What’ll you write there?”

“Oh, these will be no less interesting than the first! In one I’ll tell the story of my friend’s first love. She fell in love with a Spanish guy.  He invited her to Spain and there—romance, passion, red wine…That’s just the boring part. They started living together and, shortly after, he left her. A pretty good story, huh?

Maximiliano nodded, not quite convinced.

“Because do you know what she did out of desperation? Started going around with any guy she met, just like that, out of spite. Then, she was invited to all kinds of parties. She began to ride around in expensive cars, you know how it goes.”

“I guess I don’t,” said the boy.

“Yeah, sure. How could you know? Well, to make a long story short, she went on to become a prostitute. And I’m grateful for it because through her story, she earned a place as a character in my book.”

“And the other?” inquired Maximiliano.

“Which other? Oh, my other best friend! Well, that’s a completely different story. A virgin nymphomaniac. Do you know what that is? You don’t! Okay, well, you can read about it in the book! Stop asking. If I tell it all, you won’t buy the book!”

Together they doubled over in laughter.

“By the way, your rolled cigarettes are terrible!” Maximiliano said.

He reached into his pocket for a store-bought one, lit it up.

“That’s not true,” said the girl. “Store-bought cigarettes are awful. They let off too much smoke. See, yours smokes like a chimney, but look at mine. I rolled it myself!”

“Yeah, but the stink of self-rolled cigarettes lasts forever,” Max said.

“That’s what’s good about them, Maximiliano, my dear! Say, by the way, how old are you?”


“Well, you have time!”

Max looked sullen. “For what?”

“To learn how to roll your own cigarettes instead of spending money on factory-made crap, for one. Actually, you have time for everything!”

“What is everything?”

“Successes, failures, successes, love… everything!”

“If that’s it, then I’ve already had everything,” the boy said. “J’ai plus de souvenirs que si j’avais mille ans.*

“Oh, I get it! Someone broke your heart?”

Maximiliano looked around the walls of the smoking room. They were isolated at the back of the bar.

“Hey, check out the cool graffiti in this dump,” he said.

“Yeah, the ratty old sofa you’re sitting on makes the place even cooler!”

“Authentic misery!” said the boy.

“Yeah, what more do you need at twenty-two?”

“What about you, how old are you?” Max asked.

“Hey, you should know better than to ask a woman her age. But fine, I’ll tell you, my dear, because you’re nice. I’m twenty-seven.”

“Hmm, a dangerous age! Aren’t you scared?”

“Of what, Maximiliano?

“Uhh….The 27 Club? Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Kurt Cobain, Jim Morrison… You know?”

The girl laughed.

“Oh, no, I don’t think I’m talented enough to die at twenty-seven. That has not entered into my plans—at least for now. But, yes, I admit it, twenty-seven’s a precarious age. Something like a turning point in your life. Once you cross this line, you will be in the game for a long time. I mean, in life.”

“That’s dumb! No matter what we do we’re always fucked!” said Max.

The girl took another drag of her cigarette.

“Besides this, what do you do? Do you study? Do you work?” she asked.

“I study, but I’ll never finish. I don’t even know why I’m studying. I guess because of what comes after!”

“Sure, after, those will be good times!” joked the girl. “But what’s before ‘after’ is better, you know! So you better enjoy it while you can, because ‘after’… ”

“It doesn’t matter! I don’t care, even if I have to spend the rest of my life on this dirty sofa with beer stains and vomit.”

“Oh, I get it! So what did you say her name was?” the girl asked, laughing.


“The one who broke your heart?”

“Oh, come on, really, you’re the same as every writer. You mix up reality and fantasy and think everything should be like in your stories.”

“Unfortunately, these are things I do not mix, Maximiliano. My stories are made of realities!” said the girl. Her face was serious. “Well, if you don’t want to tell me her name, then at least tell me, was she a blonde? Those are the most dangerous, you know!”

“She has no name! You’re all the same, you, who bear the name woman,” Max said dramatically.

“Of course, I knew it was a woman! My writer’s intuition never lies!” the girl exclaimed. “So, what happened?”

“Nothing, which is what usually happens with women. Just nothing! The women in your book—are they also bitches?”

“Hey, come on! Don’t insult my characters.”

“Characters!” Max said. “My heroine, can you really include her in your book?”

“Of course! But there must be an unusual story about her”.

“Well, here I am! How much more extraordinary of a story can one have? I was her story and she left me! Can you imagine? A girl who quits her own story?” Maximiliano said bitterly.

“Wow!” The girl’s attention was suddenly drawn to the distorted inscription on the wall. “What’s graffitied there on the wall: ‘Only God can judge!’“

“Yes, and below that it says, ‘Jesus died for somebody’s sins but not mine…’” Max said.

All of a sudden the girl turned around and looked at him.

“Maximiliano! You have beautiful eyes!”

“So what?”

“Well, nothing, just so you know!”

The girl took a last drag on her cigarette and put it out in the already full ashtray next to the couch.

“Well, my dear, my cigarette is done too. So, I’ll go back to my friends. But remember, never abbreviate your name, okay? Shorten your name, shorten your luck, Maximiliano!”

*“I have more memories than if I’d lived a thousand years,” from “Spleen” in Flowers of Evil by Charles Baudelaire.  


**The story „Maximilliano“ is part of the book Small, Dirty and Sad (Riva Publishers, 2014). The translation from Bulgarian to English is done by Eireene Nealand. The story is published in the Literary American Magazine „Drunken Boat“, 23 ed., 2016.


— Ей, ти, как се казваш?

— Масимилиано, но ми викат Масимо.

— Ааа, не е добре така да си съкращаваш името! Като го съкращаваш, си съкращаваш късмета!

Момичето дръпна енергично от цигарата си:

— Иначе к’во правиш?

— Правя планове, а ти?

— Ха, яко! И аз съм така!

— За съжаление, повечето ми планове си остават само планове — провлачи тъжно Масимилиано. — Напоследък съм се оставил на живота — той да ме води. Когато аз се опитвам да го водя, не се получава.

— Аз пък не мога да живея така! — призна момичето — Каквото и да става, ако нямам план за бъдещето, ме обхваща безпокойство.

— Е, да, това е нормално! Така е само в началото, докато свикнеш. Дай му достатъчно време и съвсем скоро хаотичният живот ти става рутина!

Събеседничката му се замисли за миг и издишвайки дима, попита:

— С кой си тук? Къде са ти приятелите?

— Тук съм с всички. Всички са ми приятели. Всички в тоя бар са ми еднакво близки и еднакво никакви — драматизира Масимо.

Момичето разсея цигарения дим с ръка, сякаш не беше чула последната реплика, и каза без връзка:

— Аз пък искам да напиша книга!

— Интересно! И как ще се казва? — прояви интерес Масимилиано.

— „Жените на моя живот”!

— Падаш си по жени?

— Не, не, за съвсем друго нещо става въпрос! — усмихна се момичето. — В книгата ми ще се разказва за всички жени в живота ми, които по някакъв начин са ме впечатлили. Ще започна с баба ми! Нейната история е уникална! На 15 бъдещият ѝ съпруг я открадва, женят се тайно, той отива на война и повече никога не се връща. Баба ми обаче е бременна от него и ражда майка ми, която пък на 14 е изнасилена от доведения си баща, в резултат на което се раждам аз. А тя се пропива. Абсурдно, нали? — повдигна вежди момичето. — Ще има и две отделни глави за двете ми най-добри приятелки!

— Яко! Писателка, значи! — възхити се Масимилиано.

— Почти! Още не съм написала дори ред от книгата!

— Ясно — засега е само план! — пошегува се момчето. — А главите за твоите приятелки какви ще са?

— Ооо, и те ще са не по-малко интересни! Ще разкажа за първата любов на едната ми приятелка. Влюби се в испанец, той я покани в Испания, а там – романтика, страсти и червено вино! Това дотук е все още скучната част на историята. Интересното започва след това. Малко след като заживяват заедно, той я зарязва. Много интересно, нали?

Масимилиано, без да е напълно убеден, кимна утвърдително.

— И тя от яд знаеш ли какво направи? Започна да излиза с всеки срещнат мъж. Ей така, от яд! Отвсякъде започнаха да я канят на вечери, да я возят в скъпи коли, нали знаеш как е?

— Май не знам — призна момчето.

— Е да де, ти пък откъде ще знаеш! Все едно де, с две думи, тя направо си стана проститутка. А аз съм ѝ благодарна, защото по този начин се класира достойно с историята си за книгата ми.

— А другата? — поинтересува се Масимилиано.

— Коя другата? Ааа, другата ми най-добра приятелка! Ооо, тя е съвсем друг случай! Девствена нимфоманка знаеш ли какво е? Не знаеш? Е, ще го прочетеш в книгата! Стига си питал — ако ти я разкажа цялата, няма да искаш да си я купиш! —и двамата избухнаха в смях, развеселени от самоиронията на момичето.

