Ποιειν Και Πραττειν - create and do

Svetlana Dicheva


Svetlana Dicheva in Krakow 2005

Svetland Dicheva works as journalist for the National Radio of Bulgaria and in this capacity she does not only literary programs or cultural news, but as well literal provocations like a Saturday morning regular show intended to be demonstratively on and off air an 'anti smoker' forum.

She was voted as the most outstanding journalist, editor and contributor to www.heritageradio.org within the CADSES B - Interreg project HERMES. The latter included this set-up of an internet radio which features both individual and collective journalistic, literary and philosophical works by various contributors. She has this ability to link written texts with interviews, that is verbal texts and thus similar to going beyond the mere image of things, she is inclined to pose questions that allow showing the depth of things.

Aside from her journalistic work she has been keen to write and to publish. Her novel "Mona and Magellan" begins rather sluggish as she explains this is all about a battle against memory, "that cheater of adulteress" and then enters a world depicting what went on in Bulgaria after the war.

"My name is Mona. It should have been Simona, but Mum was against it. She is Bulgarian and my father – Jewish. I don’t remember him. He died when I was just a baby. Mum has created a myth around this man who has long since passed away. She says that he was good and obliging, compassionate and gentle. I doubt it. They are all good when they are dead, but while alive they are monsters. As early as first grade, the shadow of this non-existent man crushed me. Not because of the name Mona (I am up to all kinds of Mona Lisa mockery. Because of my surname. Baruh. For some reason, it sounded like “oink-oink” to my classmates. And they proceeded to nickname me Mona the Pig.

Writing about these things after so many years I feel as if I am descending into the pit of childhood and each word gnaws at the bone of pain. Years and events have laid layer upon layer on the pain and this gnawed bone, I should have become wiser and more tolerant to this long-expired injustice. Memory, that cheater, that adulteress, can wipe away all essential matters with the powerful stroke of an eagle’s wing. Good moments are like ephemeral butterflies – they live only to die, and memory washes them away forever. But when it comes to painful experiences, they are like the brand of red-hot iron – implacable. Perhaps they even cross over from one reincarnation to the next, if we are to believe the Buddhist concept of the eternal cycle of life."

There is incredible pain to tap into. The things which occured in Bulgaria after 1989 have sparked a literary crisis, but once made productive as in the case of Svetlana Dicheva, it becomes a way of rethinking options. This reorientation is needed, she would explain, for once the common feeling to have just one enemy, namely the totalitarian state, is gone then a straight forward opposition to the regime is no longer a possible way of attaining a simple, equally energized identity to articulate things in a nuanced and refined manner.

Indeed, many Bulgarian writers and poets faced various difficulties after 1989 with the key question being but how to energize themselves? They feared a terrible loss of continuity in both their identities and lives while the new political situation was not at all clear. Boundaries broke down while new ones were created. Sometimes nothing was flowing while everything seem to change. Usually it ended up drawing the conclusion that being just a writer, a figure of the cultural world, that was no longer possible. Something else had to be found to find balance but also a critical outlet for the many energies gone silent. For some it took longer to admit this to themselves.

However, the times moved on. Marriages broke up, friendships went astray and the missing link could not be made up by intellectual debates. That source of inspiration was gone while reminders of the past were more the semi-hidden stores on the wayside of the street at feet level.

Shop from a cellar at street level in Sophia                   @hf 2005

At the same time, Bulgaria's entry into the European Union meant incurring the loss of trust of Europe. The question was whether or not Bulgaria could modernise itself without being just a victim of over bureaucratization (a heritage of the past) and fall prey at the same time to Mafia-like forms of corruption. Nowadays it seems the battle is not lost but also not won. Those who are rich proof the existence of corruption through various forms of conspicious consumption while the people are being silenced but in a different way when compared to the Communist past. Many sit on high electricity bills and don't know how to survive while the company supplying electricity seems to exist in another world. At least, its managers have all the lures of being apart from the mortal rest.

Bulgaria is indeed a country in search of another narrative. Svetlana Dicheva is one of the exemplatory figures who have come through this midst of confusion after 1989 to make her ever stronger voice be heard not just on the radio, but in literary forms consisting of both novels and short stories. Here is one example of her most recent writings.

