One of the joys of being old(er) is that the memory bank has much more to offer in terms of lives lived, experiences enjoyed, and moments remembered. One of the joys of making new friends or reconnecting with old ones lies in revisiting times past, recounting stories of when I was and what I was and where I was. The connections I make between past and present, while dubious to many, seem obvious to me.
In Bourgas, visiting the 8th International Sand Sculpture Festival – this year entitled ‘Safari with a camera’ – I mentally revisited two earlier stages in my life – Africa and Alaska.
Back in 2010, I had the opportunity to visit South Africa with a South African friend. I got to play with the elephants. I got to see animals in the wild instead of behind bars in a zoo. I got to experience the wonder that is the South African sky. I met many incredible people, two of whom have since passed away. I learned a few life lessons that continue to serve me well. Those couple of weeks – sans laptop, sans phone, sans watch – gave me a renewed sense of self, of purpose, of what’s important. My perceptions, my conditioned beliefs, my Western ideals all took a battering and I was humbled by how little I really knew of a way of life I could never hope to understand.
Standing in a field near the sea in Bourgas, Bulgaria, in front of this year’s sand sculptures, I was back in Africa, five years ago. I could remember the excitement of seeing my first zebra close up, the thrill of not knowing what was around the next corner, the heightened sense of awareness that came with being afraid to blink in case I’d miss something.
And then I was in Anchorage, Alaska. It was winter, 1995. Twenty years ago. It was a holiday – midweek. And I was with my mate LM. We’d gone to see the ice sculptures. Amazing feats of tenacity that at the time reminded me of what Michelangelo supposedly said when someone asked what he was doing while chipping away at what would become David: there’s an angel inside the marble – I want to let him out. Or words to that effect. We froze our asses off and then went to thaw out over hot toddies (for him) and hot ports (for me) [I’ve not been able to smell red wine since.] We were a strange pair, with so much and so little in common. I’ve not seen or heard from him in years and occasionally wonder where he’s at and what he’s up to. I was quite smitten back then but we were from different worlds in more ways than one – something he (the realist) stood firm on; something I (the romantic) denied vehemently. Standing in front of those sand sculptures in Bourgas, I was reminded yet again that some of God’s greatest gifts are unanswered prayers.
But back to Bourgas. I’ve yet to see a foreign tourist. Everyone seems to be from Bulgaria. The beach goes on for miles. The waves are massive. The red flags are up. And the lifeguards whistle those braving the water into orderly submission. The Black Sea apparently is known for its dangerous tides and currents. An umbrella and a bed will set you back about 6 Lev (€3) for the day. And dinner (for two) of veal tongue, pork skewers, lamb cutlets, ribs, sausage, and three types of salads about 40 (€20). Hard not to like it.