May 9, 2017 by American College of Sofia
Interview by Petia Ivanova ’97
I got in contact with Dimiter Lambrinov through Liliana Ikonopisova ’42, who tipped me off about him being a very interesting, „encyclopedic” person. I knew I could trust her judgement, so a couple of weeks later, on a cold sunny February morning, when the snow on the sidewalks of Sofia had melted enough to allow Mr. Lambrinov’s 4-wheel walker to roll, we met at a pastry shop on Vasil Levski Blvd. He was right on time, of course, his walker heavy with a multi pocket bag. Once we had made it to the table furthest from the noise of the shop radio and the bustling boulevard, he emptied the contents of the bag – photos, letters, documents, and notes he had been putting together since I last spoke with him. I was especially impressed by those notes, in impeccable English, beautifully hand-written, even if he kept modestly referring to his occasional meandering hand-writing as “largely illegible” and “enough trouble.” Dimiter Lambrinov is the first pre-war alumnus I interview entirely in English, at his initiative. The story of his life has stayed with me ever since.
Early Childhood and Paris
Between 1923 and 1927, during my formative years (3-7), my family lived in Paris. My father was studying Law and at the same time working – through a connection he had made with Bulgarian Jews while he was in Argentina for a year, he had found a job as a taxi-driver in Paris. It paid well, he even got a plot of land in a good part of the city environments, L’Haÿ-les-Roses, a very famous district today, because Alain Delon lived there, on the way from the south of Paris to the Orly airport. My father bought the plot because he thought we would remain in France for good, you know, that was at the time of the St. Nedelya Church Assault in 1925 in Sofia.
I had a brother who died In Paris, in the hospital, he caught an infection, the crоup. At present, they make a small incision here (pointing to his throat) to let the air come in and out, but unfortunately, they couldn’t save him then.
Once my father got his diploma at the end, they told him, Alright, you are a lawyer, bon pour l’Orient, good for the Orient; the French had too many lawyers. They said, If you want, you can continue as a taxi driver. (laughing) He didn’t want that, so we returned To Bulgaria and he started practicing, though there wasn’t much work for lawyers here either. He worked part time as a journalist for a French language Sofia paper, as well.
The French College in Plovdiv and the American College in Sofia
I came to the American College after 4 years at the French College in Plovdiv. When I had a nightmare in Simeonovo, I dreamt of being back in Plovdiv. I couldn’t avoid comparing the two institutions all the time. Of course, it was always in favor of the American College. Two years into my studies here, a delegation from the French College came for a week to see how we were doing things.
As per my family: my mother died while I was at the French College and my father married another woman. Her name was Elena Todorova. She was a famous milliner, she made ladies’ hats. A business woman, no mother at all, not for her own two sons either, she didn’t have any time.
I had a half-brother coming after me at the College, Georgi Lambrinov (Class of 1940), while the youngest boy in the family, Angel, was at the American Grade School, which was a school for younger kids, up to the age of 14. Whenever kids from the American Grade School came to the College, they skipped first form because they spoke English perfectly, they had very good teachers there. Later, in 1942, Angel also graduated from ACS.
The College was just gaining popularity here in Sofia when I enrolled, because it had moved only 4 years before that from Samokov, where it had been founded by the Puritans as the first American College on the Balkan Peninsula and Turkey. Two years later, Robert College opened in Istanbul. In Samokov, they began in a very shabby building, an old house. There was quite a large community of Turks in Samokov, who left after Bulgaria’s liberation and that is why College boys called the girls’ part Tursko, girls were out of reach like in a Turkish harem, also an inkling about the girls covering themselves.
Our Simeonovo College had inherited a lot of traditions from Samokov. Napredak, the girls’ literary and musical club, and its boys’ counterpart Razvitie, the oldest College club, were both organizations tracing their roots to Samokov.
Did you know that modern printing in Bulgaria began in Samokov, as well? They say that Georgi Dimitrov, when he was very young, worked there and so did some of his relatives. No wonder Samokov was declared a communist republic for a time.
Once I asked a relative who works at the French Cultural Institute, Listen, when you speak of Russia, you say “Russia – this is Pushkin.” When you speak of England – it’s of course the Bard, when you speak of Italy – you speak of Dante, Germany – Goethe, what about France? Who is France’s most iconic author in your opinion? That was a tough question to answer. I personally fell for Voltaire. He is my favorite writer. At the French College in Plovdiv, Voltaire was banned; he mocked faith and religion. But when I came to the American College and changed rooms between classes, in one classroom in the basement someone had left some French books. There, I saw a book by Voltaire and I read it and I enjoyed it so much that I misplaced it perhaps. When they came asking Did you steal that book? I was in trouble until they found it a few days later. I find Voltaire highly entertaining even today. Candide’s conclusion to all philosophy that “we must, after all, till our garden” still makes tremendous sense.
The Donkey Track
When late in September 1933 my father took me in an open coach, known as a phaeton, for the first time to the American College of Sofia, I was more or less resigned: a home away from home again awaited me. Just like the preceding four years of board-and-lodging-and-classes at the French College of Plovdiv. I had survived, and prayed for some change, hoping it would be one for the better.
We were several days late for the school year and arrived at about 2 o’clock in the afternoon when everybody was in class, so we did not see a single person around as the coach, drawn by two horses, came abreast a central building with beautiful white columns. Not far from it we saw the first living thing, a donkey grazing peacefully across the road from the building. I said meekly, Our first College boy, trying probably to cheer up my father, who had kept sadly silent throughout the trip. I knew he had paid for my keep and tuition a very substantial sum he had to borrow.
Ironically, two years later, the spot where the donkey was grazing on that day, became known as the donkeys’ race track. It was a College administration response to parents’ protests that their progeny had, before that, been exploited, having to do manual chores for many hours as their punishment asked. I myself had spent many hours planting trees and shoveling cinder from the central heating furnace building which rose, with a high chimney, near the soccer playground. So, President Black decreed that boys breaking the College rules had to expiate their misconduct by circling in a trodden track from then on. You have a punishment of 15 hours for smoking? So, instead of digging 15 hours you will circle the donkey’s path for 15 hours. Caught out of bounds faced 30 hours, mind you, in their free time. It was hoped that the punished students would be shamed in that manner, because the girl students would see them from their windows.
But it turned out that the penitents enjoyed the asinine track. In fact, it became a welcome change. Soon the punished boys brought guitars and became a popular sight. The President eventually closed the track. Those punished got the right to pay by, for instance, drawing poster-size graphics, to illustrate some lessons in Physics and Chemistry, or copy music notes.
On that first day, my father left soon, after helping me with the baggage to reach the attic of Building 1, what you now call Sanders Hall. My new bedroom had spring beds for some 30 boys, lockers lining the walls, and ceramic floors. We boys were expected to sweep and wash the premises, except for the WC and lavatories. Most windows, high above the lockers, showed the sky only.
In the evening, the boys from this and a second similar room assembled for a briefing by our instructor for the first year Mr. Zahariev. He lived with his wife and young son next door in a small apartment. His regular evening talks, which we came to call sermons, would instruct us how, after washing the ceramic floor, to squeeze without disgust the dirty mop used, because it would teach us that life was earnest and often dirty as a mop. Or he would scold us for referring in our daily speech to the girls as the females (женските). This, in his view, was offensive, use maiden instead, he would say.
My closest friend, Boris (Boreto) Spasov, an excellent boy, caught tuberculosis, which was very frequent at the time. He used to take part in the relays around the Royal Palace in Sofia. I kept company with him all the time while he was sick, somehow I wasn’t afraid, I don’t know. His father asked me to say a few words at his funeral in 1944. That was one of the saddest memories in my early life.
At the American College, they served food that was specifically meant to prevent tuberculosis. There was a Czech lady, Miss Rumlena, a dietitian, who knew exactly what food to give us. We had very few cases of students who allegedly contracted TB. My friend contracted it in Sofia. His father was a rich man, a building engineer; he made the St. Paraskeva Church. He had two boys and two girls. He could afford to cure Boreto, but neither of the medicines against TB, first Rimifon, then Pask, were available then. The tuberculosis bacterium is very difficult to fight because it has a wax coat. Those new medicines, which came from the US, could penetrate the wax. It was a really very, very heavy burden. If you had children, you were afraid all the time until they reached 16 or even 19.
(flipping through the pages of the 1938 Yearbook, looking at the photos of the Class of 1939) Тhis was an interesting girl, Daisy Levy, very original, generous. She was a first cousin of Davico Madjar, another classmate who deserves special mention hereunder.
And this was my College flame, my first flame, Lily Vidinska, seamstress and a gifted dramatics star.
Lili Ivanova is the only one from my class I still communicate with. I also talk on the phone with the younger Lili Zaharieva, Dr. Ikonopisov’s wife.
Professor Dobri Kiprov, M.D., died last year. He expired in the same moment I entered the room in an old people’s hostel where he was staying. He had been expecting my visit but died as I entered. His wife, also a doctor, only gasped. Dobri and I were very close. His mother, an Austrian Jewish woman, had been widowed with two young boys, Dobri and Vlado ’41. She put both through the College, where they worked hard for their scholarships. She liked to talk to me of her youth in an Austrian girls’ college. She knew my Tante Betty, wife of my real mother’s brother, Austria-trained architect.
Vlado became an anesthetic surgeon in Austria; he married and worked in his mother’s country to the end. In Sofia, we had lived in the same neighborhood. When Vlado retired in Vienna, having a record on “no lethal exitus” of his patients, he wanted to publish a book on his methods. He sent the manuscript, I was to edit it linguistically and his brother, Professor Dobri, medically. But only a few months later came a terse report of his death.
Lydia Yosifova, a good singer, played the part of Geisha Queen. I played Fairfax, the American officer who was her lover. Little did I know I was soon to quit my College paradise for the military barracks in earnest, not just on stage.
Boris Korakov is the boy who edited the Bor 1938. He wrote all English text for the boys in our class. He was the adopted son of a barrister in Stara Zagora. After becoming a lawyer near the town of Shumen, he died apparently in a suicide on a local train, or was it murder? I don’t know. The communists had come to power; his wife had left him. Our Chemistry teacher Peneva organized his burial in the Sofia cemetery, and called me to assist.
Classmate Mois Kordova – Mosacho is, I hope, still alive in Israel.[i] I used to speak with him for a long time every Saturday, over Skype. He was the last Jewish person from our class to emigrate. He was from Yambol, he felt very much Bulgarian and continued to work here even after all the Jews had already emigrated. His son opened a factory in Yambol and employed a great number of people in Kordova’s home town but he eventually died from a heart attack, to Mosacho’s immense despair.
[i] Note from October 11, 2017: Hooray! Contact with Mosach Cordoba restored! In late September this year my granddaughter Asy made a 3-day visit to Israel, bringing to Mosacho a copy of the present story. Like Mosacho, Asy holds a degree (from London) on book publishing. Mosacho sounded happily surprised on the line. He told me he had a very helpful English-speaking personal assistant in his total glaucoma-caused blindness. We exchanged small presents. Should auld acquaintance be forgot!
Konstantin Konstantinov ’39, called Kotse, was a born genius in communicating with people. With the same ease, he got in touch with people high and low. Polio in infancy had crippled his right arm and left leg but his stunning smile, elegant mop of gold blond hair, and quick wit compensated everything. We were close friends. Dr. Kappe, the German-language professor had formed an extra group of ’39 students, advanced in German. Kotse came from Deutsche Schule, the German school, and so did his cousin Lyubomir Bozhkov, Bor photographer and M. D. later. Dr. Kappe abhorred the existing Bulgarian German textbook of the regular curriculum. So we, me included, and a few German–speaking boys, enjoyed Dr. Kappe’s tuition apart. No classrooms, we sat in the grass of the southern slope of the College campus, and read an interesting German book, fittingly entitled Memoirs of a Good-for-Nothing (German: Aus dem leben eines Taugenichts).
Kotse was the only possible competent editor-in-chief of Bor 1938; our class chose him unanimously. He had a knack for dealing with people, probably inherited from his father, a dealer in the tobacco trade, equally capable of negotiating with the growers of tobacco and the big international tobacco firms. Bulgarian tobacco, though not the best in the market, was simply a necessity, because without it, cigarettes would not burn, or not properly at least.
My bond with Kotse came also from cooperation or prompting in class. When examined, say in Latin, Kotse counted on me to whisper the answers to him. He heard admirably well and Miss Steele, even if suspecting foul play was glad to hear Ceasar’s Gaelic War thus learned, for one learns even through prompting, as in theater.
Kotse had a sister in the College, and a daughter in Canada later. Both were blondes of angelic beauty. Kotse himself was highly successful in matters of the heart. He tragically died of cancer, treated at the end by Prof. Dobri Kiprov ’39.
This one, Moshe Baruh, emigrated to Brazil and 30 years later, when we made a reunion of the class, he came back with his son but tragically, without his thick hair, as a result of the chemotherapy he had gone through.
About a dozen from our class later became medical doctors – Vessa Kiselkova was a doctor, Radko Rachev also a doctor. They both came from Dobrudja and when Dobrudja was Romanian, they had to cross a border to come to the American College. Of course, they lived to see Dobrudja liberated but are no longer among us.
This is a girl from Samokov, Zlatka Kuzmova, she married Angel Haytov, M.D., from our class. We had 3 or 4 families, classmates that got married.
Here George Georgiev, the son of the Math teacher. His younger brother Dоbrincho studied at the College as well. As was the tradition, the teachers put their children through College, it was very popular. The faculty of ACS enjoyed a powerful incentive: to put their own children through College, tuition, books, board and possibly lodging included, at cost undisclosed. Aside from the two sons of Mr. Georgiev, there was one daughter of Math Director Yankov, one son of Physics teacher Bezak, one of Registrar Zahariev, the shoe-maker’s son, too, and the manual instructor Toskov’s daughter, to only name a few.
Mr. Toskov, the cabinet maker who had come from Samokov, taught us for two years, in first and second form, how to work with wood. I made for myself a wooden rack with 3 or 4 shelves, still in use. But I couldn’t remain in the work shop for the third year because I joined the choir led by Mr. Goncharov and I had to choose just one big afterschool activity. By the way, Mr. Toskov’s daughter, also a College graduate, married an English soldier, who later turned out to be a grave digger, posted in occupation of Bologna. Her knowledge of English acquired at ACS made the union possible, of course.
This is the College ski team – here’s a Jewish boy, #41 in the picture – he was a great skier. Look at him standing on the left, a meter apart from the line that includes Krum (Krumcho) Konstantinov (in the middle of the picture). This apartheid was typical of David Madjar ’39. He was a loner. He had an elder brother in the Class of 1936. And, significantly, a first cousin girl, the famous Daisy Levy of our class. He remained a lone skier, even after graduating as a Medical Doctor. Divorced from his fickle wife, he tried to work in Venezuela and elsewhere in America, but kept returning to Europe’s Alpine snow slopes and also Bulgaria’s. You see, we were everywhere, all around the world.
In 1942, I was on leave for New Year’s Eve and Christmas, and went to ski on Borovets in the Rila Мountain. On January 6, 1943, after an enjoyable day on the slopes, I met Davico Madjar at the tea house situated at the foot of a steep slope. Davico descended it in a slalom and we were soon at a table. I proposed to treat Davico with sweet baklava in honor of my father Hristo’s name day. Davico did not wear his yellow star of David, but the breach of this absurd regulation went unnoticed. Davico, said a few words, then sighed and uttered, It is going to finish very soon. Indeed, less than a month later, the ongoing war in Russia turned. Another man had, only on New Year’s Eve, made a similar prophesy that came out true. Hitler had said, Wir sind in Stalingrad und werden auch dort bleiben, meaning We are in Stalingrad and will also remain there. His toast came out prophetic, with only one small difference: 600,000 German troops remained in Stalingrad but as prisoners of war.
