This is a beautiful remembrance of a poor man that testifies to the unexpected effects that can emanate from the smallest, least celebrated of lives.
His real name was Xhristo Planev. He and one other man were my very best friends in Bulgaria for over 15 years. They died within three weeks of one another earlier this year. I attended the latter’s funeral but never got to visit with Xristo, or even knew he was ill. While the other fellow, Dmitar, was a classic-rags-to-riches tale of never giving into “imperial communists”, also deserving of a story here, Xhristo was that crazy live-alone uncle no one ever wanted to show up for Thanksgiving dinner…except me.
Everyone called him Kuko, but I never did. He was always Xristo to me, and I think he appreciated it, as Kuko was more than just a diminutive nickname. It also carried a little stigma, I learned. (I’ll use it here only because it’s easier to spell.)
My first visit to Bulgaria, in 1995 was as a gun runner. Legal of course, but I was representing a US company hoping to buy various product at their national factory in the Balkan mountains. I had connections. So I was running back and forth for about four days. Across the street from my hotel was the Parliament, then behind it a magnificent cathedral named St Alexander Nevsky, and around it a great plaza which contained many interesting sites, along with a flea market that abutted on the parks. With a couple of hours to kill waiting for a car to pick us up, my arms specialist and I decided to visit this place. It is still there.