Thinking About Things

Dear Reader,

Are you curious about the things you see in other people’s homes? 🙂

I know this is totally bad-mannered, but I must confess that I am. 🙂

One
One of the things I love about Sofia is how bucolic its old neighborhoods look. Old means which had existed before the industrialisation and urbanisation craze of communism, which created a huge housing deficit resulting in the emergence of the tower-block neighborhoods, where one or two building designs were multiplied by the kilo, thus creating what we Bulgarians ironically call the “bedroom neighborhoods”.

And before you condemn me as a snoopy and gossipy person, let me explain – I am curious, because I believe things are choices that speak about their owner. So – if I am interested in a person, I am quite naturally interested in their things too.

Both this and the picture above show
Both this and the picture above show a street in what today is considered a very central and expensive neighborhood in Sofia – Lozenets, accent on the O. Lozenets was an actual village and a villa area until around the 1960s. Today, despite its eliteness, the neighborhood faces huge parking issues and its older parts do not have either central heating or central hot water supply, or both.
IMG_2054
A cherry tree in the centre of Sofia. 🙂 How cool is that? The gardens around the residential buildings are very untended, but I like them exactly because of their wild and luxurious foliage. I went to this street in Lozenets during my lunch break some day last week in search of the flat, which is also a museum, of Bulgarian novelist and playwright Dimitar Dimov (1909-1966), whom I admire.

During communism in Bulgaria, people used to have a love/hate relationship with things. The shortcomings of the plan economy and the mere handful of ideologically acceptable trading partners heavily limited the variety of what was available in stores, which resulted in people ending up owning the same things. Most people also lived in very similar flats in identical concrete panel tower blocks, so the homes of many looked almost identical too.

The metal tag saying the building houses the Dimitar Dimov museum. Bulgarians don't like to spend money on maintaining building facades, they somehow expect the state to take care of that. Also, many complain of lack of money to spend on building renovations and fail to recognise that their building has a problem, like a leaky roof, if they do not experience it personally.
The metal tag saying the building houses the Dimitar Dimov museum. Bulgarians don’t like to spend money on maintaining building facades, they somehow expect the state to take care of that. Also, many complain of lack of money to spend on building renovations and fail to recognise that their building has a problem, like a leaky roof, if they do not experience it personally.
The path leading to the building entrance. Very shadowy and overgrown with trees. Despite the unkempt look of the building, the general short-funding of the literary museums in Bulgaria has resulted in something like royal treatment of the occasional visitors - you call in advance, make an appointment and a museum workers comes from the literary museum headquarters to unlock this particular flat especially for you. The lecture is also a one-on-one and included in the price.
The path leading to the building entrance. Very shadowy and overgrown with trees. Despite the unkempt look of the building, the general short-funding of the literary museums in Bulgaria has resulted in something like royal treatment of the occasional visitor – you call in advance, make an appointment and a museum worker comes from the literary museum central office to unlock this particular flat especially for you. The lecture is also a one-on-one and included in the price.

Exchanging Bulgarian money for U.S. dollars or any other currency for that matter, was strictly controlled, so people could not shop for things made in the enemy capitalist camp unnoticed. These restrictions, quite cynically, did not apply to members of the nomenclature and their families, or to persons who had been granted permission to work abroad and could account for their possession of foreign currency. This created very noticeable inequality on the backdrop of ubiquitous slogans proclaiming the opposite, in a situation undermining the foundations of the regime by destroying the sense of social community and contributing to rampant opportunism, hypocrisy and alienation.

Oh well...inscriptions like these always make me smile - probably because of their exasperated tone, call for behavioral loftiness and
Oh well…Tag says: “Please do not throw cigarette stubs and coffee cups in the building and the courtyard. Thank you.” Inscriptions like these always make me smile – perhaps because of their exasperated though polite tone and their call for behavioral loftiness which is somehow contradicted by their rickety looks. Very often tags like these feature spelling/grammar mistakes too. Here, surprisingly, everything is correct – up to the comma and the word division on the first line. 🙂
Building entrance cries "Paint me."
Building entrance cries “Paint me.” The door to Dimov’s flat is the one visible to the right.

