Category Archives: Bulgaria

Black Sea Neighbors

From Troubled Water: A Journey Around the Black Sea, by Jens Mühling (Armchair Traveller series; Haus, 2022), Kindle pp. 14-15:

The Black Sea is bounded by six states. Clockwise, in the order I visited them, they are Russia, Georgia, Turkey, Bulgaria, Romania, and Ukraine.

Six and a half, if you count Abkhazia, a renegade part of Georgia that is kept on life support by Russia to prevent Georgia from joining any Western alliances.

Seven, if you count Moldova, formerly known as Bessarabia, which lost its coastline in the Second World War when Stalin moved the border inland.

Seven and a half, if you count Transnistria, a renegade part of Moldova, which is kept on life support by Russia to prevent Moldova from joining any Western alliances.

Eight, if you count Poland – the old Poland at its point of maximum expansion when szlachta noblemen persuaded themselves that their country’s ruling class was descended from the Sarmatians, an ancient barbarian tribe.

Eight and a half, if you count the Donetsk People’s Republic, a renegade part of Ukraine, which… you can fill in the rest.

Eight and a half, if Crimea belongs to Ukraine. Eight and a half, if Crimea belongs to Russia. Nine, if you’d prefer to let Crimea stand alone.

Nine and a half, if you count the ruined empire of ancient Greece, whose vestiges I encountered on every shore in the form of weathered stones; in place names mangled by foreign tongues; in family stories of scattered Black Sea Greeks; on the menus of countless Aphrodite Restaurants, Poseidon Cafés, Olympus Hotels and Amazon Bars, written in Cyrillic, Latin, and Georgian letters; and in the deep-seated Black Sea tradition of always expecting the worst from your neighbours.

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Filed under Romania, Turkey, Russia, nationalism, Ukraine, Caucasus, Greece, Bulgaria

First Greek Dance Encounter, 1934

From The Broken Road: From the Iron Gates to Mount Athos, by Patrick Leigh Fermor (Journey Across Europe Book 3, NYRB Classics, 2014), Kindle pp. 240-242:

Before long Dimitri and Costa were on their feet again, involved in an intricate dance very unlike the cheerful and bawdy stampings they had just improvised. The dancers were side by side, linked at a stiff arm’s length by a hand on each other’s shoulder, their unsmiling faces hanging forward chin on breast like those of hanged men. Nothing could be less carefree or orgiastic than the perverse mood of the steps, the premeditated hornpipe, then an abrupt halt. This was broken by movements as slight as the bending and straightening of the knee; the feet, flat on the ground with heels together, opened at an angle then closed and opened again. The right feet were then lifted and slowly swung backwards and forwards. A left-foot jump brought their torsos seesawing in a right angle to balance a simultaneous kick on the ground behind them with their right. Then the dancers swept forward for an accelerated pace or two, braked and halted with their right legs lifted, knees to heels sweeping parallel to the ground in slow scything movements, and falling again. Their hands smote beneath them in a double clap, then they were almost on their knees, hands on shoulders again, gliding off sideways, then rolling forward once more at their smooth and unnaturally timed pace. The softness, the hypnotic-seeming control and union, the abrupt surging, the recoveries and the arms falling loose for an identical pirouette before joining again, the fastidious shelving of stereotype – what on earth had all this sophistication to do with Balkan or peasant simplicity? Then there was the planned anticlimax, compensated by a drilled outburst when, in any other dance, all would have been decrescendo and subsidence. The sudden asperity and vigour and speed were muzzled and hushed in mid-swoop, like the flash of steel unsheathed halfway up the blade, then allowed to slide back with a soft subsiding click of hilt on scabbard. The subtle and complex beauty of this peculiar dancing in relation to all the dancing I had seen in recent months, and coming hotfoot on the straightforward bumpkin fun of the first performance, was as much of a surprise as would be finding unheralded in a collection of folk verse a long metaphysical poem in a highly elaborate metre and stuffed with conceits, tropes, assonances, internal rhymes and abstruse allusions. I think it was just as new to the shepherds as it was to me.

