Greetings from Sofia--a jumble


(synagogue--I didn't take the pic)

Cancer Bitch finds herself in Sofia, Bulgaria, which is dingy but smells good, like lilacs. Garbage is collected at night. There was laundry hanging on the roof of a building across from our hotel. The Jews were saved in the Holocaust (though those from Macedonia and Thrace were sacrificed) and from 1948-51 most of them immigrated to Israel, specifically, to Yaffo. After the war, why didn't the Bulgarians fight back? one person in our group (mostly-European Jewish feminist conferees) asked on our walking tour yesterday. Fight back against the Soviets? They should have fought back against the Nazis in the first place. But look at Poland--it fought back and the result was about a 5-year occupation. Bulgarian is difficult if you don't know the Cyrillic alphabet, which was invented here. It's hard to figure out where you are if your map has Roman letters (like these) and the street signs, Cyrillic. But I found the synagogue yesterday where our tour began. The first night I went to a French restaurant (stumbled upon) and was excited that I could read the menu.
The women here are very skinny and wear tight skinny jeans and carry plastic shopping bags. Most everyone who's young wears jeans. THe women have dark eyebrows and some have dyed blond or red hair. No one takes notice of me, of my tourist-ness. You can look at a map on the street and people won't bother you. (Some of you will say that I'm no longer harassed on the street because of my age; I also learned a while back not to look people in the eye in foreign countries). The Jewish museum is in the synagogue and is one room. There are photographs of Jewish and Bulgarian history and a harmonium that used to belong to a Jewish musician and was used to a Jewish cultural center. Wizened old men and women sit on the sidewalk and sell giant thin and hard-looking bagel. Gypsy children ask for money. I saw, for the first time I can remember, a kid sitting on the sidewalk with a long open cut on his leg. I can't remember seeing such a large open wound before. Our group has more baggy clothes and curly hair than a Bulgarian group of middle-aged women. I learned today about the Falasha Mura, Ethiopian Jews who converted to Christianity 100 years ago and are trying to prove that they're Jewish so that they can move to Israel. But Jewish converstions are against the law in Ethiopia. In DNA tests, these Christian Jews as well as Ethiopian Jews in Israel do not have "Jewish DNA" characteristics found in both Sephardi (eastern) and Ashkenazi (western) Jews. I read somewhere that the two countries most obsessed with blood and land are Israel and Germany.
When Russia helped liberate Bulgaria in the 19th century, the soldiers destroyed all the mosques, except one, overnight. They told the Muslims that God did it. (Of course I thought: Therefore, they couldn't claim it on their insurance.) Our guide (Jewish Bulgarian) warned us against going inside the mosque because it is populated with many Palestinians. I can't imagine anyone attacking or harassing in a mosque. (Well, at least not here and now. We're not talking about Kashmir.) I also learned today that many young Israelis go to India seeking enlightenment and then come back to Israel, and use their new spirituality to connect back to Judaism. It seems like I have been away a long time. I left on Tuesday afternoon. I had a middle seat on the flight from Chicago to Dusseldorf, and from Dusseldorf to Vienna. Luckily the flight from Vienna to Sofia wasn't full so I had an aisle seat with an empty middle seat. The overseas flight was one long hot flash. We each had our own monitors and could choose among movies. I watched He's Not That Into YOu and then a Dustin HOffman movie. The kid next to me (on his way back home to Rome from a year in Berkeley as an exchange student) watched the Dustin Hoffman first and then He's Not That Into You. I wanted to ask him more about what he thought of Berkeley and Berkelians but I didn't want to intrude. I keep thinking of Huxley and his fear that triviality and cheap entertainment would take over.

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