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Wednesday, 18 June 2008

Three deeply moving experiences

The last time I wrote I was in Sofia, preparing for a seminar.

All seminars are worrying. As you probably know, speaking in public is only marginally less terrifying to most people than encountering poisonous snakes. Experience makes it a little easier- but the prospect is still enough to keep you awake the night before.

This worry is compounded if you don’t know the audience and there is simultaneous translation, which was the case in Bulgaria. We had a full house - in fact they had to turn people away - and I had just got into my stride when the sound system collapsed

For fifteen minutes I had to keep the audience entertained, not made easier by the fact that many did not understand English. No fun for me, though they were pretty sympathetic. But as a result I did something I hardly ever do: I overran by 30 minutes, which made it harder for my partner who had to follow me and had to speak faster than she intended.

The day before we had visited yet another church in the city, and maybe I should have said my prayers. But I was so transfixed by what was going on that I forgot.

It was a wedding. Once again there was a splendid choir, a lot of candles and much elaborate ceremony. It made an English wedding look very shabby and casual. There were crowns to be worn by bride and groom, drinking of wine and eating of bread, kissing of crosses and ikons, repeated circling of the altar and a most distinguished and benevolent -looking priest.

It was all filmed and photographed from every angle. If they look closely at the results they will see a sentimental old Englishman looking rather tearful in the background. Believe me, when you get married in a Bulgarian Orthodox church, you know it’s a solemn commitment. If everyone did it that way in England, divorce rates would plummet.

I underwent another religious experience last night in a bar in Soho - the France versus Italy football match. The place was packed. My partner and her sister ended up sitting on the floor. I would say half the people were Italian fans and half French. Italy won – rightly, because though France had slightly more of the ball, they never managed to do much with it.

If it had been England who lost, no doubt there would have been fights and arrests, and if I were French I’m not sure I would have appreciated the Italian merriment, accompanied by derisive shouts of “Va fan culo” – and if you don’t know what that means, find a cultured friend who can tell you.

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