Hak Pak Sak

Stephen Lewis on Infrastructure, Identity, Communication, and Change

In Bulgaria – In Principle

Posted by Stephen Lewis on February 25, 2009

Another country, another language, other realities …

I arrived in Sofia, Bulgaria this past Sunday night and quickly made the transition back to the Bulgarian language and to looking at the world through its constructs.

My favorite expression in Bulgarian is “po printsip,” literally “in principle” but actually the foundation for a separate reality in which all is as it should or at least could be. The positing of a parallel realm makes the imperfections of the more immediate world seem illusory and unworthy of thought or attention.

On Monday morning, I ventured out onto the iced-over streets of Sofia (note: Sofiotes do not clear sidewalks of ice; winter is winter and ice is part of it) for chores, a stroll, and an early lunch. My first stop was the dry-cleaner. A sign posted over its entry promised two-hour cleaning but when I asked when my trousers would be ready for pick-up I was told to come back Wednesday. When I mentioned the sign outside, the clerk replied, “Yes, po printsip everything could be ready in two hours but we haven’t done two-hour cleaning in years.” My next stop was an academic bookstore to track down a title on the history and geography of medieval Thrace. “Do you have the book?” I asked the clerk. The response: “Po printsip we do, but we don’t.” “Well, will you have it sometime soon?” “Po printsip we will, but it is out-of-stock and out-of-print.”

Unencumbered by purchases and free of the obligation of reading the book, I walked to a familiar non-fashionable neighborhood restaurant famed amongst local television and radio types for its grilled spiced meat patties and accompanying cabbage and carrot salad, baked beans, and reliably pure grape brandy. I had stopped at the restaurant at 8:30 the night before but had found it empty and closed. I asked the waiter if the restaurant still worked on Sundays. “Yes,” he answered, “we’re open every day from eleven in the morning until eleven at night, po printsip.” “Po printsip,” I affirmed, “but you were closed last night. “Yes, we were but, po printsip, we are always open.” I remembered a conversation I had in the same restaurant many years ago with a very beautiful colleague who worked at a nearby film studio. “Well,” I said, observing her wedding-ring, “you are married.” “Yes.” “And,” I added with obligatory Balkan flirtatiousness, “you are faithful to your husband?” “Yes,” she replied,“… po printsip.”

Enough said. It is 4pm and I should finish up the day’s work, po printsip.


13 Responses to “In Bulgaria – In Principle”

  1. Boyan Penkov said

    Love it!

  2. Tom said

    Steve, I knew you could do it. This is the most succinct statement of the basis of Bush’s presidency I have read: Mission Accomplished, po prinsip!!!

    • Thanks, Tom. I now see that my years in Bulgaria were not for naught (nor solely for brandy, grilled meat, carousing, and anachronisms). You’ve noted from past postings that I have been an Obama partisan but, now that he is in office, I slip into the loyal opposition. I am glad that the US is banishing Friedman-ism and dusting off Keynesian-ism but I wonder if the commitment is strong enough, the supervision rigorous enough, and the dedication to the public good ideological enough. Giving buckets of billions to banks and to Detroit and infusing a gusher of bucks at the macro-level might yield better readings on the gauges of the Rube-Goldberg-like contraption that is the economy, but for us ordinary folks it is a “po printsip” fix. Many of us will be flat broke and on the streets before multiplier effects save us, po printsip. For a concrete, non-po-printsip take, see this post: http://www.bubkes.org/2009/01/03#a489. S.

