"Residence in Bulgaria", St. Clair and Brophy



The traveller's reception - Family meal -- Bulgarian features and physique - Ordinary costume - Holiday costume - Gagaous or mixed race - A hard bed - The traveller’s reckoning - Bulgarian charges - Hospitality of the Turks.

IF you arrive as a traveller at a Rayah village where you have no acquaintances, and you do not wish to put up at the Khan or inn (supposing that there be one, for inns are few and far between in the interior country of Bulgaria), your proper course is to send for the Kyaia, an official who in some measure unites the duties of town-crier and police magistrate, show him the firman or government recommendation with which you are doubtless furnished, and tell him to assign you a lodging for the night. A small bakshish will ensure you a billet upon the most comfortable house in the village; you present yourself and are received with the invariable formula of salutation, Khosh geldin, 'well come,' to which you answer Khosh bouldouk, ‘well found,’ give your horse to one of the sons of the house to look after, or, better still, see yourself that he is well cared for, and make your way into the chief room.

The place of honour on the mat nearest the fire is offered to you, and your host commences the conversation by asking where you come from, where you are going, why you are going there, whether you will come back the same way, what is your trade or occupation (the mere tourist looms in the future of Bulgaria, but has not yet marked these regions for his own), and a number of similar questions, for the Bulgarian is naturally inquisitive, and Franks are as rare in the interior as fat fowls. Your gun - for of course you are not foolhardy enough to travel without one - is naturally much admired, and its price asked and wondered at, as here no one thinks of giving more than three pounds for the quaint weapon used by the peasant; if it is a breechloader you may even be requested to make a present of it. Meanwhile the lady of the house has made a big, flat, round loaf of bread, which is put to bake on the hearth and covered up with the hot ashes of the wood fire, and if it is near the hour of the family meal you may, at your choice, order a massacre of skeleton poultry, procure some eggs, possibly even a little milk and butter, and cook your own dinner, or you may dine with the family. If you prefer the latter course, the sofra is brought out and placed on the floor, with a mass of sour crout floating in grease and abundantly flavoured with garlic, and before each person is of the hot half-baked bread; none of the females of the family, with the rare exception of the mother, are allowed to take part in this repast, but wait for their meal until the men have finished.

As a stranger, you will probably be offered the refinement of a wooden spoon to assist you in eating, but the usual custom is to dip your fingers into the dish, extract as large a morsel as possible, throw your head well back, and push the food down your throat as far as you can: if you are very particular, you may wipe your fingers upon your bread between each mouthful. but this excess of delicacy is by no means considered necessary, and may even be taken as a tacit reproach to the rest of the company. A jug of wine is constantly passed round and replenished from one of the large barrels standing in the verandah, and before each draught the sign of the Cross is made, to prevent the devil entering into the drinker with the wine.

A dish of white cheese made from the milk of goats and sheep concludes the repast, and when it is finished you offer your tobacco and cigarette-paper (which even in the country have almost entirely superseded the traditional chibouque) to the assembled circle; the villagers who have heard of your arrival drop in, salute you with Khosh geldin, and either gaze upon you with mute and awe-struck wonder, or subject you to the same cross-examination which you have previously undergone. The Rayah is always bi-lingual, and if you speak only one of his languages that one will probably be Turkish: if however you understand also Romaic, or the Bulgarian dialect of Slavonic, you will certainly be amused, though perhaps not flattered, by the various remarks made upon and concerning you, which of course are supposed to be unintelligible to their object.

When curiosity is satiated or exhausted a lull takes place in the conversation, which has always been confined to the men present, the women knowing their inferior social position and preserving a discreet silence, at least before strangers; being new to the country you will probably take this opportunity to note the general features of dress and appearance of your entertainers.