— Между другото, свитите цигари с тютюн са ужасни! — заяви Масимилиано, запалвайки фабрично свита цигара.

— Не е вярно! — не се съгласи момичето. — Фабричните са ужасни, защото димят повече. Виж твоята как дими като комин, а виж моята, която сама съм си свила!

— Така е, но свитите оставят много по-силна миризма за по-дълго — отвърна Масимo.

— Ами, точно това му е хубавото бе, Масимилиано сладък! — присмя му се добродушно тя. — Я кажи, ти на колко си години?

— На 22.

— Е, имаш време!

— За какво? – попита намусено момчето.

— Ами да се научиш да си свиваш твои цигари, вместо да си даваш парите за готовите гадости от фабриката. Абе въобще имаш време за всичко!

— И кое е всичко?

— Успехи, провали, пак успехи, любов… всичко — обобщи философски момичето.

— Ако е така, аз вече имах всичко! — натърти момчето — J’ai plus de souvenirs que si j’avais mille ans*.

— Ясно! Някоя ти е разбила сърцето!

— Готини графити има в тая дупка — смени темата Масимилиано, оглеждайки стените на малката стая за пушачи, в която седяха, изолирани в дъното на бара.

— Да, старото канапе, на което седиш и на което му излизат пружините, прави мястото още по-яко!

— Яко мизерия! — иронизира я момчето.

— Ами да, какво повече ти трябва на 22?

— А ти на колко си? — отвърна на въпроса с въпрос Масимо.

— Не са ли те учили, че жена не се пита за годините? Хайде, ще ти  кажа, понеже си ми симпатичен! На 27.

— Хм, опасна възраст! Страх ли те е?

— От какво бе, Масимилиано?

— Ами… от Клуб 27?

Момичето избухна в неудържим смях.

— Джими Хендрикс, Джанис Джоплин, Кърт Кобейн, Джим Морисън… сещаш ли се? – продължи сериозно момчето.

— Ооо, не, не мисля, че съм достатъчно талантлива, за да умра на 27. А и не ми влиза в плановете, поне за момента. Но, да, признавам, че 27 е малко рискована възраст. Нещо като разделителна линия на живота ти. Прескочиш ли я — ще си в играта задълго. Така де, в живота.

— Пълна тъпотия! Винаги си прецакан… – каза умърлушено Масимо.

— Иначе ти с какво се занимаваш? Учиш ли? Работиш ли? — попита с интерес момичето.

— Уча, ама няма никога да завърша. Дори не знам защо уча. Предполагам, че уча за после, когато ще си търся работа.

— Хе, после е готино време! — пошегува се момичето. — Ама преди „после“ е по-яко, да знаеш! Така че се кефи, докато е време, че после…

— Все ми е едно! Не ми пука, дори и да прекарам остатъка от живота си на това канапе, до тия петна от бира и повръщано!

— Аха, ясно! И как се казва? — подсмихна се многозначително момичето.

— Кой?

— Е, тази, дето ти е разбила сърцето?

— Ама ти наистина си като всички писатели: смесвате реалност и фантазия и мислите, че всичко трябва да бъде като в разказите ви?

— За съжаление, не ги смесвам, Масимилиано: реалността е в моите разкази! — отвърна сериозно момичето. — Добре, не искаш да ми кажеш името! А руса ли е? Тия са най-зли, да знаеш!

— Няма име! Всички сте едни! Казва се Жена — отсече драматично Масимо.

— Естествено, че се казва Жена! Женската ми интуиция никога не ме лъже! — възкликна момичето — И какво стана?

— Нищо. Както винаги става накрая с жените. Едно ни-що! Твоите жени от книгата и те ли са такива кучки?

— Ааа, моля, моля! Няма да ми обиждаш героите!

— Герои! — натърти иронично Масимо. — Моята героиня можеш ли да я включиш в книгата си?

— Разбира се! Но трябва да има някаква необикновена история около нея.

— Е, ето ме! Колко по-необикновена история от мен може да има! Аз съм нейната история и тя ме заряза! Представяш ли си? Да зарежеш собствената си история? —  възкликна с горчив сарказъм Масимилиано.

— Я-я, какво пише на онзи графит отсреща? — вниманието на момичето беше внезапно привлечено от разкривен надпис на стената: „Само Господ може да ме съди!”.

— Да, а по-долу пише: „Господ е умрял за нечии чужди грехове, но не моите…” — забеляза на свой ред Масимо.

Тя се обърна рязко и го погледна:

— Масимилиано! Имаш хубави очи!

— И какво от това?

— Ами нищо, просто да си знаеш! — момичето дръпна за последно от свитата цигара и я изгаси в препълнения пепелник до канапето. — Хайде, приятелче, на мен ми свърши цигарата и изчезвам при другите. И никога не си съкращавай името, нали се разбрахме! Съкратиш ли го — съкращаваш си късмета, Масимилиано!

* „Аз имам повече спомени, отколкото ако бях живял хиляда години”, из стихотворението Spleen от стихосбирката „Цветя на злото” на Шарл Бодлер — б.а.


** Разказът „Масимилиано“ е от сборника разкази “Малка, мръсна и тъжна” (ИК Рива, 2014). Разказът е преведен на английски език от Айрийн Нийланд. Публикуван е в американското литературно списание „Drunken Boat“, бр. 23, 2016 г.


Rearview Mirror

‘Never love a wild thing, Mr. Bell,’ Holly advised …
‘If you let yourself love a wild thing, you’ll end up looking at the sky.’
– Truman Capote, Breakfast At Tiffany’s

BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S, Audrey Hepburn, 1961

I got married right after being discharged from the army. I don’t know how it happened so fast. Only few days after coming home, I was invited, along with my dad, to my cousins’ in a nearby village. There was a huge feast with multiple bottles of wine and long, broad tables of food. You know how it is when you return to your kin after being gone for a long time. At the table, I sat next to my cousin, lobbing jokes. All of the sudden he shot me a conspiratorial look, indicating with a glance, a girl across the table, the neighbor’s daughter. “Take her, brother,” my cousin said.  “How can I take her?” I said. “C’mon Cuz, I’ve given my heart to another. You know how it is, I can’t.” Couldn’t I? In the whirl of the night, drinks were thrown back. From one moment to the next I don’t remember what happened. I only remember that it was great fun. In the morning I awoke and what did I see? Snuggled up next to me in the bed, the neighbor’s daughter, naked as in the day she was born and gentle and fragile as a dove.  “Christ,” said I to myself. “What have I done?” No secrets exist among relatives. She was still a child—I, her first man.  “You have to take her, son!” the girl’s father said when he heard. “It’s you, or no one. You created this mess, now take the girl!”  So, that’s how it went. In more or less two weeks, we were married and moved in together. I came to love my dear Catherine. She turned out to be a good, sensible girl, and a decent housewife with skillful hands. After a year she gave birth to our son—the proud successor to his dad. Soon after a daughter arrived. We went on to become a good family. The years passed. The children were growing up. Along with them, it was as if Catherine was growing up too. When we first got together, she was still a girl, but now she was beginning to become a woman. And little by little something started to change in her. She did not like how we were living. The small town was choking her, it seemed, and not only that. She started to look beyond Bulgaria. Someone put a bee in her bonnet—the real freedom was in the West. Back in those days, you know, these were dangerous thoughts. Just the idea of escaping abroad could have thrown you into prison. But she kept nagging me to join her in her plans for escape. “Come on, Catherine! Stop fogging your head with these crazy thoughts,” I said. “You don’t want to destroy our family, do you? This is my country. Take it as it is. As for the kids, you’ll get them over my dead body!”  But it was no use. Madmen, like strong winds, can’t be stopped. My Catherine disappeared! On Easter morning she went out early, said she was going to church, and never returned. Okay, she left me…These things happen. But… the kids?! To leave her own children… Was she brave? Was she mad? I ask myself that even today … Well, but one learns to get used to anything. Twenty years have passed without news from Catherine, not a scrap. The children grew up. Don’t ask me how I managed it on my own. How they felt without a mother, I don’t dare inquire. With all the problems of that time, the daily chores, I gradually learned not to think of Catherine. As they say: what you can’t forget, you can at least try not to remember.  One night, I was coming home late from work—crushed and tired as usual. That whole day I just turned the steering wheel here and there.  It was in this same taxi that I’m driving you in now. Well, the phone rang and I was startled! At that time of day, late at night, the only call I would usually have was from my dear old mother, but she’s passed away.  Since then, rarely has anyone been calling me, and I never expected the phone to ring.  “Hello,” I said, after picking up the receiver. On the opposite end was silence—just silence. I felt, however, as if someone was breathing into the phone.  “Hello?” I repeated, half, annoyed, half scared, not knowing why. “Who’s there?” On the other end, again—silence. At this point, something clicked. Strange thoughts spun through my brain. All of the sudden a familiar voice said through sobs and tears:  “The children… How are the children?” My heart clenched. I froze and barely managed to say: “Catherine! Is that you, Catherine? Hello. Hello … Catherine!” Unexpectedly, the connection broke and the phone went dead. Was that really my Catherine? Or was it just my imagination? I couldn’t say! And, well, I didn’t hear anything more from her. The kids are grown now. They went away too, and have their own lives. My son is thirty years old, a builder in Spain, with a family of his own. My daughter is a waitress in England. Thank god she’s left me her kid to care for. My granddaughter’s my only happiness now. It’s for her sake alone that I still drive this taxi. But I put the photos of all of them around the rearview mirror so that when I look back to see if cars are coming, I always see them, my son, my daughter, my grandchildren … Oh, yes, and there is a photo of Catherine, too. Look at her, how she smiles at me. In this picture she’s only twenty-two. It doesn’t matter that the closest people in my life are present only in these pictures. I look at them and they make me happy. Sometimes in real life they are good, sometimes not, but always, so that I don’t worry about them, they smile before me as up here. That is how I see them every day in the rearview mirror, slowly receding into the distance while I continue to drive straight ahead.


*The story „Rearview Mirror“ is part of the book Small, Dirty and Sad (Riva Publishers, 2014). Translation to English by Eireene Nealand. The story is published in the Literary American Magazine „Drunken Boat“, 23 ed., 2016


– Никога не се влюбвайте в диво същество, мистър Бел – посъветва го Холи. –
[…] Ако се оставите да обикнете диво същество, накрая ще останете само с поглед към небето.

„Закуска в Тифани”, Труман Капоти

23rd edition of „Drunken Boat“, American Literary Magazine, 2016

​Ожених се малко след като се уволних от казармата. Ама как стана тя – на бърза ръка! Едва няколко дена откак се бях прибрал вкъщи, и отиваме с баща ми на гости на братовчедите в съседното село. Голям гуляй, винó, софри – знаеш как е, кога се прибираш при свои хора, след дълго отсъствие! Та седим си с братовчеда на трапезата, подхвърляме майтапи, току ми се подсмихва той заговорнически и ми сочи с поглед едно девойче през масата. Съседско било, вика: ‘Земи го, брате! „’Бе как ша го взема бе, брат’чед, на друго момиче съм дал сърцето си, не мога!”Не мога ли? Завъртя се вечерта, заобръщаха се чашите, от един момент нататък какво сме правили – не помня, помня само, че веселбата беше голяма. На сутринта се събуждам и що да видя: свило се до мен на леглото съседското девойче, така както я е майка родила – нежно, крехко като гълъбичка! Бре, каква я свърших, викам си! Сред роднини скрито-покрито няма! Тя – девойка, аз – първи мъж, и баща ѝ, като разбра, вика: „Сине, трябва да я ‘земеш! Или ти, или никой! Направил си белята – вземай го момичето!”. И това беше: за има-няма две седмици се оженихме и заживяхме заедно. Заобичах си я аз, моята Катеринка – добро и сговорчиво девойче излезе. А и къщовница, и в ръцете сръчна. След година ми роди син – горд наследник на баща си. Скоро и щерката се появи. Хубаво семейство си наредихме. Минаваха годините, растяха децата, а с тях сякаш и Катеринка порастваше. Кога се взехме, тя беше още дете, а започваше да става жена. И постепенно нещо взе да се променя в нея. Не ѝ харесваше как живеем, започна да я задушава животът в малкия град. Остави това, ами и отвъд България започна да гледа. Пуснал ѝ някой мухата, че на Запад е истинската свобода. А в тия години, знаеш, това бяха страшни приказки. Само мисълта да избягаш в чужбина можеше в затвора да те вкара! А тя и мен навива на нейния акъл! Викам: „Катерино, стига си си помътвала главата с щуротии! Семейството ни ша затриеш! Това е моята родина – каквато-такава! Не мърдам оттук, а децата ще вземеш само през трупа ми!”. Но не би! Луд човек и силен вятър нищо ги не спира! Изчезна моята Катерина! Една сутрин по Възкресение излезе рано, уж за черква, и повече не се върна. Мен изостави – хайде, това как да е, но децата…! Да си остави децата! Смела ли беше, луда ли беше, и до днес все това се питам… Е, ‘секо нещо се учи, със ‘секо нещо се свиква! Двайсе’ години се изтъркóлиха, а от Катеринка – ни вест, ни кост. Децата израснаха, как съм ги гледал сам – не ме питай! Какво им е било на тях без майка – това аз не смея да ги питам! Покрай ежедневните грижи и тревоги за всичките тези години постепенно се научих да не мисля за Катерина. Знаеш, нещата, които не можеш да забравиш, можеш поне да се научиш да не си спомняш. Дори и тогава обаче не можеш да спреш миналото да напомня за себе си! Прибирам се една вечер късно от работа – смачкан, изморен, пак цял ден бях въртял волана на същото това такси, в което те возя и теб сега. Звъни телефонът и аз се стреснах! По това време се обаждаше само старата ми майка, преди да се спомине. Оттогава рядко някой ме търсеше и аз никого не очаквах. Казвам „Ало“, а отсреща – тишина. Усещам обаче, че сякаш някой диша в слушалката. „Ало? Кой се обажда?”, повторих, наполовина раздразнен, наполовина уплашен, без сам да разбирам защо. Отсреща – пак тишина. Нещо в този момент трепна в мен. Странни мисли започнаха да се въртят в главата ми. Внезапно познат глас каза през хлипове плач: „Децата… Как са децата…?” Сърцето ми се сви. Вцепених се. Едва промълвих: „Катерина! Ти ли си, Катерина? Ало, ало… Катерина!” Неочаквано връзката се разпадна и телефонът замръзна мъртъв пред мен. Наистина ли беше тя – моята Катеринка? На мене ли ми се строи така? Не мога да ти кажа! Така и повече нищо не чух от нея… Днес децата са съвсем големи. Разбягаха се и те. Синът е на 30, със семейство – строител в Испания. Дъщерята пък е в Англия – сервитьорка. Добре че поне внучката на мен остави да я гледам, та тя е единствената ми радост сега. Само за нея още въртя този волан по цял ден. Ето ги тука всички къде са! Сложил съм си ги над огледалото, та кога гледам назад дали идват коли, все тях да виждам. И сина, и дъщерята, та и внуците до тях! Ей я нá и Катеринка, гледай само как ми се усмихва. Тук е едва на 22. И нищо, че са ми само на снимка! Гледам си ги аз и им се радвам. Понякога са добре, понякога не, ама все гледат да се усмихнат за пред мен – да не се тревожа аз. Така ги гледам все в огледалото за обратно виждане как бавно се отдалечават, докато аз продължавам да карам напред.


*Разказът „Огледало за обратно виждане“ е от сборника разкази “Малка, мръсна и тъжна” (ИК Рива, 2014). Разказът е преведен на английски език от Айрийн Нийланд. Публикуван е в американското литературно списание „Drunken Boat“, бр. 23, 2016 г.

Margarita Omar: I don’t shave my legs, because I don’t need to be desirable, fuckable and sexy

Margarita Omar, 22, is an artist and a feminist. Growing up in Moscow, she moved to Luxembourg with her family when she was a teenager. Margarita still lives in Luxembourg where she is studying ‘Music Informations’ at the Conservatory. So far, Margarita has showcased two exhibitions of her work.  She is preparing three more  exhibitions this year, which will appear at the Urban Art Festival – Kulturfabrik and Young Artists – PIJ (Point Info Jeunes), in Esch-sur-Alzette, Luxembourg, as well as Young Artists – Rehazenter, in Luxembourg, Luxembourg.

Снимка: Бистра Величкова / Photo: Bistra Velichkova

Снимка: Бистра Величкова / Photo: Bistra Velichkova

I got to know Margarita through her protest against the objectification of women to be beautiful and perfect. Margarita’s protest against the pressure on the feminine is very simple – refuse to accept it. Margarita has not removed her bodily hair in the last three months. She refuses to hide it or acknowledge it as shameful and is not afraid to show off hairiness. At the gym, Margarita still goes for the shorts & tank top combo, despite what people may think about her legs and armpits. She likes the challenge. She wants to set an example for other women and directly challenge men through her own body.

