Sunday, August 17, 2014

To Bulgaria and Back

I have just returned to Rio after 12 days of binge eating, drinking and being merry back home in Sofia. As mentioned before, Son spent solid 6 weeks with Grandma and I went to collect him and bring him back to the rainy fold of Rio de Janeiro. In his absence, the Diplomat and I watched more soccer than ever necessary, and had entire weekend days to do whatever we wanted. The problem was that we badly missed Son who, at the same time, thought about us in passing while becoming increasingly popular with the kids in front of Grandma’s building in Sofia.

As I was facing a 11-hour flight from Rio to Paris, I tried my darned best to get myself upgraded to business class. I started asking with remarkable self-confidence about the price of the upgrade (a staggering $2000), pretended to think about it for a while, then asked about upgrade with miles (knowing fully well that all I had was 380 miles left) and was told no. Finally, with a huge pleasant smile and (what I thought was) irresistible charm and no small amount of gumption, I asked whether I could be given a complimentary upgrade. All I was given, instead, was a cold unblinking stare and an aisle seat deep into coach territory. C'est la vie. On the plane, for about an hour, the TV did not work but at least they were passing rather excellent Champagne to lessen the pain. Finally up in the air, pleasantly buzzed, we were given our tiny yet delicious dinner and the TVs finally began working. I watched the highly intellectually stimulating LEGO movie and, folded like an amateur contortionist, managed to sleep for an entire 4 hours. In Paris, I found myself a nice leather sleeper semi-couch facing the runway, and was asleep in 3 minutes. It was not a good sleep though, as I was clutching with one hand my phone whose alarm was set to wake me up to board the plane to Sofia, and with the other my obscenely expensive and rather large Louis Vuitton purse.

I woke up an hour later and decided to check out the cigar choices at the Duty Free shop. To my delight, they had a giant walk-in humidor, into which I immediately went. Now, you should know that in European airports, duty free shops have 2 prices for tobacco products – one for travelers within the EU (higher) and one for those traveling outside of it (palpably lower). I knew that but since I was technically traveling from Brazil to Bulgaria with a layover in France, I thought that maybe they make an exception in such cases. I decided to ask the haughty-looking young French salesman which price I would be paying given my situation. The conversation went on something like this:

Me: Hi! I was just wondering which of these prices I would be pay…
Haughty French salesman (interrupting me): Where you fly to?
Me: Bulgaria.
Haughty French salesman:  Ah, you pay European price.
Me: But I am coming from Brazil.
Stupid haughty salesman (with a VERY patronizing tone): You no’, Bougaria eez en Europe now!
Me (speechless for a second): Yes, I actually know but thank you for pointing it out. As a matter of fact, Bulgaria has been located in Europe ever since it was founded in 681 A.D.  Anyway, I was simply asking because I am here only as a layov..
Inane French salesman (interrupting again, yelling a bit): Eez Europe!!!! (exits with aplomb).
Me (seething; leaving without cigars)

Then, finally at Sofia airport, I looked and felt very much like something chewed, swallowed, then masticated on for some time and finally spit out by a particularly languid cow. I only wished to go through the passport lane quickly, collect my luggage, be met by Son and Grandma, and then be whisked home to the sumptuous feast that my mom had undoubtedly cooked for me. Instead, I had to go through the usual uncomfortable rigmarole at the passport control, where I would present my U.S. passport, be looked at with confusion or suspicion or some other negative microexpression by the border officer, be asked for my Bulgarian passport, having to explain why exactly I did not have one and then finally be free to go. Soon, suitcases in the cart, as I was about to bolt to freedom through the “Nothing to declare” lane, a pleasantly smiling unformed policeman stepped in front of my cart and brightly asked me where I was coming from. At the point of nervous breakdown from sleep deprivation and really bad airplane food, the effects of which I was already feeling, I replied that my immediate flight was from France. He insisted on knowing where my original departure city was – at the mention of Brazil, he visibly got excited and began asking me various questions about my luggage and who had packed it. Then he asked for my passport and spent 4 solid, quality minutes leafing through it with deep interest. Naturally, I grew anxious as this had never happened to me before. Since I have some old middle-school friends who work for border patrol, I began suspecting that this was some sort of a prank and in turn, started staring at the widely-smiling policeman very suspiciously. To which he responded with an even bigger smile and a new inspection of my passport. In the end, he ran out of things to ask me about, had looked through my passport 7 times and smiled wide and long enough to be cast in a toothpaste commercial. I was finally released in Bulgaria.

There, I was soon astonished to discover that Son had become a full-fledged member of the pack of kids living in my building, all of whom are kids of the people I went to primary school or grew up with in the same building. I grew up in those blessed times where we kids roamed the streets of our area until dark, without fear of kidnapping or perverts or whatever else credible fears we have nowadays for our kids, thus not letting them play outside until dark without supervision. Well, apparently this still exits to an extent where Grandma lives. Son would get up in the morning, have a huge breakfast, then head downstairs even if there were still no kid to play with. Or, while at home reading a book, the other kids would begin ringing the bell, asking him to come down to play. Extricating him from their fold at night to come home was more painful than pulling wisdom teeth by a brand new dental resident (I know from personal, very painful experience). The good news is that Son’s Bulgarian has improved considerably and now he can argue with me successfully in two languages.
While in Bulgaria, I had the usual hectic schedule of seeing as many family members and friends as possible. That entailed a lot of restaurant going, which naturally led to a lot of food and even more drinking. The situation got so bad that after five straight nights out, I simply could not go any further and had to cancel a dinner that I had been really looking forward to. My entire being simply went on strike and refused to move all evening.
I also managed to visit the U.S. Embassy in Sofia, which was indeed spectacular! Comparing it to the Consulate building here in Rio, it looks like a palace. Too bad I am not allowed to work there as I was recently informed by Diplomatic Security. Oh well. Overall, my stay was awesome as all such stays tend to be and I came back to Brazil weighing a solid 4 pounds heavier. I also managed to bring in my suitcases 4 lbs of dried salami, 3 kilos of feta cheese, a kilo of smoked ham, 4 packs of sunflower seeds, 3 bottles of Bulgarian grappa, one bottle of wine and a packet of dry kadaifi. Nothing tastes better than home food!

In my absence, the Diplomat was supposed to play tennis on a daily basis and golf at least every other day. Ironically, it rained almost daily so he sat home in immense frustration and called me at all hours to make sure I wasn’t having too much fun. Here I’d like to add as a side note just how amazing technology has become today. There are so many ways one can talk for free internationally, which is astonishing to me especially since I still remember vividly paying 93 cents a minute back in 1996 when I first went to the U.S. in order to talk to my family as I was struggling with severe and painful homesickness while trying to adapt to my new life. I remember writing letters almost every day to my parents, grandparents, my boyfriend and my friends as virtually no one had email back then in Bulgaria. Today, we are so easily and obsessively connected globally that we have absolutely no excuse falling out of touch with people who are important to us. So, call your mom today!!!