Written in January 2009
I’ve just been out to get some milk from my friend Naem who lives down the road and has 6 cows. I was also getting water from the spring. As I walked back up the road, I closed my eyes and, except for the lack of salt air, I could have been walking along a beach in Northumberland and not a village in northern Bulgaria. The wind was blowing viciously from the North just like the bitter wind that hurls across the North Sea – it cut into my skin; nipped my fingers; made my eyes water; made my gums hurt and made the top of my head feel tight. Bliss.
When I was little, living in Newcastle, we would spend a couple of weeks in the summer at a caravan or in a holiday cottage somewhere up the coast. We have some of the most glorious beaches in the world in Northumberland – miles of empty sand with huge dunes; a noisy, exciting, sometimes scary sea and the occasional castle on the horizon. The only thing that we don’t have, is what one might consider to be ‘beach weather’. The mean average temperature of the North Sea is about 5degrees but sometimes that would actually be warm compared to the air temperature.
I read once that Leonard Cohen said he didn’t know what being warm was until he went to live in Greece – he’s from Canada – and I can relate to that. We would play in our swimsuits with thick jumpers on top. Our legs would be numb with the cold but it never stopped me and my sisters playing on the beach all day. The only time we noticed the weather was when the wind whipped up the sand and it rushed along the beach in a low cloud that hit your cold legs like lots of tiny pinpricks. I just thought this was normal. This was before the time of package holidays and adverts on TV for sunny warm places so that’s what I thought a beach was.
I forgot about the wind, last year, when I was in Newcastle visiting my son. I looked out the window – blue sky, sun shining – great. I stepped out of the door and a wind chill factor of about -20 almost cut me in two. The top of my head was hurting, my teeth were hurting and my hands – what hands?
I have found out that there are places that have weather that doesn’t deceive you but it wasn’t until I lived in India that I really began to understand wind. We lived half way up a mountainside in the foothills of the Himalayas. In the context of that particular mountain range, the valley floor where we lived was around 3000metres and it was another 2 hour walk up to our house. The valley was long and steep sided and for the most part, there simply wasn’t any wind. It took me ages to figure out why I felt so agitated and not quite at ease with the air and the day around me. I would watch the cute little clouds drifting along the valley – sometimes below the house, which was really neat. The clouds would rise and fall around patches of warm or cold air but they never raced across the sky.
When it monsoons in India, the rain falls straight down. You can stand under your umbrella and the rain falls in curtains around you. You might not be able to hold the umbrella up due to the ferocity of the downpour, but it still falls straight down. I told my friend Tara that in England, you often have to hold your umbrella out in front of you and I described the wind. She looked at me with pity and used her favourite expression ‘Kathy, you are very, very stupid woman – rain is above us and it comes down’. She had never experienced wind and rain together and actually had little concept of wind at all.
The first two summers that I was living in Bulgaria, I felt quite disquieted in July and August and it took me back to my feeling in India. For most of the summer months, the air is still and hot of course, but the heat wasn’t the problem for me. I realised that it wasn’t just the wind – Newcastle is about 20k from the sea and a lot of my life has been spent very near to the sea. Around the coast, the air moves all the time and it was this complete lack of movement in the air that made me feel so uncomfortable. It wasn’t until the third summer that I really felt that I was able to embrace the stillness and feel at ease with it.
There is a special kind of wind that I’ve discovered in Bulgaria and it mostly comes in summer. It is the precursor to a session of really professional rain – the stuff that empties down from the skies for three days non stop – like a monsoon. Before it comes, there is often a very strong, single blast of wind that knocks everything over and destroys the quiet peace of the day with a big scary noise. Usually within the next half hour, the rain comes. But generally speaking, my wind chimes don’t get much action here.
Talking to people in Britain about using alternative technology in Bulgaria, they invariably start talking about wind power. Great way to generate power but you do need wind. They would then stop and stare – the concept of living without wind is something unthought of to people from the British Isles. Our minds and bodies and hair styles reflect that fact that the air around us is moving, often ferociously, all the time. My friend Patti comes from Wiltshire – a soft part of England and she pointed out to me how many women in the North East have short hair – it does make life a bit easier.
Minus 20 is pretty cold and it’s quite a bit colder than you normally get in England. But when you step outside in the calm, crisp Eastern European cold, it can take quite a few minutes for it to penetrate through your clothes and at first it doesn’t appear cold. Then, after about 15 or 20 minutes you slowly feel it creeping up on you and your whole body temperature drops. Its like the cold is inside of you. The wind cold, on the other hand, freezes everything that it touches immediately you step out the door. We don’t often have a North Wind here and I was taken unaware this morning. By the time I got back with the milk, my hands weren’t working – I didn’t get the water from the spring – my hands were too cold to carry it; my gums were hurting and my eyeballs were cold but it was good to go for the milk and end up thinking about Northumbrian beaches.