The woman in the photograph above arrived at the Bulgarian Black Sea coast during the Second World War in the chaos of a forced exchange of populations between Bulgaria and Romania. Together with other “ethnic Bulgarians,” uprooted and expelled from villages they called home, she spent weeks on the road, traveling southward by cart and on foot from the surroundings of Baba Dag, a provincial town that took its name from high nearby ridge (“Mountain of the Father,” in Turkish), the site of one of five cenotaphic graves of revered as the resting place of Sarı Saltık, the legendary mystic who spearheaded the advance of the Bektaşi order of dervishes into the Balkans.
On arrival in Bulgaria newly “repatriated” exiles from Baba Dag were arbitrarily divided amongst several villages just over the Bulgarian side of the border, often without the provision of shelter. In the coastal village of Kamen Bryag, the new arrivals eventually built a new quarter of their own apart and off-grid from the original settlement. There, they built 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 at a time, “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 own their courtyards, yielding autumn harvests of 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 it were uprooted several years ago. In their place: a large enclosed restaurant, open during tourist season and desolate in the winter, surrounded by neatly planted flowerbeds on one side and the towering antenna of a local mobile telephone operator on another. The grandmother still lives on the plot and still tends what little remains of her garden. She is in her late-eighties now and, at day’s end, often sits on the raised concrete curb of the newly paved road next to what was once her farmyard in vain expectation of passersby. Roadside benches of the sort pictured in a previous post were removed or left to crumble years ago.
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 the technical demerits of compromised 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: