Sunday, October 21, 2007

Grays and rainbows

Last night a more civilized conversation was had by those of us here at the hostel in which I am staying, a far cry from the previous night's anti-American argument that occurred. An Aussie, Scot, Quebecois, two Japanese, and two Bulgarians and I enjoyed a wonderful dinner. Afterwards, our host gave us a brief history of Bulgaria. I hadn't realized how close was the Bulgarian-Russian relationship since the Russians helped to liberate Bulgaria from the Ottomans. I had picked up on their hatred for the Turks on day one of my time in the country, but I had thought perhaps life under Russian rule would have changed views. I'm a little confused, though, by the role of the Ottomans in the first world war. I had always thought the Ottomans were on the opposite side of the British and admit I don't know much about that war. I know so much about WWII, as it has been rammed down our throats by Hollywood, but I remember very little about The War to End All Wars.

It's funny how skewed is the history that you learn. Each story is told from a different point of view, each version a variation of the other. I always roll my eyes at those Americans who are outraged that Columbus Day is no longer a holiday in the States, who adamantly defend the erroneous belief that Columbus discovered America when there is indisputable proof that he was not the first to arrive and that indeed, there were already people here when he came. The history they learned was biased and wrong, yet they refuse to accept reality because that "wasn't what I was taught." While people tear up and feel outrage when they watch Holocaust movies, why don't they feel outrage towards our own American ancestors who took part in the genocide of the native populations of what is now "our" land? And then we took the survivors and put them in concentration camps we call "reservations."

History is funny like that. It's full of good guys and bad guys who are constantly switching sides and loyalties. I remember being confused as a kid that the evil Russians fought on "our side" during World War II. It was pretty tough for me to wrap my head around the fact that our mortal enemy was an ally fighting "evil" fascism. Which was the real evil? How could the evil Russians be fighting the evil Germans?

Being an astute kid, it didn't take long for me to realize that nothing is black and white, that the whole world is a swirling mass of gray like the concrete structures built by the Soviets in the 60s and 70s that look like the concrete structures built in the 60s and 70s in Washington, DC.

I prefer the colors of the world - the fresh yellow paint on the newly renovated building I can see from where I sit in post-Soviet Bulgaria, the joy inciting green of a freshly mowed baseball field, the creamy brown of the cappuccino in my glass, the blue stripe of my very warm sweater on this damp, dreary day...color is such life, and the Bulgarians know it. I've walked past apartment buildings where people have painted the walls of their balconies with pinks, purples, greens, and yellows, where flowers bloom from bright flower boxes, where people have been creative in ridding this city of the drab grayness and have made it come to life. We should all learn to find the color in the gray.

Two nights ago, I watched a Serbian film called Black Cat, White Cat with people from several different countries. In the end, the black and white mix. This is how the world is, how history is, and it's a shame more people can't see it that way.

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