1940s Archive

Yogurt and the Bulgarian Colonel

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Yogurt is the finest breakfast on a hot summer day when you are unable to tolerate even the thought of heavy food. A variation of this is to mix it with stewed fruit, or with cereal and sugar. And in my opinion there is no more refreshing luncheon dish than yogurt mixed with cottage cheese and a wide variety of fresh garden vegetables, appropriately seasoned. But yogurt itself is not bound to seasons; it can be, and should be, eaten all year round.

What mostly concerns us gourmets is yogurt as a dessert, winter or summer. After a substantial meal of intricate meats and sauces, yogurt is the most reasonable and desirable denouement. As soon as you finish a jar, that pleasant but heavy feeling which follows almost all interesting meals instantly disappears to give place to a light and refreshing exhilaration. But since it is so easily digested, one really can eat yogurt any time of the day or night—in fact, it is one of the best night snacks in the world. I'd like to add another important point: yogurt is not fattening.

As you can plainly see, I found out a good deal about yogurt from Clarissa; in fact she turned my head in two directions at the same time—toward yogurt and herself. As a result I was pretty much on a steady diet in those days in Sofia: Clarissa and yogurt. But diets are made to be broken, and this one was no exception. …

It happened between two wars. It's funny—they say that there are no wars between wars, but they forget the personal variety, and they forget that very quiet times are often ambient.

In the thirties I had a small job with an oil firm out in Texas. It had been pretty tedious, drilling holes in the ground for eight hours a day and then having a hasty dinner in the company's mess with a lot of other roughnecks.

One day the manager told me that he had just received a wire from the New York office that I was to proceed immediately to New York and thence to Bulgaria. I suppose they must have noticed on my application that, aside from my native English, I spoke Bulgarian.

A frantic week in New York, another glorious one in Paris, then the Orient Express, and I arrived in Sofia. I stayed at the hotel for a while, but when it became too dreary and a strain on my pocketbook, I decided to take lodgings. I found two comfortable rooms off the Maria Luis Boulevard, very near the Banya-Bashi Mosque.

I met Clarissa, one day, on a side street of the Alexander Nevsky Place. She was an apparition—around nineteen, with her hair still in curls. That gorgeous hair was a Viennese blonde, almost the color of honey. I cannot describe it exactly; I only know that it was beautiful. Most Bulgarians are dark, but Clarissa inherited the color of her hair from her mother, who was Russian. Her eyes were as blue as the sky on a summer day, her skin was like alabaster, and her figure would have put to shame a Petty or a Varga. When I first saw her, I thought her lovely, sweet smile was directed at me and, heart in throat, I approached her. As I started to stutter something banal—that we must have met before somewhere, or something equally silly—a peasant maid, wrapped in a long woolen scarf, blocked my way and shouted in compelling Bulgarian, "Get away from here! How dare you! She's the colonel's daughter." But Clarissa interrupted and said, "Maria, he is obviously a foreigner. Let him speak."

Maria was the colonel's maid, and turned out to be the most inefficient spy, the most ineffectual guard, the mildest chaperon I have ever known. For on that first day I slipped her 100 leva (around a dollar), and our friendship was sealed forever.

Even though I didn't see a drop of oil, I saw Clarissa every day. She started out from barracks where the family lived at nine in the morning, and I joined her at a vantage point fifteen minutes later. We walked toward the art school where Clarissa was learning to paint, and Maria, the little maid, trotted after us. At five minutes before twelve, I took up my post in front of the art school door, and we went to lunch in the smallest bistros we could find in the vicinity. Pretty consistently, we stuck to a place where yogurt was the pièce de résistance. Friendship, nay, love, bloomed freely amidst a sea of benevolent Bacillus bulgaricus.

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