HF 3.6.2010


Svetlana Dicheva


Svetlana Dicheva

Editor of HRN

4. Dragan Tzankow Blvd.

BG-1040 Sofia

Tel. 00359-2-9336340 or 00359-2-9336335

Fax 00359-2-9634464




The masterpiece


Svetlana Dicheva


“Peter?” Angelina opened the door hesitantly. Nobody answered. He never answered though. This was part of their game. When in good condition, he stayed in front of the laptop and tried to be motionless, keeping his fingers spread in the air over the keyboard as a pianist before playing majestic chords. In moments of weakness, he hid in bed under the quilt as if there were other possible places to hide. To be faithful to the illusion of the game, she opened every cupboard and cabinet in the flat before taking off his blanket with a resolute gesture. Ha, ha, very funny! What a playful boy!

Peter was not in the flat. Strange. Angelina sat on the bedside and took off her shoes to free the swollen feet. He will come back. Nowhere to go. The painful reality grabbed her by the throat. She remembered the first thing she learned about Peter almost a year ago.

“He’s a gambler,” said Silvia, her friend, who offered her the job as a health assistant.

“Gambler?” asked Angelina incredulous.

“Gambler of life,” specified Silvia.

Peter was in a long line for kidney transplantation and may or may not survive. Angelina was not fond of melodrama in whatever form, but a 23 year old intelligent handsome boy enlisted in such a dangerous game was too much for her to stand. His fate struck her so powerfully in the face that she forgot her own life which was not all daisies.

A year ago In the midst of a life crisis Angelina found herself playing the role of a spirit lifter. No other human being would have been less prepared for such a task. She felt as a wreck herself and couldn’t lift her own spirit a millimetre above the ground. Give hope to the desperate while being the champion of desperation? Why not? From the very beginning Peter started asking her questions about her passions, her taste in music, movies, books, her friends. She didn’t notice how it happened that a week later he already knew almost her whole life story. Instead of lifting his spirit and help him overcome the usual frustration accompanying the anticipation of organ transplantation, she became the centre of their conversations as though she was about to be transplanted a new heart and needed encouragement.

“I must give you mine,” joked Peter, “Mine is cold like stone, it has never known what the pain of love”.

“You will, don’t worry, nobody can escape the pain of lover,” predicted Angelina, imagining the long row of love affairs the handsome boy was destined to go through. She told him everything. After 18 years of calm and joyful marriage and relatively good professional career, at the age of 40, she lost everything – husband, the ability to have children, job, shelter. In one and the same day she got all the bad news possible: it was in the hospital after a tough operation when her husband announced he was leaving her for a young woman pregnant with his child, half an hour later a colleague called to say that the small newspaper she was working in had closed. “The symptoms of early menopauses will be harsh,” warned her the doctor. “Rage and despair will alternate”.

“How was it?” asked Peter.

“How was it what?”

“The alternation of rage and despair”.

“Interesting. Hot and cold, hot and cold, you know, teeth deteriorate after such an experience”.

“What made you stop?”

Angelina understood what he was asking about – it was really a time of free fall and she desperately needed something or someone to stop it. She vaguely remembered a time when day and night were one, she never knew in which house and with whom she had spent the night, how many glasses of what liquor she had drunk, where to find her panties and tooth brush. Her body didn’t belong to her neither her mind. It was in the house of an old painter that the free fall stopped. One morning she crawled out naked from under a blanket beside a male body, she couldn’t recognize and tried to find the bathroom. It was a big house with long corridors and many rooms but no bathroom in view. Suddenly she entered a vast hall full of light with big windows from the floor to the ceiling. Many canvases, some full of figures and colours, others blank, were scattered around. Angelina started examining them when noticed a man in an easy chair just in front of her. He was so old that she feared he would dissipate while talking. She made a movement to preserve her naked body from his look but he stopped her with a gesture.

“You are beautiful,” he said.

“I am old,” she responded.

The man started laughing and laughed until he got tired and stopped.

“Do you want my body?” asked Angelina.

The man frowned. “No”

“I would have said yes!” said Peter. Angelina smiled.

“No, he said no and told me about his life philosophy.”

“Interesting. I am always curious to hear about people’s life philosophies. “

“So am I. He told me that only a very old man can say no to a woman and added that after a long career of an artist he had learned that his best masterpiece was not a picture but his life itself.”

“Doesn’t sound original” said Peter with disappointment.

“Yes, but the next day I did several things: called my best friends and asked for help, rented a flat and called Silvia who helped me to find a job. And changed my phone number.


“To flee from the army of men whose names I couldn’t remember.”

By contrast with her Peter was not very eager to open himself. It took him months to acknowledge that he had never slept with a woman.

“ For as long as I can recall, I have always been too ill to think of anything else than survival,” he explained. Once he went so far in his openness that confided his innermost dream – to become a writer.

“All books are one way or another about physical love,” he said sadly. “I am not sure that I will ever be prepared to write even one good page in my forced chastity. Will I ever be able to get the necessary material?”

Angelina didn’t try to disappoint him telling her definition of physical love – a fog from which you never emerge with body and soul parts intact. With every entrance in the fog one loses track of time.

“Having sex one loses track of time,” she said.

“When one has time to lose,” said Peter and Angelina shivered. Then they started the game called SPG “the sweet promiscuous game”. She published an advertisement and started having sex with different men just for the pleasure to tell him the stories and give him material for his first book. It was a game. Not the sex itself, it was such a fun to tell the stories to a curious hungry boy, full of desire, deprived of opportunity. Angelina took seriously her responsibility to convey a complex reality to the boy’s avid imagination – sank in such copious and minute details about her one hour lovers, that Peter really lost track of time, his big eyes round and more curious than ever. First she had the idea to make up stories or use the “material’ she had gone through during her “fog period” but soon she realised that she didn’t remember anything. She started seeing men twice a week and behaved like a person collecting material for a cook book – everything must be precise, otherwise the culinary disaster is guaranteed.

“So, the smell of his socks matched the smell of his sperm,” concluded Peter once.

“The taste, no, the smell, anyway, I didn’t taste his socks but…yes, the same sweet sour thing as if the penis has been wrapped inside a sock”.

“You are a funny woman,” said Peter. “When you tell me this story I see a man whose penis is put inside a sock and do not see a grain of eroticism in the whole picture”.

“Worse, his mind is inside a sock, a very tight one,” said Angelina cruelly. “Why do you want to find eroticism in sex?”

“If not in sex, where to find it then?”

Angelina had no answer to this question.

Once she had a very funny date with a fat boy who spent one hour giving her instructions as to how to achieve the best position for a perfect culmination. She had the impression that it was a yoga class rather than sexual intercourse and finally it was that, according to the pain in all her muscles. Full of laughter and amusement, she entered Peter’s flat, whose door has always been open to her and to anybody else and saw him in the midst of a real, absolutely undoubtedly real thing called the sexual act, intercourse or penetration for the accurate description. She froze. With her special attention to details she noticed the young skin of the girl, her wonderful splendid curled hair covering Peter’s shoulders and the desire in his round eyes, not curious this time, knowing a secret of physical love, she would never know. She stepped back very silently and closed the door. “Oh, I am in love with a 23 year old boy,” she told herself without emotion. “In love with a man who’s a liar”.

It was not a night of tears because tears are a relief. Sometimes truth is so cold and so dry but comparison with desert at night is very irrelevant because despite the low temperatures there is such an invisible life in the desert and so much hidden moisture! Comparisons and metaphors must be chosen carefully, thought Angelina. After several sleepless nights she stopped the “sweet promiscuous game” and started avoiding visits to Peter’s flat.

“Why don’t you see Peter?” asked Silvia. “He needs you. He asks for you. He said you should go to see him this week”.

Angelina didn’t go the same week, nor the next. She forced herself to forget the boy who wanted to become a writer. But strange, one night she saw him in her dream! He was packing and couldn’t put his socks inside his suitcase. Not enough space in such a big suitcase! “Take everything out and sort it out again,” she advised in the dream and woke up. She had time only to have a coffee and ran to Peter’s flat.

Angelina lost patience and called Silvia. The news was not good. She put on her shoes and ran to the hospital. It was difficult to reach Peter, but she was considered part of the staff. His face was paler than ever with the greyish-brown nuance of people whose time was expiring. She well knew this nuance, indicating the number of hours left. Sat on his bedside and took his pale hand. Had so many questions to ask him but chose only one.

“Where are the pages of the book you were writing?”

“No pages, no book. It is your story, you have to write a book,” he answered.

A tear emerged from the corner of her eye.

“ I never wanted to be a writer,” she said.

“I never wanted to die but I have to. You don’t have a choice because I go, you stay. So the story must be written,” he said in a weak voice.

“What will be the title?” she asked not trying to hide her tears any more.

“The masterpiece” he responded firmly. “And don’t cry because it doesn’t match the story”.

“OK” she wiped out her tears and tried to smile.

The doctor came and told Angelina that her time with Peter was over.

She bent over and kissed his lips.

“I would have said yes,” said Peter in her ear. “A man is never old enough to say no”.

She turned her back to him and went out. Two women, maybe his mother and sister were discussing what to choose – burial or cremation. Funny dilemma. Peter would have laughed at it.






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