“Why does he have his hand jammed into his pocket,” I ask our guide Georgi. I stare at the bronze statue of “Milyo the Crazy,” perched on a low wall in the center of Plovdiv, Bulgaria. Behind him, large, blocky, metal letters in primary colors announce “TOGETHER—Plovdiv 2019 European Capital of Culture.” Every year, the European Union selects a city tto fulfill this role five years in the future. Plovdiv is preparing to show off its best to visitors in two years.
We arrived in Plovdiv yesterday afternoon, our second Bulgarian city after a two-week Romanian adventure. The country’s second largest city serves as Bulgaria’s cultural capital, with its rich literary, performance, and visual artistic heritage. Plovdiv’s three extensive and attractively restored Roman ruins are impressive, and the enormous Amphitheater now hosts stage plays, ballet, and orchestra. The partially excavated Stadium at the commercial pedestrian mall’s terminus attracts visitors who can view the site looking down at the structure sunken several feet below street level. The nearby Roman Forum gives residents another festival and concert venue.
Old Town’s public, commercial and private structures display characteristics of what’s now referred to as Renaissance Bulgarian architecture. The substantial Ottoman influence is an important historical aspect of Bulgaria as a European crossroads compromised for more than 8000 years by warfare between east and west. Bulgaria—known as Thrace in ancient times—was the main Europe-Asia crossroads. The result is a rich artistic style that displays the best of many cultural shifts and influences. Plovdiv is just plain handsome.
Back to the statue of “Milyo the Crazy.” A resident of the 1960s, Milyo was a local kindhearted eccentric, supposedly intelligent and well-read if also a bit “off.” Everybody knew harmless Milyo, who gained the reputation as the town gossip. The statue depicts Milyo with his left hand cupped around his ear to listen to any tidbit of news that he might pass along. Today, urban legend has it that if you whisper a wish in his ear, it will come true. Of course, I try. We’ll see.
Okay, but what about the right hand jammed in his pocket. According to Georgi, it appears that Milyo had a fondness for the ladies. When a woman passed by as he sat on his bit of territory on the wall, he reached deep in his pocket to, well, demonstrate his ardor.
I have an immediate affection for the people of Plovdiv. What a rich sense of humor they have to memorialize one of the town’s beloved citizens this way!