My watch battery has been running down and a couple of weeks ago, before I’d noticed this was the case, I spent a very satisfying two hours easily achieving everything on my list and wondering why I don’t get this much done every other day.
Then the sun went down, which was a bit of a surprise as it was only half past three.
In a similar way, real time seems to have been playing strange tricks on us over the last eight weeks. It might have something to do with the fact that we’re juggling working on the computer and liaising with Ivan our maestro*, on what needs to happen next with the house project. Or that we’re trying to maintain two households. There’s the one in Yambol where the cats need feeding and watering at regular intervals, we have the internet keeping us updated with work (and telly) and the excitement of the town and all its restaurants is just a short walk away; then life in the village where things are somehow a lot more real, we get up with the sun, watch the stork babies grow up, people stop and chat and it doesn’t seem possible to get stressed about to-do lists.
Our house has been slowly but surely taking shape, with the extension shooting up within two weeks; insulation, plasterboard, plaster and paint virtually completing upstairs; the bathroom relocating from the extension to one of the rooms upstairs (a long story); window sills being designed, cut, glued, primed, painted and fitted; window holes being bashed in walls and hastily bricked up again (another long story) and a great mutual respect and trust forming between maestros Ivan and Jeremy.
I am in awe of the way that Jeremy has managed to organise everything and everybody. Teams of builders, payment, timings etc – it is worth noting that all of this has been happening in Bulgarian. I’m not sure, but there’s always the chance that all this time spent with the builders means he’s learnt “Phwaooor look at the bum on ‘er” in Bulgarian, but so far there’s been no evidence of this while I’ve been around.
Happily there have been opportunities to break up the hard work. The parents popped over for a week, giving us a hand with some clearing of the house and garden, and a wonderful excuse to go and explore a bit of our new corner of Bulgaria, including wandering in some of the Strandzha forest and having a look at a couple of the many unspoilt beaches …in between buying a bathroom sink and investigating as many second hand shops as we could find, of course.
Bulgaria really manages to pack in the festivals during May and June** as well, with special traditions marking various saints’ days and festivals. We have been made to feel particularly welcome, as Ivan and his family have flung open their doors and invited us to everything in Novo P. We have been fed and watered, they’ve introduced us to countless neighbours and even given us a ‘horo’ dancing lesson.
So when we said we’d like to go to see some fire-dancing, five of us piled into our car and drove the 40 minutes to Bulgari, a usually sleepy village with a dwindling population nestled quite high in the Strandzha forest. Once a year on 3rd June however, it comes alive with an influx of visitors from all corners of Bulgaria^ with stalls, kufte burger grills, candy floss sellers and traditional dancing – which us girls joined in, whilst Ivan and Jeremy looked after coats and bags. When the sun has completely gone down, they turn the lights off in the square, a hush descends on the crowd and locals walk across hot coals to the meditative sound of Bulgarian drumming.
During working and playing out with Ivan and his wife Elena, we have developed a strong understanding of each other. We try out more complicated language on them before launching it on the general public and somehow they have ended up as our interpreters if we need to talk with other Bulgarians at the municipality, for example. Most funny is learning how we sound to them. Ivan asked me recently about something English Jeremy keeps saying: “It sounds like zack lay,“ he explained in Bulgarian. Well I couldn’t think what it could be until Jeremy said it again – ‘exactly’. It’s an ongoing joke now, with Ivan saying it more than both of us, and in zack lay the right context.
Last weekend was ‘Paniir’ the latest praznik (party) of the season, this time held in our village. There had been a lot of work going on to prepare for it: holes had been filled in the roads, flowerbeds given even more attention and finally van loads of tables and chairs shipped in for people to sit on whilst eating, drinking and watching the crowds milling through the stalls and local lads test their strength on the punch ball machine. Live music on the Saturday night gave us the opportunity to try out some more Bulgarian dance moves, where I discovered that there are different steps to different songs! Mind you, I don’t think Ivan’s whisky helped our coordination, much.
Then Sunday morning, along with most of the village and dozens of visitors, we wandered up to the park where the annual wrestling competition was staged. Anyone could enter and prize money was pretty significant, so it was taken quite seriously. There were levels for all ages from about 8 upwards – including girls – and I was surprised to find that some of the fights were actually quite entertaining.
As Ivan so wisely says, we can’t have praznik every day, so it’s back to work now. He and Jeremy will be fitting the downstairs windows tomorrow, we’re expecting our heating system to be installed later this week and the pipe work for the water and sewerage should be connected up to the mains by next week too.
Elena has even planted us a little garden, so within a few weeks we will be harvesting our very first Novo P tomatoes and cucumbers, so we can be eating home-grown shopska salad when we move in!
As much as I can’t wait for it all to be finished, I don’t want the summer to fly by too quickly. These few weeks of easing our way into village life – working with Ivan whilst staying at Maura’s place – have been so much fun. We certainly want to make the most of having Maura and Martha down the road and the beach just 20 minutes away though, so perhaps after we get running water in the bathroom and the cats are settled, we can start taking one or two days a week off to relax. Maybe this will help time slow down a bit.
Or better still, I just won’t replace my watch battery.* featured briefly on our Wedding TV episode of Happy Ever After – you might remember the chap looking at the plans in the garden, whilst we’re pointing and being mono-syllabic in Bulgarian ** making it an ideal time to visit ^ dramatically reducing the average age of the inhabitants