A few years had passed by since my first visit to Sofia, but not a lot had changed by the time I arrived in 1993, together with permanent residence in mind. Although everyone seemed welcoming, there remained an ominous doubt in my thoughts about the wisdom of my move, even though the smiles of my hosts seemed genuine enough. A lot had happened between my first visit to Bulgaria in 1985, including my marriage in London – to the daughter of a noted Bulgarian Communist philosopher – and my addition to her family, which could only be described as ‘The Red Bourgeoisie.’ In the past, whole university departments had been named after this academic family, which even to this day is viewed with considerable respect despite the changes in the political landscape and its constant photoshop alterations.
Five years of marriage had not been an easy matter in London, as the contrasts in our cultural backgrounds morphed into daily annoyance, and frustration. You don’t have to be a creative genius to notice the disappointments which occur when people have exaggerated expectations; which was something that Ksenia obviously had. With great swaths of glowing translated references; from many well known Sofia university factions, they were viewed with disdain by the then British authorities, and contemptuously put to one side.
Much to do with years of propaganda on either side of the so-called ‘iron curtain,’ UK academia was totally unprepared to accept her glowing references, as she also was with their often unfounded and arrogant attitude. And so, despite many attempts – and even knowing the presiding Professor of Slavonic Studies at the University of London – she had to be content with teaching French to four-year-olds, as her only viable means of employment.
Rejection, and the frustration of being academically stymied, it wasn’t long before she chose to return home to Sofia, to try and reclaim the remnants of her previous life, her university career, and her love of English and American literature. And my disappointment?
Because – by the way, this story is supposed to be about me – mine was the usual naive response that you might expect from anybody who has felt used in some way, and – as bad for my ego as it might have been – unfortunately, I had to accept that from the beginning, my presence in London must have seemed very convenient indeed.
This was when I became just a little less forthright in my thinking, and when I was determined to get to grips with the so-called changes in Eastern Europe and to get something from these changes for myself.
Hot on the trail for the Sofia Western News magazine
Having let my London flat, and with the assistance of my trusty Series Three Landrover, I decided to move along the Thames to Wallingford, where I kept a small caravan, and spent a few delightful months there, until such time that I felt up to towing my caravan to Bulgaria; which I did one bright September morning in 1993.
It was difficult to totally predict how my presence in Bulgaria would be viewed, due to an understandable ambivalence, but Ksenia’s mother seemed fond of me, and so on arrival in Sofia late one night, I was greeted with some enthusiasm. By then I was rather tired, due to the condition of roads in Bulgaria – which in those days were almost medieval – and driving at night was quite horrifying.
An argument with a border official didn’t help my frame of mind much. He behaved so absurdly – and clearly bent on humiliating another detested bloody foreigner – I began to doubt my good judgment of going there in the first place. But by mocking this twerp, I reduced the other weary travellers to hopeless laughter when I locked my vehicle, and told him that I was going to walk to Romania – leaving my jeep and caravan blocking the entrance to this dark peoples republic – in order to use the other entrance.
Self-important moron’s don’t like being laughed at, and this one became so agitated that he jumped up and down like a child when I refused to move. The argument – about a fee due in order to use the dreadful Bulgarian roads – I finally agreed on a sum in Swedish Krona, by exchanging some local cash with a fellow motorist. Welcome to Bulgaria? It didn’t seem very welcoming to me.