So I spent a day in a village in the northwest of Bulgaria, near the town of Vratsa. This is a very poor part of the country where people live quite close to the edge, and is probably one of the poorest regions in the European Union. But it is also breathtakingly beautiful, and it is in this part of the country that many people maintain an allegiance to leftist ideals. I am always humbled and honored to be a guest here.
Maine is one of the few places that actually lives up to your expectations of it. The rocky coastline is a long way from the Bavarian Alps, but no less stunning.
This is the castle where the Sommerakademie is hosted as seen from the cornfields below.
So I've made it through my first week of volunteer teaching at the Sommerakademie Neubeuern, and there's been less free time than I imagined. A lot of prep work goes into teaching for three hours a day (30 hours in 2 weeks!), but the scenery here makes the whole endeavor so much easier. And I can occasionally get to the top of a mountain for a glass of wine.
I have arrived in Neubeuern in the foothills of the Alps near the Austrian-German border. I have volunteered to teach a two-week seminar for the Studienstiftung on the cultures and societies of Eastern Europe. This is the castle where the class will be held starting Monday morning.
I'm in Trier where the whole city is trying to cash in on the 200th birthday of Karl Marx (born here in 1818). Near the Karl Marx Haus the town has changed the Ampelmänchen to be little Marxes and there are scattered images of him everywhere. The tourist shops are filled with Marx-themed souvenirs, and even the local retailers are using his face to lure would-be shoppers into their stores. I'm not so sure Marx would have appreciated this.
I landed in Germany just in time to catch the last day of the annual summer Kollnauer Fescht. I lived in this little village in the German Black Forest for a year between 2014 and 2015, and I haven't been back in over two and a half years. It's nice to see that nothing much has changed. I drank a glass of the local wine, Müller Thurgau, and enjoyed the general frivolity of the street festival. What is so wonderful about these German local events is the intergenerational aspect of the sociality, and the simple merriment of sitting outside and drinking cold beer.
Some scenes from Plovdiv. The first image shows that Plovdiv was once the sister city of a place called Leningrad.
Since Bulgaria holds the rotating presidency of the European Council, the center of Sofia looks gorgeous, especially the the areas around the National Palace of Culture where the Council is meeting. In over 20 years of visiting Sofia, I've never seen this area look so nice.
I just returned from a trip to give a talk in the anthropology department at my old alma mater, UC Santa Cruz, where I graduated in 1993 with my Bachelor of Arts. I have a very hard time believing that this was 25 years ago, but when I started college in 1988 the Berlin Wall was still standing. My, the time has flown. Santa Cruz is beautiful, but it felt weird to go back. The campus has grown and changed so much that it doesn't quite feel like the same place I went to school all those years ago. But I will be forever grateful to the taxpayers of the state of California who made it possible for kids like me to get an excellent education (BA, MA and PhD) at such phenomenal public institutions of higher learning. California is proof that the public provision of heavily-subsidized or free higher education is a great investment in the future.