I had heard Hitler’s broadcast in his not very good German: he mixed sonorous consonants with mute ones, as many unschooled Germans do, saying for example Schtalinkrat, and I reflected on his predicament. Davico became a doctor. When he died of cancer, he left a legacy, lots of money, and he asked for his dust to be spread over Mont Blanc’s fabulous expanses over 6000 m altitude.
Ah, Leda Mileva, I remember her as a one-act play actor, she had to act a girl in a kind of fantasy, a girl who had been drowned. They put all sorts of sea plants on her and do you know what she said? I won’t appear unless I’m beautiful. She won. According to me, her father was not exactly a communist, he was just an idealist, and a great progressive poet for which he was also killed.
Favorite School Subjects, Extracurriculars, Teachers
My favorite school subjects were, of course, languages. I liked English very much because as soon as I started English, I saw that it was half French and half German and I knew both those languages, so it wa
s just a matter of walking over. I had a very good beginners’ teacher in English, Bagryanova. She was the first to teach me the subtleties of English speech.
Goncharov was a great Music teacher who sometimes played the piano for 12 hours in a row. At the same time, he was a very good trigonometry teacher. Our choir was a mixed choir, for boys and girls. And we had, of course, romantic couples. On Christmas night, we would go to the President’s home and sing carols. I always went before that to the library to take out A Christmas Carol by Dickens, a favorite read. Every year I read it, it somehow warms the heart.
I remember that in the choir we were engaged for a month to sing in Sofia for the British minister plenipotentiary (now Ambassador) who organized a performance of the St Matthew’s Passion Oratorio by Bach, a 4-hour oratorio, a really great thing. Every now and then, they would take us by bus from the College to a building in Sofia, just off Dondukov Blvd., I think it is Goethe Institut now. There we rehearsed because this oratorio requires at least 3 choirs: male, female, and a youth choir plus soloists. The British ambassador was an old man called Bentink, if I remember well. They said that he had chipped in a lot of money for that performance because he thought that this was going to be the last thing in his life. They had given him a part to sing but he sang it only at the dress rehearsal because he saw that he was too moved to sing, his voice was trembling so; all he sang was (singing Bentink’s line “And now the Lord to rest is laid.”) This was a very special piece for me, so, so intense.
When later working in Lybia, I had some work to do in London and it was in the spring, when they perform this Bach’s Oratorio there usually. In the last minute, I bought a girl’s spare ticket. During the performance, I kept using my handkerchief. The girl next to me thought that I had a running nose but I was crying. It was something I will not forget. The same thing that we had rehearsed for months, I was so moved (tearing up). Do you know that this oratorio could have been lost? When Bach wrote it, paper was scarce and when he died nobody paid very much attention, they took the paper and sold it to a man who sold meat. And there, somebody had the luck to see those notes and buy them. Incredible luck!
At the College, in the house closest to the pool, lived Mr. Rowland, a very interesting teacher, a Phonetics expert, who taught us for only 2 years, 1933 and 1934. He left a book which you must still have in the College library. There is conversation inside and exercises to instill the difference between men and man, bed and bad, you know. There was a time in Bulgaria, when these two things were made one and when you heard someone speaking English at that time, I don’t know why, I call it a virus, they said “I lie on my bad.” Those who came from Samokov used to say myan for man and Blyak for Black, as well. Mr. Zahariev for example, my tutor in first form, he didn’t know English very well, so when he spoke he said myan or “You’re a byad boy.” Rowland, for two years, insisted on making the difference.
