Posted by: Mark Wollemann: On the move | December 5, 2013

We like it here. Here’s why …

Our festive Thanksgiving crew at AUBG, which included a thundering herd of Wisconsinites.

Our festive Thanksgiving crew at AUBG, which included a thundering herd of Wisconsinites.

Melody and I have a little verbal dance we do on occasion. She’ll start to wonder that maybe things are getting a little “normal,” that we’re getting too comfortable, perhaps. And I pipe in with: “But we’re in Bulgaria!”

But I don’t necessarily disagree with her. I mean, we are settling in here and it does start to feel normal, maybe even ordinary and mundane some days. Then I remember all the amazing things we’ve done, people we’ve met, places we’ve seen. Here’s a small sampling of our experiences, in no particular order, since we got back to Blagoevgrad in August:

— Just last week we were out for a drink with Jenna and her friends Dana and Kirsten in Sofia (that’s right, we had MANY Thanksgiving visitors — Yay!). We stopped at a little bar in the basement of the Art Hostel and grabbed a couple of available seats. I started talking to two strangers, something I love to do when I can find someone to talk to. It’s there that we met Simon, who had biked to Bulgaria from France wearing only a pair of jeans and a couple of layers of shirts. He had been holed up in the Art Hostel for six weeks. Not sure how long he was planning to stay, but it seemed he was set to winter there. He was visiting a friend, Ekaterine, a French-Bulgarian woman who chatted us up for a little longer than she had planned before leaving. It was the kind of chance meeting we’ve had a lot at that place.

— We’ve had several visitors this fall, including a couple of American brothers — Jesse and Jonah Marks; that’s right, the Marks Brothers — who were traveling through the region while recording sounds for a new project they’re working on “A Touch of Sound.” Check it out. Jesse fixed/enhanced/”engineered” the sound on at least one (and maybe other?) of Melody’s movies. They’re Minnesota guys and we were happy to host them and get to know them that much better. Super talented. Check out their site — and if you’ve got some interesting sounds, contribute to their sound library.

— I traveled to a town in northern Bulgaria, Vratsa, with a colleague, Pierangelo Castagneto, to catch a fight card put together by former light welterweight and welterweight world boxing champ Ricky Hatton. He’s a promoter now, and we were entertained on the night of the fights by a small band of Irish (mostly) fans who had traveled to Bulgaria for the bouts. They drank and sang for four hours and we watched some decent fights. The next morning, Ricky Hatton posed for a picture with us in front of his hotel. Good guy, good times.

— Melody has orchestrated an incredible series of appearances by filmmakers through the student-run AUBG Documentary Movie Club (and Lecture Series). Among the guests were Youlian Tabakov, the director of an incredible film — Tventanka — and an incredibly interesting and warm guy. Another guest this semester was Ivana Todorvic, the energetic and vivacious director of the groundbreaking Serbian film “When I Was a Boy I Was a Girl.” The lengths these talented people went to to appear in front of our students and share their time and expertise is gratifying and remarkable, really. Melody has proven to be a magnet for these kinds of encounters, and I’ve been the beneficiary of many fun-filled, beer-enhanced and laughter-laden nights with some of the most talented people I’ve ever had the pleasure to meet.

— Another of Melody’s initiatives, “Conversations in JMC,” has delivered a different kind visitor to campus — the JMC-oriented professional. Through this event, we were lucky to receive a visit from Maria Guineva, senior editor of Novinite, an English-language Bulgarian news site. It’s kind of our life-line to news from Bulgaria. Maria visited with her husband and we immediately connected and look forward to many more entertaining evenings over beer, wine, food and rakia, not necessarily in that order. And later today (Thursday, Dec. 5), we’ll be getting a visit from my former Star Tribune colleague Phil Miller and his wife, Linda Fantin, who has a very cool job at the Public Insight Network and American Public Media. Phil will talk to our students on Friday about his glamorous life as a sports writer. But first we’ll need to nurse him through some jet lag.

— This small sampling doesn’t even include our new friends like Pavlin Delchev, who drove us around the Balkans this summer and has proved to be a good and entertaining drinking buddy (never to be undervalued), and our good friends in AUBG’s admissions department, Tracy Minard, Svetlana Bondar, Venera Fileva and their boss, Boriana Shalyavska, who has been a great pal to both Melody and me.

Basically, all I can say is that we are a couple of lucky ducks over here in Bulgaria. The only thing I’m wondering: When are you coming over for a visit!!

All the best to our dear friends and family this holiday season. We hope we get to see you when we’re making our jaunt State-side in late December, early January. If we miss you, just know you’re loved and missed, but that we’re doing just fine.

Melody, Youlian, Jesse and Jonah.

Melody, Youlian, Jesse and Jonah. Beauty and the beards.

Ricky Hatton flanked by a couple of AUBG professors.

Ricky Hatton flanked by a couple of AUBG professors.

Ivana surrounded by adoring AUBG students and next to the orchestrator of all that is good here.

Ivana surrounded by adoring AUBG students and next to the orchestrator of all that is good here.



  1. The only negative about your piece here is: how will you tolerate the ho-hum of regular life when you’re not daily embraced by such hopping, free, youthful energy and talen– the Bohemians of post- WW1?Ava Da

  2. Oh, Ava Dale, I think I accidentally deleted your lovely comment. Sorry!

  3. Thank you, Mark. I enjoyed every line of it. Keep it up and have a lovely Christmas! We will be here waiting for you and Melody to come back and share more special moments together :))

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