Margarita let me take her pictures during this interview. All she asked in return is that the photos avoid a sense of sexuality and eroticism, instead focusing on the feminine in its nature state and appearance. At the end of the photoshoot, the thought of a hairy woman being a socially acceptable thing, one that even holds a certain aesthetic, was an almost natural response. It’s all about getting used to something new, as Margarite reassured me. Just like we have gotten so used to the (at times overbearing) reality of men’s bodily hair. So we propose a curious experiment – we want to know how many of you will feel this sense of comfort and will be willing to consider this form of protest as a way of life. Let’s see if your views change by the end of this interview.

Why aren’t you shaving your legs? 

First of all, I want to piss off my boyfriend (laughing), second, it’s wintertime and I refuse to spend my money on hair-removal procedures. I can think of far better things I could spend that money on. Another reason is that I thought that I can make an art form out of it and inspire others to do the same. Or just to make them think – there are also other forms of oppression, which are not solely reduced to body hair.

Маргарита Омар и приятелят й. Снимка: Бистра Величкова / Photo: Bistra Velichkova

Маргарита Омар и приятелят й. Снимка: Бистра Величкова / Photo: Bistra Velichkova

What does your boyfriend think about this? 

I don’t care. He told me that he loves me and that he supports me, but I didn’t even ask his permission.

What does it mean to be a feminist? 

Feminism is a particular kind of politics. Without attempting to generalise or simplify, feminism means the acknowledgement of three core facts: 1) Women are social group, 2) There is a patriarchy and gendered hierarchy and 3) This is not a natural state of being; we can trace how this masculinity has been enforced upon us historically.

Маргарита Омар. Снимка: Бистра Величкова / Photo: Bistra Velichkova

Маргарита Омар. Снимка: Бистра Величкова / Photo: Bistra Velichkova

So, not shaving is your protest against the underlying pressures on women to be perfect and beautiful? 

Well, it is too small to call it a protest. I haven’t brought plenty of women with me and we haven’t made a group photo with our hairy legs, we haven’t started a movement. It is not very a political action.  In a way, I believe that every woman that does not obey social norms, sometimes, is making her own protest. So, if you make it your personal protest, if you make your mind up to stand up to these social stigmas, it is a huge step already… The purpose is not to blame women for following restrictive standards set on them. The purpose is to be otherwise and come together as a social group.

What are the main things you protest against with this action? 

The beauty standard – “I am socially acceptable only when my body is altered and when I make it more aesthetic artificially.” It’s like saying women are naturally inferior because they also have hair on their bodies, so they should be altering themselves in order to be desirable in society, fuckable and acceptable. You can see how that’s totally wrong.

“Ти си повече от космите по тялото ти и аз те обичам, както си”. Снимка: Бистра Величкова / Photo: Bistra Velichkova

“Ти си повече от космите по тялото ти и аз те обичам, както си”. Снимка: Бистра Величкова / Photo: Bistra Velichkova

Would you remove your body hair when summer comes?

I think so. It is my personal adaptive decision. It won’t change anything if I am alone with full body hair the whole year. I won’t scrutinize my body either – I’ve figured out my own socially acceptable body hair length. Anyway, no matter what I do to my body the photos and the interview will stay. Which is going to help to convey the message I want.

Interview by Bistra Velichkova

To see more of Margarita’s project, visit her Facebook page and website.

* The article was first published in the magazine Banitza, 5 feb, 2016. The article is also available in Bulgarian language here

Двойна измама/Double Delusion – 2014 review

Statistical review of the most read articles on the blog Double Delusion for 2014.

This blog was viewed about 18,000 times in 2014.

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 7 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

In 2014, there were 19 new posts, growing the total archive of this blog to 109 posts.

The busiest day of the year was July 9th with 291 views. The most popular post that day was Градушката в София – снимки и видео.

The posts that got the most views in 2014:

The blog was visited from 83 countries. Most visitors came from Bulgaria. The United States & UK were not far behind.

Click here to see the complete report.

Annual report of the blog Double Delusion for 2013

MoodMe – photos with emotional living portraits

MoodMe_logo2Have you ever thought of having a live photo avatar? Shooting a photo that afterwards smiles at you as if it is alive? Or watching your favorite football team playing and get emotional with your favorite football player? You can control your mood, putting either a smile or a sad face, only by clicking few buttons on the brand new application in the Apple store – MoodMe. The main goal of MoodMe App is to bring smiles to emotional engagement. It creates living emoticons with your face. Its value is to enrich engagement through emotions. MoodMe application transforms pictures into emotional interactive 3D Living portraits. The company also focuses on Sport Fans engagement and Consumer Apps.

Remember the first emotional expressions online, when internet, the online chats and virtual social life were young! On one of the first chat programs ICQ – we have learned how to show smiles or sad emotions composing them by combining brackets, commas, fullstops and other punctual signs, like this -> smile – : ), wink – ; ), sad – : (, angry – >:-/. Then all these expressions developed and we had the cartoon emoticons that we could paste next to our sentences online, like this: :-), :-(, ;-). By and by, we come to nowadays when the emotional engagement is super highly developed thanks to an international team of really creative people, establishing MoodMe. With MoodMe App there are no more emoticons, it uses photos of your real face and animate it in 3D version, expressing how you feel, online! Isn’t it amazing?

Have you ever been mooded?

“Have you been mooded?” – this is the question all the acquainted fans with the App ask all the others. “No?! Ok, let me take a shot of your face, and then I will animate it and put whatever mood you want – happy, sad, angry, playful. In addition, I can put you the shirt of your favorite football player or singer, even his hair, tattoos or bracelets”. All these is made possible thanks to this new application for living emoticons, created by MoodMe.
MoodMe is relatively young and new company. MoodMe_apple_app_picIt is existing on the market since almost 3 years. Recently its playful and enjoyable application started to attract the attention of photo maniacs, football fans, social network and mobile users. Its popularity is spreading so fast, that some say that soon the emotional photos that MoodMe produces will be implemented on social networks, such as Facebook, making them even more attractive. It means that, for example, your profile photo on Facebook with your face on it, won’t be still and boring anymore, staring at you with frozen look. With MoodMe it will be animated and will smile, could be also angry, sad, agitated, responding completely to your mood at the moment.

The office of MoodMe is based in… the World

Originally, the company MoodMe, was established in Luxembourg, 3 years ago. In March 2014, it opened also an office in Belgium. MoodMe Belgium is incorporated in Nivelles, following investment from Wallimage Entreprises. It has many other branches in different countries in Europe, in the Silicon Valley – in the USA and in Brazil. The company is planning to open even more offices around the world in the future.

Chandra de Keyser, CEO and co-founder of MoodMe

Chandra de Keyser, CEO and co-founder of MoodMe

We are talking about offices and branches, but if you ask the CEO and co-founder of MoodMe, Chandra de Keyser, he would tell you: “What does it mean “office” in nowadays super high tech world? Every place on Earth, where there is an Internet connection, can be your office!” He is not just saying it, he is really putting these words into practice. Every week, Chandra is in a different city, country or continent – either for presentation of the application and the work of MoodMe, for pitch, for meetings with investors or building partnerships. And no matter where he is, every week he has a meeting with the whole team of MoodMe, each one of the members, based in different country. Then how does it all work out? Where these meetings are happening? There is only one place where everybody can be in the same time, as Chandra said – no matter where on Earth each one is situated, this place is called Internet. So, if you wonder where exactly the real office of MoodMe is based, the answer is simple – in the World.

Chandra is making conference calls with the team online. Everyone gives a report of the work that is already done and the problems that appeared along the way. Also all the new tasks and working plans are discussed. What is more interesting is that all this completely new system and working style really works. If Google became legendary for its cozy and feel-like-home working environment, making you unwilling to leave the office, companies like MoodMe take it even further into that direction. They say: “Just let the people work at their homes”. And definitely, it looks like this is the future of the working policy and conditions of the modern businesses and companies. No more old school 9 to 5 working hours, pushing yourself to stay on your desk and waiting impatiently the day to finish. Companies like MoodMe establish the new philosophy – every hour is working, every hour is a break. It is because, everyone who decided to work for such a company really enjoys it and have fun while working.

Of course, the energetic, full of ideas and genuine citizen of the world Chandra de Keyser, does not exclude the need of real meetings in live with the whole team and talks in person. He smiles and says: “Of course, it is important to meet in person, because work can be done from distance, online, but drinking beer is something that should be done really in live”. May be this viewpoint is not surprising having in mind Chandra’s Belgian origin.