At the everyday level – this created a cult of things – things coming from the West especially, – that was often masked as an outward proclamation of a disregard for things. Not caring about the aesthetics of things in particular was considered the proper thing for a communist to do, and the opposite was condemned as a bourgeois regress, charges on which could very heavily complicate or even destroy one’s life.

Finally - Dimov's living room! It faintly looks like mine and definitely looks like the one of my childhood. I could live in it as it is now. It has so many books and a gorgeous kachelofen, or masonry heater. What else does one need? :)
Finally – Dimov’s living room! It faintly resembles mine and definitely looks like the one of my childhood. I could live in it as it is now. It has so many books, a large desk, a gorgeous kachelofen, or masonry heater,  two windows with tree branches touching the panes and armchairs, exactly like the ones that half the Bulgarian population possessed in the 1950s. What else does one need? 🙂

Now the situation has changed – people are free to buy anything they can afford and, contrary to the efforts at limiting consumption typical of the past decades, consuming more and more often is what has been underpinning the prevalent attitude to things today.

We did not have a kachelofen, but had a very similar bookcase and I recognised many of the book covers - my grandfather had them too. :) We also had a portrait of poet and revolutionary Hristo Botev at home, in a similarly ornate frame, and had pictures stuck in the same way in the space between the frame and the canvass. We also had the herringbone parquet pattern - it was very typical of the mid-20th century in Bulgaria. Last year when we renovated the flat we currently live in, I insisted on having the same herringbone pattern as I love it. The parquet guys said it was very old-fashioned, as square patterns are more "in" now. I don't care.
At my childhood home, we did not have a kachelofen, but had a very similar bookcase and I recognized many of the book covers – my grandfather had them too. 🙂 We also had a portrait of poet and revolutionary Hristo Botev, in a similarly ornate frame, and had pictures stuck in the same way in the space between the frame and the canvass. We also had the herringbone parquet pattern – it was very typical of the mid-20th century in Bulgaria. Last year, when my husband and I renovated the flat we currently live in, I insisted on having the same herringbone pattern, because I love it. The parquet guys said it was very old-fashioned, and square patterns were more “in” now. I don’t care.
Look at those great bookcases and the green view through the windows...The room was shadowy, as I like it, cool, very quiet and the birds' songs were audible from the outside. Yes, I most definitely could live in this room...:)
Look at those great bookcases and the green view through the windows…The room was cool and shadowy, as I like it, very quiet, and the birds’ songs were audible from the outside. Yes, I most definitely could live there…:)

After the collapse of communism, the wide availability of things contributed to the very quick rise of consumerism, which resulted in a higher number of possessions, cluttered homes and – alas – expanding waistlines.

Actually, this flat was something like a retreat for Dimov. He had in total three wives, and tried to live with one of them, and their child, there, but the place is really tiny. It consist of a living room a bedroom and a kitchen. In addition, Dimov was quite the introvert and needed a place all to himself, so the wife moved to another flat and this became Dimov's den for working and spending time on his hobbies. Hobbies included photography and science. By education, Dimov was a veterinarian so he knew about biology and chemistry but was also interested in physics.
Actually, this flat was something like a retreat for Dimov. He had three wives in total, and tried to live with one of them and their daughter there, but the place is really tiny. It consists of a living room a bedroom and a kitchen. In addition, Dimov was quite the introvert and needed a place all to himself, so the wife moved to another flat and this became Dimov’s den for working and spending time on his hobbies. Hobbies included photography and science. By education, Dimov was a veterinarian, so he knew about biology and chemistry, but was also interested in physics. He could read fluently in Russian and Spanish.

I do not intend to preach on mindful shopping or eating, and frugality as an attitude to home decoration, cooking or life in general as, although I do believe in these principles, I am not always irreproachable in my observance of them.

Books in the living room also included the translations into various languages of Dimov's landmark novel - Tobacco (Тютюн), telling of the rise and fall of a Bulgarian peasant boy turned a tobacco tycoon and his mistress - a former peasant girl who studied to be a doctor but ended up being the lover of rich businessmen in 1930s Sofia. The book
Books in the living room also included the translations into various languages of Dimov’s landmark novel – Tobacco (Тютюн), telling of the rise and fall of a Bulgarian peasant boy turned tobacco tycoon and his mistress – a peasant girl who studied to be a doctor but ended up being the sophisticated lover of rich businessmen in 1930s Sofia. The book boasts deep psychological insight and was intended to depict the moral degradation of the Bulgarian bourgeois society that had contributed to the advent of Communism in the mid-1940s. The original manuscript was deemed unacceptable by the Communist regime and had to be reworked before being published. Rework included more extensive coverage of the communists and their ideals and fight, so as to highlight the class struggle, in case anyone got too infatuated with the refined ways of the pre-1944 society. 🙂

