Monthly Archives: January 2017

Not About Politics

I have an unwritten rule that my blog will not discuss politics. Not because I do not have strong feelings about various matters political, but because most people do and the possibility of unknowingly giving offense is quite large. Giving offense is unpleasant and unproductive so one should try not to do it, however much politics seems often to depend on that very thing. I know more about U.S. politics than I care to and not enough about Bulgarian politics to form any but the most general of opinions.

I have lived both in Washington, DC and Sofia, Bulgaria, and so I know it is quite possible to live in a country’s capital and focus on the day-to-day of one’s family and friends, of errands and long walks, of work and leisure, of outings and of hours spent at home with a mug of tea and a book.

cartoonOur Bulgarian friends in Bulgaria often comment longingly on what they see as the absence of corruption, the rule of law, the lack of mafia influence, etc., etc. present in the United States. Our Bulgarian friends in the U.S. often comment to their children that here success doesn’t turn on one’s connections, that money doesn’t buy power, that this country, America, is a “normal country.”

I feel less sanguine about these assertions made on both sides of the pond. I am not full of happy talk about Bulgaria’s endemic corruption and other problems, but I am not sure anymore what constitutes a “normal country.”

politics-is-not-about-moneyOne doesn’t have to be a Christian to be familiar with Pope Gregory I’s famous list of seven deadly sins (седемте смъртни гряха). Not surprisingly, there is at least one website devoted to them. And also perhaps not surprisingly, the seven deadly sins seem fairly good descriptors of the current state of political affairs—or at least of the politicians.

  1. Lust (похот)
  2. Gluttony (чревоугодие)
  3. Greed (алчност)
  4. Sloth (леност)
  5. Wrath (гняв)
  6. Envy (завист)
  7. Pride (гордост)

So it seems at this juncture that the horizon of “normal” may be receding in one country while hazily if haltingly nearing in another. There is reprehensible behavior everywhere. One should call out that behavior loud and clear not merely in places it’s seen as entrenched, but in places it is trying to establish itself as a standard.

george-carlinFor myself, I can say that I am not feeling particularly proud of the United States right now, and wrath is getting the better of me too often. When not wrathful, despair over the naked and undisguised lust, gluttony and greed for power has some days made me quite slothful. I feel, therefore, a bit envious of our cynical Bulgarian friends. Their pessimism is so second nature that they manage just to get on with it and live their lives. Mine, and that of so many of my American friends, is an excruciating and galling thing—and however cynical we are it doesn’t seem enough to keep up with developments.

Perhaps we need to live in Bulgaria again, and soon. We’re certainly thinking about it.

albert-einstein

The Language of Music

“Music is,” said renowned American poet and educator Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, “the universal language of mankind.” When we moved to Sofia, Bulgaria in 2010, our son was three and a half years old. Yoan loved music. He sang incessantly then and, in the unselfconscious manner of very young children, without regard to the presence of others. So we might be at the playground at Седмочисленици (Sedmochislenitzi) and he would give a free impromptu concert standing not far from the church doors blissfully singing in succession the American folk song “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad,” the Bulgarian children’s song “Хей ръчички” (“Hey Little Hands”), the Hebrew “Mah Nishtanah” chant (the Passover Seder recently having been celebrated), and Bob Marley’s “Three Little Birds.”

violinYoan had also begun a very strong interest in the violin. As do so many cities, Sofia has its street musicians and he stopped before each one with great interest. For each, he requested coins to give and for each he gave long and undivided attention—particularly long and undivided attention to the violinists. He wanted lessons, he asked regularly, it was clear this was not a passing fancy.

%d0%bd%d0%b0%d1%86%d0%b8%d0%be%d0%bd%d0%b0%d0%bb%d0%bd%d0%be-%d0%bc%d1%83%d0%b7%d0%b8%d0%ba%d0%b0%d0%bb%d0%bd%d0%be-%d1%83%d1%87%d0%b8%d0%bb%d0%b8%d1%89%d0%b5We asked a good friend who is a flutist. Връзки (connections). A phone call, a name, another phone call, and when Yoan was four years old we found ourselves in one of the studios in the Национално Музикално Училище Любомир Пипков (Lubomir Pipkov National Music School) on Oboroshte Street for an audience with a renowned teacher. She sat at her piano and invited him to sing a song. “No,” he said. She was encouraging. He could sing anything he wanted. He pursed his lips. She suggested songs and began playing as an inducement. He pushed her hands aside so that he could try playing those extremely enticing white and black keys.

“He’s too young,” the renowned teacher pronounced. “Wait a bit more. He’s too small”

We the parents had no problem waiting. The four-year old was not so sanguine about either the waiting or being told he was too small. But the Suzuki method to teach very young children was not available in Sofia and so wait he must.

middle-cA year back in Washington, DC, and Yoan’s interest in learning to play the violin was undiminished. So at age six and a half, he began his lessons at Middle C Music. Classical guitarist Myrna Sislen is the owner and has created a stellar and warm musical community of professional musicians, students, and music lovers, and the teachers are excellent.

Yoan began violin lessons with Frederik Spiro, a former member of both the Albanian Radio Television Symphonic Orchestra and the Albanian National Opera and Ballet Orchestra. He’s been taking lessons from Frederik for 3-1/2 years now and regularly gives free impromptu concerts over the phone to his grandparents.

“Wenn Worte aufhören, beginnt die Musik” (“Where words leave off, music begins”), said German poet and essayist Heinrich Heine.

Nonetheless, I am struggling to find the words to begin. I speak to Yoan largely in Bulgarian. I know how to say цигулка (violin), струна (string), лък (bow), косми на конска опашка (horsetail hair), калъф за цигулка (violin case), нота (note), and музикален статив (music stand).

rosinBut I don’t know how to say “sheet music” so I haven’t been able to find Тих Бял Дунав or Мила Родино/Химн На Народна Република България, both of which Yoan would like to play for his father. I don’t know how to say “Did you tune your violin?” because I don’t know how to say “tune” in this context. I don’t know how to say “rosin” so I can’t sigh heavily while asking why that just purchased little box is on the floor to be stepped on and broken again.

So if you know or can direct me to such musical terms in Bulgarian, I’d be very grateful. Because though Shakespeare may be giving a fairly apt description of Yoan on a good day, I do need both words and book to manage.

He plays o’ the viol-de-gamboys, and speaks three or
four languages word for word without book,
and hath all the good gifts of nature.
(Twelfth Night, 1.3.24)