48.1 - Winter 2019

Page 79

missing; we had only a few photos of Bulgaria. I clung to my disjointed memories like they were dreams I was afraid to forget. *** I was three years old. Leaves crunched under my feet as I walked hand in hand with my grandmother Choni, my mother’s mother. Grandma Choni had been teaching me to recite my first poem, the war poem, “Radetsky,” by Bulgaria’s most famous poet, Ivan Vazov. We practiced: Tih byal Dunav se vulnoova, veselo shumi. The quiet, white Danube ripples, making cheerful noise. We walked to the neighborhood bakery. The bakery was lodged into a slab of concrete in the labyrinth of buildings built during communism. She purchased banitsa and boza for both of us. We ate on a bench near a playground made of metal. The banitsa was warm, flaky, and buttery, the paper-thin layers of phyllo dough cupped feta cheese made from goats’ milk, sourced from villages just outside the city. Boza is a milkshake-thick fermented wheat drink, served cool or warm. Coca-Cola was my favorite drink, but boza was a close second. What does a Bulgarian baker care whether his ingredients are fresh, so long as they sell? Maybe it was a crappy version of these foods, but from my visits over the last several years, my nostalgia remains when disillusionment creeps in. Even store-bought boza, whether from the tiny ProMarket in Sofia or an Iranian grocery store in California, still tastes as sweet as that day. These days, the chickens reside in warehouses, not the fields, and my grandmother’s apartment block is the same except for the walls crumbling dangerously. But that autumn morning with my grandmother when I was three casts the light through which I see. My other memory is looking at a Bulgarian children’s book. The children in the book looked more like dolls than classic American cartoon characters. They were painted with thick black lines and muted autumn colors. I practiced how to hold a colored pencil in my left hand, then my right. I drew on everything, the walls of my relatives’ apartments in Sofia, our many apartments in America, my father’s Bible. Drawing was uncomfortable with both 70 | PHOEBE 48.1