Junction’s beta-draft is REALLY close to completion and I’m not having any ideas that aren’t related to either it or Renaissance Express. But you can’t give the same excuse twice and I do have a bit of extra time today, so here goes something different.
One of my commenters asked me to write more about my daily life in Bulgaria, which I don’t usually do because I write for escapism and my daily life is boring. But today I was listening to King of Vagabonds and I was thinking about how I admire Neal Stephenson’s ability to take the daily life of a person in whatever place and time and make it sound interesting.
So I reached up past the collar of my jacket and fumbled around in my shirt and undershirt until I found my necklace. The necklace is silver and was a present from my wife (then girlfriend) who gave it to me attached to a konski oko or “horse’s eye,” the Bulgarian term for a nazar. When the first nazar, a classic blue, white, and black eyeball, broke off the necklace some time in college, I replaced it with a simple torus of blue glass, like a lifesaver candy. When that one broke, I replaced it with an iPod.
The iPod looks a lot like a nazar, a silver rectangle with a black ring of plastic embedded in one of its faces. The ring is marked with certain symbols, but I don’t need to look at them, all I have to do is find the damn thing in my clothes and press it between my thumb forefinger. Somehow this action closes a logic gate in the ipod’s mysterious solid-state workings, and electrical pulses cease flowing through the insulated wires that run from it into my ears. Tiny magnets there stop vibrating, and the voice of Simon Prebble stops narrating.
I am on Shishman street, on my way back from my last class, and the St. Cyril and Methodius metro station, to my office, and an organic food store. Shishman, named for the tsar who failed to resist the Ottoman invasion, is a cozy little street of trendy snacks, tchochkies, and steam-punk jewelry. People keep talking about making it a pedestrians-only street, but it keeps not happening, probably because of those maniac parents who like to pick up their kids from the Russian school and smash their cars into people trying to park in front of the Radisson Hotel.
For the time being, school is still in session and I’m safe as I make my way across the stained gray slabs of the sidewalk, past my old office, now painted a cheery red and white. The wind must be to my back because I smell each store after I pass it: nothing but wet concrete next to the banitseria, baked dough and cheese at the florist, hyacinths at Ali’s doner place, French fries and rotisserie chicken at whatever is next to the doner place.
There was a time I visited Ali’s so often that he knew my wife by sight, and yelled “don’t bother cooking dinner for your husband, we already fed him” at her. He also gave me free doners on my wedding day, in exchange for some leftover cake, and we feel a certain comradely since we are both foreigners who married Bulgarian women.
Both of our marriages also resulted in children, which is why I don’t see much of Ali any more and why (I assume) I accumulated so much stress that my body rebelled against me and refused to digest lactose any longer. Which is why I’m not stopping at either Ali’s or the Starbucks on my way back from my last class, but the health food store, where I have to buy a carton of soy milk and a raw food bar.
The soy milk is Italian (“con vaniglia”), which makes the secretions of the office coffeemaker bearable. The food bar I buy mostly because I’m paying for the 7 lev soy milk with a 20, and I don’t want the old lady behind the counter to glare at me. What I forget to buy, I will realize later, is coffee grounds, which means I am fated to drink hot water seeped through yesterday’s coffee dregs.
I rush toward this doom and my office in an apartment building, which dates back to some time before World War II (its elevator still proudly bears the name “Schindler”) and was heavily modified by the Communists. The lock on the door sticks, and my key is torqued like a corck-screw from the time I wasn’t paying attention and twisted before I jiggled. My shoes clomp across the marble floor of the dark, chilly foyer, which today is half-way filled with wooden planks from the reconstruction of yet another one of the neighbors’ apartments.
My second key is in my hands as I climb the marble stairs, just a bit lower and a bit further apart than is the modern standard. The office door is modern standard, though: a metal behemoth with a heavy deadbolt system that crunches to life below the surface as I wrench the key counter-clockwise, as if I have activated a mechanical golem. I have to grasp the knob (which does not turn) and pull firmly to force the door’s hidden apparatus into alignment. Alignment is attained and I gain entry.
My next class is at 5:30. I have an hour and a half to write.