At the end of the dance, Dimitri joined us by the fire and swelled the accompaniment with his own voice and another gourd. The next dance, on which Costa now embarked solo, though akin to its forerunner, was even odder. There was the same delay and deliberation, the same hanging head with its cap on the side, a cigarette in the middle of the dancer’s mouth. He gazed at the ground with his eyes almost closed, rotating on the spot with his hands crossed in the small of his back; soon they rose above his head like a vulture’s wings opening, then soared in alternate sweeps before his lowered face with an occasional carefully placed crack of thumb and forefinger as the slow and complex steps evolved. The downward gaze, the absorption, the precise placing of the feet, the sudden twirl of the body, the sinking on alternate knees, the sweep of an outstretched leg in three quarters of a circle, with the arms all at once outflung in two radii as the dancer rose again in another slow circle, gathering pace till he spun for a few seconds at high speed and then slowed down in defiance of all the laws of momentum – these steps and passes and above all the downward scrutiny were as though the dancer were proving, on the fish scales and the goats’ droppings underfoot, some lost theorem about tangents and circles, or retracing the conclusions of Pythagoras about the square on the hypotenuse. Sometimes during these subsidences, he slapped the ground with one hand and shot into the air again. A leap, after a few grave and nearly static paces, would carry him effortlessly through the air to land motionless with knees bent and ankles crossed. He would rise from this crouched posture, his trunk flung forward like a pair of scissors closing, the smoke from his cigarette spiralling round him. These abrupt acrobatics and calculated flashes of strength were redoubled in effect by the measured smoothness and abstraction of the steps that bracketed them. This controlled acceleration and braking wove them all into a single and solemn choreographic line. Perhaps the most striking aspect of it was the tragic and doomed aura that surrounded the dance, the flaunting so quickly muffled, and the introvert and cerebral aloofness of the dancer, so cut off by indifference from the others in the cave that he might have been alone in another room, applying ritual devices to conundrums reluctant of yielding their answers, or exorcizing a private and incommunicable pain. The loneliness was absolute. The singing had stopped and nothing but the jangle of the wire strings accompanied him.

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Filed under Britain, Bulgaria, Greece, music, travel

A Recipe for Pastourma

From The Broken Road: From the Iron Gates to Mount Athos, by Patrick Leigh Fermor (Journey Across Europe Book 3, NYRB Classics, 2014), Kindle pp. 252-253, 263-264:

It was the first time I had tasted pastourma, an Asia Minor version of pemmican or biltong. (A couple of months later, I asked a Greek refugee tavern-keeper from Iconium how this amazing stuff was made. His eyes sparkled. ‘You get a camel or an ox, but a camel’s best,’ he said with elliptic urgency, ‘then you put it in an olive press, and you tighten it up till every drop of moisture has been squeezed out. Every drop! Then cut it up in strips and salt it, then lay it in the sun for a month or two – best of all, in the branches of a tree, so that the wind cures it as well – but in a cage, of course, so the crows can’t get at it.’ Then it is taken down and embedded in a paste of poached garlic and the hottest paprika you can find on the market, reinforced by whatever spices of the Orient are handy. When this has again been dried to a hard crust, it has nearly the consistency of wood: it keeps for years. Thin slices, cut off with a razor-sharp knife, are normally eaten raw; occasionally it is cooked, when the aroma, always unmanning to the uninitiated, becomes explosive. The taste is terrific and marvellous, but anathema to many because not only is the ordinary smell of garlic squared or cubed in strength – breath emerges with the violence of a blowlamp – but a baleful redolence of great range and power surfaces at every pore; people reel backwards and leave an empty ring around the diner, as though one were whirling in incendiary parabolas.)

As I grew better acquainted with the taste of pastourma, a specious and flimsy theory took shape about its origins. Turkish cooking, like Turkish architecture, is really a coalition of the civilizations of the races they invaded and conquered on their journey to the West: nearly everything can ultimately be traced back to the Persians, the Arabs and the Byzantines. Perhaps pastourma is the last culinary survivor of the days before the Turks irrupted into Western history. Dried meat is true nomad food, a primordial technique developed, perhaps, in the steppes of the Ural and the Altai, where camels were numbered by the hundred thousand: imperishable, palatable and sustaining.