Strongly but heavily built, with broad shoulders and round back, a walk like that of a bear, coarse and blunted-looking features, a heavy moustache covering the sensual lips, a beard shaven once a week, and little twinkling eyes, which, whilst always avoiding to meet your own, give a general appearance of animal cunning to the face - you will hardly say, notwithstanding the prejudices in favour of the interesting Christians of the East which you have brought with you from Europe, that this long exiled offshoot is a prepossessing type of the great Slavonic Nationality which All-Mother Russia is so fondly eager to receive into her bosom and mould into one mighty and harmonious whole.

The dress of the men admits of but little variety, being always sombre in colour, a circumstance which has given rise to the epithet of Kara (black) Giaour occasionally bestowed upon them by the Turks, who are fond of light tints in their costume; it consists of a linen shirt, homespun, a short loose jacket open in front and of dark brown, or black, thick rough cloth, a waistcoat and trousers of the same colour and materials, the latter made excessively full to the knee, from which downwards it fits close to the leg. Round the waist is a red sash of many yards in length, which serves instead of pockets, and contains a knife, flint and steel, tobacco and other necessary articles: the cap, round and brimless, is made from sheepskin dyed black or brown. Boots are a rare but much coveted and expensive luxury, being only worn by the young swells of the village on the occasion of some great feast, when they have particular reasons for appearing to the best advantage in the presence of the assembled damsels: far from the seaport towns they are perhaps entirely unknown, and even in those localities where a pair is possessed by some Bulgarian Brummel it is regarded more as an ornament than an article to be used whilst walking, for the owner generally walks barefooted, carrying his tasselled boots over his shoulder, to the house where they are to be displayed, where he puts them on with great pride, and when the festivity is over, returns home with them slung in the same manner.

The Bulgarian substitute for boots is the charrek, a species of sandal much resembling the Scotch brogue, or that worn by the Calabrian peasant; it is made of cow-hide or pigskin, rudely sewn into the shape of a slipper, and worn over rolls of thick flannel in which the foot and ancle are swathed; the strings which fasten it are strips of leather, or a cord made of twisted goat's hair, or from the bark of the elder-tree immersed in water until all but the fibrous parts has decayed. The charrek is warm in winter, cool in summer, and very comfortable for walking, except in muddy weather or snow, when it is impossible to avoid slipping; its great disadvantage is that it takes some minutes to put on, which time is however generally economized by the Bulgarians never taking it off until the sole is worn out, a period of perhaps two months.

The women's dress is usually simple, except on feast days, when they display a perfectly bewildering amount of embroidery; it consists of a linen shirt, a boddice, a cloth jacket, and a skirt of some dark coloured calico or other stuff which descends to within a few inches of the ancle. On the head is worn a little cap of cardboard covered with red cloth, something like a fez in shape, but much smaller, and upon it are sewn coins of silver, gold, or silver gilt, amongst which may sometimes be found rare antiques discovered in ploughing the fields: this cap, being worn from earliest infancy, and fitting very tightly upon the head, gives the skull a peculiar and unsightly conical form, which is however unnoticeable so long as the cap and handkerchief are not removed; this process is just the reverse of that adopted by the North American tribes of Flat-head Indians. Their other ornaments consist of a necklace composed of coins, bracelets of silvered-copper, or glass, and ear-rings of pierced money. If a girl is engaged to be married, she generally wears a girdle of silver, or more often white metal, with a great clasp ornamented with glass rubies or emeralds, which is presented to her by her betrothed, amongst other gifts.

Except when dancing, and not always even then, slippers are scarcely ever worn by the women, who seem to prefer walking barefooted to the fountain or even outside the village.

If the day of your arrival is a feast, you will have the opportunity of seeing all the marriageable young ladies in the full blaze of their toilette. Every spot of their linen which can be seen is embroidered in colours, at the neck, the hem, the boddice, the sleeves; their socks are of open work, and, supplemented by knitted or embroidered leggings; their jacket is of cloth, lined with fox-skin, and embroidered with fur; and their necks, heads, and arms covered with the whole contents of their jewel-boxes; their aprons too are woven in bright colours and patterns resembling strongly those of the Japanese, but which produce a picturesque effect; even their handkerchiefs have stripes of colour or of gold and silver tinsel interwoven with them. All this finery is put on for the village dance which on every feast day commences soon after sunrise, and is continued with little interruption till nearly midnight, unless the state of the weather forbids it, as it always takes place in the open air.

The evening dress of the men is by no means so elaborate as that of the ladies; the Rayah exquisite puts an additional, though unnecessary, coat of grease upon the already unctuous masses of his flowing hair, changes his sheepskin chapka for a little red cap, in which he sticks, if flowers are procurable, a bunch or two of roses or snow-drops, slips on a kind of flannel legging with a little blue braid upon it over the dirty flannels of his charreks, and is ready for the ball.

The costume of the women, as described above, strongly resembles that of the Polish and Russian peasantry, but it is only to be seen in those villages where the inhabitants are of pure Slavonic blood. Along the coast of the Black Sea the Bulgarian is of a very mixed race, partly Vlach or Walachian, partly Greek, and partly even Venetian and Genoese; the latter quartering being gained by the long-continued presence of Genoese and Venetian garrisons in that part of the country. They are characterized by the genuine Slav as Gagaous, an untranslatable term but involving a great amount of contempt. [The full-blooded Bulgarian, czisto Bulgar, has a saying which is not complimentary to the mixed race, it is as follows: - Nie Syrb, nie Turczyn, nie Bulgar, nie Wlah, nie Ozlak - Gagauz. Neither Serb, nor Turk, nor Bulgarian, nor Wallachian, nor a man; but a Gagaous.] They speak besides Turkish, either a corrupt dialect of Bulgarian (which is itself only a dialect) or a very impure Romaic, perhaps even all three languages in a less or greater degree: some of their words are even Italian, and show how firm was the hold once gained upon the East by the trading Republics of Italy. Amongst these the traditional Slavonic costume has disappeared as far as concerns the women, who on grand occasions adorn themselves with an utter want of taste, and ignorance of the contrasting effects of colours; but little embroidery is to be seen, their ornaments and head-dress are the same, but their dresses are of silk, and a flaming red skirt is worn with a yellow silk jacket and pink boddice.

When your examination is finished, you will probably find no new topic of conversation, and express a wish to go to bed, upon which the visitors take their leave by degrees; some of the members of the family are turned out, and you find yourself with only some half dozen sleeping companions, male and female, young and old. You select the place nearest the fire, as in winter it is the warmest, and in summer the coolest; take your pillow and a couple of rugs, and retire to rest as best you can, whilst the others just turn in as they are, curl themselves up almost into a circle, and fall asleep in five minutes. Bulgarian habits are matutinal, so you are awakened early in the morning, and probably feel your hip-bones and your head rather sore from the respective hardness of the mud floor and rag-stuffed pillow. A draught or two of wine, and a little bread and crout, prepare you for your onward journey; you order your horse to be brought round, and you ask the head of the family how much there is to pay.

For the first time or so, you make this inquiry with the hope that you will be answered "Nothing at all," and with the intention of giving a sum at least double what you have cost your entertainers. but a few days' experience of travelling
amongst the Rayah soon dispels any such fond illusion.

The wine you have drunk, the chickens you have cooked, the bread you have eaten, the corn for your horse - all is counted up with an accuracy of mental arithmetic highly creditable to the financial abilities of the Christian peasant: if your host is not avaricious he only multiplies the sum total of the value by three, and informs you how much your food comes to; for the trouble you have given, and for your bed, you are expected to pay a bakshish or present, the amount of which is left to yourself. It is no use, or at least very little, to grumble, so you pay and go to the door. If your bakshish has come up to the expectations of your host's wife, you are presented at the door with a stirrup-cup of wine, gratis, your horse is held as you mount, and you ride away amidst a chorus of 'loughourola,' 'bon voyage' from the assembled family. If, however, the bill for your food has put you in a bad humour, and sensibly diminished your voluntary offering you may depart without wine or good wishes or any one to assist your exit. Your host, in the mean time, is rejoicing that he has managed to profit so largely by a guest billetted upon him, and by whose advent he will probably escape the lodgment of the next two soldiers who come to the village, who would pay him only the Government allowance, and eat four times as much as the Frank stranger. To explain this, it is necessary to say that a Bouyortou or Firman from the Government, which authorizes the traveller to claim a lodging for the night from the Kayaia (who to his other offices unites that of billet-master), puts the bearer in the position of a Government officer, and therefore he is only obliged to give the regulation tariff for his accommodation, which is about tenpence per diem, and is entitled for that sum to demand any food that is to be had in the house, and to consume as much of it as he likes. The different houses are put on a roster for the billets, and therefore the arrival of a foreigner who pays liberally, instead of a soldier or zaptieh (policeman) who pay next to nothing, is a positive godsend.

