|Party essentials, apparently.
Every now and then Bulgaria rises up and slaps me in the face (figuratively speaking) with a reminder of just how different life is here. Like whenever I see our neighbour riding his donkey past our window. Or that time a dear neighbour died and we were rounded up to pay our respects to his actual body, which was laid out in a coffin in his house.
Last weekend we were invited to a party celebrating the start of the hunting season. Hunting wild boar is a big thing in Bulgaria, with many men (always men) from the villages heading off into the mountains on weekends, and organised hunting parties coming up from Sofia. We can hear the shots from our house and I’m becoming strangely immune to the sound of gunfire. I didn’t realise, though, that our village has an official hunting club. They have their own flag and everything.
Personally, I’m okay with the idea of hunting for food. (Sport hunting is obviously sick, and hunting humans is only okay in Jean Claude Van Damme films. Got it?) I eat meat. I like boar. If I was a bloke who liked guns, I would probably try my hand at hunting. Anyway, whether this lot ever catch anything is another matter. In five years, I’ve seen our neighbour come back with his shotgun dozens of times, but never with a dead animal in tow.
(I should explain that Bulgarian men are very sociable creatures and it’s common to see big groups congregating for morning coffee or afternoon rakia in cafes and bars – and this is just as popular with young lads as the retired gents. So, essentially, Bulgarian men love any excuse to hang out with other men en masse. Hunting has the added allure of guns, so you can see why it’s popular.)
Back to the party. Svilen told us about it in the morning (you never get much warning with a Bulgarian event) and we agreed to be ready at midday. All we knew was that it was to do with hunting and someone had made soup. We weren’t sure what to expect.
‘Do we have to take anything?’ we asked.
‘Bread,’ he replied.
We didn’t have any bread and didn’t have enough time to make a loaf so we figured a bottle of rakia was a good substitute. Then, at midday, Svilen arrived at ours carrying a few slices of bread, a bottle of his homemade rakia, a bowl and a spoon.
‘Do we have to take bowls and spoons?’ I asked.
‘Er, yeah,’ he replied. (With a strongly implied ‘Duh! Who doesn’t take their own bowls and spoons to a party?’)
We grabbed some bowls and spoons and off we went. It was a big outdoor do in the front garden of our local wood yard, just a short walk from our house – useful for staggering home. Surprisingly, there were about 60 people there (all with their own bowls, spoons and cups. Luckily, Svilen had three plastic cups stashed on him, clearly planning for his useless English neighbours). We ate cabbage and carrot salad (much nicer than it sounds) followed by lamb soup (delicious) and kebabs (not so nice, but then I never enjoy the heavy cumin flavour of Bulgarian ‘kebabches’). A lot of rakia was drunk. I nursed half a glass until I could palm it off onto Rob while no one was looking. It’s hard to be sober at a Bulgarian party, so thank goodness for the couple next to me, who had brought a couple of bottles of their lovely homemade wine with them. (They were very generous and I was very grateful.) As the afternoon went on, and the music got louder and the bottles of rakia emptied, the inevitable thing happened for a party full of merry hunters: someone got out their gun and fired it in the air several times. No one was surprised. Not even me. Like I said, we’re getting used to the sound of gunfire. Conversation just carried on.
We only stayed a few hours but we could hear from the thumping music that the party raged on for another seven hours after we left. Seven hours! There was more gunfire too. If we ever get invited back (I hope we do), we’ll try to stay the course.
How all those people got home safely I will never know (oh yes, most people turned up in their cars and no cars were left overnight – it’s a mystery). Some things are too terrifying to imagine … like a bunch of boozy, armed Bulgarians taking to the roads.