Monday, July 28, 2008

Metal & Melnik

* This is probably going to be one of those posts that's super-involved. You might want to skim.
So, I went to the Metallica concert on Friday. It was an interesting day. I got up early 'cause I was nervous about making sure I got there and everything went well. I started my time in Sofia by going to the Peace Corps office to get a few things done. I ran into Ivan, one of my program managers.
Ivan: Oh, Apryl, I went to the Roma camp for a bit last week. I saw Angel there. (Angel's facilitating the camps this year.) I have to tell you, it was like watching Apryl facilitate - only in male form.
I burst into laughter.
Ivan: Don't tell him that, though.
Apryl: Oh, I'm telling him. I have to tell him now. That's a great compliment.
Ivan: Don't tell him.
Apryl: What you mean to say is that he was good. And you don't mean just "good," you mean really, really good.
Ivan: I mean to say that he was perfect.
I laughed some more. What I should have said was, "How do you know he gets it from me? Maybe I get it from him." I keep getting compliments about my counterpart from Peace Corps - as if I had something to do with his development. "I understand that you've helped Angel with facilitation skills. Bravo! He is a fabulous facilitator." Right. Angel was a fabulous facilitator before I met him.
Anyway.... I finished up my work at Peace Corps and then headed over to the concert site to try and figure out what the story was with these tickets. Like I said, my friend's husband said that he was able to get eight for me. I wanted to track them down. I got to the stadium, and it was pouring rain. That didn't stop the diehard fans, though. People were already lining up hours before the concert. Fortunately, I had brought an umbrella. I decided to approach a security guard and try to explain what a "will call" was to him. Did the stadium have anything like this? He looked at me fairly unsympathetically and told me to call my friend. I hesitated a moment and then decided to try another security guard.
I went to the other end of the stadium and approached another guy who looked at me a bit more sympathetically, but gave me the same response. "You'd better call your friend." I was hesitant. My friend's number was for a mobile phone in Holland. How much was it going to be to call him from my cell? I decided I'd better track down these tickets - especially since I have no idea where they could be. I called my friend. "It may be a little early for the tickets," he said, "but I will try to track them down for you."
I hung up the phone, and then I was approached by a guy with an Irish accent, "Can I help you?" I probably looked at him incredulously, but decided to tell him my story. "I know this probably sounds crazy, but I have a friend who works for the band. He got some tickets for me, and I'm trying to track them down." He then started telling me about how he travels from show to show and has gotten into helping out with the concerts as well. "Same with my friend," I said. "What's his name?" I told him his first name, and he smiled - he followed this by saying his last name and his nickname. I burst into a huge smile. "You know my friend!"
So, I called my friend. "Hey, I met an Irishman here who knows you. I don't want you to worry about me." Then, the two of them talked. More talking to Holland by cell. They were really helping me out, but I cringed a bit. "Oh, then I will take excellent care," said the Irishmen as he hung up. "He has informed me that you are one of his wife's best friends, and I am required to take good care of you." Awesome.
We stood out there in the rain - talking about the band, my friend's recent birthday (I even saw pictures of him covered in shaving cream), and waiting for someone to come along and give us some information. He again asked to use my phone - and ended up making a call to a wrong number (again to Holland, I think), and then he called my friend again (definitely to Holland) to try and get someone out to help us. Pretty soon, a girl came along and informed me that my tickets should be at a location across from the stadium in a couple hours. I exchanged a couple numbers with them (one for the ticket office/headquarters and one for the Irish guy) She then walked off with my new, Irish acquaintance. I was so grateful for my silly luck.
My friend from Holland called again, but since I didn't pick up, I had to call him back. He told me that the tickets should be at a certain location in five minutes. I tried to hunt down this place, and I found a trailer that looked like it was selling tickets. I asked, but they didn't have any tickets in my name. I decided to take a chill pill. No more calls to Holland. If they weren't there in a couple hours, I would start making some calls. I now had a landline in Sofia that I could work with.
I went to a trendy cafe' and spent a couple hours sipping a chocolate mocha and reading Newsweek. I'm so sophisticated. What was interesting was watching all the metalheads walk by. Everyone wearing a black shirt looked suspect, and most of them had Metallica tees. One guy came into the cafe' in a dark, black trenchcoat that was cinched at the waist. I actually took a step away from him at the counter. He looked like he might shoot up the place at any minute. But anyway, it was just interesting watching hoards and hoards of people walk by in black.
