Posted by: Mark Wollemann: On the move | November 18, 2011

Now I know …

NOT present-day Bulgaria.

… why all those people were piling up wood and coal in front of their apartment buildings this summer. It was to slowly kill us this fall and winter.

As both Melody and I have said many times, we’ve really loved our time in Blagoevgrad. The weather has been picture perfect. The landscape is beautiful and mountainous. The people we’ve met have been charming and interesting. The students inquisitive and bright. But as the weather has turned a little cold and the cafe culture headed indoors, we got a rude awakening.

First, we have to share some of our favorite dining spots with a population that includes, seemingly, about 95 percent smokers. (And don’t get me wrong. I love smokers. I was a smoker. I come from a family of smokers. It’s not an alien culture to me. But over the past two decades, smokers in the U.S. have been so marginalized that we don’t even notice them unless we’re walking past a huddled cluster of them around a doorway to an office building.) Here, concern for the lung health of the bar and restaurant workforce is nonexistent. Yes, there are occasionally places where you can eat in a smoke-free environment. But you usually feel like the social outcast you are here. If you don’t smoke, YOU’RE the minority.

But that’s not the worst of it. This country doesn’t do much regulating outdoor air quality either. Everything (wood, coal, who knows what else?) is burning and the smokey haze hangs over the city pretty much every morning. You’d think, by looking at it, that it’s foggy outside, that there’s moisture in the air. It blows away late in the afternoon, but it keeps coming back in the morning. Yeah, it’s a problem.

See? So it’s not prefect.




  1. At the first moment I started laughing- it is really funny how something so common made such an impression on you.

    Then I just smiled- the smell of burnt coal and wood is one of my favorite winter smells, especially before Christmas. I wouldn’t change it for anything in the world.

    The third time, though, I realized it is not so funny. I agree it is a problem, but the solution is yet to come….

    • Well, Milva, that underscores the role that all of our senses play in conjuring images in our mind. To you, those odors are all tied up on happy memories of the season; family, holidays, good feelings. To me, the smoke reminds me of how much my lungs hurt when I’m riding up a hill, climbing out of Blagoevgrad. Same smell, different image for different people.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: