The road to the village of Emona on the Bulgarian Black Sea coast is bad and broken, but some of the locals deliberately do not want it to be renovated so they could remain detached from the unnecessary vanity of time. This is where the longest mountain range in the Balkans descends into the sea shore and the beautiful lighthouse at Cape Emine built in 1880 served for many years as a beacon of light for seafarers. Many writers and painters choose the village of Emona as their preferred place of recreation during the summer months, drawing inspiration from the rugged landscape and the numerous historical layers of the past here. Just as it happened to Anelia Toncheva. A freelance artist and writer, she has been living in the US for 15 years now, but not for a moment has she severed the link with her homeland. At first she was a volunteer at the Bulgarian school in Boston, teaching children how to make martenitzas or how to paint the traditional Easter eggs, but over time her desire to explore deeper Bulgarian traditions and folklore became stronger. That's how the novel Mystical Emona came into being. More in Anelia Toncheva's interview for Radio Bulgaria:
"The idea for the book was born 4-5 years ago. Even as a child I have witnessed many beautiful Bulgarian traditions passed down from my parents and my grandparents, and also when I was traveling through various beautiful places in Bulgaria. Before coming to Boston in 1998, I visited Emona, a secluded place on the Bulgarian Black Sea coast filled with a lot of history. There is a ruined church to Saint Nicholas who is the patron of sailors and wild horses graze freely through the nearby fields. It was a small piece of Bulgaria that stuck in my mind ever since."
That's how the story began - with the memory of the wild Emona where some 30 people live today and with the tales of the wood nymphs (samovida), the beautiful mythological creatures from Slavic folklore, which local villagers still worship and fear.
"The book is a fantasy, a love story between a fairy and a mortal, an artist who moves from America to Emona to recover from the loss of his wife and paint”, Anelia Toncheva explains. “However, it interweaves many historical facts, Bulgarian traditions and rituals that have survived over the years and are to this day practiced in different regions of Bulgaria. Many of them have Thracian roots because the Thracians who inhabited the Bulgarian lands may be forgotten, but their traditions are still alive and are celebrated in some parts of the country."
The village of Emona, whose name derives from the ancient Greek word for the Balkan Mountain "Aemon," is known as the birthplace of legendary Thracian king Resus described in Homer's Iliad. But this is only one of many facts of Bulgarian history and folklore that readers can learn from the volume:
"The whole project lasted 5 years, as each sentence is the product of many studies” Anelia Toncheva adds. “We used multiple materials from Radio Bulgaria, which are available on its website. Also we had many other sources, especially the book of Alexander Fol & Ivan Marazov "Thrace and the Thracians" published in 1971. In the novel we have described one of the Thracian deities, Bendis. I was very surprised when I visited the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston to discover in the Department of Greek and Thracian artifacts a vase with an image of Bendis with her clothing. As we know, the ancient Thracians had no alphabet, but by such findings we can understand what their customs and rituals were."
A love story or a lesson in the history of ancient Thracians, Bulgarian folklore and even Bulgarian cuisine. And more: the book contains a lot of Bulgarian and Thracian words that are intentionally left untranslated. Mystical Emona was released on the book markets in the US and the UK at the end of summer, and in October hit ad its official launch at the Faculty of World Studies of Boston University. Themed "Bulgarian Voices - Love, Light and Rituals", the event was organized by the Madara Bulgarian Cultural Center and included a performance of the Ludo Mlado Bulgarian folk dance group based in Boston.
The author's name on the book cover reads Ronesa Aveela, an artistic alias of actually two authors - Anelia Toncheva and Rebecca Carter, a writer and editor from New Hampshire, who has not yet visited Emona. Mrs. Carter is planning to do so with the publishing of the book in Bulgarian. Mystical Emona is only the first part of a trilogy, whose second part will appear in 2015. In the meantime, Anelia and Rebecca are working on a small booklet called Love, Light, Rituals dedicated to the ancient Thracian customs. It will include a detailed description of 12 different rituals and will be issued by the end of this year.
Images of various Bulgarian traditions and beliefs - martenitzas, nestinari fire dancers, fairies, nymphs, are a major theme in the paintings of Anelia Toncheva who has created a cycle of paintings also named Mystical Emona. A presentation of both the book and exhibition is to be held at the Bulgarian Embassy in New York in December and in the Bulgarian Cultural Institute in London in the middle of next year. And all interested readers can watch the trailer of the book online. The original music is composed by Bulgarian musician Alex Stoyanov who also lives in Boston.
Photos courtesy to Anelia Toncheva.