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Will Buckingham's Wayward Things #4

October 2019 Edition

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Welcome to the October 2019 Edition of Will Buckingham's Wayward Things!


Here in Thessaloniki, it's feeling decidedly autumnal. Throughout September, I was busy writing and researching my book for Granta, Hello Stranger: Stories of Connection in a Divided World. But as of today, my first draft is being printed out, ready to pick up at the print shop tomorrow, so I am belatedly turning my attention to this newsletter.

This month's theme is quite strongly Balkan, more by accident than by design. Here are a few highlights:

  • Hanging out with Bulgarian grannies by the Danube
  • A newly republished philosophy book
  • Thoughts from here and there on translation, grief, silence, and memory.
  • Another obscure philosopher of the month: this time, a feminist thinker and disicple of Epicurus from Serbia.
  • A poem from the Yuan dynasty poet who I like to think of as 'Zhang Can Booze'
  • Books, music and another recipe!

So, let's get going...

Hanging out with the grannies of Negovanovtsi village, Bulgaria...

As part of the research for my book, I've been up in Negovanovtsi village, just south of the Danube, with the wonderful people at the Ideas Factory, exploring their Baba Residence project. This is a brilliantly imaginative response to rural depopulation and loneliness, bringing together young people from the city and the elderly residents of rural communities to conjure up new initiatives.

... bringing philosophy home...

Along with my Wind&Bones collaborator (and Batman to my Robin) Hannah Stevens, I was also on the beautiful island of Aegina for a long weekend with the one-woman ideas factory who is Mary Valiakas. Mary runs a project called Oi Polloi, which is on a mission to reboot Greek culture and bring philosophy home. We were there to talk about how our Wind&Bones project may be able to contribute to the enterprise.

... a pit stop in Athens...

On our way back to Thessaloniki, we also stopped by in the buzzing creative hub that is Athens, to have a chat with the British Council about future plots, schemes and connections.

... finding my sea-legs again...

Meanwhile, at Wind&Bones Books we've launched our first publication.

The revised, edited, enhanced, fancied-up, and generally improved second edition of my Finding Our Sea-Legs (first published by Kingston University Press in 2009) is now available from the Wind&Bones website. It is available worldwide in paperback and ebook editions. You can get some sample chapters in PDF from the website too!

... and an impending move!

And finally, I'm on the move again. From this November until at least the middle of next year, I'm going to be based in Sofia, Bulgaria.

I've got some interesting projects lined up there with Wind&Bones, starting with the EmpathEAST forum for empathy-driven social change this November in Plovdiv.

It will be good to be back in Bulgaria, and brushing off my rusty Bulgarian.
wall carpet- bulgaria

Around the web...

So here goes with a few interesting things from around the web: poet Dimiter Kenarov on Bulgarian death-notices; Sophie Lewis reflecting on translation and (once again) how to find our sea-legs in this tilting world; and Hannah Stevens on words and wordlessness. I hope you enjoy all of these pieces as much as I did.

Bulgarian Necrologues

As I'm heading to Bulgaria, I thought I should share this article by by poet Dimiter Kenarov on the ubiquitous Bulgarian necrologues or death notices. You see them everywhere: pinned to lamp-posts, on public notice-boards, taped to walls. When I first went to Bulgaria in 2005, I was deeply puzzled by them. Kenarov's essay is. a fascinating study of mourning, history and the Bulgarian way of death.

Read the article here.

"This tilting world, how can we talk about it, how make sense of it?"

Another terrific article I've stumbled across in the last month is Sophie Lewis's short piece on Granta about the ticklishness of translation.

The piece pivots around the difficulty of translating this line by Colette Fellous: Ce monde qui vacille, comment le raconter, comment le saisir? Although short, this is a fascinating reflection on translation, nuance, and what it means to live in a world in which 'we can never quite find our sea legs'.

As for This Tilting World, this (in the words of the author) 'little private book' was written in the wake of the terrorist attack at Sousse in Tunisia. After reading Lewis's article, the book is top of my to-read list.

The Famliar Absence of Words

Finally, I want to give a shout-out to Hannah, my Wind&Bones collaborator, who has published a moving essay on grief, words and the absence of words, over on Litro.co.uk.

"My grandma never spoke of the loneliness, never mentioned her loss. These unsaid things: these silences run in the family. My mum inherited this trouble with talking and I have a knack for being silent too..."

Obscure Philosopher of the Month #4: Ksenija Atanasijević

As this seems to be a Balkan-themed newsletter. So who better to introduce as this month's obscure thinker than the Serbian philosopher Ksenija Atanasijević (1894-1981)?

In 1924, Atanasijević was the first woman in Serbia to get a philosophy PhD. She was a lifelong explorer of the materialist philosophies of Epicurus and Democritus. Atanasijević was forced out of her university role in 1936, one of her male colleagues accusing her (entirely spuriously) of plagiarism. So she took up a job instead in the ministry of eduation.

