Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Bulgarian Cubbyholes

Insect Cubbyholes
When we travelled to Bulgaria in the 1970s, H had just started working at a Government Research Laboratory. When his colleagues knew where we were going, they suggested that we contact a Bulgarian, called Peter, who had spent several weeks working at the laboratory the previous year. They wanted us to visit him and take him a bottle of whiskey, a rare commodity in Communist Bulgaria at the time.
We telephoned the family on our arrival, and they arranged to pick us up from our hotel so that we could have a meal with them at their home. We were really excited at the prospect of  being entertained by locals. 
When they arrived, Peter's wife was driving a very old, enormous car. On the journey she seemed to have trouble climbing the hills, and the gear lever on the steering column was also giving difficulties.  As the journey continued we understood that the car hardly ever came out except to visit their vineyard in the countryside. 
The leafy streets where they lived in Varna were incredibly quiet, the roads were empty and nobody was around. We were told that it was because the British production of The Forsyte Saga was on TV, and everybody who could get access to a television was indoors watching it. It was then that Peter's wife turned to H and said she had been expecting him to be dressed and looking like Jolyon!!!  He must have been a disappointment wearing his smart but casual attire.
As we pulled up outside their home we were confronted with a large turn of the century double fronted house.  It had been in Peter's family for years. On entering the hall with its central stairway, it suddenly became clear that the house had been split up into many parts. We went up the stairs to their section, where under Communist rules they were allowed only 17 sq. meters each.  The rest of their home had been confiscated and given to other families to live in. This was a shock for us to discover, all they had was a living kitchen, and two small annex bedrooms for themselves and their  son.
In the kitchen one wall was given over completely to little cubbyholes. They must have had about a dozen each in which to keep all of their possessions and belongings.
The two dolls in national costume were very kindly given to our sons when we left after our visit. A happy reminder of our special time spent with them.
Further post on Bulgaria here

18 comments:

  1. Your story describes so very well how warmth and hospitality can thrive in such seeming bleakness. Everything is relative, though, isn't it? I consider that I live in a very small house, and yet I'm sure it would be palatial to some. Your posting makes me appreciate my cozy spot all the more!

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  2. You are right Mark, their kindness and hospitality is something that we both remember with affection - home is where the heart is.

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  3. your post reminds me that the people who have very little are the most giving and the most hospitable...
    it makes one think

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  4. Dear Demie - that often does appear to be the case - I wonder why that is?

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  5. Ah, now there's a subject to hail the heart: cubbyholes. Used the whole world over, intimate yet for display, a means to read the owner; and in a country such as Bulgaria where space is so scarce they become a means to rationalise such poverty of space. Rosemary, what a nest you have opened...thank you....

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  6. Hello Rosemary! We built one of these insect homes on the Kitchen Garden recently, splendid things. I found it curious that something like the Forsyte Saga would be bringing people together in communist Bulgaria, amazing! It certainly was a good series.

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  7. Yes Kate, cubbyholes enable us to keep our personal and precious objects separate from those of others. It can be just a private place where we keep our own things. The principal is the same. We do not like them to be violated.

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  8. Hello Bertie - The Insect Tower - Extremely desirable, high-rise apartments, in magnificent location, available now at competitive rates - quote on the notice board beside the insect cubbyholes. I photographed this tower in the Kitchen Garden at Arlington Court, near Barnstable, Devon (NT).
    In the 1970's very few Bulgarians travelled outside the eastern bloc, so anything they saw on TV they took as being current western lifestyle!!!

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  9. I can barely remember this visit, the car ride I had completely forgotten, but two things that have remained in my mind all these years were their kindness and the impression of stark simplicity in their home. Jonathan.

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  10. Dear Jonathan - you were only 9½ years old then, so I am really pleased that you remember the most important aspect of our visit - their kindness to us, particularly as we were total strangers to them.

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  11. Hello Rosemary! Interesting picture and story, I like it!

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  12. Dear Marius - The National Trust organisation in the UK seem to be building a lot of these insect cubbyholes in the gardens of their properties to encourage lots of different insects.

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  13. dear Rosemary,
    i think its because they are free.
    "freedom is another word for nothing left to loose"...

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  14. Dear Demie - yes, I think you are right.

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  15. A fascinating post, Rosemary. It reminds me of so many holidays that we took when the children were small that were intended to be only about pleasure but turned out to also be educational.

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  16. Dear Rosemary - we used to give the children notebooks so that they could write a daily log about the holiday and do drawings. I was wondering whether they still have them or if they are in our attic somewhere!

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  17. I just said to Roger, "Your sister is amazing!"

    A lovely snippet of information & a memory to supplement one of the many postcards received from you over ther years(that a certain packrat has secreted away, much to her husband's displeasure...}

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  18. Dear Carolyn - fancy you keeping all of those postcards over the years. Someday when I visit you in Canada you must let me see them, that is if Roger does not get at them first!

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