‘I say, what have you been eating, old boy?’ Mr Kendal, halfway across the room with welcoming hand outstretched, stopped dead in his tracks. On the way from Mesembria, still unapprised of its social backlash, I had cut up the last slices of the pastourma the Turks had given me and eaten it under a carob tree, looking down at the low marshy country and the salt flats, and the far-off moles and cranes of Burgas. Now here I was at the British Consulate, whose windows commanded an enlarged version of the ships and the long mole I had seen from afar….

He sniffed. ‘I’ve got it! Pastourma! It’s the strongest I’ve ever smelt.’ A little later, in the living part of the house, Mr Kendal handed me a drink, saying he was a hero not to be using tongs.

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Filed under Britain, Bulgaria, food, travel, Turkey

Converting Classical to Demotic Greek

From The Broken Road: From the Iron Gates to Mount Athos, by Patrick Leigh Fermor (Journey Across Europe Book 3, NYRB Classics, 2014), Kindle pp. 261-262:

As we sat by the brazier before going to bed, I tried out the few bits of Homer I knew by heart on my host and hostess, and a couple of bits of Sappho. I suppose it was rather like a Greek, in an incomprehensible accent, hopefully murmuring passages of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight in Middle English to an old fisher couple in a Penzance cottage. Even so, the verses seemed to have a sort of talismanic value to their ears, and caused pleasure rather than the nonplussed tedium its English equivalent might have evoked in Cornwall. I struck luckier with Fauriel’s Greek folksongs, in the collection of Nadejda’s grandfather. They knew several of them, and my hostess Kyria Eleni – an alert old woman with wide-open blue eyes, dressed and elaborately kerchiefed in black – even sang a few lines here and there in a quavery voice. Once I had got the hang of the modern pronunciation of the vowels and diphthongs, with the fact that all hard breathings had evaporated and that all the accents merely indicated where the stress of a word fell, I saw that reading it aloud, though halting at first, would soon become plain sailing. I could also break down the construction of the sentences; even, now and then, and in spite of the deep demotic, the ghost of an inkling of their drift. Old newspapers hinted their meanings a stage more easily, as through a glass darkly, but with a battered missal I found on a shelf, it was almost face to face. All this was full of promise for the coming months; for, Constantinople once reached, I was planning a private invasion of Greece. But, infuriatingly, we were still confined in conversation to my halting and scarcely existent Bulgarian.

This dabbling with the mysteries of Greek caused many a sigh. They had never been to Greece, and now (unlike me) never would. They seemed glad to have a guest once more. I felt that my being English played a part in their kind welcome. At all events, when I tried to offer some money before setting off next day for Burgas, they both started back in horror as though the coins were red hot. I slept on the divan, under the twinkling ikon lamp. There was a silver-covered ikon of the Virgin (I was beginning to notice these things) and another of SS Constantine and Helen, holding up the True Cross between them; also two faded marriage wreaths intertwined in a glass case, carefully kept from their wedding day in the later decades of the last century.

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Filed under Britain, Bulgaria, education, Greece, language, literature, migration, nationalism, religion, travel

Bulgarian Monastery Hospitality, 1934

From The Broken Road: From the Iron Gates to Mount Athos, by Patrick Leigh Fermor (Journey Across Europe Book 3, NYRB Classics, 2014), Kindle pp. 12-15:

St John of Rila is only surpassed in venerability by SS Cyril and Methodius, the inventors of the Cyrillic script, and by St Simeon, in Bulgarian hagiography. The great monastery that he founded near his hermitage in these lonely mountains is, in a sense, the most important religious centre in the kingdom. The church, burnt down again and again in the disturbed past of Bulgaria, was rebuilt in the last century. The poor quality of the frescoes which smothered every inch of interior wall space and the brazen proliferation of the ikonostasis was mitigated by the candlelight. The Slav liturgy of vespers boomed out by a score of black-clad and long-haired and long-bearded monks, all leaning or standing in their miserere stalls, sounded marvellous. It continued for hours. Afterwards, charitably singled out as a foreigner, I was given a little cell to myself, although the monastery was so full that villagers were sleeping out with their bundles all over the yard and under the trees. Many more arrived next day and the inside of the church virtually seized up with the pious multitude. There were an archbishop and several bishops and archimandrites besides the abbot and his retinue. They officiated in copes as stiff and brilliant as beetles’ wings, and the higher clergy, coiffed with globular gold mitres the size of pumpkins and glistening with gems, leaned on croziers topped with twin coiling snakes. They evolved and chanted in aromatic clouds of smoke diagonally pierced by sun shafts. When all was over, a compact crocodile of votaries shuffled its way round the church to kiss St Ivan’s ikon and his thaumaturgic hand, black now as a briar root, inside its jewelled reliquary.