T minus three hours to the concert, and I decide I'd better go back again and try and check up on these tickets. I go up to the trailer, and they hand me an envelope. There's a label that says "Metallica." My name is printed on the label, and it also says "7 tickets 2 working," and it has my friend's initials. I cautiously opened the envelope and looked inside. There were six tickets and two large, purple stickers. My heart leapt. What do these mean? Do I get to go backstage? I asked the lady at the ticket office. She said she didn't know, and that I would be better of asking someone at the front. What? How can you not know what this means?
Remembering my experience with the security guards, I decided to call the Sofia landline I was given to try and figure out what the deal was with these tickets. "Oh, those should get you backstage."
"Really?" I said as calmly as possible. "Awesome! Can they get me into the actual show, 'cause I only have six tickets here, and I'm supposed to have eight."
"They should, yeah."
I hung up. "They should? What do you mean 'they should.'" Shouldn't you know whether or not these can get me into the actual stadium? I decided not to worry about it too much. Obviously they meant something, and if they could get me backstage, why shouldn't they be able to get me into the actual show?
In the meantime, my Bulgarian "sister" started calling me. She wanted me to meet her at another location a ways away. When I was halfway there, she called again, "You know what? It's too far away. Don't meet me there." Okay.... I decided to go to a bridge by the stadium and wait there for my other contacts.
I was there on that bridge for probably a good couple of hours, and only one guy found me.
I almost lost the tickets during that time. Here I had been guarding them like a hawk, and I almost lost every single one. I had given this guy's ticket to him, and he gave it back to me while he wandered off to take care of some business. I stuck the ticket back in the envelope and put the envelope back in my purse. A few minutes later, after pacing a bit, I turned and noticed an envelope lying on the ground near me. I felt a shot of adrenaline. I bent down, and sure enough, it was my envelope. Everything was inside, but I couldn't believe my luck. If someone had just been paying a bit more attention.... Thousands of people were walking by. Someone could have really lucked out, and I would have been screwed. I must not have actually put them back in my purse like I thought. Good gravy. Someone was looking out for me.
I guess the bridge I had chosen wasn't a good location to meet - or I wasn't explaining it in a helpful manner or something. I had to meet three more people including my "sister," and none of them found me. After a bunch of frustrating phone calls which only served to run down my phone battery, I went with the one guy who found me to the center of the madness - right in front of the stadium. In spite of the crowd, it was a better place to meet 'cause I found the group of Americans with little trouble. Apparently, it's easier to find a group of 10 Americans in an almost-throng than it is to find an isolated, American girl on a bridge.
Finding my "sister" was harder. My phone was dying, and I was getting more and more frustrated. We were talking about the same landmarks, but we couldn't find each other. She told me to go stand by "the police car," which I did. Then, she called me when she was standing by "the police car." We were standing at two different police cars. Then, I saw the back of her head when she called to say she was standing by a certain billboard. Whew! Everyone had been found.
I took her to meet some of the Americans who were hanging out, and they all thanked me for getting tickets for them. They were all really gracious about it, which I appreciated. I told my "sister" that I had a surprise for her. Did she want to know now or later? She told me she wouldn't be able to contain her curiosity. I pulled out the purple passes. "What's this?" she asked. I toyed with her a bit, but then finally said, "I think we're going backstage." We talked a bit more, and then decided we'd better be getting in. The concert had long started, but there were still huge crowds outside.
We didn't know where to go, but we decided to take our chances in one of the "smaller" throngs of people. They were crowding in to go through a rather weak security check. Once through that part, we went and presented our purple passes to a guy checking tickets. "What am I supposed to do with this? This isn't a ticket." Uh-oh. I called Holland again to try and get in touch with my friend. No answer. I tried calling Holland to get in touch with the Irish guy. No answer. I called the ticket office. I explained the situation.
"Did the envelope look like it had been opened?" Super. Had someone taken out our tickets? Were there originally eight inside? Or only seven like the envelope said? My mind was racing. "It didn't look opened, but it might have been."
"Okay, I'm coming out to find you. Can you describe where you are?" Crap.
"It's not just me. There's someone with me."
"Okay, just tell me where you are." Crap. Crap. Double crap. Not this again. Not this game where I play the part of a needle in a haystack. I looked around, but most things were written in Cyrillic. The girl on the phone didn't speak Bulgarian. I finally found something that looked worthy. "Okay, I'm at entrance three, and there's a banner that says "Bronze" on it."
"Okay, I'm coming to find you."
After about five minutes, my phone rang. "Hello?"
"I'm standing right behind you."
She came down the stairs and I gave her a smile of relief. "You're really good at finding people."
"I saw you answer your phone," she said briskly as she handed me two tickets and wandered off.
"Thank you...."
My "sister" and I walked halfway around the stadium to find our entrance. Once we got there, I saw a banner that described the location as "Next to the Stage." I squeezed my "sister's" hand to point it out to her. We offered our tickets to the ticket lady, and she let us in.
Okay, so "Next to the Stage" is still several meters away from the actual stage. It's a soccer stadium. The soccer field is next to the stage. And the stands are a ways away from the action, but they were still cool seats. We would be able to make out the faces of the band members. We sat down pretty much right in the front and took notice of the people who were already drunk/drugged out of their minds.
My mind was racing, "These purple passes mean something. I have to figure out what." Pretty soon, I saw a Bulgarian guy wearing the same thing. I went up to him and asked what they were about. "This," he said, "gives me access to the tents and things behind the stage." He pointed to another badge he was wearing. "It's no good by itself, though. You have to have this one as well to get anywhere." I was incredulous, but the others with him said the same thing. I looked around. The few people who had purple stickers like mine had badges as well.
I decided to write a text to my friend. Maybe I had jumped to conclusions about these purple stickers. Plus, he had said that they would be leaving right after the show. He told me that they were arriving right before the show. Obviously, there just wasn't time for this whole "backstage thing." I had the whole "backstage - after the show" idea in my head. I didn't even think to try and get back into "off limits" zones before Metallica got on stage. So, I wrote a text explaining a bit about my ticket situation and ask about the purple passes. The text wouldn't go through. By the time the text went through, Metallica was already on stage. I knew my friend wouldn't get it now that he was working. Whatever it was, I had missed out. I tried to forget about it and enjoy the concert.
Metallica was awesome. I mentioned in my last post that I've never really been a fan. Dark, angsty metal music does not speak to me. Most of it sounds like noise to me. I have a newfound respect for Metallica, however. I can't speak much about the lyrics, 'cause I couldn't really hear them... but I really enjoyed the music. The guitar playing was amazing, and it did not sound like noise. The band knows how to put on a good show. Plus, the fans were great. A lot of them were singing along as well as they could. When Metallica played "Nothing Else Matters," everyone was singing along to every single word. Man, if I could only get 40,000 people to undertake some initiative for change.... I admire and envy the influence of a band like that. Why don't we all go out and plant some trees after the show? Good gravy.
After two and a half hours of rockin' good times, Metallica left the stage. My "sister" and I exited with the herd. We decided to ditch the idea of looking for a taxi and decided to grab some food instead. She actually ran into a friend she knows from Trud. While they were catching up, my friend wrote me a text. "Those passes were to get you backstage." I wanted to laugh, cry, and strangle something all at once. As mentioned before, his wife and I are close, and he had a big hug from her for me. Regardless, in a place like this, it's cool to see someone who represents a life you lead in another part of the world. I wanted a piece of California/good friends to intersect my life for a few minutes that evening. Coincidentally, he was in Sofia, and despite my confused, frustrated, half-hearted efforts (not to mention a bunch of calls to Holland), I was unable to see him. Damn. Damn. Double-damn. I wrote him back, but he was alredy gone - probably on his way with the band to catch a plane back to Italy - a brief respite before the next show.
My sister and I went out and got some pizza and a couple cups of tea. I was exhausted. It had been a long day. We had a good conversation, and then we caught taxis to our respective "crash" arrangements. I stayed with a friend of mine in Sofia - stumbling in past 1 a.m. Once on the couch, however, the adrenaline kicked in again. I couldn't sleep. I read more Newsweek.
The next morning, my eyes felt as though they had had four tons of sand poured in them. I knew I had to get up. "Are my eyes red?" I asked my friend. He just laughed, "Yeah." Gah! I felt better after coffee, pancakes, a peach, and good conversation with my host and his girlfriend.
I had decided that I would go to Melnik. I've been telling myself that I would take more adventures on my own. This weekend was the perfect opportunity to do it. I need to get out and see more of Bulgaria. Melnik is a bit of an oddity. It's the smallest "town" in Bulgaria - near the Greek border. It used to boast over 20,000 inhabitants. Now, the number is about 250 - 300. Plus, it's famous for it's wine. How can you go wrong?