It was in the College that skiing and swimming opened a life-long attachment for me. When I came to the College they had just hushed-hushed an accident, а College boy had died while skiing. The unfortunate student of our College, I think he was of the Class of 1934, his name was Pavel Romanski, apparently from the town of Roman, on the railway to Varna. In January 1931, he went to ski in a snowstorm and died close to the present-day Prostor Hotel, 100 meters or so. On that spot, his schoolmates of the Class of 1934 erected a statue. That’s where the lift going up to the Malak Rezen Summit began, exactly there, at his statue and that’s why it was called Romanski. You see, he remained in the memory of Sofia with the lift named after him. The story made an indelible impression on my imagination.
I skied until very old age. I liked to go up in the winter mountain alone. There’s this very well-known summit Ravni Chal, it’s a chal, a pasture, which has a very steep, almost vertical northern face, ending in a beautiful lake, Ravnichalsko. And at the other end of the lake is a very popular hut, Belmeken. One winter, I went there alone, the hotel-keeper had a son born in Kostenets, who told me, Go there and find the key under the mat. So I did and spent a week. He had told me how to get water from the lake, too, and had broken the ice, and I scooped water there. I sometimes think it was foolhardy of me, because I was absolutely alone. What if I had broken a leg or something? In fact, I had previously broken my leg skiing, twice.
I had a classmate, Ilia Ikonomov, he left the College early though. He became a very, very good doctor (laughing) of broken legs. He spoke very good English as he had come from the American Grade School, so his father didn’t see any point in him continuing at the College and he had to quit.
(We’ve come to the first swimming contest pictures and the pool.) This is one of the best memories I keep. We made that pool, we paid for part of it. Avid swimmer as I was, I worked like mad digging it. I’m not in that picture because I had already left the College, I’ll explain further on.
I was one of the winners of the Band of Mercy contests. They usually asked us to hand in a piece of writing on some theme and I always won. My half-brother was also in the club, its President in fact, for a time.
The Reluctant Soldier
(after flipping pages for quite some time, he exclaims) There! (The page says Ex Members of College Classes and it shows 7 boys, 6 of them in military uniform, the smile from Dimiter’s face from the 1936 photo gone on this one. I finally get it, he quit the College to enroll in the Military Academy.) Here Zlatka’s man Angel Haytov, who became an airman and then later a doctor. This is the boy who rang the College bell, Boyan Harizanov. And here is the son of the College doctor, Grigor Chakalov. (Coincidentally, I’m to interview Grigor’s nephew Georgi in a couple of weeks.) And this is Zahari Tutmanikov, a boy with a very unfortunate destiny. You see, he was an airman and had to fly a captured German plane back from Hungary, but the Germans had put explosive of some kind inside, so on his way back from Hungary to Bulgaria, flying over Serbia, it blew up in flames and he died, burned outside the plane. I also had to speak at his funeral. Zahari was a close friend, extremely popular, as was his brother, also a College boy, Class of 1935, killed in the war before Zahari and renamed Planinski.
How I hated the Military Academy! I absolutely hated it. I had to do it, because my father, I suppose, didn’t have the money anymore for my education at the College. I finished sophomore year and then all of a sudden it was declared, Whoever wants a secure life, pay, and so on, and so forth, let him apply for a contest to enter the Military Academy. So, my father said, Go and apply, and I did it. Of course, I was an A-grade student, I didn’t have any difficulty getting in.
When I had been there for one month, I tried to walk away. I declared that I don’t want to serve anymore. Then my father told me, You’re shaming me. He was a captain in the Reserve, you know, he had done 8 years of war, because he was first in the war against Turkey, the First and Second Balkan Wars, and WWI. I still wanted to walk away. They said, Alright, remain just for now, only for a while. That while continued until 1941 when I was promoted to officer. Six days after that, the Germans invaded Russia. We were commissioned on 16 June and the war began 22 June. I was sent to serve in Shumen, as an infantry sub-lieutenant.
Bulgaria remained semi-neutral by refusing to send its armed forces to the East (Russia). When the Russians, winning the war, came to Bulgaria, they said, Now you go and fight the Germans, so I went with 100 boys to the front as their company commander. Fortunately, it was a short thing and the war ended soon after.