MoodMe_logoMoodMe inherited Mach-3DMach-3D-Logo

MoodMe inherited another company called Mach-3D. This happened in mid 2012 when Mach-3D was rebranded as MoodMe, a US and EU Trade Mark. Mach-3D inspires great speed of delivery and 3D animations and was Founded by Massimiliano (the Ma of Mach) & Chandra (the Ch) in early 2011 and incorporated as SàRL in Grand Duché de Luxembourg. Alessandro joined them as co – Founder. Mach-3D core technology is a Cloud Platform which creates, stores and animates 3D models of human faces, the Living Portraits (TM). Mach-3D was one of the first 4 startups selected to participate in the europe4startups programme which offers free Cloud for 1 year thanks to SecureIT as well as a package of marketing, legal & IP advisory services. Mach-3D opened a Silicon Valley office in October 2012 and benefited from a Grant from the Ministry of Economy to setup its office in Plug & Play Tech Center in Sunnyvale, CA.

If you would like to become one of the many fans and users of the brand new application MoodMe, you can download it from Apple store.

Or you can also try it, directly on your PC, online.

MoodMe managed to put a smile even to the great Bulgarian football player Hristo Stoichkov. Check it out:

Stay updated with all the news around MoodMe on the Official web page of MoodMe, Facebook, YouTube and Twitter.

Boiko Lambovski: „The poet is a poet only in certain moments in his life“

Written by Bistra Velichkova for Internal Voices

In September, poems were placed in metro, tram and bus stations throughout the city of Brussels, giving every passenger the chance to discover the work of international artists and providing everyday life with a new source of inspiration.

The poem Stone Cutting by Boiko Lambovski from Bulgaria, was one of eight poems written by European poets and presented at this year’s poetry festival, Transpoesie, in Brussels.

Transpoesie Festival in Brussels

Transpoesie Festival in Brussels

Boiko Lambovski is one of the most famous contemporary Bulgarian poets. Born in Sofia in 1960, he graduated from the French Language High school there and acquired his university degree in Literature in Moscow, Russia. He has published 9 books and is a laureate of many literary awards for poetry. His work has been translated into 20 languages around the world and he has recently become the president of the Bulgarian PEN centre.

I talked with Lambovski about his participation in Transpoesie, the position and possibilities for lesser-known languages in global literature and about how a real poet survives in the harsh economic climate of today.

„It is a very nice feeling to know that your poem allows casual passersby to read and think about it“, says Lambovski about his poem, which is now displayed in a metro station in Brussels. But rather than consider the effect his poem might have of on this broad audience as a whole, Lambovski sees poetry as more of an individual experience: „It’s better to think less about how it affects a group as a whole, and more about how it provokes and exposes a generally accepted framework on an individual basis. Poetry is good in this sense, because it provokes people to engage on an intellectual level“.

Boiko Lambovski was encouraged to participate in the Transpoesie festival by the chairman of the Bulgarian PEN centre at the time, Georgi Konstantinov, and the European Union National Institutes for Culture (EUNIC), in Brussels. He chose to present the poem Stone Cutting because he felt it corresponded well with the topic of the festival: Engagement. When asked what kind of message the poem was intended to impart, the Bulgarian author replied: „It is about this: that nothing is bright, pink and romantic a priori; even love requires hard work“.

Бойко Ламбовски. Снимка: Личен архив

Boiko Lambovski. Photo: Personal archive

Lambovski has dedicated this poem to Edvarda, a heroine from the novel Pan, by the Norwegian writer Knut Hamsun. In the book, the heroine has a romantic relationship with Lieutenant Thomas Glahn, an ex-military man and a hunter, who lives alone in a hut in the forest. Their relationship, however, is fated to fail. „Knut Hamsun is one of my favourite authors”, explained Lambovski. “The relationship between Edvarda and Glahn in the novel Pan is a symbol of the real love that happens in life; the one that strives for the ideal of the best love, but faces the impossibility of achieving it“, explains Lambovski. „This is the opposite of the sweet, romantic idea of love with a happy ending. It represents the beauty of life here and now, with its severe contradictions. Edvarda illustrates the antithesis represented in love and hate. She is a remarkable heroine. I like her.“

Stone Cutting, was originally written in Bulgarian, but has since been translated into English, French and Flemish. When asked about the issue of language, Lambovski admitted that it is difficult for literature written in a language that is spoken by only a small number of people to reach a wider global audience. At Transpoesie, he read his poem in Bulgarian, but with translation into English, French and Flemish appearing on a video wall at the same time as he spoke, Lambovski was able to hear people’s reactions to certain phrases and words; an experience he clearly appreciated. Thanks to good translation and international festivals such as Transpoesie, he strongly believes that „even poetry can cross language boundaries.“

When pressed on the relevance of poetry in a world beset by economic difficulties Lambovski conceded that „Poetry is not an art for the masses“ and that „in the few cases that it has been turned into such an art, it has been burdened with a political or even publicity function“. But he believes that as long as language is alive, poetry will be alive too, no matter in what kind of times we are living. For him, it is a language game and an opportunity for people to discover a second life, one which is „often more meaningful than the first“.

But then how does a poet survive in today’s world?

„I am not fond of those people who constantly ‘honour’ themselves with the title ‘poet’“, admits Boiko Lambovski. „The poet is a poet only in certain moments in his life. Otherwise, he is a man or a woman, or a dentist, or a journalist, or unemployed, or a driver, or he delivers pizzas, or he is a teacher, or just a drinker… He is not something more than or superior to other people, it is just that sometimes he is given the gift to derive power out of words and thus to provide illumination. This illumination lights part of life’s mystery, both for the poet and for other people“. „The rest of the time“, he says, „the poet survives as all others do. And it has to be like this. In that sense, it is more appropriate to ask to the question: „How does a man survive in today’s world?“ And here is my reply: either as I said above, like everybody else, or he remains a poet.“

Stone cutting

Hand and chisel carve methodically
The Ideal. It is a boring work.
A stubborn habit – to be a stone,
and a slow, hard exploit – to love

Author: Boiko Lambovski
Translation: Anetta Dancheva-Manolova

IV-logo* The article by Bistra Velichkova was published in the Belgium journal Internal Voices, 18 Nov, 2013

bulgarian_flag_smallThe interview is available in Bulgarian language HERE.

FOREVER (story by Bistra Velichkova)

An excerpt of the short story „Forever“, written by Bistra Velichkova, was published in Vagabond magazine, issue 74, 2012. The translation of the story from Bulgarian to English is done by David Mossop. The full version of the story „Forever“ is available in Bulgarian language in LiterNet magazine.

Bistra Velichkova. Photography by Anthony Georgieff

Bistra Velichkova. Photography by Anthony Georgieff

Bistra Velichkova was born in Sofia, Bulgaria. In 2011, she received a joint MSc degree in European Studies from the University of Twente, Netherlands, and the Westfälische Wilhelms-University of Münster, Germany. In 2009, she obtained a BA degree in Journalism and Mass Communications from the University of Sofia, Bulgaria. As a journalist, Bistra has published articles in various printed and online editions, such as Pressa Daily, Dnevnik, Kultura, Trud, Duma, E-vestnik, WebCafé, OFFNews and more. As an author, she has published poetry and prose in the literary newspaper Literaturen Vestnik, LIK Magazine, More Magazine, 39 grams, the online magazines LiterNet, Public Republic, Dictum, Crosspoint and more.

In November 2012, Bistra Velichkova was nominated for the Veselin Hanchev National Youth Poetry Contest. Earlier that year, she won third place in the Rashko Sugarev national short story competition. In May 2012, she was awarded a fellowship from the Elizabeth Kostova Foundation to participate in the fifth annual Sozopol Fiction Seminars. In 2010, she was awarded first place in the literary competition Paris Without Love, organized by Ciela Books and the author Mona Choban.


(…) Gesh and I kissed for the first time at the Monument. There were bottles of beer rolling around our feet and cigarette butts smouldering beneath our army boots but Gesh and I were frozen in a moment of eternity: two ragged figures, embracing in the silence of the night between the bronze silhouettes and bayonets of Russian liberators. That same evening I went home drunk for the first time in my life. My mother got home a little bit after me. She was more drunk than me, thank God, and didn’t realise.

The next morning I could hardly drag myself out of bed and almost missed school. I spent the first couple of lessons asleep on my desk. Unfortunately they were history lessons and afterwards Mrs Paskaleva asked me to go with me to her study. She said she wanted a word with me. She sat down behind her desk and made me stand opposite her. All I wanted to do was sleep and couldn’t focus on the hand in front of my face. Then she started on at me: When you’re young, you have no idea how dangerous the world is outside and there are so many things you don’t understand and so and so on… After a lengthy monologue on the subject she asked me to look into her eyes and then without a warning she asked me if I took drugs. Just at that moment I wanted to ask her if she knew how much warmth the bronze statues of the Monument gave off? I wanted to tell her about Gesh and everything that had happened the night before. Instead I just stared silently at the elderly woman opposite me, thinking that there was no place for me in the „glorious“ times in which she was living. „Why won’t someone lend me a cast-iron view of life…?“ Milena was the only person who understood me at moments like that.

