Professional Hazards, Interview with Georgi Gospodinov by Silvia Choleva

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Writer Georgi Gospodinov keeps imaginary bees and is a cigarette-loving non-smoker
While playing football with his fellow writers on one of his frequent trips around Europe to poetry festivals, workshops and meetings, writer Georgi Gospodinov broke his leg. The cast didn’t slow him down, however. Gospodinov limped through Vienna, Graz and Klagenfurt on crutches and won a writing stipend in Berlin, previously held by Mario Vargas Llosa, Mircea Cartarescu and Susan Sontag.

His most popular book, Natural Novel, is in its fifth Bulgarian printing and has been translated into French, English, Czech, Danish, Italian and German. Gospodinov is the author of three collections of poetry, a book of short stories And Other Stories, the play D.J., a research study called Poetry and Media, the anthology Ballads and Break Ups, a book of Christmas stories entitled O, Henry, and the bestsellers I Lived Socialism: 171 Personal Stories and the Inventory Book of Socialism (with Yana Genova).

When not breaking bones in Europe, Gospodinov is an editor at Literaturen vestnik, or Literary Newspaper, writes a weekly column for the daily Dnevnik, takes care of his one-year-old daughter Raya and fantasises about smoking.

Does Bulgarian literature stand a chance of becoming famous outside Bulgaria?

The very idea that there is an out there, that the world is accessible, huge and varied is already comforting. When Natural Novel and And Other Stories came out in foreign languages, I felt like part of me already lived in Berlin, London, Chicago, Vienna, Paris and Rome. Afterwards, when I went to premieres and readings in those cities, I felt relaxed, as if I had already been there.

When you travel you take a lot of photos, but rarely of the things tourists normally shoot.

There are many moments in life that I want to capture immediately sudden situations, details, little things that quickly disappear. Writing is too slow to catch them. So I take pictures of those things instead of castles or monuments, because you can get them on postcards.

But photography isn’t my only salvation. I’m also interested in beekeeping, even though I don’t keep any beehives myself. I know what should be done during each season and I buy specialist newspapers like Pchela i kosher, or Bee and Hive I’m taking care of some imaginary bees.

Until recently you were rarely seen without a cigarette.

Up until a year or two ago I was a passionate smoker. I had all kinds of cigarettes at home for example, the lowest caste Indian cigarettes, made out of a tobacco leaf rolled up and tied with red thread in a paper package, and my favourite Indonesian clove cigarettes with a sweet filter. They burn quickly and the cloves crackle.

I’ve smoked cigars, pipes and hookahs, and I’ve rolled my own cigarettes. I made my first pipe, Tom Sawyer style: a classmate of mine and I hollowed out a corn cob. We stole a couple of handfuls of tobacco from the tobacco factory in Yambol, where we had gone ostensibly to write a report for the local newspaper. In any case, the report never came out.

What do you cook at home?

Stewed meat with lots of spices. I like to use herbs, especially basil. I also love fish. Fish markets in northern countries are an amazing sight: everything is pink with salmon, like Red Square. In Finland, before I broke my leg I ate salmon. They say that it helps your bones, but it isn’t true. I had gorged myself on the stuff and still broke my leg anyway.

What happens when you get restless?

It’s always possible to just turn your back and leave, go somewhere else, at least for a little while. I would head south towards the Mediterranean or to my favourite Portugal, which reminds me of Bulgaria in its melancholy. I’ll definitely write something about that, about the different ways to be sad. Bulgarian melancholy is quite visceral, sticky and deep. I think Mediterranean cultures have more insight into melancholy, they shed more light.

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