We were past it before it really registered what we had just seen. Phil started laughing knowing my weakness for old bottles. “Turn back,” I said… Phil laughed… “I’m not joking!” It was a good 5 to 7 km before we found a place to turn around…but we had all day. Little did we know what lurked behind that seemingly innocent little stall of old bottles…
We were immediately and enthusiastically greeted by a shirtless man, who popped out from behind a sort of shack behind the glass bottle stand—well not really a stand…a board supported on two barrels along which the bottles were lined up. Apparently, the bottles are used for storing Rakia, a very popular, very potent Bulgarian distilled wine.
“Do you speak English?” I ask the shirtless vendor. To which he vigorously nods and eagerly demonstrates his fluency. “Daa, daa, poco Inglisa!” Having thus assured us language would be no barrier he zealously ushered us past the bottles and into the little shack behind. In here was all manner of old bottles, baskets, wooden barrels and an assortment of old items I couldn’t even begin to identify. However, we were not stopping here. Bounding into the shack came a second shirtless and also toothless older man. “Madam, madam!” and wild gesturing which obviously meant to follow him out the back of the shack and into the yard.
What lay before us was astonishing and it became even more so the more closely we looked around. I cannot possibly do it justice to describe it with words. Initially we were just too astounded to do anything other than rush–well not exactly rush, it was really, really hot—more like ooze from one item to the next uttering our amazement.
So what was so amazing…? Initially, all I saw was a massive junkyard, but then I looked closer. The first item that drew my eye was an old granite grindstone and beside it, an equally old stone basin of one of the roadside water fountains you see everywhere here. Phil was busy examining a few of the seemingly hundreds of wooden wagon wheels and old wooden carts and wagons laying about the yard.
“Madam!, Madam!” and more gesturing and I followed the Toothless One further into the yard where he proceeded to show me yet another stone fountain, more grindstones and then a pile of granite blocks, some looking like they could have some engraving on them. I’m just thinking to myself, “could those be Roman?”
“Madam! Madam!” I was falling behind. Lying in the weeds and brambles at the Toothless One’s feet was a Roman column. Behind it and under even more brambles and garbage, a Roman capital (the carved top of a column). “Madam! Madam!” And another column! By now I am shouting, “Phil! Phil!” And gesturing wildly for him to come see, given his love for all things Roman.
I thought we had seen it all, but “Madam! Madam!” and I discovered that we were only just beginning to crack open the lid of this treasure trove. This was just the front yard leading up to a huge 3-story house and an exceedingly long (I’m going to say at least 20m) farm building and another large outbuilding attached to the house. There may have been more.
“Madam! Madam!” And the Toothless One is leading me past stacks and stacks of wooden trunks, many of them ornately painted and dated: 1844, 1808…etc. I lifted the lid on one small one and it was filled to the brim with journals and what looked to be personal correspondence. Another, big trunk was filled with old traditional clothing and blankets.
Innumerable old wrought iron singer sewing machine stands (and the actual machines themselves in places) were strewn about everywhere. Piled on top of one another old world war munitions boxes and red cross trunks formed long tottering aisles. Rusty vehicles and ancient gasoline pumps littered the yard everywhere. Farm machinery hung from wooden walls.
Most surprisingly, amongst this utter chaos was some sort of order as The Toothless One would scurry here and there to retrieve this and that he wanted us to see. I paused to look at some of the old clothes, he disappeared into the house then bounded out again. “Madam! Madam!” In his hand a plastic bag and in that a beautiful belt with a huge brass clasp to go with the clothing.
Then he was gesturing frantically for me to come into the house—I had thought it was where he lived. Instead we discovered it to be stuffed to bursting point with more and more antique items.
“Phil! Phil!” It was The Toothless One and we laughed in surprise at him calling Phil by name. He ushered us into a room filled with all manner of old clay vessels, it was the ones for distilling whiskey he wanted to show Phil. Shouting for the younger Shirtless One, the Toothless One barked some orders and heaved up one of the whiskey vessels and ushered us out again. There the Shirtless One assembled a full old fashioned distillery from fire to cooking pot to clay piping that passed through and old wooden barrel and finally “emptied” into the whiskey pot.
We weren’t quite finished being impressed when, “Phil! Phil!” and we were being ushered to the farm building. Piles of old machinery littered the building. An old wooden grape crusher was interesting to me. The huge bellows were interesting to Phil.
By now our heads were about to explode. It was ridiculously hot. Everything was for sale so it was impossible to choose. Obviously, credit card wasn’t going to be an option and for sure and old stone fountain wasn’t going to get picked up and put into the back of our little economy car.
“Phil! Phil!” (Afterwards, I wished I would have referred to Phil as Sweetheart, as I would have loved the Toothless One to be calling Phil by Sweetheart). The Toothless One was pointing to a piece of a marble frieze leaning up against the barn wall and in front of it what looked like an old marble basin for a fountain or something. Writing on a piece of paper, the Toothless One indicated that they were perhaps 1500-2000 years old. If they weren’t, they certainly looked it. What to do?
We finally left with a few bottles and baskets and a small wooden barrel and a promise to come back another day with a truck and really do some shopping!