Rumyana Ivanova’s Book Premiere and a Piano Concert by Ani Gogova Deeply Moved the Audience at the Bulgarian Consulate General in New York City
The event, co-sponsored by ARCS and its partner institution the American Research Center in Bulgaria, Inc., was held on May 18 at the Bulgarian Consulate General in New York. It brought together a diverse and enthusiastic audience, who came from near and far especially for the occasion.
The premiere was opened by Dr. Nora Dimitrova Clinton, ARCS Co-Founder and Co-President, who introduced the author and spoke about the passion with which Rumyana Ivanova wrote her book. The Friendly Manhattan is the second, revised and updated, edition of a unique memoir by Rumyana Ivanova, a long-term editor, bookstore manager, and renowned expert in Slavic Studies at the New York Public Library. The author’s goals have been to introduce the reader to Manhattan’s history, to reveal its magnetic force to curious minds, and to recount the adventures of a Bulgarian immigrant in this cosmopolitan city.
Mrs. Ivanova encountered numerous difficulties, experienced by all newcomers, who are insufficiently acquainted with the local language and customs. She was met with multiple misunderstandings, yet infinitely more instances of benevolence and empathy by New Yorkers, who were always ready to provide guidance and help. The author’s stories illuminate New York’s greatness and bring to life the significant moments in its past and present-day existence. This fascinating memoir combines the warmth and humanity of authentic personal experiences with the depth and erudition of a detailed cultural and historical study that will remain an ever-valuable snapshot of Manhattan in the last quarter of the 20th century.
Mrs. Ivanova expressed her sincere gratitude to the American Research Center for publishing the second edition of her book with the following words:
The first edition of my book The Friendly Manhattan was published in Sofia in 1995. It was a book of love, written in admiration of Manhattan. As refugees from communist Bulgaria, my husband Ivan, my daughter Kalina, and I immediately fell under the spell of the great city. In my first years there I was curious to find out what made it so exceptional. I went to museums and parks, attended concerts and the theater, and I was mesmerized. A vast horizon opened in front of me.
But what I really appreciated were the Manhattanites. I remember how difficult it was for me to find a street or an avenue. You may laugh, but very often I asked somebody to help me. Once I was on a bus and was very nervous. Where should I get off to find the Museum of Modern Art? I asked the gentleman sitting next to me to tell me when the stop was near. And what did he do? He got off with me and showed me the way to the museum. I also can’t forget the kindness of the ladies who came to the clothing store where I was a proud salesperson. They asked me questions, but I could not give them answers, as I did not understand them. So they tried different ways of expressing their thoughts, as they were curious about my life in Bulgaria, and about my new life in Manhattan. Little by little my 100 words of English multiplied, thanks to these wonderful Manhattanites. When I apologized for my poor knowledge of the language everybody would find a good word to assure me that it was OK.
Last year I read an interesting story in the NY Times. Mr. Hopkins from England came for the first time to Manhattan with very low expectations about the life in the city. He was pleasantly surprised, though, by the Manhattanites. They were polite, helpful, and ready to laugh. Mr. Hopkins even liked the American beer he shared with some of them. I understand him.
Now back to the book. After 10 years of living in Manhattan I decided that it was time to do something for this exceptional city and its people. I was not a writer, but I was determined to write about it. Thus The Friendly Manhattan, which I call my second daughter, was published in 1995 by the publishing house of The University of Sofia. The total print of 2,000 copies sold out in 4 months. And for many years the book was forgotten, even by me. Alter 21 years, though, my book called back to me. With its new cover and some new pictures my “second daughter” has now matured into an elegant young lady in more beautiful clothing. You know this could only happen if wonderful people wanted to resurrect it. These wonderful people are Prof. Kevin Clinton and his lovely wife Dr. Nora Dimitrova Clinton, the founders of The American Research Center in Sofia. I want to express my deep gratitude to both of them. Thank you all.
Dr. Aaron Owens, Trustee and long-term supporter of ARCS, read the following excerpt:
The Memorable September 11, 2001
The city was walking—voiceless, quiet, oblivious of the past. It was walking in the present, without remembering the rumbling flow of its energy. This was once, a long time ago. Actually, only an hour ago. Now the multitude, speechless, was moving uptown, as the people, witnessing the most brutal act that ever befell New York were seeking safety.
They were walking quietly and respectfully made way for me, as I was the only one going downtown, opposite them. Only I was in a hurry, running. My darling grandson was in school, located between me and the disaster. Telephones did not work, I had no contact with my family, I knew nothing about any of them. My soul felt dead amidst the city silence. A surrealistic picture of a city painted by Salvador Dali.
At 11:15 I was at the school. There again everything was orderly. Volunteer parents accompanied all visitors to the classrooms of the children they came for … Charlie [my grandson] had already left with his father.
