Best columns: Europe
Why we embellish our history
Bulgarians are awfully quick to take offense, said Ivaylo Ditchev. The nation had a communal hissy fit recently after Russian President Vladimir Putin, seeking to butter up the visiting Macedonian president, referred to the Cyrillic alphabet as having been created “on Macedonian soil.” Outraged nationalists took to the internet to decry this misreading of history, insisting that Saints Cyril and Methodius, the 9th-century brothers who created the script, were Bulgarians and that Macedonia was at the time part of Bulgaria. Isn’t the truth enough for us? “Every schoolchild knows” that the kingdom of Bulgaria was the first country to admit the saints’ disciples and translate Christian works into a Slavic language, paving the way for the Christianization of the Slavic world. But nationalists aren’t content with that: They want the holy brothers to be ethnic Bulgarians, so they insist, on no evidence, that their mother must have been one. As for their claim that the Macedonians are really Bulgarians anyway, well, the people in the area during those times were in fact an ethnic mishmash. So please, “let’s not return to the idiotic revisionism of Communist-era history books” and “build our national identity on fables.” Bulgaria deserves better.
Swimming but not bathing
Austrians love to get wet, said Guido Tartarotti. “And I’m not talking only about our three favorite types of wine: red, white, and I’d really rather have beer.” No, I mean swimming! Summer is upon us and the Viennese baths have opened. More than 3 million people are expected to plunge into the indoor and outdoor public pools all over the city, and most of them probably won’t be tourists, but natives. Many more will be swimming in the backyard pools that have become de rigueur in Vienna’s swankier neighborhoods, or bathing in mountain lakes. Even that odd Austrian who doesn’t enjoy a dip in a lake loves to lie on the grass nearby, “his chiseled form shivering” in the cool air, “secure in the knowledge that he can always get in the water should he choose.” Why then, with so much water at our disposal all summer long, do we Austrians consistently smell so rank—especially on the subway? The answer is obvious: “Austria is built on water, but not on soap.” Even the term “Viennese baths” is a misnomer—they haven’t been used for actual bathing in decades, only for splashing, people-watching, and hookups. We may have a cultural aversion to soap. But the remedy is simple: Deodorant. “Use it.” ■