Around the Bulgarian town of
In the late afternoon sun I stood before the house where I was staying. A vine was growing over most of the roof. Peas, beans, potatoes, and carrots were being cultivated in the garden and five bee-hives sat by a large compost heap. Birds sang in a couple of the trees, scent from some flowers wafted around me, and I heard laughter coming from a neighbouring garden. There is an easy pace of life in this village I thought, as I placed my bag on the dusty ground and knocked on the slightly warped front door.
The door opened and a lady of around fifty-five appeared, patting down her graying hair, as though I had arrived ten seconds too early. She gave a slight curtsy and beckoned me in very trustingly.
“Yullian?” she said.
“That is me,” I said, “Julian.”
“Me Yulchka,” she said, “Your room is there,” and pointed down the hallway. My room was rather rustic, but oh so charming. There was a large wooden bed with a huge mattress (were those pieces of straw sticking out of it?) and individual pillows that I could almost curl up on they were so massive. The floor was wooden too and the walls had been painted yellow a long time ago. There was an enormous bowl on the sideboard with a big pitcher of water next to it. I looked forward to a nice cooling wash before dinner.
Suddenly, there was a knock at the window. A short impish man wearing a blue denim cap waved at me. Has one of their garden gnomes come to life? I wondered. The man showed me a bottle with no label on it, then pointed at the bottle, and then pointed at me. He then held the bottle up to his face, grinned widely, and gave me a thumbs up. I had a feeling he wasn’t offering me water – more likely brandy, gutrot, or even slivovitz the plum brandy of the region. I realized I should have something to eat and drink before I joined him.
The man beckoned me outside. I reasoned that I should be sociable with the locals, at least for an hour or so, after all I was staying in his house! I gave him my best “How do I get to where you are” sign. He indicated I should open the window. I gulped down some water from my bottle and grabbed a bread roll from my bag. I opened the window and landed in a flower-bed with my legs splayed, as I didn’t want to crush any of the petunias.
The man with the cap was sitting at a small table, with a pen and paper lying on it. The table was under a plum tree. He patted the seat next to him. I sat obediently. He poured some liquid from his bottle into two medium-sized glasses.
“Bulgaria,” he said pointing at himself and swallowed his drink.
After a couple of minutes grinning at each other, the man suddenly wrote down on a piece of paper the following soccer result: Bulgaria 2 England 0,
“Ja, Ya, Bonev gola,” he said holding up two fingers to indicate Bonev had scored twice. A feeling began to creep over me that he might actually be right. I drank the clear liquid quite slowly this time. It was slivovitz, and it was strong.
I then thought about English teams playing against Bulgarians and after a minute remembered: Liverpool 5 CSKA Sofia 1, Anfield, 1981. I wrote this down, smiled a sweet smile to indicate that English teams had beaten Bulgarian teams too, and slowly sipped the slivovitz.
“CSKA bad,” he said, and drained his slivovitz in one go. He refilled our glasses and then said “Ahha, ahah, CSKA good” as he remembered the following score: CSKA Sofia 2 Liverpool 0,
The slivovitz was beginning to get to me and eating the bread roll hadn’t helped at all. I had to think of one more score and that would be it. Suddenly, it felt really warm in the garden, the more distant trees and flowers seemed to be out of focus, and the birds’ singing seemed further away. I couldn’t think of very much at all so I decided to be creative. I wrote on the paper: England 3 Bulgaria 1, Wembley, 1953. He looked at me very suspiciously and stroked his chin, as though he couldn’t quite make up his mind whether I was telling the truth. He drank his slivovitz and reached down under the table. He brought out a second bottle, again with no label, and laughed at my obvious discomfort at seeing another bottle of strong alcohol.
I covered my head, I couldn’t drink five more glasses of slivovitz; I couldn’t drink one more! I held up my hands to indicate my surrender. I got to my feet slowly and shook his hand. I then wrote: Slivovitz 5 Julian 0, Pernik, 1994 on the paper. We both laughed out loud and had a final slivovitz to celebrate this result!