For the rest of the day, the glade outside the monastery was star-scattered with merrymaking pilgrims. At their heart an indefatigable ring of dancers rotated in the hora to the tune of a violin, a lute, a zither and a clarinet, ably played by Gypsies. Another Gypsy had brought his bear with him; it danced a joyless hornpipe and clapped its paws and played the tambourine to the beat of its master’s drum. A further castanet-like clashing came from an itinerant Albanian striking brass cups together, pouring out helpings of the sweetish, kvass-like boza from a spigot in a tasselled brass vessel four feet high, shaped like a mosque, its Taj Mahal dome topped by a little brass bird with wings splayed. Kebab and stuffed entrails were being grilled in culinary tabernacles as bristling with spitted and skewered meat as a shrike’s larder. Slivo and wine were reaching high tide. The lurching kalpacked villagers offered every newcomer their circular flasks of carved wood. (Elaborate woodwork plays a great part in the lives of Balkan mountaineers from the Carpathians to the Pindus in Greece, where it reaches its wildest pitch of elaboration. The same phenomenon applies to the Alps: the conjunction of harsh winters, long evenings, soft wood and sharp knives.) Under the leaves, a party of bright-aproned women sat round the feet of a shaggy bagpiper pumping out breathless pibrochs.

On the edge of this vast Balkan wassail I fell in with a party of students from Plovdiv. Like me they had come over the mountains, and were camping out. The most remarkable of these was an amusing, very pretty, fair-haired, frowning girl called Nadejda, who was studying French literature at Sofia University: a nimble hora dancer and endowed with unquenchable high spirits. She was staying on at the monastery three days to do some reading, which was exactly the length of my intended stay. We became friends at once. Apart from the stern rule of Mount Athos, women are just as welcome guests as men in most Orthodox monasteries. Bestowing hospitality seems almost the entire monastic function and the atmosphere of these cloisters is very different from the silence and recollection of abbeys in western Christendom. With its clattering hooves and constant arrivals and departures and the cheerful expansiveness of the monks, life was more like that of a castle in the Middle Ages. The planks in the tiers of galleries and catwalks were so worn and unsteady that too brisk a footfall would set the whole fabric shaking like a spider’s web. The courtyards are forever a-clatter with mules. The father Abbot, the Otetz Igoumen, a benign figure with an Olympian white beard and his locks tied in a bun like a lady out hunting, spent most of his day receiving ceremonial calls: occasions always ratified, as they are everywhere else south of the Danube, by offering a spoonful of sherbet or rose petal jam or a powdery cube of rahat loukoum, a gulp of slivo, a cup of Turkish coffee and a glass of water, to help along the formal affabilities of the visit.

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Entering Bulgaria, 1934

From The Broken Road: From the Iron Gates to Mount Athos, by Patrick Leigh Fermor (Journey Across Europe Book 3, NYRB Classics, 2014), Kindle pp. 5-6:

