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Saturday, January 21, 2006

More Sofia travel tips...

Best restaurant by far is the freakishly kitsch Beyond the Alley, Behind the Cupboard. And a good place for traditional Bulgarian food is the imaginatively named Bulgary, where I ate lunch today.

The good bars and clubs are actually too many to name, but two recent discoveries are Black Label, a.k.a. the Whiskey Bar, which is close to the Radisson, next to the club Chervilo, in the fancy old building that also houses the Military Club; and Biblioteka, which is, unsurprisingly, located close to the National Library.

At the latter, I snapped a few pictures of the dance floor last night. Just for fun. A man approached me.

“I was in the picture you just took!” said the man. It was loud. He was big.

“Yes, but I’ll delete it if you really want,” I said. I flipped the camera to “play” mode and showed him the picture I’d just taken. He pointed at a tiny figure in the frame that he apparently recognized as himself. I selected “Erase” and deleted the picture. It wasn't worth keeping, anyway. "See, it's gone," I said, and turned the camera off.

“Let me see the others!”

I turned the camera back on and showed him the most recent non-deleted photo.

"Show me the one before!" he said. I pressed “Back.”

“Go back again!”

I pressed “Back.”

“Back again!”

By this time we were all the way back to pictures taken in December of me picking oranges in Calabria. It reminds me, actually, of the time my girlfriend took the picture of the Nile riverbank and made the mistake of including a bridge in the frame. Bridges, see, are photographic no-gos in Egypt because they’re so blow-up-able. So the Egyptian cops stopped us and demanded we show them the camera and delete the picture. After a minute of flipping through the pictures, it became obvious they were more interested in the camera than the any potential terrorist threat.

Anyway, back to our friend in Bulgaria.

“I’m in the Marines!” the guy yelled at me. “I’m just out having fun, see? You didn’t see me here!”

It was too loud for me to place his accent. “You’re American?” I said. “The American Marines?”

“I’m British! I’m in the Marines! I wasn’t here tonight!”

Okaaay... Whatever you say, Mr. Bond. You know come to think of it, I didn’t even know the British had something called the Marines, but what do I know. I'm sure somebody will correct me in that regard. In any case I can see why you’d want to keep the super-secret Bulgarian spy mission under wraps.

Also, should there be any lingering doubt as to whether Bulgarians really qualify as Slavs (the original Bulgars were no more Slavic than Magyars, Avars and Huns) last night at Biblioteka I discovered irrefutable proof: An otherwise normal-looking Bulgarian girl (which is to say, well, lithe and winsome) got so caught up in the dancing that she ripped her shirt off and performed a writhing erotic spectacle for what appeared to be the sole purpose of engaging the attention of her (also Bulgarian) boyfriend, who – what a shock – was really not very attractive, portly, very poorly dressed and looking abnormally bored with the whole scene.

Plus... just in case you thought Eastern Europe was maybe no longer all that Eastern Europe-y, here's a reminder of how Prague looks to visitors these days: "They drive you down the street and point out the Gypsy hookers," Paul Giamatti told Conan O'Brien. (I guess the proper reaction is, "And...?")

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