Krasimira Butseva

Everything began not with my very own birth, but rather with the appearance of the table. The table is an item of furniture with a flat top, including one or more legs and often belonging to coffee shops, restaurants, schools, factories, hospitals, parks and homes. The table is used as a surface to eat and drink from, work at and place various items of top of. The four standard types of a table include: such where people will meet to eat; another being slightly lower and on top of which hot and cold beverages can be found, alongside a stage for various personal memorabilia. The third one has a very different structure, and a clock or lamp will inhabit  its surface, while the last type of a table is the one with the hundreds of specialised tables used for writing, drawing, sewing, producing, planning, manufacturing or storing.

My first encounter with a table was in my early childhood. I cannot recall a specific day, date or point of time, but rather a long period stretched across many years, in which the table happened to be an important space with a multi-dimensional and ever changing facade.If observed closely, the geometry and structure of a table does not involve a genius mathematical equation, it is certainly not an invention out of this world and even a child could figure out the simplicity of this object and potentially build a small model of it, yet it turns out that the table was much more than what it seemed at first sight. It appeared that the world was in fact divided in two – under and over the table.

Different things and realities occurred within the two sites, which did not combine into one. The division of worlds didn’t happen because the table was positioned in a specific location, or because of its materiality, price or inherited spirituality. Instead it transpires that any table, anywhere can adopt such qualities. Can turn into a mediator between worlds, can transport, change,and thus function as a time traveller both backwards and forward.Under the table, I was building a fortress from pillows, being a fashion designer on the backs of the sheets which my mother took from her factory, dividing dolls and sewing them clothing, collecting stickers from bananas and clementine’s, having long afternoon picnics, colouring empty books, making a personal spaceship, hiding from the grown-ups,singing and playing fictional instruments, building a home of my choice, drawing on the legs of the table hoping that no one will ever notice, learning how to say one, two, three, flower, orange and tea in English, whilst simultaneously growing up. My body initially would be small - fitting in, fitting under. I wouldn’t hit my head in the wooden surface, I would crawl and bring the universe with my knees. I would build a bed and beg to sleep there under, once I even trusted someone to see my personal galaxy, however during the rest of the time I would welcome only the cat to join me in my adventures.

Although it was my very own kingdom, it was rarely silent, rarely lonely, as over the table, on top of it - another world unravelled. Such a world foreign to a child, distant and complicated; described with words that seemed as if they were only sounds and thus evaporated straight away. But since the same syllables were a constant guest at the table, they started to become memorable, despite the lack of meaning they carried. And since it was the very same table in which my world was formed, it was hard to divide it from the other, as only 10 cm of wood was in-between of them both.

My grandmother and uncle, the main characters of this play would meet every day for lunch or dinner with reason and without, as they lived in the same tower block for decades. Their meetings over the table would follow a similar structure, not one of pleasant, lazy conversations followed by a nice meal, but rather the very opposite. They would always fight when they are together on the table. They would slam the doors and the walls would  vibrate for long after, they would stop saying hello in the floors of the tower block, they would be mad at each other until the next day, when they would meet again for the same argument. I would always feel a part of it, as I would be under the table, thus incorporated in the scenery. But I would never understand what the problem actually was. I would be affected by their loud voices and rude words, I would think it should be also my fault as I have been there since the very start, in-between and stranded. I would do all I can think of to help them speak, listen and forgive each other, yet my mind would never be able to grasp upon the reason of conflict. My grandmother would sit on one side of the table and reminisce of her past, recall the beauty of her life, together with all the time she shared with her now deceased husband. Alongside the memories of the pastries being sold just for two stotinki and a cinema ticket costing only five stotinki, the partisan songs her mother used to sing, the free healthcare for everyone, the privilege of leaving your door unlocked at night, whilst running with bare feet on the streets during the long summer days, building the fence of the school with stones from the town’s river, going to the seaside for two weeks every year, playing games at the camp on the edge of the mountain, eating slices of bread with lard heated on the fire place,watching the television programs in Russian, wearing a red scarf and a beret, making toys from discarded materials found near thefactory, playing the violin every Sunday morning, celebrating Christmas and Easter in a secret, ploughing the land in her village, travelling across the whole country on a motorcycle and being young. While, my uncle on the other side of the table would remember the bankruptcy and fault of economy, the lies heard from his employer, the numerous broken promises given from the party leader, the hundreds of times he had to take a thing or two as nothing was ever sold in the shops, the constant queues in order to find a kilogram of sugar or flour, the DIY culture which existed not by choice, the grey streets and long faces of the people, the fifteen-year waiting time for a new car to arrive, the dreams of the faraway paradise lands of the West, the conversations which he could only have in the bathroom while theshower is running, the television for which he waited for two years and which arrivedbroken, hiding in the dark to listen to The Beatles and Radio Free Europe, the one time hevisited Czechoslovakia and cried when seeing a fully stocked shop with salami and cheese,the electricity and gas shortages, the denial of travel, the nationalisation of the land,businesses and properties, the missing people and constant hunts of State Security, theviolent assimilation and deportation of Turkish people, the constant fear of being heard orseen and the loss of his youth.And thus, over the table one will be on the side of communism, and the other one will be atrue guardian of democracy.

In each of their meetings, they will ask how many years shouldpass. They will eagerly measure the days, months and years; frequently considering andbidding on when the transition will end. With time passing by, they will even begin to wonder whether things will ever change. I will try to remember their words and repea them to myself – communism, transition, democracy, communism, transition and democracy. I will start to also notice how they would not only visit the table, but also inhabit the voices from the radio, the mouths of the people on the TV, the pages of the newspapers, the walls on the streets and the conversations of the people passing by. Growing up under the table, I would wonder who is right and wrong, why would they debate over and over. I would consider that any disagreement reaches its end and that with knowledge troubles can be solved. Growing out of the table, not being able to fit under anymore, but rather only over, I will sitin-between them. I have never lived their past, experienced the communist system with my very own eyes, but rather have settled within the ruins of the regime, as the years’ progress by it will turn out that my  life and work will revolve around solving this very same debate.

© History in Between, 2021This project is part of the Cultural Calendar of Sofia, Ministry of Culture and Sofia History Museum.


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„История помежду“ ("Проект за музейни намеси в РИМ, София") е съвместен проект между Фондация „Изкуство – Дела и Документи“ и Регионален исторически музей, София, подкрепен Календар на културните събития на Столична Община.

History in Between (Project for interventions in the Museum, Sofia) is a collaboration between the Art Foundation - Affairs and Documents, and the Regional History Museum of Sofia. It is supported by the Calendar of Cultural Events of Sofia City.