Instead, I thought that showing you the home of this Bulgarian writer whom I admire, would serve as an illustration of how intelligence and mental sophistication can shine through things, adorning them with layers of meaning and significance beyond their utilitarian purpose. I believe the slight asceticism evident in this interior also hints at a very healthily dosed contempt for things – just enough to put them in their right place.

Meaning – things do not add value to people, but rather people add value to things. 

Going into the kitchen. It was really very small and, like everything else in the flat, was preserved as it was when Dimov was alive. The room housed Dimov's medical substances, photographic processing equipment, typewriter and pharmaceutical scales. The only thing related to actual cooking was a tiny hot plate he used to boil coffee. I bet Dimov must have been a very interesting man to talk to...
Going into the kitchen. It was really very small and, like everything else in the flat, was preserved as it was when Dimov was alive. The room housed Dimov’s medical substances, photographic processing equipment, typewriter and pharmaceutical scales. The only thing related to actual cooking was a tiny hot plate he used to boil coffee. I bet Dimov must have been a very interesting person to talk to…
This cupboard currently contains only harmless substances but in the past, for decades, it had all Dimov's poisons like potassium cyanide and arsenic...I thought - what a great place this would have been to steal such a poison and murder somebody, like in an Agatha Christie book...:) And look at the engraved ornament at the glass door. The bookcases in my childhood home had ones that were exactly the same. I was also thinking - the limited number of things that Bulgarians had during Communism was certainly suffocating in a way, but it also created a kind of familiarity and equality between people that helps create bonds. I tell you, all those familiar things made me almost feel at home in this flat that I have seen for the first time in my life.
This cupboard currently contains only harmless substances, but in the past, for decades, it had all Dimov’s poisons, like potassium cyanide and arsenic…I thought – what a great place this would have been to steal such a poison and murder somebody, like in an Agatha Christie book…:) I am joking of course. But do look at the engraved ornament at the glass door. The bookcases in my childhood home had ones that were exactly the same. I was also thinking – the limited number of things that Bulgarians had during Communism was certainly suffocating in a way, but it also contributed to creating a kind of familiarity and equality between people that created bonds. I tell you, all those familiar things made me almost feel at home in this flat, that I have seen for the first time in my life…
See the
See the chemical-lab mortar and pestle? 🙂 And those pharmaceutical scales? When I was a kid, the pharmacy my mom worked in had scales like these, and all sorts of tiny weights. Drugs were actually prepared there, things were measured, crushed, mixed, dissolved, poured into containers and so on. Much more interesting than today’s branded boxes of everything.
And how about
And how about this cupboard…? Needless to tell you – we have at least two like those in my Wallachian village. 🙂 And the painted wooden floor too – only ours was dark brown. 🙂 Look at the hot plate and the green pan for boiling coffee. Dimov really was above mundane things, wasn’t he? No wonder he was attractive to women, who then fled in terror :). Must have been a difficult person to live with.
Several cups of coffee, a liquor decanter, a few wine glasses and a small vase - I mean, really! It is so interesting to sneak a peak at people's homes. :)
Several cups of coffee, a liquor decanter, a few wine glasses, remnants of a tea set and a small vase – I mean, really! It is so interesting to sneak a peak at people’s homes. 🙂

Things rhymes with wings, have you thought of that?

So, let’s take to our wings, and soar above the things. 🙂

A cup of coffee or a glass of wine and some slow-moving, exquisitely crafted literature in a cool room with birds' songs seeping through the windows...That's what I call bliss.
A cup of coffee or a glass of wine and some slow-moving, exquisitely crafted literature classic in a cool room with birds’ songs seeping through the windows…That’s what I call bliss. (Picture shows collected works of Fyodor Dostoevsky.)

PS. Among other things, I am thinking about your good mood, so my musical gift to you today is this cheerful song on things, proposing a charming – acknowledging but lighthearted – attitude towards things – both material and of the heart 🙂