April Newsletter: Blagoevgrad
"I'm going to Blagoevgrad," I told my friend.
"Blagoevgrad? Really? My family is from there. We visit twelve times a year."
"Wonderful! So you can tell me what there is to do in Blagoevgrad."
So there I was, tramping up and downs the hills of The City with Nothing to Do, examining the tiny wasps and natural gas heating stations, skirting the graveyard, and sucking on lilac blossoms for moisture.
It was a convention for IT entrepreneurs, and Pavlina was sick. She took good notes at the panel discussions and networked because she's a pro, but she needed drugs for her headache and cough. Going out to get them for her was no great sacrifice because it was a beautiful spring day in Blagoevgrad.
Following Google Maps, I crossed the busy road on the edge of town and walked up to a cluster of apartment buildings that crowned a hill. Beyond the blooming quince trees, the town spread across the river Struma with the southern face of Mount Vitosha dark in the distance. One of the residents had cemented a pull-up bar between the quinces, so he could enjoy the view during his exercises.
A couple of back-and-forths with my eyes on the phone confirmed it: there was no road down the hill to the pharmacy. What there was, was a footpath down the slope. Knee-high grass swayed between sprawling briers. To the east loomed Rila Mountain, snow still pouring down its shoulders. Tiny black wasps bobbed in the air. Next time, I'll take water next time, or at least think to buy some at the pharmacy.
And that's the most interesting thing that happened to me in April. Otherwise, I read, I wrote, I swam, I got a virus that made me tired all week. I'm trying to get into more trouble in May, though. Hold tight.
About that writing. I was under the foolish impression that I was almost done with Fellow Tetrapod, and only needed to write over a few weekends to push through to the end. Ha ha. Ha ha ha ha! The fool steps off the cliff, eyes on the rainbow that recedes even as he falls. Maybe I'll be done with it by July?
Anyway. I did read a lot.
Travelers in the Third Reich by Julia Boyd
My favorite kind of history shows what it was like to be somebody somewhere. In this case, it's what it was like to be a tourist in Nazi Germany. Through the tourists, we also get a pretty good look at the German populace. "She changed her politics like an animal changes its coat with the seasons."
Self Help by Ben H. Winters
It has its moments. Then it loses them. I appreciated the sense that the author didn't know what was going to happen next, but there were several places where something interesting might have happened, but then the author got scared. In the end, we get nothing but a shrug of the shoulders.
Wind, Sand and Stars by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
So, this is what it was like to be a pilot in the 1930s. Slipping off the glass dome of a cyclone and becoming a person who could no longer exist when you're back safe on the ground. Dying of thirst after a crash-landing. Listening while a fascist and a communist try to conduct a dialogue.
Disciple of the Dog by R. Scott Bakker
I loved this sweaty, grungy story. There's some kind of murder mystery, yeah, but mostly this guy is just stumbling around having weird experiences and then...REMEMBERING them! Woo~oo! I wish Bakker was still writing.
Plato's Republic by David Roochnik
I enjoyed this summary of The Republic and the last 2500 years of commentary on it. I did chafe at the basic assumption is that Socrates was never simply wrong, but the metaphor of the hydra, the lion, and the man is well worth the price of admission.
Reclusive Mage by Inadvisably Compelled
I enjoyed and would recommend the first three books of this series. Not this one. The stakes just aren't there any more. The big bad we've been following since the book one just decided to give up. The love interest went from from "girlfriend" to "pregnant with second child" over the course of a single book, almost entirely off-screen. Nothing kept happening. I read with one eye on the "percent read" number so I could see how close to the end I was getting. I get the impression the author did too.
Going Solo by Roald Dahl
Roald Dahl, a completely inexperienced young man in Tanganyika on the second day of World War II, sees Mdisho, his Nyamwezi manservant, returning in the middle of the night armed with a scimitar and covered in blood. Mdisho had just murdered a German civilian, and Dahl envies him. Now there's a story!
The Captain by Will Wight
This story tries and tries to begin, but it never really gets there, even by the time of the climactic final battle. What I liked about Cradle was the way it showed skill development. This series could have been just as good, but about team building. Except team building doesn't work like that. The Captain was too much like a video game, including the literal video game in which people who should be learning to trust each other fight one-on-one to see who is the best.
Finding Moon by Tony Hillerman
I was reminded of The Inhabited Island by the Strugatsky Brothers. There was the same dis-connect between how the main character saw himself and the stories other people told about him. It's not so much about the main character becoming a good man as digging up the good man he already is.
Dan Davis History
This is a Youtube channel that does for Bronze Age Europe what Real Engineering does for high tech machines. I loved to hear about what Ötzi ate for lunch.
And the Upheaval
I bought a subscription to N.S. Lyons's substack because he's a political commentator who does more than complain. He finds plenty of problems, don't get me wrong, but he has a direction he wants to go. I was convinced to give him money when in an interview he said this:
My impression is that people today, and especially young people, are looking above all else for solid ground; for shelter in the storm. They are looking for the real and the eternal, for that which will not melt into air. They are looking for authority they can trust, when authority has everywhere else dissolved. And they’re looking for loyalty, community, and love that does not falter.
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Daniel M. Bensen