They say that if you were born blind and later have an operation which enables vision, what you see at first is a disorienting swirling mass of colour. It takes time to learn to make sense of what your eyes are seeing. For sight is no mere visual reception – this sense perception also organizes and interprets.
Seeing a place for the first time is a little like a new gift of sight. Everything around you is full of sound scent and colour, but you have no background or context to place it in. The advantage though, is that you see everything with fresh eyes.
In Sofia I saw a demonstration, with people banging drums, blowing whistles, waving Bulgarian and EU flags. 'Protect' was written on one banner. Some people climbed onto a statue of a man on a horse in front of the National Assembly. One of these people talked through a loudspeaker and every so often a cheer went through the crowd, like a wave cresting and falling. Policemen stood at the end of Tsar Osvoboditel Boulevard, making it clear it was blocked off to traffic. They wear dark uniforms, with pill-box hats like French gendarmes. Some of them wore long-sleeved jackets. They must, I thought, be feeling the heat.
Immediately I arrived in Sofia I felt at home in the small streets off Rakovski. Peeling façades of old buildings, sycamore and lime trees throwing dappled shadow patterns on dusty streets. Of course, there is the city centre with its beautiful churches and grand new buildings. There is the
modern statue of Sofia herself, with an owl, the bird of wisdom, perched on her arm. But the small streets, for me, hold the real history, the humanity, the way people live.
After a meal chez P and R, P accompanies me back to my hostel, near the train station. It's late, but P says he thinks there may still be a bus. As we wait in the soft night, the last tram comes along. We get on. P asks the driver if since it's going to the depot, it takes the same route. It does. When we get off, we walk alongside the tiny river, forced into a canal in the way the Lana is in Tirana. And there are big bridges here too with sloping sides down to the tiny trickle of water. We cross at the Lion Bridge, through the silent, empty streets.