bulgaria

#AuroraShootings

For the first few hours after finding out about the shootings in Aurora, Colorado, any social media about the weather, a good iced coffee or Frank Ocean made me kind of furious. All I wanted to read in 140 character increments was more about the murders. I wanted to know the last tweets of the Channel 7 sports reporter who died, about the tear gas that the audience mistook as another special effect, and about the kinds of costumes people had worn to the screening. As if these facts could give some definition to something so senseless. Of course, they did not make me feel any better than a photo of an iced coffee.

In terms of national tragedies that I’ve been in a 20-mile radius of, this one was different than September 11. On 9/11, all the senseless murder was connected to something larger. That’s not to say an international terrorist plot makes the untimely death of a brother or mom any easier. But for those who were only attached to the tragedy as a witness, there was a narrative that unfolded afterward, and there’s something comforting in a story. 

There has been an effort to blame the senselessness of the Aurora shootings on the NRA’s interpretation of the second amendment. But I don’t think that’s fair. Just as the pro-choice movement isn’t in favor of abortions, the NRA doesn’t like mass murder. (Though to the guy wearing a second amendment t-shirt in Lyons on Saturday: maybe too soon?) James Holmes was going to do something awful no matter how long he had to wait for whatever kind of weapon he was going to buy. There’s nothing tangible to blame this tragedy on. 

I went to bed on Thursday night maybe a little drunk, but safe and cool in my air-conditioned apartment, ready to wake up to a Friday morning and the coming weekend. Instead, I woke up to a panicked email from a friend who knew I would never go to a midnight showing of Batman. I don’t think she thought I was in real danger, but my proximity to the random unfairness of life left her unnerved. 

Last week was not slow in the senseless tragedy genre. In Burgas, Bulgaria, a suicide bomber blew up a bus of Israeli tourists. While I was as unlikely to be on that bus as I was to be at the Batman premier, I have been in Burgas. In fact, last summer, an Israeli real estate investor gave my friend and me a ride along 99, even going so far as to pay a cab driver to lead us to the train station in the city. For those who aren’t up on Bulgarian history, the country takes much pride in being one of the few places that didn’t turn their Jews over during WWII and Israeli tourism is a strong part of their economy. My friend who lives in Sofia said there were more than a few Facebook statuses equating the suicide bomber to September 11. 

It’s easy to go months and even years and pretend. But with the Aurora shootings and the suicide bombing in Burgas, there it is, and in a place I’ve been: life is uncertain and unfair. What’s kept me happy and healthy for the past 29 years has been nothing but luck. And it could go the other way at any moment. 

Young and Old Abroad

‘It makes you feel young,’ my best friend said when we arrived in Sozopol after a bus from Burgas and an overnight train from Sofia. Young, that at 28, we were still up for losing a night of sleep to save some lev on a hotel, young that we still had the sense of adventure about us to go on an improtu beach vacation with her landlord, and young, that after meeting as 7-year-olds and becoming friends in eighth grade, we were still the same pair who got kinishes from the hot dog truck when we were supposed to be walking around the lakes of our high school for gym, the same two who, when bored of Prague after a few days, hopped on a bus to Paris, and now the same friends who were sleep-deprived and had no place to stay in a beach town on the Black Sea.

I have been thinking a lot about her comment on this trip. 'It makes you feel young’ implies that our age isn’t enough, which frankly, it isn’t.  We do not have kids or mortgages, but we could, and while there is still time for life changing decisions, there has also been enough time to acquire moles on our backs and wrinkles around our eyes.

On this trip, I find myself both young and old. Young because I will stay at hostel and share a bathroom, but old because I will pay for a private room. Young because I am proud of the tan I have acquired on this trip, but old because I am a little worried about the sun spots that will follow. Young because I sought free samples of Turkish delight while walking through a bazaar, but old because I am enjoying a 8 TL frappe in an air-conditioned cafe right now.    