I became an army officer, though I didn’t like it. Actually, I was appointed to teach Topography at the Reserve Officers’ School, so most of the time working in the army I was a teacher and I enjoyed that. I taught Karlo Ognyanov ’36, who later became a doctor and professor in Medicine. He was married to a girl, Lina Vassileva, from his class. Her father, Grigor Vassilev, was a member of the government, as Minister. He was the man who founded the export of Bulgarian tomatoes, eggs, and grapes, a famous man. Once Bulgaria began to export these items, the Bulgarian lev became worth as much as the dollar. That was in the 1930’s, a time when Bulgaria actually came out of the crisis and became a self-supporting economy.
I taught at the Reserve Officers’ School for several years, until in 1946 they said, Thank you, good-bye now, and threw me out. So, I started studying Law which I also finished. At some point I was told, If you use a foreign language you can get 10% pay increase, and our pay was meager as non-members of the Communist Party. Mr. Kabasanov, our class’s adviser in 1938, then at the university, was proud of me. In one day of exams in Sofia University, I sat for three languages – German, English, and French – and I took them all. They asked whether I spoke Russian, and I said yes, when in fact I knew very little. When I read a Russian book for the first time, I found out that it was very near to Bulgarian. I have a collection of Pushkin’s works and I enjoy them every now and again. In the end, I asked for an examination in Russian, too. They appointed a Russian girl to examine me and she told me I had a Russian accent. Yes, of course, because during our 4 years in Paris we lived among Russians. The French called me Le Petit Russe. I protested it; I said I was Bulgarian and do you know what they said, C’est la même chose. This way I had 4 languages and 50% higher pay – Russian knowledge gave 20% pay increase – which somehow made my pay tolerable.
Another thing the almighty State employees told me was, If you want to be a lawyer, we have a place for an advocate in Kurdzhali. I had already two kids, a boy and a girl, I had to think of my family. I met my wife back when she was a child. She worked for some time as milliner with my step-mother, then she left, started working somewhere else. I think she chose me, like so often is the case. We were very happy together. She passed in 2002. My elder child, my daughter, was a nurse; she died at age of 60.
I worked at the Sofia Radio first and then at Sofia Press as a journalist. I stayed there for the rest of my working days. I wrote about everything. I have a huge library at home. Happily, I met a family from Vienna at the Radio, and the wife kept furnishing me with all kinds of books, mainly English and German. I’m still looking for my copy of Our Man in Havana by Graham Greene, a spoof – something to laugh about, a ridicule of spying.
At some point in my life, I worked for 2 years on a construction site in Libya. Officially, juridical correspondent was my position. But I was in fact in contact with airport, bank, everything, on behalf of my boss, who had the greatest confidence in me. I even had a chauffeur. My boss received a lot of correspondence in English, of course. He just wrote Lambrinov across the title and knew that on the next day all his answers would be ready, typed away by me in the course of the night. He knew English alright, he was an engineer. Later he told me that he didn’t trust me right away, because he realized I was a lawyer.
One day, as we sat down in the heat of Lybia, he treated me to a Mirinda and said, „You have to tell me who wrote you such a good recommendation.” “Why? What’s wrong with it?” „Well, for one thing, in the construction business, we only write good recommendations to those we want to get rid of,” he said laughing. The truth was that my Sofia Radio bosses, who had written it for me, knew me very well, I had done something good and important for the radio, and they had been genuinely happy with me. They even received me again after my two years in Libya.
Staying in Touch with College Classmates
We did stay in touch after the College, of course. While I was studying law, I had to work and I was supporting myself selling international train tickets for a French company. So I worked and studied and worked and studied. One day my classmate Boris Lolov ’40 from Varna, the president of his class and a lawyer himself, was buying tickets from me and I told him, I can’t do this anymore, I’m quitting. He then suggested that I try studying by correspondence. They had just made this available at the university.