I caught a long, but direct bus ride from Sofia to Melnik. We hit a lot of little villages along the way, and the passengers were constantly changing. When we finally hit Melnik, we were mobbed by "babas and dyados" (grandmothers and grandfathers) who were trying to offer us rooms. I probably should have tried my luck with them, but I decided to strike out on my own. The first place I tried didn't have any rooms available. The next hotel I tried wanted 60 leva for the night. It didn't look nice enough for 60 leva. I decided to keep trying. Every "mehana," restaurant, and "krachma" was offering rooms for rent. It shouldn't be too hard. I decided to try a place standing next to an old building with Moorish-looking architecture. I rang the bell, and a lady called to me from the window. After establishing that there was an available room and that I was alone, she told me, "It's 40 leva for the night." I hesitated. Forty leva would send me right back out in the street. "But I'll give it to you for 30." The room ended up being clean and comfortable. I found out later that the TV wasn't even set up next to an outlet. Clever. I just needed a place to crash. It was quiet, charming, and safe.
After dropping off my stuff, I read up a bit on Melnik. Apparently, the Rozhen Monastery was nearby. I decided to set out and see if I could find it. Man, was Melnik touristy, but it was absolutely charming. I started my hike amid beautiful trees, awe-insiring sand formations, and a menacing, barking dog. I'm glad to say I left the dog behind quickly. The walk was invigorating. I congratulated myself for going on this venture alone and drank everything in deeply. Was it amazing! After thinking I must have gotten lost at least half a dozen times, I finally ended up at the monestary. I walked around and admired the grounds and the church for several minutes. A priest was praying a fairly long blessing, and I listened to his monotone singing while I studied the paintings on the wall.
Dusk was approaching as I scurried back down to Melnik. I was worried that I wouldn't be able to outrun the darkness. I made it back to town just as those ominous blue tones were painting every corner of my part of the world. You know that blue hue everything takes right before darkness envelopes you? It followed me back into Melnik. I decided to grab some food, and that's when I cursed my isolation. Eating out alone is not as invigorating as taking a hike alone. I felt oddly isolated, but there was a cute, little boy who had no fear in coming over to my table and climbing up on the seat next to me without reservation. He had the most beautiful smile. He was followed by his young parents - constantly chasing him out of my life. I wanted to enjoy some wine with my dinner, but it was more expensive than what I was willing to pay. I decided to go to the market and buy a bottle. I'd probably have drunk it then if I'd had a corkscrew. I decided I'd rather take it home and share it with someone anyway. I was exhausted anyway and soon fell into bed.
I got up the next morning and walked around the town - drinking in the absolute charm of it all. There are a lot of old houses, churches, and ancient structures. It reminded me of a trip I took with Thomas to a place called Kovachevitsa. Absolutely charming.
I decided I needed to get out of there as early as possible to try and get back to my town. My hostess was surprised that I was leaving already, but I didn't know what transportation pitfalls might lie ahead. When I went to the bus stop a little before nine, a bunch of Bulgarians and foreigners were already waiting there. A little after nine, a tiny van pulled up. It was obvious that we weren't all going to be able to climb in. I made it on, but the driver ended up having to call another guy to take half the group.
We ended up making all the stops in the neighboring villages - picking up a few people when we could; telling larger groups of people that they were out of luck. A man was called upon to constantly open and shut the van, since it was difficult to grasp from where we were. I thought, "I know that guy." I'd met him once in Dolna Banya while I was visiting Thomas. Once we got to the next town and got off, I approached him. At first, he thought I was the daughter of an acquaintance. When I mentioned Thomas' name, he said, "Oh! Rakitovo, right?" Small world.
It turned out that I couldn't get to Velingrad from any of the other towns on my way up north. I ended up having to go all the way to Sofia and spend a bunch of money. Blast! One of the reasons I don't like living in this part of the country is that it's difficult to get to many places in any sort of direct configuration. I'm sure there are many other volunteers who have it worse than me, but I like pointing out my frustration with absolute ridiculousness. Why should I have to go further north just to get south again?
Anyway, I made it home, and I had an absolutely lovely weekend. I called the friend who sent the hug with her husband, and we had a lovely chat about how I missed seeing him and missed out on my hug. Those are the breaks. It's just another story to tell.
Today, I opted to stay home and finish up the project translation that I needed to do. I went out to teach an English class, get caught in the rain, and talk to Reneta about the latest camp she attended. I got some good work done, but it's still hard to come back into reality. I feel like this weekend is an example of how my life would be if I could just do whatever I wanted - and had a limitless supply of money. I love my Rakitovo, but it's like a slap in the face. It's no Melnik, and it's no Sofia. It's where I live, and it's not going to seduce me with charm or try and put on a show for my senses. How I love you, Rakitovo.


Brandy said...

i love you apryl! you'll get that hug in about 100 days!! i miss you tons! see you soon.....

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