orpheus in bulgaria

Orfei1Allegra Hyde at Threepenny Review:

My husband and I have lived in Bulgaria for six months, lived in this country often confused for other places. “You’ll have to brush up on your French,” said a friend before I left the U.S., believing me bound for Algeria. “Enjoy the northern lights,” said another. Bulgaria is one of the forgotten nations once tucked behind the Iron Curtain, its cities now stocked with crumbling Soviet tenements and silent factories and stray dogs too hungry to bark. In the winter, in Haskovo —the city where I teach English to three hundred hardened teenagers—the air thickens to a gray haze as residents burn brush and scraps of trash to heat their homes. The smoke makes me cough, makes my eyes sting, makes my thoughts turn dark.

Today, though, we have left Haskovo. We have left winter as well. The first spring blossoms are starting to show, forsythia yellowing the countryside. As the road to the Devil’s Throat continues its manic winding route through the Rhodopes, we pass the occasional village of squat red-roofed dwellings, laundry lines strung with colorful underwear like prayer flags. Chickens bustle after bugs. Kids kick soccer balls on smears of new grass.

“21 km,” says a sign.

Even in the presence of spring, I feel nervous. I can’t help imagining the ways we might die on this mountain road, squeezed between cliffs and a squalling river. It’s a bad habit of mine: envisioning worst-case scenarios.

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