It was a great pleasure to take part in the cultural project “On the Road” organised by the Goethe-Institut Istanbul. And I am saying this not only as a writer but also as president of the Balkanika Foundation which awards the annual prize of the same name for literature of the Balkan peoples. Balkanika has been helping the communication between writers, publishers and researchers from the seven Balkan countries for 15 years now and its aims as a whole are very similar to those of the “On the Road” project. The exchange of culture and of literature in particular; meetings with readers of various generations and nationalities; visits to unknown or barely known foreign countries, learning more about their unique world and history; translation and publication of literary works, as well as their promotion – all that not only enriches the artist’s senses, but also helps create useful and strong artistic friendships and sincere human contacts.
These impressions of mine are shared by all Bulgarian colleagues who walked down the various “branches”of this colourful literary journey. We all feel that the “On the Road” project could evolve into a established periodic event, including other arts as well – fine arts, for example. It would be good if, along with literary readings and meetings with readers, the “On the Road” project started organising creative discussions between authors and translators from different countries, so that they can share information on new developments and phenomena in their national literatures. And why not plan a meeting of writers from all the countries included in “On the Road”?
But these are really business ideas; my mind, though, keeps going back to the emotional atmosphere of those few days I spent in Odrin. This city’s closeness to the border places it, somehow, in a unique situation. If you travel to Istanbul, you are always in a hurry to reach your destination, leaving the visit to Odrin for some other time. And then, of course, it always turns out that you are late. You see from a distance the magnificent minarets of its mosques and the curves of Maritsa and promise to yourself that next time you certainly will… How clever are Kavafis’s words: “When you start on your journey to Ithaca, then pray that the road is long.” Once time was measured in kilometres, not in hours and the road passed through the colourful world of Odrin’s open market with its merchants, barbers and wizard-coffeemakers. Alas, the modern highway now “steals” travellers away from Odrin. But it so happened that this time our destination, mine and the playwright Konstantin Iliev’s, was Odrin. It’s impossible to forget the oriental kindness of local people who didn’t mind stopping their sweet talk and leaving their companions to guide us through the labyrinth of winding little streets to our hotel. Then our guides, they themselves getting confused, handed us over to another kind person, who, on his part, asked someone else, but in the end we arrived at the place we were looking for.
Intimacy is the unique advantage of smaller cities. In Odrin you could easily go from past to present, from historical and religious monuments to symbols of the 21st Century. The borders of three countries converge here, which creates a feeling of contest, of competition. There is a Thracian University both in Greece and Bulgaria, but the one here seems newer and more up-to-date. And obviously built by very ambitious people. Almost nowhere in the Balkans, a region I know well, have I seen so stylish, modern and functional space as that of the private Odrin College. And I was equally impressed by the Yıldırım Beyazıt High School. In fact these were the venues for my literary readings, for the meetings and conversations with the young people of Turkey. Almost everywhere my readings continued for more than two hours. I was overwhelmed with clever questions about my books, the roads to success in art, my acquaintances with Turkish writers, life in my own country.
All these events were very professionally organised and the associate professor from the Ankara University, Hüseyin Mevsim, the translator of our texts and host of all discussions, once again proved to be one of the best experts on Bulgarian language and literature in Turkey. And it was Hussein again who drew my attention to the several magnificent old bridges in Odrin. And the bridge, as we all know, is a rich metaphor and a wonderful reality. I wonder now – is it accidental that bridges in the Balkans are greater in number that anywhere else?