Hankering for Burgas (Бургас)

Blog posting’s been suffering recently because internet is hard to find (for free) in Turkey. That and I’m really, really tired. I have a lot more energy and enthusiasm to post for good days and experiences and those have been rather outweighed by negative ones and exhaustion of late.

After my sequence of failed pitches in Poznań I spent a rainy day inside doing something extremely relaxing to me: playing Starcraft II. My host’s roommate had the game on his computer and I managed to play quite a few missions that day, only emerging for a walk to get some groceries. I intended to wander the city one last time the following day but on checking in for my flight online I suddenly realized it was to depart at 6 AM and not 6 PM as I’d thought. This I discovered just prior to midnight. Naturally I spent the next few hours packing and preparing other random things and my plans to see Poznań again were quite dashed. In past years I would simply stay up the night to ensure I’d catch the one bus that would see me to the airport on time, but I decided to heed my mother’s oft-repeated advice and set an alarm… for the wrong time (again, twelve hours late – my defunct american phone in airplane mode serves as my alarm and i have to mentally add six hours). Now either due to my prayer or an excellent internal clock or both (I’d like to think it’s both, at least) I awoke precisely when I intended to, caught the busses and boarded the flight with no problems. On Jacek’s recommendation I never bothered buying bus or metro fares in Poznań and this happily didn’t backfire this early morning.

Reading cyrillic signs everywhere upon arriving in Бургас felt very friendly, somehow. I had to get used to the tvordiy znak being used as a vowel, but aside from that it was an easy transition. The airport is tiny and as far as I could tell the only reason people flew in to Бургас was to get themselves to Istanbul from Poland. As soon as I got on the bus into town, a Malaysian girl asked if I spoke English and we chattered away most of the ride in. I’d marked down a hostel the night before and she, like me, had been abandoned by her couchsurfing host and it was nice to have company… for the first few minutes. She latched onto me and complained my ear off – I suppose I understood, as I also have much to complain about but it wasn’t a particularly pleasant role to be her personal venting pole. She had very strong and negative opinions, mostly arising from distrust, of all those around her, and especially East Europeans. The contrast with my probably naive outlook on traveling was stark.

As an example she assumed when she couldn’t find her cigarettes that the boys in the bus had stolen them and was very eager to find internet to write her couch host a negative reference. I spent much of my responses trying to be understanding but at the same time positing my belief that the boys were probably just travelers and didnt steal anything and that maybe something happened to her host and she should wait a few days to give him a chance to respond. After checking in to the hostel (where she bemoaned the lack of a lift) I waited by the train station, unsuccessfuly, for my host and then wandered the beach and park a while, doing a little writing on the way. The black sea coast reminded me pleasantly of Florida’s Gulf Coast (though I havent seen it post oil spill), though the occasional topless sunbather made me think more of Croatia. I slept the rest of the day away at the hostel.

Sarasota/Flagler-esque

I spent the morning of the 29th wandering the town from bus company to bus company to assess ticket prices and times. Most companies only left for Istanbul, and only for night busses but on the suggestion of a couchsurfer I’d been corresponding with in Edirne, I found Istanbul Seyahat and reserved a seat for the following day, at the reasonable departure time of 11.30, rather than 23.30. I decided to follow this successful search with a pitch on Богориди street, the principal offshoot off the main pedestrian drag of this small industrially beach town. When I retrieved my guitar from the hostel I let the other guests know where I was headed.

I ran into two of the other guests sitting behind a “busker” who’d set up before the pink library building, a prime location. They seemed to be enjoying the suspiciously clean sounding music. Now, I put “busker” in quotes because this man represents to me all the reasons why my trip has been so difficult. From all accounts I’ve heard, busking used to be a respected profession in Europe, but with the advent of the digital age and the rush of commercialism it’s all changed. One told me how about a decade back buskers all over the continent felt a huge hit from replacement of film cameras with digital ones. The logic is counterintuitive but that’s normal with this trade:

With film cameras every shot is an investment – it’s one of a limited set. You take greater care, and thus time composing the shot. You’ll develop and print it at a cost and so it’s literally worth something. All this time and the preserved transience of the moment (how many photos did the average tourist take?) with the tacit recognition that this encounter was special led people to tip after taking a photo. But with digital photos you just take a million, throw them online – all for free – for no one to look at except in a fleeting manner through facebook. When you come across a busker you can take many shots and review them without ever having to focus on the busker or make eye contact. The shot’s worth less as its one in a million so you don’t tip.