  3. Lubo said

    great! really like this one!

    just one correction: “po prinTSip” or “po prinTZIP”, not “po pronsip”

    • Lubo. Corrections made! Thanks for the proof-reading. I speak Bulgarian fairly well, po printsip. But … I learned it phonetically and never had a lesson nor opened a text book. I first picked up Bulgarian on the back of some dimly remembered childhood Russian during the time I spent with the Ivo Papasov Orchestra twenty years ago (filming and photographing, not playing). I then polished it by speaking with elderly Bulgarians in desolate villages and with imams, hocas, and dedes in the eastern Rodopes, Thrace, and the Deli Orman. In Sofia, east of the linguistic, cultural, and class divide marked by Blvd Maria Louise (ex-Georgi Dimitrov), Bulgarians pretend not to understand me. But, to the west, from the Women’s (Kirkov) Market, to Uc Bunar, Konyovitsa, the Dimitar Petkov market, and Ilenden — the parts of Sofia that once resonated to the speech of Jews, Gypsies, and early-20th-century refugees from Macedonia — every word I say is understood, even by the Arab and Chinese shopkeepers and ne’er-do-well Israeli hustlers and con-men that give a new character to parts of the area today. It is a joy to me that in ul. Tsar Simeon, for example, I can order soups and pastries in any combination of Bulgarian and Turkish that fits my whims. Acquaintance Iva Roudnikova of the aptly named daily newspaper Dnevnik once headlined an interview with me with the quote: “West of Maria Louisa Nobody Laughs at My Accent.” Although, between us, my syntax does earn the occasional guffaw. SL

  4. Todor Penkov (the less important Penkov) said

    The story is an excellent one,
    Unfortunately the author having great talent to penetrate/investigate extraterrestrial realities as our is lacking energy to transform his fresh e-essay to other standards that could help him to avoid the regular diets into “Po Printsipe’s Restaurants”.

    The only thing I firmly disagree is the first phrase.

    Reading the John Kerry article in “Wall street Journal” http://online.wsj.com/article/SB123570279503890141.html demonstrates that the immeasurable parts of the word today become “Po Printsip”

    In my opinion the text above is a kind of joyful dislocation from one global anxiety that hardly could find its linguistics descriptions because of the very nature of its phenomena to a happy street encounter with “Married Po Printsip” Bulgarian female.

    Worth it, Stephen!

    • Todor. First, out of my heart-felt life-long leftist egalitarianism: All Penkovi are of equally importance, even those who consider themselves of greater importance. The essence of Penkovi-ness precludes less-importance. Second, thanks for the nice words. As to Kerry, po printsip, I might agree, but I think he has the causality backwards, the bottom-less pit of western ideological- and power-politics-motivated buoying up of Eastern European mafia-skimmed, ponzi-scheme-based economies and boondogling NGOs may have contributed to the present worldwide financial implosion. Check out some of my recent photo-based posts on http://bubkes.org. You’ll recognize the images and the concepts. S.

  5. Stela said

    “По принцип” ние сме балканска страна, която има своите особености!На всичкото отгоре сме в един безкраен преход и тази безкрайност е плод от една страна на (вж. по-горе) и на невероятната “мъдрост и демократичност”, а най вече на егоцентризма на така наречената западна демокрация! Ми като не му харесва да си седи в къщи дето изнасилват собствените си деца в продължение на години и никой от съседите “не знае ” и не се намесва.Пък за католическата им църкав – там фактите говорят по-красноречиво от всичко! Така че всичко има плюс и минус! Да си избира по принцип!

  6. John Galt said

    Кажи му, Стела! Ние с теб твърдо ще си отстояваме позицията в българското измерение, недосегаемо за всякакви принципи. Нашият патриотизъм не може да бъде омърсяван с някакви принципи. Всъщност това е и есенцията на израза: ако имаше някакъв принцип, щяхме да си изпълняваме ангажиментите навреме, да работим през работното време и прочие. Но няма никакви принципи и затова си изпълняваме ангажиментите когато ни падне, работим когато няма накъде и прочие. Дали не дължим безкрайността си точно на тези “особености”, а не на егоцентризма на западната демокрация?

    Радва ме, че има хора, които пишат за безкрайността ни с чувство за хумор. Жалко, че не всички го четат с чувство за хумор.

  7. […] Balkan manner, the functioning chamber remains the province of men; the derelict chamber, in principle, is reserved for […]

  8. Ванцети Василев said

    Много добре написано, по принцип! Ванцети

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