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Well, for the next few months at least, our travels are over. We’re back in Birmingham after two extraordinary trips abroad, firstly in Brazil and, just now, in Bulgaria. We’ve been for our fourth annual visit to Goat Milk Festival in Gorna Bela Rechka, in the North West. Bulgaria has a fascinating and rich history – particularly in the last 100 years – it’s gone through Monarchy, Facism, Socialism and now European Capitalism. It’s also a wonderful mix of East and West, perched on the edge of Europe, with Turkey on the East, Macedonia to the South and Romania to the North. The area we visit is in the Northwest – the Abandoned Northwest – and is top of the European poverty League table.
Abandonment has been the topic of the festival for the past two years, being extremely relevant to the host village, Gorna Bela Rechka – we made a small intervention last year. Bela Rechka is a village undergoing a slow death as young people leave for the towns and cities, leaving the old behind to carry on the village way of life. The goats go out in the morning, and come back in the evening, with nothing much happening in between. It’s not an easy life there, most of the villagers, despite their advanced years, make and grow much of their own food – they have great market gardens, make their own cheese, rakia (the local delicious hooch) and banitza, and work pretty hard from what we can tell.
The festival is pretty special, Diana and Marianna get people coming from all over the world – this year participants from Cuba, Italy, Norway, Bolivia, Estonia, Indonisia, etc, etc – poets, writers, artists, musicians to meet, talk, share ideas and have fun together. It’s a real recharge as an artist/participant, we habitually stay with Penka and Ivan (there’s no hotels, you get put up by local people in their houses) and each morning begins with course after course of her home-cooked wonders, often followed by a crafty couple of shots of rakia (served with a twinkle in her eye). We have no Bulgarian (other than the basic pleasantries), and she has no English, but still over the past four years we have built a connection and had many conversations, even if mainly mimed and probably misunderstood. The abandonment means that there are many empty houses in the village, making visible the sense of abandonment of its residents. Last year we made a very beautiful intervention around an abandoned house, this year we worked a little more ‘low key’, after our exhausting Brazilian adventure. We ran two workshops, with very eclectic groups, both of which over-ran by hours, as wel as a presentation on Saturday evening – happily before the rakia started flowing! Sandra did her annual performance of ‘Bela Rechka Blues’, this year featuring many references to rain, rather than last year’s food queue special…
The whole abandonment theme, relevant as it is to the poor Northwest, is relevant to all of us – abandonment happens in many ways, the empty houses in the village remind residents that they have been abandoned by their children, their government and the wider community. But coming back home to the UK we were reminded of the more subtle forms of abandonment we have suffered – our government has abandoned the poor in favour of the rich, we have abandoned our communities – shutting ourselves away from each other, looking around Digbeth I see empty lots, buildings, abandoned possibility, our young people feel abandoned by society, lost potential – I could, of course, go on – feel free to add your own abandonment here -
Tweets"@jezc what a shame - and what a coincidence.... Yes see you on our return to discuss BITPO ( our blues party HLF work; part of BASS fest x"2 days ago"@jezc how long u there for? We're in Sofia on Monday? Will u still be there? Xx sand, lee, si x"2 days ago"@jezc we are going to Bulgaria right now!! Tho we're landing and heading straight up the mountain to Goatmilk fest.. Got a coupla hrs.."2 days ago