Monday, July 24, 2017

The Dead are Dancing with Us

Everywhere I walk in in Bulgaria there are death notices. 

I don’t completely understand their history or significance but deduce that they are put up at the funeral time then at important intervals. One was fresh, and marked with a wreath, and a friend of the family walked by and put a bottle of Rakia (the local “fire-water” made from fruit and tasting like pure alcohol) by the door. In more affluent areas I’ve seem plasticized ones. But all the others are weathered xeroxed paper. Face, dates and Bulgarian words. 

They are peeling over time like political posters or concert billings. But relaying the message that the dead are not forgotten. They are always with us.

The Valley of the Thracian Kings

The big tourist draw of the area in which I’ve been living (Kazanlak and Shipka)  is the “Valley of the Thracian Kings.” Meaning tombs. Hundreds of them apparently! Wow! It’s hard to put words to the experience of standing inside of them. There are six in Shipka alone, each with a difference. Some more for burial of a king. Some more for religious ceremony – Orphean, Dionysian… no one really knows the particulars.

One friend remarked that they are “underwhelming.” Not! Look at the perfectly fitted stones rising up in smaller and smaller concentric circles to the ceiling. 

 Look at the perfect column. And the enormous pile of dirt covering it all.  The horizon of the valley is dotted with these mounds. And to think that they (and the metropolis at the bottom of the Koprinka Dam) were constructed 2500 years ago.

 The Treasures

Absolutely NOT underwhelming are the items recovered from the tomb of King Seuthes lll, discovered by archeologists, not looters. In the capital Sofia I sought out his 2500 year old bust. I have never seen a bronze object like it! 

Apparently in the Orphean tradition the head is to be separated from the body, at least figurately, maybe to symbolizes the spriritual realm and the after-life? The bust was found but not the statue it was separated from. Captivating, this striking King looks out in power and dominion. Perfectly formed features down to the mole on the left cheek. Look at the eye-lashes and the vivid eyes formed by semi-precious stones. Wow! 

And a ring with such detail of a perfectly muscled young man. Found in a different tomb but 2500 years old, I repeat! Are there any better gold-smiths today?

The rest of the loot was in the Izra Museum in Kazanlak and I spent the greater part of an afternoon there. No need to rush through the millinia of Neolithic Mother Goddesses, Paleolithic farm tools ...

 And then finally the treasures...

Wow again! A wreath of gold leaves of oak and acorns, large enough to fit over a helmet, radiating the power of kingship. Actually it felt like the power of the sun. The sun god. Yep—authority.

And on a reconstructed fresco in the Kazanlak tomb,  the king and queen clasp arms forever.

But where are the kingly dead now? 

Not in the government, corrupt I’m told. After 500 years of Turkish occupation and then 40 years of Communist rule and the bankruptcies and loss of infrastructure and manufacturing resulting from the Russian pull-out... A democracy struggling for trust-worthiness as, I’m told, those wanting power promise rewards to the gypsies in return for their vote. (Bringing in bus-load of these voters to a town-ship where their residency has been falsified, just for the votes.) Votes are “bought” in many countries but rarely as blatantly.

Nature of course does carry on. I find acorns that descend from these on the wreath.

Where do the dead live on? In the people!

The Thracian blood (and Turkish and Russian) flows in their DNA. A country of too few but much loved children. (There seems to be a little playground by every restaurant and an abundance of twins from in-vitro fertilization..) Traditions live on at the Balgaren Restuarant above Kazanlak where a Kukeri clangs his bells, usually insprings, to clear away the evil spirits of winter.

And a Nestinari (fire-dancer) rakes out her coals and precedes to ...

You can feel that these people are keeping the culture alive as they dance. Performing at the Restuarant or in after-school dance-troops or every weekend in the square.

In a circle-dance of "horo", men, women and children quick-step and skip to an asymmetric meter, around and around, young and old. Some drop out, some join in, just like death and birth, civilizations coming and going.



                                                       And the circle of life keeps on with its joyful dancing...

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