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New Europe

Day Thirty-two: Godech

Rakiya in Bulgaria 
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In the Bulgarian countryside, Kita (left of frame) discusses the finer points of home-brewed rakiya with the two producers, his father and me.
Michael Palin - New EuropeKita shrugs off the vagaries of their history. What can you expect, he says, of a people who nod for no and shake their heads for yes.

'We always do things the other way round.'

In Godech, on the gentle slopes of a broad valley, police have pulled over a motorcyclist, whilst a man walks past them on the pavement, leading his cow. Kita's father bought a plot here thirty years ago and built his attractive little house himself.

He was deputy director of a sports goods business.

'Deputy director was the highest he could get without joining the Party,' Kita explains wryly.

A house like this, modelled on the Russian dacha, served an important purpose for people at that time, not just as a place to grow one's own food but as a political safety valve, an escape from the rules, restrictions and supervision of the socialist State.

'Socialism was a system of limits,' says Kita. 'On a plot like this you could set your own limits.'

His father, a straight-backed, sharp-eyed, restless man, takes me on a tour of the garden, showing off tomatoes, peppers, cauliflower, spring onions, cucumber and pumpkins of considerable girth, all grown, he is at pains to point out, without the aid of any chemicals. He also shows off his rabbits, an outdoor shower made from old bits of sheet metal, and his new extension.

But it's the trees he's most proud of. Apple, pear, wild plum. There's only one rule. He won't plant a tree that can't produce rakiya. In vain does his wife suggest a nice walnut or a decorative maple. If it doesn't bear fruit, he's not interested. Which is the cue for us to follow this indefatigable old man down to the house of two equally old and indefatigable neighbours, Lubo and Tzeta, in whose back garden the best rakiya in Bulgaria is made. So they say.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: New Europe
  • Chapter: Day Thirty-two: Godech
  • Country/sea: Bulgaria
  • Place: Godech
  • Book page no: 79

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