After school I met Gesh at the Monument and he showed me his latest acquisition – a tattoo machine. He had got it second hand from the antique shop near the church. He took my hand very gently. He turned it over and on the inner side of my wrist he wrote „Forever“ in cursive letters. . . I watched drowsily as the black ink penetrated beneath my skin. „Forever!“ I whispered and kissed Gesh. Then we drank beer and we listened to Gesh’s favourite band, Kale until it got late. I got home at two o’clock in the morning. (…)

It was only when I left school that I really felt free. After all those painful years spent in dusty class rooms, sitting at worn-out desks, I had developed a deep mistrust of schools and educational institutions in general. I really began to wonder if you could learn anything worth knowing at school. But there was one thing I had learnt: and that was, to trust more in the lessons life taught me than the words uttered by teachers’ lips. The same teachers who shut us up in the warmth and security of the classroom like hothouse plants, while life is something happening just a couple of streets away! The same teachers who menaced us with wooden pointers while sermonising about the truth. And all the time the truth is outside – sitting somewhere on a bench in front of the Monument. The truth is where I meet Gesh every day. And don’t you go and tell me as well that I’ll be sorry about it one day, because I won’t! One day the people sitting behind their dusty desks and computers will be sorry. If you ask me, you have to give in to your innermost impulses and break out of the institutionalised frame. Frames are used to put boundaries on beauty when you’re at an exhibition. Where there’s limited room and a lot of pictures have to be put up in a small space. Life isn’t a museum and there’s plenty of room for beautiful unframed pictures.

Soon after I finished school, Gesh’s parents decided they wanted to separate us. I was still madly in love with him, and I was sure that he was in love with me. But his parents didn’t like me. They thought I was a bad influence on him. I wasn’t like the normal girls; I always dressed in black clothes and boys’ army boots. I knew that was why Gesh liked me, because I was different from the other girls. But soon I realised it wasn’t up to me. Gesh’s parents sent him away to school in America to get him away from his „decadent“ lifestyle in Sofia. That really hurt me! Gesh was under my skin, literally and figuratively. I couldn’t stop thinking about him. (…)

There was no one to see me off at the airport on my way to America. My mother was at work till late. If it wasn’t for her I wouldn’t have had the money for the trip. During the entire 8-hour transatlantic flight my head buzzed with heavy thoughts. I thought about myself, my life… I thought about what I wanted from it. I thought about what I was prepared to give in exchange. I thought about Gesh. Every thought that followed took me deeper into an inexplicable feeling of helplessness. I had to stop thinking!

After fruitlessly traipsing around New York with my suitcase in search of an apartment, I sat down on the sidewalk on a corner of Times Square. Night was slowly falling. The huge number of flashing neon advertisements frustrated the fall of darkness. My army boots were dirty and dusty. My hair band was unable to contain the flyaway strands of my messy hair. The shadows under my eyes were heavier than my luggage. I gazed up and tried to take in the tall skyscrapers as they disappeared into the dark blue sky. The cars screeched incisively as they crawled along in the traffic jams. I leant back for a moment against my suitcase and drifted off. I could hazily hear the passers-by shouting at me. I was too sleepy and tired to react. Suddenly I saw Gesh standing in front of me. I held out my hand to reach him… and suddenly woke up.

The short story “Forever” by Bistra Velichkova, published in Vagabond magazine, issue 74, 2012.

The short story “Forever” by Bistra Velichkova, published in Vagabond magazine, issue 74, 2012.

Another day in New York and another job interview. Notice on the door of a typical American snack bar: „Hiring Waitresses!“ I go in. It smells of ready-made sandwiches and greasy French fries.

„Hi, can I help you?“ A black woman says to me with a broad smile.

I tell her that I’ve come about the notice on the door. She invites me to sit down and wait for the manager. „Manager!“, I thought to myself crossly, „Another stuck-up teenager with uniformly short-shaven hair and a company shirt buttoned up to his neck!“ In the past few days I had seen enough of America’s clean shaven straight-A students to last me a life time. To hell with them all and the boundless opportunities of their boundless country! I just hoped that they would give me a job at last. A door opened somewhere at the end of the corridor. The manager, a young man in a suit walked towards me. I was right about everything: from the white shirt to the self-confident walk. He walked up to me and offered me his hand with a smile:

„Hello! Are you the applicant for the job? My name’s George. Very nice to meet you!“

I look into his eyes and am lost for words:

„Gesh? Is that you…?!“

The young man looks at me with embarrassment. He wrinkles his forehead in disbelief and he says nothing.

„It’s me, Gesh! Don’t you remember me? Bulgaria? The Monument? Gesh?“

A spark of realisation seems to flash in his eyes for a split second. But it’s just as quickly dispelled by his previous, expressionless business face.

„I’m afraid you’ve made a mistake! But that doesn’t matter. It’s just one of those things. Let’s get on with the interview, shall we?“

„Gesh! It’s me! It’s me, Gesh!“ My sudden wave of excitement and joy begins to give way to despair. I feverishly roll up the right sleeve of my shirt and show him my tattoo:

„Forever, Gesh! Don’t you remember? Forever!“

The security guards throw me out into the street, but I continue shouting:

„Forever, Gesh! Forever!!!“

That same evening I spent a long time wandering the streets of New York. I tried not to think. I sat down on the steps of Union Square, lit a cigarette and opened a bottle of beer. All around me there were groups of punks, heavy metal fans and hippies… They were dressed in torn jeans with purple, green and red hair. Some of the boys had punk crests like Gesh. Others had waist-length hair. There were shaven-headed girls with countless piercings on their faces and bodies, and tattooed flowers and skulls. I could hear black teenagers rapping on saucepans. Couples in love kissed and the silver balls of their tongue piercings clicked against each other. Everything reminded me of the Monument. I thought about Gesh again, about the school, about eighth grade and my first beer; the kiss on the bench, our dirty army boots, intertwined with each other, while the stars slowly sprinkled the sky, illuminating the night of our carefree existence. I thought back to Mrs Paskaleva and my class teacher with a feeling of fondness. How wrong my teachers were! I drank my beer slowly. I thought about my mother. Was she still working in that smoke-filled bar? Was she happy? I took a drag on the cigarette and exhaled the smoke slowly. For the first time in a long time I really felt free, I really felt myself. The tasteless „Corona“ helped me swallow my bitter thoughts. At that moment they were the only thing which had any taste. I looked at my right hand holding the slowly burning cigarette. On the inside just above the wrist, I read the black-inked words out loud: „Forever“. I exhaled the smoke and threw the cigarette into the dust. I tried to put it out, but it just went on burning. Forever.

Natalie Bakopoulos: „Plot is a Blueprint of Human Behavior“

An Interview by Bistra Velichkova for Fiction Writers Review

Natalie Bakopoulos. Photo credit: Myra Klarman

Natalie Bakopoulos. Photo credit: Myra Klarman

Though in some ways I got to know Natalie Bakopoulos through the experience of reading her debut novel, The Green Shore, it was on the shore of Bulgaria’s Black Sea coast earlier this summer that we first truly met. She was reading in an art gallery in the Old Town of Sozopol, as part of the conclusion of the Sozopol Fiction Seminars, where she’d been one of the 2013 English-language fellows. Outside, the sea waves crashed against the rocks, as if following the rhythm of her story.

“I’m half Greek and half Ukranian, but I live in America,” she would tell me several days later, holding a glass of wine. Yet even without knowing her background, her wide smile could not hide her warm Eastern European temperament.

The Green Shore, which was published by Simon & Schuster in 2012 and is just out in paperback in the US, is set during the military dictatorship of Greece (1967-1973), which her father’s family lived through. Earlier this year it was translated by Pavel Talev and published in Bulgarian by Ciela Books, under the title Зеленият бряг. In addition to her first novel, Bakopoulos has published work in Granta, Salon, the New York Times, Glimmer Train, Ninth Letter, and Tin House. Her short fiction has received a 2010 O. Henry Award, a Hopwood Award, and the Platsis Prize for Work on the Greek Legacy.

But despite her many successes and literary recognition, Bakopoulos did not set out to be a writer. She received an undergraduate degree in zoology, and then entered graduate school for physiology. It was only after working as a research assistant for several years that she admitted this desire to write. So she began working for a science journal as an editor, getting closer to the process, while writing her first stories on the side. Then, in her late twenties, she applied to the University of Michigan’s MFA Program in Creative Writing, where she was accepted.

However, Bakopoulos does not regret the years spend in science, because she thinks that there is a great deal of commonality between science and literature: “In both disciplines you have to be creative, you have to ask questions,” she says. “In science, you pursue something and then in the end you realize that what you are pursuing is not working, and you start over. It’s just like writing.”