I went to the university and Slavcho (Svetoslav) Piperov ’35 – let me see, (turning the pages of the Rilski shepot, 1935, which looks very much like a yearbook; yearbooks came only every other year – 1936, 1938, 1940 being the last edition), here he is, a very good man, he died last year. So he was part of the university staff and, of course, opened his door for all College boys and girls but for that, was sent to concentration camp. You see, those, who had studied at the College, we had an invisible link holding us together, a solidarity. “Ah, College boy,” “Ah, College girl,” they would say with a smile.
On Happiness, Achievements, and Regrets
You want to know what makes me happy. The fact that I’m still alive maybe. My children are the greatest love and joy of my life. My grandchildren, too – my son has two girls who work in Great Britain, one has a Master’s, one – a Bachelor’s degree. To tell you the truth, they make me happy and they make me worry, too. My grandchild, the one with the Master’s degree, is now on assignment in Romania and she is coming tomorrow here and I worry about the weather, because she’s flying. I worry also because they get older and older, one of them is 27, the others 25, and they have no children. The one that flies in tomorrow works in a company, a publication, and all the time she flies to Germany, the Baltic States, Russia, Spain, Switzerland. Publishing in print today is a little bit endangered because of the internet and all the electronic devices people use to read.
I was probably happiest when I had so much work that I didn’t have to think about anything else.
Then I recall this one moment of pure happiness. I taught myself body surfing, while spending a year working at a construction site in Nigeria, where the waves of the Atlantic Ocean sometimes reached a height of 5-6 meters. Basically, you surf without anything, just with your body. You stretch your body, then you wait for the top of the wave to arrive a little bit behind you, and you plunge coastward. From that height the wave carries you at a speed and throws you out on the sand. That was the thing I enjoyed the most, it made me incredibly happy. And our workers from Varna, allegedly expert swimmers, watching the surfing trick performed by a Sofia land lubber, learned modesty.
As per regrets, I have none.
My greatest achievement is maybe reaching this age. And being able to speak and write in English, French, German, and Italian. I have friends in Austria, I communicate regularly with them per phone mostly, but they also visit me sometimes.
Another personal achievement is that I built a villa, a three-story summer house with a garage underground, with the help of a friend from a Samokov village, Okol, and my own two hands. This friend and I had been together working in construction abroad. I did the finishing works. What you do with your hands is something that cannot be replaced by anything else and that was one of the greatest advantages of the American College over the French College.
The French College was managed by the clergy, all they knew was, Let’s go to pray! Around Plovdiv there were many villages that were Catholic. The songs they taught us: “I have only one soul which I must save from the eternal flames.” “I am a Christian, this is my glory, my hope, and my support.” They taught us to pray to God, so that we could save our souls in order not to go to hell, but then they also said God is omnipotent and he pardons everything. How? He pardons you, then sends you to hell, if you sin? You see, this is nothing but a myth, popularized by Dante because he hated some people who banned him life-long from Florence, and put them all in hell, as a revenge.
And then compare this with the College, where we sang: “We march and sing, and all along the lines we raise our College cry” or that one with lyrics by College PE teacher Krumcho Konstantinov himself:
Come slide along, glide along skiing,
The sport with a thousand thrills,
We’re from the American College,
Excelling in muscle and mind.
So start along, dart along
And leave all our rivals behind.
You be the judge.
Message to Younger Alumni and Students
Do read Mr. Rowland’s book about Phonetics. I was invited many times to your commencement ceremonies and at each of them I listened, I have hearing aid which I used, to the students that gave the valedictorian speech and each time I had difficulty understanding them. And then there came along a teacher I didn’t know until then and he began speaking and I heard every single shade of sound and I learned his name was Whitaker. He speaks like an erudite Englishman, not American. But then, in America, on the Atlantic seaboard of America, they speak excellent English.
Also, remember that love (but not sex), love between people is the only thing worthwhile. I’m very happy that your generation thought of this word sex, to distinguish between love and sex. Love is something else, sex may help it or may spoil it, it’s alright, but love is everything.
 The little Russian.
 It’s the same thing.
Sofia, February 2017