Border: A Journey to the Edge of Europe – Kapka Kassabova – Quotes

The weeks went by in the Village in the Valley, and I felt dark and heavy like the plums in the abandoned gardens. The sizzle of insects intensified with the fragrant decay of summer. I didn’t even have the motivation to take myself to the beach anymore. My sense of impasse was mixed with languor, as if I was waiting for something to split open and reveal itself. Petrified at the bottom of the valley as if by a spell, all I wanted was to sit at The Disco, eat goat’s yogurt out of a jar, and gaze at the hills with Minka. I was undergoing some kind of change, and I felt helpless against it. The car hadn’t been used for so many days, I’d lost count. Several times, I put off my departure.

My review of Border.

[…]Some things you can’t explain, and maybe just as well.’

               He had a point. It is when we have an explanation for everything that we begin to feel reduced, plundered. And the people of Strandja had been plundered in every way except this. No one could take this from them.

Oddly, and perhaps symbolically, I couldn’t find central Thrace on the map, but that’s exactly where I was headed: to a fertile region of soft climate dissected by three national borders. During the Cold War, this is where the armies of Greece, Bulgaria, and Turkey were massed, because the low-lying hinterland provided an obvious military corridor for invasion. The Turks were nervous about the Soviets and the Greeks, the Greeks were nervous about the Soviets and the Turks, and the Bulgarians were nervous about everyone. A military buffer zone for half a century, this was the point where one ideology stopped and another began. Ideologies come and go, but one thing has stayed: several thousand years after the Thracians drank their undiluted wine, this is still a land of vines.

Against the rising tide of autocratic Islam, the face of Atatürk had become a banner of resistance. The man whose stony frown has dominated public spaces for a hundred years unchallenged, who homogenised the hell out of Ottoman Turkey, who approved when the fires of Greek Smyrna raged, the Armenians were slaughtered, and the Kurds were denied existence, this man was once again a symbol of something hard-won that ould be lost: the secular Republic, the rights of women. I put the ring back on. It’s a sad day when nationalism becomes the lesser evil.

‘The three classic illnesses of the service,’ he said. ‘Ulcer, diabetes, heart attack. You’re sure to get one if you serve long enough, and if you live, you must find something else to do. Of course many don’t. Live, that is.’

Herodotus, a man of the South but also a man of the known world, wrote: ‘Human happiness never remains long in the same place.’ By extension, the same must go for unhappiness, and we must find hope in this. And now?

Agonia: form the Greek agon, contest. The origin of agony is competition, struggle. To be in agony is to measure yourself against others, a Sisyphean task. Perhaps agony is the very definition of being in the world and playing by its rules.

Photo by Violetta Kaszubowska 

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