The way lay south through the roll of the Danubian hills and plains. They were tufted with woods. Here and there a green blur of marsh expanded and the road was plumed with Lombardy poplars. Let us stride across this riparian region in seven-league boots and up into the Great Balkan range. This immense sweep – the Stara Planina, as it is called in Bulgaria, the Old Mountain – climbs and coils and leapfrogs clean across northern Bulgaria from Serbia to the Black Sea, a great lion-coloured barrier of lofty, rounded convexities, with seldom a spike or a chasm: open, airy sweeps and rounded swellings mounting higher and higher to vast basin-like valleys and hollows where one could see the white road paying itself out ahead for miles and twisting among copses and hillocks and past the scattered flocks until it disappeared over the ultimate khaki slope. Now and then I would fall in with long caravans of donkeys and mules – their place was taken by camels in the south-east, towards Haskovo – and strings of carts. The lighter of these were drawn by horses – tough little animals and gangling, hollow-flanked jades – and the heavier, laden with timber, by black buffaloes that lurched stumblingly along under heavy yokes, their eyes rolling and their moustache-like and crinkled horns clashing against their neighbours. The wooden saddles of the horses, ridden side-saddle with moccasins dangling, looked as unwieldy as elephants’ howdahs. Watermelons were the chief merchandise, and giant basket-loads of tomatoes and cucumbers and all the garden stuff for which the Bulgarians are famous throughout the Balkans. Each village was surrounded by tiers of vegetable beds and every drop of water was husbanded and irrigated through miniature aqueducts of hollow tree trunk. ‘Where was I from?’ the fur-hatted, horny-handed men would ask. ‘Ot kadè? Ot Europa? Da, da’, from Europe. ‘Nemski?’ No, not German: ‘Anglitchanin.’ Many seemed vague about England’s whereabouts. And what was I? A voinik, a soldier? Or a student? A spion perhaps? I got my own back for these questions by extorting in return, with the help of interrogatory gestures, a basic vocabulary: bread, chlab; water, voda; wine, vino; horse, kon; cat, kotka; dog, kuche; goat’s cheese, siriné; cucumber, krastavitza; church, tzerkva. These exchanges carried us many miles.

 

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Filed under Balkans, Britain, Bulgaria, food, language, nationalism, travel

How Many Slavic Languages vs. Dialects?

From Lingo: Around Europe in Sixty Languages, by Gaston Dorren (Atlantic Monthly Press, 2015), Kindle Loc. 2006-26:

Whether they’re from the Baltic port of Kaliningrad or from Vladivostok on the Sea of Japan, there’s little difference in the way Russians speak. In Poland, the same holds true: North Poles and South Poles can chat away effortlessly to each other, as can West and East Poles. Even people speaking different Slavic languages can often communicate without much trouble. Bulgarians can converse with Macedonians, Czechs with Slovaks, and Russians with Belarusians and Ukrainians. And, for all their political differences, there is no great language barrier between Croats, Bosnians, Serbs and Montenegrins. In fact, as the eminent nineteenth-century Slovak scholar Ján Kollár suggested, the Slavic world could, with no great effort on the part of its citizens, adopt just four standard languages: Russian, Polish, Czechoslovak and, lastly, what you might call Yugoslav or South Slavic.

There is one language, however, that wouldn’t so easily be absorbed into Kollár’s scheme: Slovene, also known as Slovenian. Admittedly, this is the language of a very small nation. Its entire territory fits no fewer than twelve times into the area of the UK (which is itself not large) and the population, at just over two million, is just a quarter of that of London. And yet, when Slovenes speak their local dialects, many of their compatriots can make neither head nor tail of what they are saying. So just imagine how these dialects would bewilder the members of some of the other nations that Kollár lumped together as ‘South Slavic’, such as the Bulgarians.

How come? Why does Russian span more than four thousand miles from west to east with next to nothing in the way of dialect diversity, whereas the Slovene language area, measuring just two hundred miles from end to end, is a veritable smorgasbord of regional varieties? Which in turn raises the question: how do dialects come about in the first place?

One school of thought, or rather thoughtlessness, holds that dialects are corrupted forms of the standard language – as, for example, in the view that ‘Scouse is just bad English’. This might be one’s automatic reaction, but it’s in fact the wrong way round: dialects come first, and tend to be at the root of any standard language, which is always an artefact. It would be nearer the truth to claim that standards are ‘corrupted’, ‘unnatural’ or ‘perverted’ dialects. For any other variation of any language, regional or otherwise, develops in a largely unselfconscious way, influenced chiefly by its degree of isolation and contact.

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Filed under Belarus, Bulgaria, Czechia, education, language, nationalism, Poland, Russia, Slovakia, Ukraine, Yugoslavia

Occupation Policy in the Balkans, WWI

From Russia’s Last Gasp: The Eastern Front 1916–17, by Prit Buttar (Osprey, 2016), Kindle Loc. 672-92:

As soon as the fighting men had moved on, occupation authorities began their work. Bulgaria intended that the territory it gained from Serbia would become completely Bulgarian in character. Accordingly, all schools in the Bulgarian zone were required to teach exclusively in Bulgarian, and thousands of Serbian males were arrested in an attempt to reduce the risk of resistance. Officially, they were interned, but the reality was rather different, as an Austro-Hungarian officer reported:

It is known that most of the Serbian intelligentsia, i.e. administrators, teachers, clergy and others, withdrew with the remnants of the Serbian Army, but some have gradually begun to return for personal or material reasons. Here, in occupied territory, it is virtually impossible to find either them or those who did not flee; they have ‘gone to Sofia’ as the new Bulgarian saying goes. These men are handed over to Bulgarian patrols as suspects without any due legal process, with orders that they should be ‘taken to Sofia’. The patrols actually return the following day without them. Whether they are taken 20 or 200km [12 or 120 miles] it is all the same. The patrols take up shovels, disappear into the mountains, and soon return without the prisoners. Bulgarian officers do not even try to conceal the executions, but boast about them.

Whilst such killings were shocking, even to the Austro-Hungarian officer who reported them, they were not unusual for the region. After Serbia seized territory from the Turks during the First Balkan War, Serbian irregulars had carried out many such killings, not stopping with the intelligentsia. 32 During the invasions of 1914, the k.u.k. Army had also committed many atrocities, and after the 1915 invasion there was widespread internment in the area under Austro-Hungarian control, though fewer killings than in 1914. Nevertheless, there were summary executions at the hands of the Austro-Hungarian authorities with little or no legal process. Many of those interned became ill or died as a result of poor housing and inadequate food, and those who were not actually ill were frequently used as forced labour. As was the case in the Bulgarian zone of occupation, schools used the language of the occupiers.

Such policies, designed to crush Serbian national consciousness, had severe effects on productivity in a land already badly scarred by war. Agricultural production plummeted due to the absence of so many men from the countryside; in an attempt to make the conquered land more productive, both Bulgarian and Austro-Hungarian authorities resorted to harsher measures, and inevitably these merely resulted in further resentment and even lower production.

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Filed under Austria, Balkans, Bulgaria, education, Hungary, migration, military, nationalism, war, Yugoslavia

Aboard a Zeppelin to Africa, 1917

From African Kaiser: General Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck and the Great War in Africa, 1914-1918, by Robert Gaudi (Caliber, 2017), Kindle Loc. 6233-6255, 6268-6280, 6300-6317, 6404-6408:

L59, pushed by a tailwind from the direction of the German Reich, rumbled south from Jamboli in the freezing dawn of November 21, 1917, at speeds in excess of fifty miles per hour. The great lumbering airship cast her shadow over Adrianople in Turkey at nine forty-five a.m., and over the Sea of Marmara’s chop a short time later. At Pandena, on the southern shore, she picked up the railroad tracks to Smyrna, a steel ribbon barely visible after sunset. At seven forty p.m., L59 pulled free of the Turkish coast at the Lipsas Straits. Now the Greek Dodecanese Islands—Kos, Patmos, Rhodes—passed below, nestled like dark jewels in the black Mediterranean waters, notoriously stormy this time of year. But tonight, the Zeppelin surged forward beneath a clear sky and brilliant stars. [Lieutenant Commander Ludwig] Bockholt, who had made his life in the navy, had long ago learned to steer by them when necessary.

L59’s crew of twenty—excluding Bockholt and [medical doctor Max] Zupitza—included twelve mechanics to service the five Maybach 240-horsepower engines (one in the forward control car, two opposed on the belly one-third of the way back, and two aft, each driving a single, massive twenty-foot propeller); two “elevator operators” (the elevators, movable flaps at the tail, controlled the upward or downward incline of the nose cone); a radio operator; and a sailmaker, whose job it was to sew up tears in the muslin envelopes affixed within the belly filled with the flammable hydrogen/oxygen mixture that kept the massive airship afloat.

As in the seaborne navy, watches divided the day into four-hour increments. As L59 approached the island of Crete at eight thirty p.m., a quarter of the crew just gone off watch opened their dinnertime cans of Kaloritkon, a bizarre sort of self-heating MRE. These undigestible, oversalted tubes of potted meat literally cooked themselves via a chemical reaction when exposed to air—heating food over open flame and smoking being strictly verboten aboard the flammable airship. The Kaloritkons, which everyone hated, took much water to wash down, and water was scarce, with barely 14 liters allotted per man for the duration of the voyage. At ten fifteen p.m., L59 passed above Cape Sidero at Crete’s eastern extremity at 3,000 feet. Then the stars by which Bockholt had been guiding the Zeppelin to Africa suddenly disappeared, blotted out by a solid mass of black, churning clouds, shot through with bright veins of lightning. The Zeppelin headed into this cloud bank and, buffeted by thunderclaps and driving rain, was also suddenly consumed by a strange, vivid flame, cool to the touch, that seemed to dance across every surface of the doped canvas envelope.

“The ship’s burning!” called the top lookout—alarming, but no cause for alarm: This was St. Elmo’s fire, named after Erasmus of Formia, the patron saint of sailors. Technically a luminous plasma generated by coronal discharge in an atmospheric electrical field, it burned a vivid violet-blue and, in nontechnical terms, was entirely beautiful….

At five fifteen a.m., the sun cracked the rim of earth and the huge airship passed over the African continent at Ras Bulair on the Libyan coast. Miles of desert lay ahead; no Zeppelin had flown across such a landscape before. Now the level wastes of sand and rock stretched monotonously below L59’s keel, from horizon to horizon. Soon, the sun, blazing down, began to dry her canvas skin, still drenched and heavy from the storm. The airship grew lighter as the watery sheen evaporated; lighter still as fuel consumption continued apace. Then the gas in her envelopes, expanding with the heat, blew out the automatic valves into the atmosphere and soon, L59 became dangerously light and increasingly difficult to handle. To compensate, Bockholt flew her “nose down” throughout the day, shifting 1,650 pounds of ballast aft as a counterbalance.

In the late morning, hot desert air rose in bubbles of buoyancy, alternating with heavy downdrafts of cooler air. This caused a roller-coaster effect that made most of the crew violently airsick. Even the hardened navy veterans among them, used to storms at sea, were not immune to the stomach-churning sensation of weightlessness as L59 plunged into the downdrafts and precipitously rose again. Despite all this, L59 plowed ahead and made the Farafra Oasis around noon. This incandescent patch of green slid by below, its date palms rustling in the hot wind….

Flying a Zeppelin is a difficult undertaking under the best conditions: Gas expands and contracts according to changing temperatures; lift and buoyancy fluctuate; all must be counterbalanced ceaselessly by the release of ballast water, the measured shifting of cargo, the canting of nose or tail via clumsy elevator flaps—and all this becomes doubly difficult over the desert. Bockholt had lightened his airship by 4,400 pounds of ballast in the last full heat of day and had even tossed some boxes of supplies overboard. He knew the rapidly cooling temperatures of the desert at night would contract the gas, causing the Zeppelin to sink. To counterbalance this sinking effect, he had planned to fly the ship at four degrees “nose up” on her four remaining engines.

But he had not counted on the humid, dense air of the Nile Valley. Even at 3,000 feet, ambient temperatures had reached sixty-eight degrees by ten p.m.; they rose steadily after midnight and still L59’s lift capacity gradually diminished. Finally, at three a.m., L59 began to lose altitude precipitously. The engines stalled. Forward thrust gone, the Zeppelin sank through the atmosphere from 3,100 feet to just under 1,300, not high enough to clear a looming desert escarpment; a minute later, her main radio antennae sheared off upon contact with an outcropping of red rock.

Now Bockholt ordered his crew to lighten the ship even further. With all engines stopped, 6,200 pounds of ballast and ammunition went overboard. The crew watched cases of ammunition, much needed by the Schutztruppe, shatter and explode on the ragged slopes below. But this sacrifice had its desired effect: Gradually, the sinking super Zeppelin stabilized; slowly, she rose into safer atmospheres:

“To fly steadily at 4 degrees heavy at night can easily be catastrophic, especially with sudden temperature changes in the Sudan, as at Jebel Ain,” Bockholt later confided to L59’s war diary, “particularly if the engines fail from overheating with warm outside temperatures. . . . Ship should have 3000 kg of 4 percent of her lift for each night to take care of cooling effect.”

Clearly, it was a complicated business.

L59, now less than 125 miles west of Khartoum, had two-thirds of the perilous journey behind her. But presently, to the dismay of all aboard, Bockholt turned the great airship around and pointed her nose cone due north ….

At last, at seven thirty a.m. on November 25, 1917, L59 made her docking station at Jamboli. Her mooring ropes dropped, the ground crew drew her down and walked her into the long shed. China Show had ended in failure. The twenty-two aeronauts, wobbly-legged, nearly deafened by the droning Maybachs at close quarters, stumbled down the ladders to the ground in the gray Balkan morning. They had been in the air for almost four days and had covered 4,200 air miles—the longest distance in the shortest time of any airship to date.

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Filed under Africa, Bulgaria, Germany, Greece, Mediterranean, military, travel, Turkey, war

Earliest Romanian Historiography

From A Concise History of Romania (Cambridge Concise Histories), by Keith Hitchins (Cambridge, 2014), Kindle Loc. 680-700, 728-740:

The attachment of the Romanians to the East is perhaps most visible in the persistence of Slavic or, more precisely, Middle Bulgarian as the language they mainly used for serious writing and other purposes well into the first half of the seventeenth century. The adoption by the Romanians of Slavic as their liturgical language and the language of the princely chancelleries in the fourteenth century was an event of singular importance in their development. Slavic reinforced their ties to the Byzantine cultural and religious world and served as the primary instrument for the transmission of its sacred and secular heritage. The Romanians could accept Slavic as the language of the church because it ranked with Greek, Hebrew, and Latin, and they used it in the affairs of state precisely because of its prestige as a sacred language. But Slavic could not become their religious language in the full sense of the term. Spoken by a part of the clergy, the great boiers, and scholars, it was never the language of the mass of the population, who said their prayers and created a rich folk literature in Romanian.

Monasteries were the major centers of cultural activity in the principalities. Besides spiritual and educational functions, monks were preoccupied between the fifteenth and the first half of the seventeenth century with the copying of Slavic manuscripts, of which some 1,000 have survived. These copyists were thus responsible for preserving the Middle Bulgarian and, to some extent, the Slavo-Serbian versions of the greater part of the Byzantine–Slav religious literary patrimony. Princes were among the most ardent patrons of manuscript copying and embellishment. Ştefan cel Mare was always keenly aware as an Orthodox sovereign of his religious responsibilities to his own people and to the peoples of the Balkans under Ottoman rule and of his role as God’s representative on earth, and thus he was a prodigious builder of churches and monasteries and richly endowed them in Moldavia and throughout the Orthodox East with beautiful manuscripts for church services. Although the value of these manuscripts today is scholarly rather than as pieces of original literature, they reveal much about the intellectual and spiritual needs of the upper strata of Romanian society. The manuscripts were mainly religious in content, but their readers were not limited to monks and priests. It is evident from notations on the manuscripts that boiers, chancellery clerks, and the middle class also looked to them for spiritual guidance. The ascetic, mystical view of life was thus not confined to the monastery, but encompassed significant elements of the literate secular society.

Among the relatively few original compositions in Slavic or Slavo-Romanian, as it is often called because of influences of Romanian, were the earliest works of Romanian historiography.

The Protestant Reformation, though it gained few religious converts, deeply affected cultural life and the sense of identity in the principalities and among the Romanians of Transylvania. It offered further evidence that the Romanian medieval worldview was far from being impervious to influences from the West.

The absence of texts in Romanian before the sixteenth century may be attributed to the belief among the literate classes that the spoken language was not as suitable for sacred writings, legal documents, and history as Slavic. It is significant that the oldest text in Romanian that has survived is a private letter about practical matters written by a merchant in Câmpulung, in Wallachia, to the magistrate of Braşov, in Transylvania, warning of the movement of Ottoman troops. It is dated 1521, the same year that Neagoe Basarab completed his “Advice” in Slavic. The differences in the Romanian of the letter from modern Romanian are slight, and the style is polished, evidence that the language had been used in writing for some time in correspondence and even in rough drafts of official documents before their translation into Slavic.

Romanian was introduced as the written language in secular affairs in the second half of the sixteenth century, as the princely chancelleries ceased using Slavic exclusively, Moldavia in 1574 and Wallachia in 1593. The first chronicle in Romanian, an original work, not a translation, dealt with the reign of Mihai Viteazul and was composed in Wallachia about 1597. This and the so-called “Moldavian Chronicle,” now lost, composed several decades later, laid the foundations for the flowering of historiography in Romanian beginning in the middle decades of the seventeenth century.

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