Sitting on my balcony at sundown in Bliznatsi, Bulgaria, I prepare my mind to return to Moscow. It is hard to pull away this time, and one day I won't. I'll stay here. But for now, duty...and money...summon me back. Once upon a time, the very name 'Moscow'' was a word containing what I will call ''gray magic.' Intrigue, danger, seduction, inscrutability. Now it is just the mammoth city where I live and work. I think I have many friends in Moscow. I say, I think I do. My normally affirming spirit vacillates here because the concept of friendship is different now than it used to be. Now, like everything else, it moves too fast to seem real.
In Bliznatsi, nothing moves very fast at all. Early in the morning I take Casper and Poppy and we collect Bobby, our neighbor's alabaster pit bull, and we begin the long walk down the thistle-crowded path to the crescent of the valley leading to the forest and the sea. In some ways it was prettier in May before the harsh onslaught of the summer sun that brings temperatures of upwards 35 C, scalding and bleaching the fields. The heat kicks in at 8.00, but we begin our trek not much later than 7.00 and the undissolved mist is there to meet us, like a kind of fading night traffic that leaves only the dew to soak my trainers and feet. Usually this early there is no one about except, on the odd morning, a stout young athletic blond who goes running with her dog. She is all business. There is also a guy who rides his moped to work, churning down the dusty path. I draw the animals aside, and he waves cheerfully at us as he glides past.
Sometimes the loggers come with their trucks, heading deep into the forest. Buying wood is a big deal here, because people need it for the long winter, and summer is the time to stock up. Of course, there is a lot of haggling over prices. The foreigners always think they are getting cheated by the wily locals. The gypsies also sell wood. We are advised to avoid them, and I have heard many ''gypsy'' stories. From this you would think they were the Devil's own special children, but something in me doubts this. After all, they are people, just like the rest of us and maybe, in the role of perpetual scapegoats, they help everyone else to feel better. But they are strange, and even the little girls’ eye glitter like something from a Steven King novel. I like them.
The people here are either naturally dark, Bulgarian dark, or burnished to mahogany by the blistering sun. At the little super market a five minute walk away from my home, there is always a crowd. Some old toothless guys drink beer out front and nobody bothers them. You get the feeling that everybody knows everybody here, Everywhere on the outskirts of Bliznatsi there is construction, and I fear that one day soon the sense of ''village'' will be replaced by the reality of ''town.' Well, people are always building. You know how it is.
If morning here comes amid the gossip of birds and the trumpeting of roosters, the late morning reminds me of what Vivaldi must have felt when he composed the summer part of The Four Seasons. There is an electric vibrancy that sizzles in the air. The beach nearby — on the other side of the forest (but there are many beaches in the Varna area) — is packed with holidaymakers from Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, and elsewhere, including Bulgarians probably from inland cities like Plovdiv and Sofia. It is the mating season for them too. One sees the golden bodies of youth throbbing in their sensual moment. As Vivaldi shows us, the summer passion of southern countries is eternally electric.
Towards evening, the hot violins of the day give way to twilight breezes which start to sound like the strumming of a guitar, the mood slowly shifting to a minor key. It is now Sunday evening, and I rest on the balcony drinking in the wine of the wind — for me, even though it is only July, the last of the summer refreshment. I won't feel this in Moscow. I think it is because, even in the many splendid parks, the intimate communion between people and the landscape, the worm-rich loam of the earth, is lost. I watch. The old goat-swain — a man from the ancient world — leads his flock away to a distant mountain. It is like he is conducting an orchestra, using his staff like a wand to conjure a special language that twirls into the goat brains They baaa and bow. I talk to dogs that way. On the other side of the great undulation, three young guys on dirt-bikes send the dust a-flying, the faint purr of the engines lingering like a motor-driven lullaby. Across the field, the wiry men of the sun have spent the afternoon with combine harvesters, and much of the wild aspect of the panorama has received its perfunctory summer haircut. The resulting hay is scattered now in bales secured by wire. The word ''harvest'' enters my mind. A good word, suggesting the human being and the land, such an ancient coalition, and the setting sun is the same sun that Cleopatra and Marc Antony saw. The same sun that those in the Bronze Age saw. And before.
Our evening walk. And now a few black storm clouds gather, sending shivers through the trees. The earth is vast and silent except for the chords in the dark olive gown of the forest, guitar passages now changing into the thunder of stark, almost menacing Rachmaninoff piano keys. Hearing such growling from above, the dogs glance at me apprehensively. I want to say, "Guys, why look at me?" But we continue our way, and soon the heavy black-water clouds have disappeared and argue no more. Rejuvenated, the dogs dart into the remaining thickets at the base of the forest, chasing some rabbit or doggy dream of heaven knows what. Overhead, I watch the birds of evening as they glide and swoop, pelicans and shrikes observing the fields with a wild surmise that knows everything. Everything that I don’t know, they know. The forest is deep and powerful, and the onset of darkness out here humbles the soul and troubles the nerves. At night, ghosts wake up from inside the trees and wander in the dark. That is why the forest dogs give up their plaintive howls.
And now, amid this darkening greenery of isolation, death, and rebirth, I glance skyward and see an airplane — a commercial airliner bound for Turkey or Russia or some other equally imaginary destination, silently navigating the sky. I know that people are inside that capsule having their small dinners, reading, snoozing. I confess to fear of flying, but they seem utterly safe up there, well-protected and at peace. There is no technology involved, it appears. They are merely ancient mariners sailing away to another place, in no hurry at all as their slender, sturdy boat parts the heavens and rides to sanctuary on the sea-waves of the nocturnal skies.
===Eric Richard Le Roy===