Socialist art museum opens, quietly

I didn’t know quite what do with myself this morning at Bulgaria’s new Museum of Socialist Art.

I arrived around 12:30 – about an hour after Prime Minister Boyko Borisov had been scheduled to cut the ribbon. By the time I got there, the media scrum had mostly departed. A few stragglers gulped down a bit of wine and cheese under tents that had been set up near the bust of Che Guevara.

Out in the sculpture garden, too, things were largely quiet amid the statuary of this country’s 40 years under communist rule. An elderly couple were in the midst of a heated discussion in Bulgarian. A television reporter finished a report seated  – I’m not making this up – in Vladimir Lenin’s lap. Continue reading


American tough guys to invade Bulgaria / Nu Image Films

Bulgaria has withstood many challenges in its turbulent history: foreign domination, two world wars, decades of communist rule.

But this month it may be facing its greatest challenge yet: an invasion of American film stars.

Shooting is scheduled to begin Sept. 19 on The Expendables 2, the latest production of Nu Boyana Film Studios in Sofia. And the cast is truly fearsome: Sylvester Stallone, Mickey Rourke, Bruce Willis, Chuck Norris, John Travolta, John-Claude Van Damme and, perhaps most dangerous of all, Arnold Schwarzenegger.

To be sure, this is not the first time Nu Boyana has grappled with Hollywood types. Last year Conan the Barbarian even paid a visit. Chief executive David Varod told the Los Angeles Times that labor costs for the non-union film crews are 40% cheaper than in the Czech Republic or Hungary and up to 80% cheaper than in the U.S. Still, it’s not clear whether Sofia is prepared for such an extra-large dose of testosterone.

We’ll let you know if we bump into anyone famous in Sofia’s cafes. In the meantime, out of an abundance of caution, we’re going to let the former California governor have the last word: “Hasta la vista, baby.”

On the museum trail

As any parent of a nine-year-old will tell you, visiting museums while traveling can be a hit-or-miss affair. Sometimes you strike gold with a user-friendly layout, activities for children, and art with a whimsical touch. Sometimes it’s a complete bust.

Over the last month in Bulgaria we’ve been batting around .400 — not bad for a professional baseball player, but a bit tense in the child-rearing game.

Last weekend we visited the glorious State Gallery of Fine Arts in the old town section of Plovdiv. Even at 11 a.m. on a Saturday, it appeared we were the only visitors. But for an admission fee of 3 lev ($2.17US,) an attendant scurried up three flights to turn on all the gallery lights for us.

Truth be told, not all members of our party were in the mood for art. But the spacious, bright layout showed off the museum’s collection of 19th and 20th century Bulgarian paintings and sculpture to full advantage.

We were particularly taken with the folk art of Bulgarian master Zlatyu Boyadjiev, above, whose partial paralysis in 1951 prompted a switch of hands (from right to left) and a new appreciation for village life that recalls Marc Chagall. There’s some magic in the approach of artists like Hristo Hristov (left,) and the historic portraits recalling struggles long overlooked in the West.

That’s the good news. But our visit to the National Museum of Natural History in Sofia earned decidedly mixed reviews from our nine-year-old naturalist in residence. Continue reading