Bakopoulos and I spoke in Sofia after both attending a public editing session by Richard Beard, writer and Director of the National Academy of Writing in Oxford, England. The event was a part of CapitaLiterature, a series of literary happenings in Sofia, sponsored by the Elizabeth Kostova Foundation. We chatted in the Red House garden restaurant.


– Your first novel, The Green Shore, tells the story of the revolutionary events that happened in Greece between 1967 and 1973. How did you decide to write about this place and this time?

– My father is from Greece, and I always wanted to write about Greece. The novel starts the night of the coup that brought the dictatorship, which took place on April 21st of 1967. In May of that year, there were supposed to be Greek elections. The person who was thought to win was George Papandreou. He was centrist, popular, and beloved. His son Andreas, on the other hand [who was a member of the Greek Parliament and an advisor to his

"The Green Shore" paperback cover

„The Green Shore“ (Simon & Schuster), US paperback cover.

father], was radical; many Greeks did not like him, and his radical views also made the American CIA very nervous. So, there were rumors that year that the elections would not happen because there would be a coup. No one knew if the coup would come from the left, from the right, from the king, or from the army.

What happened, surprisingly, was that the colonels—rather than the generals higher up—were the ones who pulled it off. In the middle of the night they arrested politicians, lawyers, journalists, artists, poets—mostly those with left-leaning views.

Following the coup, numerous freedoms were taken away, parts of the constitution were suspended, books were banned, and anyone found on the street after curfew was shot. People were scared. They didn’t know what was happening, how long it would last, or what they should do. There was a lot of fear.

So, this is the background of my book. I chose this era because it was a time of change, a time of politics, and the time when Greece was entering the modern era.

Also, my father’s uncle was a poet named Mihalis Katsaros. He was a left-wing poet and very political. I started reading about him and his work, and I realized he would be a great character—at least, a man like him. I had never met him, but I imagined him as a part of this story

– Did you structure the novel in advance, or did you just begin writing?

– I wish I were that organized! As far as the structure, it was just sort of trial and error. There are four main characters, and each has a voice: Mihalis, the poet; his sister, Eleni, a widowed doctor; and two of her three children—her daughters Anna and Sophie. So, when I felt interested in Anna, the youngest character, I’d write scenes from her point of view. Then I’d think, “Oh, how would Sophie react to this?” And I’d begin writing from her perspective. It became a giant mess.

So to sort things out, I hung a bulletin board in my room and wrote the names of each character– Anna, Sophie, Mihalis, and Eleni—on different colored pieces of paper. Then I started to draw lines between scenes, tracing what each character’s life looked like, how they were interacting with one another, and how they related to the world and its historical events. It was a visual way of seeing the book develop. But as far as mapping, it wasn’t possible—I had to write through it.

– You were not born when these historical events that you write about happened. So weren’t you afraid of the reaction of Greeks who had been living at that time?

– Absolutely, I was worried about this. I was particularly worried about the reaction in Greece, because I am Greek-American, not Greek. (Actually, the book was first published in Greece. They were quicker than my publisher in the US.) But philosophically, I feel that a novel is an act of the imagination. I am not a historian; I am a novelist. So, my primary concern is the lives of the characters and how they see the world.

In the public editing session with Richard Beard that we just attended, he said, Plot is a blueprint of human behavior.” That’s brilliant! It’s not a sequence of events; it’s how characters perceive the world. You asked me about structure, and originally I did attempt to make a structure. I said, “Well, here is Anna. I need to get her from 1970 into 1971, and then this has to happen.” I was thinking in terms of time and everything felt very forced. Then, I started to think about the character without that structure. Suddenly Anna made a bad choice, and then another bad choice, or a good choice, or whatever, and that was a plot. That’s how I started to structure the novel. It felt more organic. I realized that a character’s behavior creates the plot.

– You have an MFA from the University of Michigan, where you now teach creative writing classes. Do you think that one can learn how to be a writer at the university?

– Well, yes and no. When someone asks me: “Can writing be taught?” I say: “That’s what I am doing for a living, so I hope so.” But the question is a good one. Not everybody can be taught to write, because you have to be teachable, you have to be someone who wants to write. So much of it is reading, and so much of it is revision, and so much of it is just imagination. You can have all the technique in the world, but if you don’t have interesting ideas then it’s going to go nowhere. Similarly, you can have all the big ideas in the world, but if you don’t have the technique, it’ll also go nowhere.

My number one job is to inspire a love of reading. Number two, I have to show students that their voices are important—that at the age of twenty you have as much to say as when you are forty or sixty. You just start saying it differently. The third thing is that you have to be able to force yourself to do the work. You can be the most talented kid in the world, but if you’re showing up to class not doing the work, it’s not going to happen. As a teacher you can try to teach young writers how to stimulate their imaginations, how to have the discipline to write, and how to learn the technique to pull it off. But I don’t think that everyone is teachable. There must be an active desire; learning is never passive.

– Nowadays, when everybody talks about money and commercial success, how can you explain the importance of art, literature, and writing?

– Oh, I wish I knew! I think for those who don’t find it that important they’ll probably go to business school and make a lot of money, and do something else. I have students who are from wealthy backgrounds, who grew up with people just like them, and who have never had to really work. They have vacations and houses and they think that other people are poor just because they don’t work hard. This makes me crazy. It’s because they don’t have the experience. By reading about people who are not like you, from places that are not like yours, from different racial backgrounds, from different socio-economic backgrounds, from different cultural backgrounds, you become a better person. Literature allows us to understand how people live. It teaches empathy. I think this is the most important thing in life, to have empathy.

– What was the thing that most impressed you about spending time in Bulgaria and about Bulgarians? What kind of differences in mentality did you find between Bulgarians and Americans?

The Green Shore - Bulgarian edition (Ciela Books)

The Green Shore – Bulgarian edition (Ciela Books, 2013)

– I love so many things about the country. I love the way the language sounds. And because my father’s Greek and my mother is Ukrainian, I felt very comfortable in the culture.

What I also like about Bulgaria is that it is very much Balkan, in a good way. People don’t really care much about rules, and I’m drawn to that. There’s something here about the questioning of authority that I like. If there’s a rule, people are going to question it! If someone who is in power says something, everyone’s going to fight it. There’s less rigidity here.

Also, the way we think of time here is different. For example, if we have a meeting at six o’clock, at six we say, “Should we go now or maybe 6:30?” Whereas, the Americans are ready to go right on time. I identify more with the former—it seems very laid back, warm. There is such warmth in the culture here that I felt immediately.

– You are working on a new book now. Could you tell us more about it?

– Yes. I’m working again on a novel. It is also set in Athens, but contemporary – during the economic crisis. It begins during a garbage strike and is the story of a Greek-American woman who’s living there. I think that’s all I can say about it now.


* The interview with the writer Natalie Bakopoulos by Bistra Velichkova was published in the literary American journal Fiction Writers Review, on 17 June, 2013.

SOFIA, BULGARIA by Delaney Nolan

Delaney Nolan, American writer.

Delaney Nolan, American writer.

I knew Bistra as my Bulgarian roommate. With her dimpled smile and dark Balkan eyes, Bistra shared not just a room with me in Sozopol but also bottles of wine and walks to the cold beach at night. She and I were fellows at the Sozopol Fiction Seminar, where we joined four other Bulgarian and American writers in cross-cultural writing workshops on the Black Sea Coast. We were a funny mix—including a boxer, a priest, a criminal—though everyone was warm and gracious. During workshops, our stories were translated into wiry Cyrillic letters, and some of the Bulgarians spoke English learned from Mad Max movies.

On my last night in Bulgaria, Bistra picked me up from the central Sofia train station, with its three-story Communist statue out front, and drove me to her apartment for a family dinner and an overnight stay. On the way, we passed the old Monument to the Soviet Army, topped by a copper-cast giant of the proletariat with his rifle lifted above his head. Bistra told me that years before, a graffiti artist had spray-painted the figures along the base to look like superheroes—the Joker, the Hulk, Batman.

“Most people thought it was very funny,” she said, “but I think it made the city officials angry.”

As Bistra turned into an underground garage to a building so identical to others that I’d never again be able to find it, she explained that three generations of her family lived in her apartment. The garage was dark and dank even as a fluorescent light struggled on and then clicked off. I followed Bistra up the stairs toward the delicious smells of home-cooked food. In contrast to the blank, dirty hallway, the apartment Bistra shared with her mother and grandmother was cozy and neat, blooming with color, thanks to two balconies planted with Japanese rose trees, geraniums, and poinsettias. Inside, portraits, masks, and scraps of poetry hung on the walls.

Bistra introduced me to her grandmother, who smiled and looked me over with her one good eye, speaking in a mix of Bulgarian and French as she pressed her soft and wrinkled palms into mine. There was no common language. Although every line of conversation had to be filtered through Bistra, we were all eager to talk as we sat to eat—white Balkan cheese on toast, tarator soup in a glass bowl, cups of pear juice squeezed from fruit out of their own small garden.

