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on my return from Sofia

Writing this from Sofia (Bulgaria) airport, waiting for my flight back through Vienna.

No pictures to show for it yet as I took only my Leica M6, and will have to wait a week or so for the negs to come back from the lab.

As I arrived on Friday, if was pouring with rain and the whole city just felt grey and miserable. Had a bit of time to go out and about, but in the circumstances it just brought my mood down fairly low. My steps had taken me to Alexander Nevsky church, and I thought that might be just the thing for a bit of succour from all that wet greyness. The place was dark as a tomb, from the small windows and the dark paintings on the walls. Still, an impressive monument with many beautiful things to see inside, so I spent time wandering around the sombre interior and its darker recesses – and there was a monk, dark-robed and dark-haired. I was immediately struck by his odd, helmet-like haircut: long hair, parted in the middle, covering his ears and tied in a ponytail. I then realize he’d modelled himself after the holy men depicted in the precious icons hung inside the church. Someone later told me this was the “orthodox haircut”.

Back in ancient times, a prominent monk probably just had this haircut for no other reason than he liked it – or it might be that icon painters settled on this representation of hair simply as an artistic convention, a standardized way of representing certain things. And now we end up a peculiar haircut infused with religious meaning. It’s decidedly curious how certain things come to be or what they come to mean, largely by accident.

A panel at the entrance of the church explained how it had been built in the 18th century to give thanks for the liberation of the country from Ottoman rule. Ironically, the church is very much in the Ottoman style.

Saturday on the other hand was an absolutely glorious, warm spring day, the city penetrated with the smell of trees in bloom – for Sofia is a green city if ever there was one. It’s a type of greenness we’re quite unaccustomed to however, a wild, unkempt greenness that, above potholed streets and next to peeling facades of once patrician buildings, lends the city an endearing, earthy charm.

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