Balkan Peninsula is flat, fertile and endowed with plenty of water. No wonder it has been occupied by many throughout the history. But it is the Ottomans everybody here in Eastern Europe, loves to hate. Even in their folk stories and songs, Villains, those who chase after chaste women and behead heroes, are Turks.
Bulgaria was the first of Balkan countries that fell to the Ottomans, some 60 years before Istanbul fell to Sultan Mehmet II, and this is where you hear how bad it was to be under Ottoman yoke. The most over was the religious discrimination: Christians were not allowed to wear the color green, churches were forbidden to have belfries, they were subject to poll taxes, and one out of every five boys, usually the most promising, was selected to be trained as a devoted warrior for the Sultan: the janissary.
But getting independence in 1876 didn’t really mean peace and prosperity for the Bulgarians. In our way to Veiliko Tarnova, we see a memorial to 65,000 Bulgarian fighters killed in Balkan wars of 1912-1913 --not counting many thousands civilians – and this was before the WW1 started in, [drum rolls, please] Balkans!
Our driver from airport to the hotel laments how during the reign of the Ceausescu, everyone had money but nothing to buy, now there are a lot to buy, but no money to buy those with. He adds wistfully that it was better when Romania built tractors and people had jobs. Now Romanians sew clothing that they can’t afford themselves and import shoes from poorer countries.
Later on, our tour guide, Lily tells us how Ceausescu ordered tanks to ride over peaceful demonstrators and shows us cemeteries filled with “children”, people under 21, who died during the uprising. Her brother, a protester, had accused their parents of being an accomplice to the dictator by staying silent and complacent. Then she tells us how hard life is: the rent takes away more than half of 150 euros average salary, and food is expensive. The number one export of the country is educated people. Romanian couples who live abroad separately leave their children to be cared for by grandparents in Romania. She sighs, children of the communist leaders were the ones with money and contact who became successful capitalists after the fall of the dictator. People may have won the war, but they seem to have lost the peace.
The first verbs you learn in most languages are in present tense: I walk, you eat, we read, …. To live in the present tense is reassuring and concrete: there are no regrets, no memories, no fear of what has not yet happened. It is very liberating: taking the moment as it is, aware of it as it happens: Pain or pleasure.
It is like when I swim: just me and water, floating weightless, aware of body and its motion, strokes cutting into water, the muffled sound under water, a total immersion, a moment of release and purity. I don’t like it when I swim with my mind on 1000 things I need to do, like to do or should have done. Then the swim is over and I have lost the time without gaining the pleasure!
Do you want to know what it is like to be lorded over by machines? All you have to do is call any big company to complain about a service, an unjustified fee, a wrong charge, or—Heaven forbid—request an accommodation. The answer, assuming that you can get passed the overzealous speech recognition powered front end to get to a human, is always the same: Sorry, the computer wouldn’t let me do it! It is not that the human at the other side of the line doesn’t empathize or care to help you; it is that darn machine that is standing between you and good service!
It is a convenient cop out, of course, Anyone who is plugged into the newest technology knows that the machines are still far from taking over , that there is always a way to override. But it does give you a glimpse into the world of future. Get ready to hear your doctor say : ”Sorry, the computer doesn’t allow me to prescribe this remedy: you are too fat/old/poor/short/tall/you name it.” Or the pomp refuses to serve you because you are driving you old and dear SUV, or your barista can only serve you a decaf since you already have had three cup coffees this morning! Or worse yet, your streaming service forces you to watch Nova, because you have been binge watching too many cop shows!
With any luck, I would be dead before then!
Daffy duck is my husband’s hero: he doesn’t tweet, is not subject of #metoo movement scorn, and doesn’t appear in public without his pants like Donald Duck does (my husband claims DD is banned in many countries for going pant-less). For me, however, Daffy is a bit too wild, I used to like Betty Boop until I realize how body conscious and shallow she was and dumped her. Now I don’t know.
Halo effect is, of course, human, we tend to put our heroes on a pedestal and accept their judgment in all matters. But having a hero is becoming harder and harder these days as we discover things we may not like about our hero: Thomas Jefferson owned slaves and had not only a long term affair, but also six children, with a woman 19 years his junior and very much under his thumb (talk about having power over someone). Bad Thomas, not my hero anymore! Never mind that he wrote the constitution, sent Lewis and Clark to explore the West, and doubled the size of this country without shedding a drop of blood.
It is no wonder good marketing people these days create, or ‘employ’ Computer Generated Imaginary, CGI, influencers for the rest of us to follow. The best CGI’s, the likes of Lil Miquela, Shudu, and Bermuda, have upwards of tens of millions of followers. Soon enough, we can create our own CGI’s based on our real heroes “sans” their faults. In this case a Julius Caesar CGI will forgive all the Gauls and Germans saving one million lives, doesn’t cut the hands of people who have resisted his army, and gives a pension to all women and children their husbands and fathers were killed by his men ‘accidentally’. Thomas Jefferson CGI, meanwhile, frees all his slaves and marries Sallie Hemming in a grand ceremony in Monticello, and Germans soundly reject some creep named Adolf Hitler in the polls.
Can you imagine how great the world would be?