I told Bistra’s mother and grandmother how much I loved Sozopol, looking them in the eye as I said what they couldn’t possibly understand even as they smiled and urged me to eat, eat, eat.

Bistra’s grandmother was born in 1929, when there was still a Bulgarian king, and I ventured to ask about her life under Communism.

“There were no beggars,” the grandmother told me. “We were poor, yes, but everybody was poor, so things were cheap. But we were never allowed to talk to foreigners, not at all—a dinner like this, back then, would get us all arrested.”

She spoke in small blocks, peeling the skin off a pepper as she waited for Bistra to finish translating.

“We wanted to see American movies, but we were allowed only Russian movies, and we thought they must be the best. Then capitalism came, and we got to see the American movies finally, and—ah! They were nothing much after all.”

Both mother and grandmother talked about illicit visits to church when religion was frowned on and faith was a risk they took. Later on, they learned that most of Sofia’s head priests were Communist informants.

“Did you ever think about emigrating? Ever try to leave?”

Bistra translated: “She received an offer to work in West Germany, but had she left, she would never have been allowed to return.” The grandmother watched as I absorbed the information and nodded that I understood. The next morning, I was up before dawn, ready to leave. In her nightgown, Bistra’s grandmother hugged me good-bye and said, “Bon voyage.” For good fortune, she tucked a leaf of geranium into my bag, the plant named здравец, zdravets, which also means good health.

“There is one more tradition,” Bistra said with a glass in her hand. “Before a trip, we throw some water before the traveler’s path. For good luck.”

She splashed water in the hallway as I thanked her, hefted my bags, and walked into the lifting dark. The morning birds were singing in the lindens and they, like the skaters in the park, the laundry on the panelki, the superheroes replacing the proletariat, like so much of this country after decades of oppression—they all seemed to be proof of freedom coming around every corner.

* The essay „Sofia, Bulgaria“ by Delaney Nolan, was published in Narrative Magazine, on 5 June, 2012, in the section Readers’ Narratives. It was also translated and published in Arabic in Alef Today Magazine.

Delaney Nolan’s fiction has been published or is forthcoming in The Chattahoochee Review, Guernica, Grist, The Huffington Post, Narrative, Oxford American, PANK, The South Carolina Review and elsewhere. She’s been a Bread Loaf work-study scholar in Vermont; a Sozopol fiction fellow in Sozopol and Sofia, Bulgaria; and the artist-in-residence in Skriðuklaustur, Iceland. Her prose chapbook, Shotgun Style, is the winner of the 2012 Ropewalk Press Fiction Editor’s Chapbook Prize. Her debut prose book – a short story collection Shotgun Style: A Diagram of the Territory of New Orleans“, was the winner of the 2012 Ropewalk Press Fiction Editor’s Chapbook Prize.

Elizabeth Kostova: Writing is like a carpenter craft

Interview by Bistra Velichkova

Елизабет Костова. Снимка: Дебора Фейнголд

Elizabeth Kostova. Photo credit: Deborah Feingold

Elizabeth Kostova is a writer who publishes fiction, poetry, and essays. She holds degrees from Yale University and the University of Michigan. Her first novel, “The Historian” (Little, Brown, U.S./ Ciela, Bulgaria), set partly in Bulgaria, has been translated into more than 40 languages and has sold nearly five million copies worldwide. Her second novel, “The Swan Thieves” (Little, Brown, U.S./ Ciela, Bulgaria), was published in January 2010. Elizabeth Kostova is married to a Bulgarian scientist. She has a strong interest in Bulgarian history, literature, and culture. In 2007, together with Svetoslav Zhelev, she becomes co-founder of the Elizabeth Kostova Foundation for Creative Writing in Bulgaria. Each year, the Foundation organizes the Sozopol Fiction Seminars, based in the city of Sozopol, on the Black sea coast, in Bulgaria. The seminars are opened for participants from all over the world who write in English or in Bulgarian language. At the moment, Elizabeth Kostova lives in the U.S. She has taught fiction writing at the University of Michigan, as well as, in the MFA Program at the University of North Carolina (Wilmington). At the moment Kostova is working on her new novel, which is expected to be published in 2015, both in USA and Bulgaria.

– This year was the sixth edition of the Sozopol Fiction Seminars. Could you please tell us what is your impression of it and how does this seminar differs from the previous years? 

– It’s funny that you asked that, because, today I told to somebody in the group that this was the best group so far. They laughed and said, you say this every year! I know, I am enthusiastic, but this was a very, very strong group, both the Bulgarian and the English writing fellows. They were an older group. Especially the English writing fellows were older than those we had in the past. On both sides, there were many people who had already some awards, published very well, very good professionals as writers. Of course, that’s not a criteria when we choose the fellows, because we have had writers in the seminars before, who did not have a published book, but we value them as much as the others. But really, the groups this year were professionally remarkable set of people. I have to say that, this year we have received a lot of applications and it was very difficult to take the decisions and to make the choices. We could have taken many more people in each group, because there were a lot of very good participants.

– Could you please tell, for future candidates who would like to apply for some of the next editions of the Sozopol Fiction Seminars, what are you looking for in the applicants’ documents?

– First of all, we are looking at the quality of writing. The committees always include people who are invited to teach in the seminar or they have some choice of people with whom they can work well. That’s because, sometimes you feel like – I can help this writer more than this one, because of my particular knowledge. So, there is a little bit of that, but we try to be as objective as possible. Usually, I look at people’s writing samples. I do not even look at resumes until I really thought how I liked the writing.

– What is the most important things that you are telling your students about the writing process?

– If we are talking about the workshops in Sozopol, they are really like conversations between writers. So, I do not think of myself as a teacher in the traditional sense. The Bulgarian group follows the same model. So, we really have two groups, where we do conversations about particular text, submitted to be looked at the workshops. One of the things, we always talk about and look at, is how to learn to edit your own work well; how to learn to revise your own work and to be your best critique. We do this, quite technically sometimes, because we are looking at particular text. We are not just having philosophical conversations about writing.

– What is more important in the writing process – the inspiration or the hard work and the rational order of what you are planning to say?

– In my experience, you can not really have only one of those things. Piece of writing becomes excellent, because of both of those things. Inspiration by itself certainly does not go very far, because writing is ultimately the work of writing and revising. But, you can work as hard as you want, but if you do not have some passion in what you are doing, this certainly shows in the final piece of writing.

Тазгодишната писателска група на Семинара по творческо писане в Созопол. Елизабет Костова е в средата. Снимка: Джеремая Чембърлейн

The Bulgarian and the American writers at the Sozopol Fiction Seminar 2013. Mrs. Elizabeth Kostova is in the middle. Photo credit: Jeremiah Chamberlin

– Since you speak both English and Bulgarian, you have the opportunity to read all the contemporary literature in those languages in original, could you please tell us, according to you are there any differences in the nowadays literature of those two languages?

– That’s a very hard question to answer. I think, there are writers who are doing the same experiments in the two countries. I think American writers are grappling more with history, in fiction and poetry. But it is also becoming true for Bulgaria. I am very happy to see this. There are different styles and traditions in some ways, but there is such a variety of voices in both countries, so it is really hard to generalize.

– Do you think that writing can be learned at the university? Can one learn how to be a writer there?

– There are many things about writing that clearly can not be taught. At the same time there are many aspects of the process of writing that can be taught. I will give you metaphor for this. For example, if you want to build pine furniture as a master carpenter, you would not do this unless you have some desire and enthusiasm, and some natural skill. But you also, would never become a carpenter without looking at what other people build, looking at their beautiful tables and cabinets and learning from them.

– What inspires you to write and do some of your fictional characters exist in the reality?

– I am inspired to write by the desire to explain the world to myself. I usually make up my characters. May be they contain some elements of real people, but I do not usually write autobiographically, they are more like creations.

– At the moment, you are working on your new novel, could you tell us more about it? When should we expect it to be published?

– Well, I am still working on the title of the novel. It is very hard to decide what it would be. The story happens mainly in Bulgaria, but over a long period of time. Not the whole story happens there, but a big part of it. Some of it is connected with contemporary historical events. There is a lot of 20th century history in it, but also some from the 21st century. I will include some of my own impression of the country, but I am also doing a lot of research – interviewing people, reading about Bulgaria in the different periods. Much of it will be things that I can not learn by myself, only by observing. I think the book will come out in the year of 2015. I am still writing it now and it will take a year to publish it. I hope it will come out in Bulgaria in the same time as in the USA, or soon after.

* The interview was published in Bulgarian in the cultural magazine Kultur Bench, 3 June, 2013.

bulgarian_flagThe interview is available in Bulgarian language HERE