I meet Bistra in Sofia


I had a name of someone to look up.

Bistra Dragon treated me to a magical day. She was 56 and a retired biochemist who had worked for 30 years in a state research lab. Graduate degrees from the University of Moscow. Work relating to something in proteins. Serious, earnest, devout, enormous energy. We walked and walked and walked. She kept stating “you need to stop for lunch.” But I knew that she didn’t want to, and that she felt it her duty to impart the fundamental essence of Sofia and Bulgaria. Lunch would have gotten in the way. And it was a beautiful day.

Later, we sat on a park bench in a sea of old people. I showed her my family pictures, and then asked her about her history. She described relatives killed by Stalin, relatives relocated by Stalin from the Ukraine to Siberia, terrible stuff.

At one point I asked her whether she could make a moral distinction between the character and work of Todor Zhivkof, (The deposed Bulgarian dictator), and Nicholae Ceaucescu (The deposed/dead Romanian dictator). For it seemed to me that Bulgaria was not so easily condemned as Romania.

At first she disagreed, continuing her theme of disgust with her country’s politics. But she did acknowledge that Zhivkof may not have been all evil. “Gabriel Garcia Marquez was here for a writers conference at which point he met Zhivkof. Later, when asked about Zhivkof, Marquez stated ‘A man with a smile like that can’t be all bad.'”