But there are some things that I enjoy about getting older. For one, I know the routines that make me happy. While I’ve been travelling alone, I’ve managed to read, write and run, the most fulfilling verbs I know. My hotel room is ground level, and every night, I can hear the American pop music which plays for tourists like me late into the night. One evening, while brushing my teeth, I was reminded of my sophomore year in college, when I would wait until 4 am to walk home from the bar with my friends, unaware that I could leave on my own. I am glad I know that now.

But one thing that doesn’t change with age is how hard it is to remember how big this world is, and how many people are living right alongside me.  This morning, I went to the archaeology museum, and saw the artifacts of Empires I hadn’t thought about since 9th grade world history. Maybe as an American, or just as a person, I can’t comprehend how many lives have come before my own, but it was nice to see their coins and remember that they were here once, too.  

So back to my old friend. She’s an anthropology student, studying trash collection, specifically of the Roma community, in Bulgaria. She started coming to Sofia in 2003, before international phones were ubiquitous and before she knew how to read Cyrillic. On my second to last night in Bulgaria, we went to a Roma wedding, which had some of the garish charms of an American one, but also had kids rollerblading with one skate and propelling themselves with their sneakered foot and cotton candy sellers hanging out on the fringes of the reception. And while I love my friend, I do not always share her propensity to dance with strangers who don’t speak English. So we decided I should go home early, before it got dark, and hail a cab when I left the Roma neighborhood and reached the outskirts of Sofia. She wrote down her address in Cyrillic and told me many times how to find a taxi and also not to look at men directly in the eye. It was a shorter journey than the one she took eight years ago during her first summer in Bulgaria, and one that was also completed without incident. And yet when she returned to her apartment, she told me that she had spent the rest of the wedding worrying about me and wishing she had lent me her phone so I could have texted another wedding guest with news of my safe arrival.

And so we are not as young as we once were. But that’s ok, too.                                                                                                                                 

Dateline: Sofia

Hey Team Internet,

So I’m in Bulgaria right now, visiting my BFF since middle school, exploring the city and drinking lots of fresh mineral water. This European interlude comes after a ten-day vacation in the Adirondacks, where I did a lot of hiking and eating of cheese.

There's a thing in the Adirondacks about doing all 46 peaks over 4000 feet. Last summer, I stayed at Johns Brook Lodge, a full service cabin 3.5 miles into the woods, to better approach the Saddleback and Basin peaks. There was this teenager who was also staying at the lodge and also doing Saddleback and Basin. Every time he reached the top, he would scream out the number of peaks he had done. So when he got to Saddleback, he yelled out  “37!" triumphantly only to get to Basin and do the same thing with the number 38. I did four High Peaks on this trip, and when I got to the top of each one, I yelled out my number ironically. I have a feeling this is the kind of joke which will get less ironic and more obnoxious over time. Other highlights of the trip included taking a nap on Hough and going trail running on my friend’s property with two unleashed dogs and then swimming in a pond with my running clothes on.

Coming back to New Rochelle, I had a brief bout of anxiety over all the travel (and I suppose glamour) my summer includes, but once I was on my way to Heathrow, I gave into the momentum of the plane and all of my summer plans. I slept the whole way on the second flight from London to Sofia, while the couple next to me was having a romantic meet cute. Now I’m a towel and about to go to a Roma neighborhood with my friend.

PS This computer doesn’t have a spell check, so no judgment.

Just A Thing I Was Thinking About After Signing My New, And Soon To Be Used, Passport

I remember going to the supermarket with my dad when I was a little kid, and watching him sign his credit card bill, and thinking his J… A… signature was a pretense. I was like 7, and had probably signed my name, I don’t know, four times in my whole life. No one could really be as lazy as my dad with a signature. 

And yet adult life gives one countless opportunities to sign things. And my signature is usually something like R… A… While signing my passport forty minutes ago, I tried to spell out the whole thing, though I got disenchanted somewhere around “au.”

Boring story aside, I just bought a ticket to Sofia, Bulgaria.