The woman in the photograph above arrived at the Bulgarian Black Sea coast during the Second World War during a forced exchange of populations between Bulgaria and Romania. Together with fellow uprooted “ethnic Bulgarians,” she spent weeks on the road, traveling southward from Romania by cart and on foot from the surroundings of Baba Dag — a provincial town named after high nearby ridge, the site of one of five revered cenotaph graves of Sarı Saltık, legendary Balkan spearhead of the Bektaşi order of dervishes.
On arrival in Bulgaria newly “repatriated” expellees from Baba Dag were arbitrarily divided amongst several villages on the Bulgarian side of the border, often without the provision of shelter. In the village of Kamen Bryag, the new arrivals eventually built a new quarter of their own off-grid from the original settlement. In it, they constructed low-slung L-shaped houses, in the fashion of the region, starting with one room and, as needs arose and materials became available, adding additional rooms one by one, “railroad flat style” as it were. Like most villagers, they worked worked the fields by day and, after hours, tended vegetable plots, pigpens, and chicken runs in their courtyards, yielding peppers, tomatoes, eggplants, fresh eggs, and meat for curing.
The courtyard in the photo no longer exists; it and and the vegetable garden next to have been were uprooted several years ago. in their place: a summer-time restaurant surrounded by neatly planted flowerbeds and a tall antenna tower of a mobile telephony company resting on a broad concrete footing. The grandmother still lives on the plot, however, and tends the little that remains of her garden. She is in her late-eighties now and, at day’s end, often sits on the raised curb of the newly paved road next to her former farmyard in expectation of passersby — roadside benches of the sort shown in a previous post have been removed or left to crumble.
Photographic footnote … and, following it, a story
The photo above was shot in 6x6cm format on C41 process black/white film, a film sort that yielded magenta-tinted black/white negatives when processed in “drugstore” color film developing machines. The film was fine grained and had a broad exposure latitude, enabling individual shots on a single roll to be taken at different ASA settings, usually within one stop of the rated ASA of 400. I took the photo at a relatively slow shutter-speed, fast enough to enabled to shot to be taken handheld but not fast enough to take into account the sudden turn of the subject’s head. Thus, while the neck and dress of the subject are well in focus, her face is slightly blurred. As a result, I originally rejected the photo but, on examination years later, I felt that the combination of facial expression and setting outweighed any lack of sharpness.
From Ovid to Grandmother
For a long-ago somber treatment of the region of Kamen Bryag, Baba Dag, and surroundings one can flip through the pages of Ovid’s writings during his exile from Rome, Tristia and Ex Ponto (both available in a single file on Archive.Org). For a somewhat humorous view, one can read a story I wrote a decade ago linking the great Roman poet with the grandmother portrayed above — the full text of the story can be found by clicking here or on “Read More,” immediately below: