From Christo and Canetti to the Crypto Queen, Bulgarians Get Our Attention

People from this ancient culture on the Black Sea have a talent for thinking big and leaving their mark.

Christo (1935-2020)

“The one that wrapped the Reichstag‘” you will hear people say when they want to evoke a quick association with him, the concept artist with monumental transformational ideas – Christo. Remember now – the wrapped Pont Neuf, the Running Fence in CaliforniaThe Gates in New York City’s Central Park, Mastaba in Hyde Park London, The Floating Piers in Sulzano, Italy… ?

Christo Vladimirov Javacheff was born in the town of Gabrovo and studied at the Bulgarian Academy of Fine Arts in Sofia. At the age of 21 he escaped from comunist Bulgaria and made his way through Prague and Vienna to Paris where he met his life and art partner Jean-Claude.

She was also the managerial machine after the impressive large –scale artworks which always took years of preparation, combined complicated technical solutions with political negotiation and environmental permitting. Their business model is studied in Harvard Business School as an unique and revolutionary one. They refused public grants and donations and financed their installations themselves selling the preparatory drawings, maquettes of the project and other works to museums and collectors.

The works existed for a brief period of time free for the visitors, owned by nobody, a short moment from the whole universal time when the building or the landmark or the landscape is different like they never were and will never be again…. What is art? 

Elia Canetti/(C) Wikimedia Commons

Elias Canetti (1905-1994)

“I cannot become modest; too many things burn in me; the old solutions are falling apart; nothing has been done yet with the new ones. So I begin, everywhere at once, as if I had a century ahead of me.”
Elias Canetti, 1943

One of the strongest minds of the 20th century was born and spent his early childhood in the Danube town of Ruse (at that time called Rustschuk) in Bulgaria. “I will hardly succeed in giving an idea of the colorfulness of these early years in Rustchuk, of his passions and horrors. Everything I experienced later had already happened in Rustschuk.” His ancestors were Sephardi Jews.His mother descended from Arditi family, who can be traced back to the 14th century, when they were court astronomers and physicians to the Aragonese royal court of Alfonso IV and Pedro IV

The family moved from Bulgaria and in 1929 Canetti graduated from Vienna University with a degree in Chemistry but never worked as a chemist. He dedicated his time instead to philosophy and literature. To escape nazi persecution after the annexation of Austria, Canetti immigrated to England in 1938 and devoted  his researches to mass psychology reflected in his major works: Masse und Macht (1960; Crowds and Power), the plays: Hochzeit (1932; The Wedding), Komödie der Eitelkeit (1950; Comedy of Vanity),  Die Befristeten (1964; The Numbered) and the novel Auto-da-Fé, published in German as Die Blendung (The Deception).

Philosopher, novelist, playwright, memoirist and non-fiction writer Elias Canetti was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1981 as an Austrian writer.

The Mystery of the Bulgarian Voices

Bulgarian State Television Female Vocal Choir/(C) Wikimedia Commons

“[The Mystery of the Bulgarian Voices] are still one of the music world’s great wonders.”
– Rolling Stone Magazine

In 1952, the Bulgarian National Television made auditions and gathered women with exceptional singing abilities from all over the country (mainly from the villages) to form a state choir which to present the ancient authentic Bulgarian singing tradition.

This all-female ensemble is now constantly touring and world known for bringing the unique Bulgarian folk singing with thrilling mastery, mixing old folk melodies with modern arrangements, using dissonant harmonies and diaphonic singing. It was Marcel Cellier who found them for the world and in 1997 recorded a four parts album called Le Mystère des Voix Bulgares in France.

The success was so huge that soon after the choir was renamed to “The Mystery of the Bulgarian Voices” and in 1990 was awarded The Grammy Award for the second part of the album.

The specific, beautiful, open-throat sound is what makes them share stage and been featured on albums by Kate Bush, Drake and Wyclef, Vanessa Mae, Bobby McFerrin, Lisa Gerrard a.o. David Bowie and Iman chose their song “Kalimankou Denkou” to replace “Here Comes the Bride” on their wedding day.

This song or “Mehmetyo” or “Danjova Mama” or “Prituri sa planinata”  will surely give you goosebumps and transfer you in an unknown sound dimension! 

Simeon Saxe-Coburg-Gotha

(bg. Симеон Борисов Сакскобургготски, Simeon Borisov Sakskoburggotski)

Simeon Saxe-Coburg-Gotha/(C) Wikimedia Commons

On June 16, 1937 the church bells rang all over Bulgaria to announce the birth of the future Tsar Simeon. His parents Boris III of Bulgaria and Giovanna of Italy gave a broad amnesty and raised the school grades by 1 mark, a fact which many Bulgarians know from their grandparents who were school kids at that time. Boris III sent an airforce officer to Jordan River to bring water for Simeon’s baptism in the Orthodox faith.

This caring father died suddenly in 1943 by mysterious circumstances and the 6 years old boy became the last Bulgarian Tsar – Simeon II of Bulgaria. After three years the monarchy was abolished by a referendum initiated by the communist regime. The young boy, his mother and his sister were allowed to leave the country. The royal family was given a political asylum in Spain.

The story of the little Tsar who was forced to flee and now grows up, marries, has children somewhere away from Bulgaria has always fascinated the Bulgarians. Raised in the high circles of the Spanish society Simeon never burned the bridges to Bulgaria. He speaks fluent Bulgarian, works closely with immigrational communities and supports many Bulgarian causes. 

No wonder that when in 2001 he decided to return as a politician  thousands of people met him crying and voted for his political  party. Simeon Sakskoburgotski became the 48th Prime Minister for the period of four years. The desire of this intelligent and delicate person to put order to Bulgaria “in 800 days” met the cruel Bulgarian political situation and the “miracle savior” had to retire and return to Spain, disappointed.

Dr. Ruja Ignatova “The Cyrptoqueen”

Dr. Ruja Ignatova/(C) Wikimedia Commons

In 2016, Ruja Ignatova, Oxford alumni and former worker at a big management consulting company, stepped on the stage of Wembley Arena to proclaim her vision about the end of the nowadays banking system and the era of the new crypto currency, Onecoin – “the Bitcoin Killer.”

In a series of events like this one all over the world this daring Bulgarian lady managed to persuade many to invest billions in this “revolutionary undertaking”. One year after Dr. Ruja was accused by the FBI to have created one of the biggest frauds in history and disappeared without a trace in 2017…

The Men Who Stole Charlie Chaplin’s Body

Charlie Chaplin’s concrete grave in Corsier-sur-Vevey, Switzerland/(C) Wikimedia Commons

On March 2, 1978 the leading news in the world media is the theft of the body of the greatest comic actor of all times Sir Charlie Chaplin. Two months after his funeral in the  cemetery in the Swiss village of Corsier-sur-Vevey, near Lausanne two grave robbers stole the coffin with his corpse and demanded a ransom from his widow Oona O’Neill. She refused to give the money and cooperated closely with the police.

As a result, in less than two months, two auto mechanics were arrested for the crime. The Bulgarian Gancho Ganchev was one of them. The story has a trivial end: The robbers pointed to the place where they’ve hidden the coffin and the family of Caplin could re-bury it this time in a concrete grave.

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Elena Skuleva
Elena has been a talent scout and agent at a world-leading agency for opera artists in Vienna since 2012. She studied opera singing and performing arts management and worked at the Casting Department of Teatro alla Scala,Milan. BeforeleavingBulgaria, she managed touring opera companies and cultural projects such as The Vick Award for Bulgarian Novel of the Year and was a TV presenter on Bulgarian National Television.

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