The Authors were once charged, in a Christian house of a village in Roumelia, the sum of about 15 shillings for nine pennyworth of flour, a pint of milk, and a half dozen of eggs.

Perhaps you are annoyed by finding the auri sacra fames where you had expected patriarchal simplicity - especially in many matters - and you begin to believe that the boasted hospitality of the East is but a mirage which disappears as you approach the spot where it ought to be; next evening however, you stop at a Turkish village. Here no presentation of your bouyortou is necessary, the fact of your being a stranger is sufficient to ensure you food, shelter, and a hearty welcome. You ask your way to the Mussafir odasi (guest's apartment), a cottage built for the reception of travellers whom the Mussulman is of course prevented from receiving into the sacred precincts of his own home. If the village contains only rich men, these will each have a little house within the enclosure of their court, but apart from their, own dwelling which contains the inviolable Harem, and to one of these you will be directed; if the village is poor (and Mussulman villages are for good reasons, which will be given hereafter, poorer than those of the Rayah) there is at least a Mussafir odasi belonging in common to all the villagers. We will take the latter case; you enter a little room. kept scrupulously clean, and furnished with matting and a few cushions; shortly after your arrival some one comes in with coffee and the apparatus for making it, salutes you, and in a minute or two offers you a tiny cup of coffee made as few but Turks, and Turks of the country, can make it. Then other villagers come in, each with an offering of bread, cheese, cream, buttermilk, lentils, honey, eggs - in short, to use their own words as they excuse the poverty of the meal, 'what God has given to them.' No questions are asked until you have eaten and are satisfied, and are then put in a tone far different from the Prussian-frontier manner of the Bulgarians; no one who has mixed with the true Turks - those of the provinces, uncontaminated by a sojourn at Pera or Paris - can help being struck with their innate tact, refinement, and gentlemanliness.

The Khodja (schoolmaster) and the Imam (priest), the two most respected characters of the village, come in to see you, you begin to ask about the shooting in the neighbourhood, and as the conversation turns upon the favourite topic of arms and weapons, you find that your friends occasionally see a Turkish newspaper, have heard of the Zuendnadelgewehr, and have even a very fair idea of its construction. If you touch upon political subjects, you will be surprised at the just appreciation which is shown of Turkish Home Policy, and you will hear remedial measures suggested by mere peasants, which, if adopted by the Imperial Government, would do more to restore Turkey to the position which her almost boundless internal resources should enable her again to occupy, than a century of the patent nostrums advocated by Occidental Cabinets, whose only knowledge of the East is confined to the foreign quarters of its large towns.

In the morning you are offered a frugal breakfast, and of course coffee; when you leave, no payment will be asked for, and if you offer money in return for the kindness you have received, you will almost insult your entertainers; the only way of compensating them is to give some small sum towards the maintenance of the mosque or the school, and even this may not be accepted if it be given undisguisedly as payment for hospitality.

It is but fair to add in conclusion, that although the Authors, in a rather extensive series of rambles amongst the villages of Bulgaria, have never found a Mussulman who would accept payment from his guests for anything which his house afforded - of course if they sent for any luxury which he did not possess, and he was a poor man, he would take back the money he had paid - they have met with one instance of a Christian peasant who at first refused money, but even he finally took it without very much pressing.

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