Atanasijević was a prominent feminist activist, and a polemicist against anti-Semitism and Nazism. She wrote huge amounts of philosophy, although sadly very little is available in English. Are there any philosophically-minded translators from Serbian out there who are up to the challenge of translating her? In the mean-time, I'm trying to track down her Le doctrine d'Epicure in French.

A Couple of Articles

Medium continues to be my medium of choice when writing blog posts. You can find me here: https://medium.com/@willbuckingham. For those who don't subscribe to Medium, the links below will allow you to sneak round the paywall. For those who do subscribe, just zip over to my profile, and you have access to the slowly growing back-catalogue of pieces.

The Art of Staring into Space

This is a piece I wrote for Human Parts, a medium in-house publication, on the art of staring into space. It's been by the most popular thing I've written on Medium so far, and talks about Liu Xie, Zhuangzi, and the wisdom of not knowing stuff.

Soft Work: Notes Towards a Manifesto

A few years ago, I met the Dutch flamenco dancer Tamar Porcelijn, who talked about the idea of 'soft work' as an antidote to the cult of hard work. Here's a little manifesto of soft work, also on Medium.

Chinese Drinking Poems #4

This month's drunken Chinese poet is Zhang Kejiu (1270-1348). He was a prolific writer particularly well-known for his easy-going elegance of style.

Zhang is associated with the popular Yuan dynasty poetic form known as sanqu (散曲) or literary songs, and of his collected works, a great many are either directly or obliquely about drinking wine.

Although his name in Chinese is written 張可久, I like to think of him as 張可酒, with the final character substituted for a homophone. The resulting name is pronounced exactly the same, but can be translated as something like, 'Zhang Can Booze.'
Spring Night

When the swallows come,
I'm sick with drinking;

where the peonies open,
I’m moved to poetry.

Dusk in the courtyard,
the rain has cleared;

mirror to my heart,
the moon hangs idle.

I take the zither,
pluck fragmented tunes—

when drinking,
the spring night is endless.







From the Kitchen: Kyopolou (Кьополу)

Kyopolou is a very traditional Bulgarian dish, and it is one of those dishes that is far, far tastier than it has any right to be. Many people will tell you their granny made the best kypolou ever, although every granny's recipe differs.

The dish is popular in Turkey too, where it is called köpoğlu. Here's how I make it. Your granny almost certainly did a better job.

Get a couple of aubergines/eggplants, a big fat tomato (or two medium ones), and a couple of red bell peppers. Stick them all in a dish in a high oven until their skins are blackened. Or put them over live coals if you have any live coals sitting around.

Take the veggies out of the oven when they are good and black. Let them cool a bit. Peel off all the black skin. Remove stalks, pepper seeds and anything you don't want to eat. Then mash/chop up the veggies.

By this point, your kitchen will look like a vegetarian abbatoir, and the juices will go everywhere. So I tend to put the flayed veggies in a bowl, and then chop them in situ.

Add to the veggies the following good things:
  • A couple of slugs of vinegar. I use red wine vinegar, if I have it.
  • Two or three crushed garlic cloves
  • Some good-quality olive oil. Four tablespoons or so should do it.
  • Salt and pepper.
  • A pinch of sugar wouldn't go amiss at this point, although—like everything else in this recipe—it is entirely optional.
  • A fistful of chopped parsley.
  • Some paprika, or a pinch or two of hot chilli if you want a slight kick.
And that's it. You can eat it cold, with pitta or any old bread. Or just on its own. It really is ridculously good. But it is not as good as your grandma made it.

What I'm Reading...

My love for my Likebook Mars e-reader has been short-lived. A couple of days ago, the thing suddenly died. But not, thankfullly, before I got to the end of Olivia Laing's excellent The Lonely City (Picador 2016).

So I'm back to reading on paper. And—keeping with the Balkan theme—I'm now deep into Kapka Kassabova's Border (Granta 2017). It is a book about the places between Greece, Bulgaria and Turkey, about depopulation and memory and surveillance and the building of borders and history and... well, and so much.

It is one of the finest travel books I've read in a long, long time.

What I'm Listening To...

I'm feeling a bit nostalgic for Yangon friends at the moment, so I thought I'd share this beautiful track by the wonderful Samraz Music.

We heard Samraz when they were touring Southeast Asia. A couple of band members were staying with a friend of ours in Yangon, and so she invited us along. It was a magical concert, and now Samraz's sweetly beautiful brand of South American / Middle Eastern fusion always reminds me of Yangon. You can find out more about them here.
That's all for October. I hope you've enjoyed reading. Until November!

Γεια σας!

Will Buckingham

About me

I am a writer, philosopher, researcher and teacher of both writing and philosophy. I write non-fiction, fiction and children's books. I'm interested in the places where philosophies, stories and lives intersect. Currently freelance and based in Thessaloniki, I am represented by Emma Finn at C+W Agency in London.
Will Buckingham's Wayward Things is a free, monthly digest of things I find interesting, curious or worth sharing.
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