With Roma beggars infesting all the streets after they: 1. all got passports with citizenship with reforms in Romania and 2. exploited the borderless entity once within the Schengen area, busking’s actually become associated with begging, and understandably so. It’s been extremely hard for me to try and remain unprejudiced against the gypsies, for all their stereotypes seem true: they steal (from me), they have no desire to assimilate into the cultures of the countries they inhabit (none of them spoke anything but gypsy), they look dirty and unkempt and lazy and are aggressive for their money rather than talented. This particular “busker” was one such example.

Before I get into how he infuriated me so much let me continue a little on how busking is dying. Besides the result of the prevalence of iPods and such (why listen to a street musician when you have your favourite tunes in your ears already?), the commodification of music has changed people’s perception of the entire thing. You ask any random person and they’ll probably tell you they don’t even listen to a busker because they figure he’s no good if he’s not got a record deal. People, a la Brave New World, like what they’re told is good because it’s easier than assessing and comparing on one’s own. With louder streets and smaller attention spans for the average instant gratification passerby, buskers are forced to create more noise (amplification) or make a spectacle of themselves (Underwear Cowboy) such that in music, at least (fire shows etc. seem immune) income is a reflection of volume and appearance rather than talent.

Which gave birth to the backing track, I think. You’ll hear them everywhere – “guitarists,” “flautists,” “violinists,” playing over backing tracks pumped through an amplifier. Some talented buskers create their own with looping machines, live, and this I have enormous respect for, but most download some midi or karaoke-esque studio recording. The result offends me greatly. The whole point of busking is as a statement about the spontaneity and transience of a musical event: who knows when you’ll hear this musician ever again? And the added complication of backing tracks is it’s often difficult to tell (especially for the lay person) what’s being performed live and what’s part of the track – most of those I’ve seen using them are hardly playing anything at all, just the occasional “solo.”

So. This man. He wasn’t even bloody playing. A black “amp” served as a speaker to his right and just on top of it was his iPod, cleverly hidden by his glasses case. His miming wasn’t even skillfully done – for the discerning musician – for he repeated the same pattern over and over again: a nonsensical flourish with his left hand that approximated a classical tremolo but never touched the strings while his right hand wandered between an Am open chord, a Gmaj bar chord and an Amaj bar chord. That’s it. And these two young travelers were fooled, one remarking to the other that he was quite good when I showed up. These travelers, a Swede and a Pole who seemed to have a discerning taste in music: liking Bon Iver and Justice and Radiohead and such. I had half a mind to scream at the man or smash his guitar.

Instead I set up halfway to the beach, in a nice spot facing some clothing shops. Sheena and the couple requested a few songs between them and the latter tipped me for Jacek’s request: Bon Iver’s Re: Stacks. Graeme, a Scot staying at the hostel who recommended I head to the British Isles, wandered by in the middle of this song and tipped upon leaving. I was encouraged and ready for a good pitch when a man with a rapt child came up and tipped, also, but perhaps he was emboldened by the presence of my four member audience, because that was my last tip. If I thought the looks in Poland were bad the ones here were downright insulting. As if to underscore my otherness and the fact that appearance was what mattered most, most of the men passing either pulled at their eyes or karate moved at me. At the end two young men (of college age) laughed maniacally on seeing me and started mimicing me after every phrase, pointing unashamedly.

Naturally I didn’t bother with another pitch while I was in Бургас. So began my monetary woes.

The pitch.

Earnings: 2,48 BGN + €2, 45 minutes
Song of the Day: RE: Stacks – Bon Iver

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