For three years after serving his mandatory two years in the army and fruitlessly applying to the Art Academy in Sofia, my husband worked for the Сатиричен Театър, the Satiric Theater at 26 Stefan Karadja Street. His politics prevented his acceptance in the higher levels of academe, but seemed to be of little importance when working in theater set design.
The work wasn’t onerous, it was in a creative environment, the theater operated at a very high professional level in all aspects, and he met a friend he still has more than three decades later.
The Satiric Theater’s literary director at that time was Stanislav Stratiev. Stratiev was a playwright, screenwriter, satirical essayist, and short story writer. According to his website, “Stratiev’s plays have been performed in Belgium, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Poland, Romania, Russia, Sweden, the Slovak Republic, Turkey, the USA, and others.”
Stratiev died in 2000, having worked at the Satiric Theater since 1975 and producing an enormous body of work, much of it still performed and read and cherished.
Not long ago, my husband pulled off the bookshelf a volume of Stratiev’s short fiction, Избрано 1. Белетристика (Selected Works 1. Fiction). After a few minutes of listening to him chortle, I had to see for myself. The character Stoyan is a sort of Everyman, or perhaps Everypeasant. Bulgaria has seen enormous changes in the last 130 years, but the village is the ironic harbinger of the news that for many even seemingly cataclysmic change results in little advancement in day-to-day life—and sometimes in reversals. Here then is my translation of Stoyan and a Village.
Stoyan and a Village
Somewhere—mineral water, elsewhere—oil, in Stoyan’s village—backwardness.
Backwardness and barbarism.
Mountains, forests, rocky peaks, and hobgoblins.
The population, of course, doesn’t believe, but when it comes and sits at your table, how can you not believe?
Either that, or it reaches for you in the middle of the day so that you circle the village while someone knocks the head off a black hen and throws it across the path of the hobgoblin.
The village is small, twenty houses, but when a hobgoblin is chasing you it appears to you as large as the capital Sofia.
The last hope of the population is at least democracy to come, because electricity and water don’t come, and they don’t have anywhere to come from—no road, and it also is not coming.
Instead bears come and they blow in your eye in the middle of the square.
Wolves throttle the sheep, boars ravage the potatoes.
The people number less than the beasts.
Big backwardness and explosives.
The village lays on explosives.
Somewhere God gave gold, elsewhere—pyramids, here—explosives.
On the very top are those from the Second World War. They are, let’s say, two hand spans down. You dig the cucumbers in a little deeper and you fly in the air.
Below this layer are the explosives from the First World War. They are at the depth, let’s say, of a latrine.
The population is in shock and has already stopped digging latrines. At the smallest occasion, one runs into the woods.
Backwardness and barbarism.
Under those are the ones from the Russian-Turkish War.
You go to dig a well and after forty-five minutes, you don’t need either water or food.
So the village has no water, and the population drinks like beasts from bear paw prints and from forest springs.
Farther down no one has reached; no one knows what is below this layer.
The population with reason supposes that further down are sabers and maces.
One can’t say that this is fertile soil and that the harvests are very bountiful in Stoyan’s village.
Despite everything, life here passes like it does everywhere.
One’s birthplace, there’s nothing like it.