The street was even quieter. From time to time only one woman called for something. I looked at the hand-written poster on her chest: “Donate blood.” “Where?” We readily waited in a long line.
11:30. Only two hours after the disaster, and volunteers were already offering us food, drinks, bananas every ten minutes. They made sure no one was hungry or thirsty. A father carried a gallon of water, and a little boy behind him gave plastic cups to people. His five-year old sister collected the used cups—focused, silent, suddenly grown up by several years…
Help came from all sides. Many firefighters from small towns arrived to work for free. They left their families and jobs, ready to sleep on the floors of nearby schools, only to offer their help. Doctors and lawyers worked as volunteers with the victims’ families. Famous musicians sang, organized benefit concerts, and collected over $150 million for the families. And what about the little ones? Charlie, our six-year old grandson, saw the plane hit the first Tower… For days the child kept asking me, when we walked in the city, which way we were going, where was downtown, where was west, he was struggling to fathom which way I was leading him… He couldn’t sleep. A little friend of his once asked me if I knew whether the Twin Towers had been destroyed. I said this was true but we would build them again. “Yes, indeed,” he replied and ran away. Many American children, innocent like these two boys until then, suddenly matured that day.
Dr. Nora Clinton concluded the literary part of the event with a passage describing the author’s first day as an immigrant in Manhattan:
“Where liberty is, there is my country.” Benjamin Franklin
This is our first letter from New York after the painful six months in [a refugee camp in] Athens. … I begin with Day One. Athens Airport, April 3. On that day we flew to the skies with one hundred other passengers of all races, brought by the sorrow and tyranny in the world. We probably were a comical sight, most of us dressed in Salvation Army and Red Cross clothing. Once we entered the plane, we all seemed greatly exited. Among us were people who waited 2–3 years in Greece until they were accepted into the United States. Some had babies born to them, one woman had lost her husband. Young and old, of all races, happy and sad, we all dreamed only of America. The five-year old girl from Romania was telling us that in America a walking doll was awaiting her. The Muslim man with five daughters, who was praying on the floor between the plane seats, was probably hoping to finally find his Mecca. For we were flying to the land of miracles.
For us, the miracle took the form of seven people, with enormous radiant smiles, who came to meet us at Kennedy airport. After I recovered from the excitement, I recognized Ivan’s [my husband’s] colleagues, who had worked with him two years before at New York University. They came to meet us with three cars. There was not much talk. After the welcoming embraces, we quickly drove to New York. Our friends understood we couldn’t wait to see it. The day was grey and rainy, and when we approached it, Manhattan looked different from the image we held in our memories. Smaller, hiding the top of its skyscrapers in the heavy clouds, huddled, as though embarrassed by our overflowing affection, it didn’t dare to fully appear before us. While we were approaching, our friends asked about the misfortunes we had suffered during the escape from Bulgaria. Their eyes had sincere compassion and warmth, they asked their questions gently, and my excitement started to subside… I relaxed and was so immersed in the conversation that I got startled when we stopped in front of a tall building… Our friends smiled mysteriously, and nobody said a word while the elevator was taking us upstairs.
We found ourselves in a living room, sparkling with cleanliness, with white walls, and in the middle of a small table was a bowl with bananas and oranges. I looked at their orange warmth and thought I heard: “Welcome to your home.”… It turns out I heard correctly. Ivan’s colleagues rented an apartment for us close to NYU, so he could walk to work… Ms. Heidi Plesken not only took care of all bureaucratic formalities, but also placed an ad at the University lab … and everyone rummaged through their cabinets and storage rooms. The result—a completely furnished home. The living room had a dining table with four chairs, an armchair, a TV, and even two books about New York! In the bedroom there was a Queen bed—for two by American standards, but I can imagine six children from a third-world country feeling very comfortable in it. There are four bed sizes in the United States. Twin is like a normal Bulgarian bed, Full is 135 х 190 сm., Queen—152 х 200 сm., and King is simply giant.
So, my dear ones, we went to bed that night in a Queen bed, fit for queens, as its name suggests. And we are grateful to the citizens of the country that rejected monarchy as an institution but decided to keep it for people’s dreams.
Following the premiere of the book, the internationally renowned piano musician and dedicated supporter of ARCS, Dr. Ani Gogova from Chicago, played brilliantly and passionately several pieces by Chopin, Ligeti, and Beethoven, which inspired the audience and turned the event into the unforgettable experience. Dr. Gogova has won numerous musical competitions and prestigious awards since childhood and has appeared in solo recitals and concerts with orchestras all over Europe and the United States. Her solo renditions have been heard on the Bulgarian National Radio, FM Classic Radio, Interlochen Public Radio, and WFMT Chicago. She has been featured artist and presenter at numerous international festivals and conferences. Gogova’s chamber music performances have been featured on NPR, Bulgarian National Radio, WFMT Chicago, TED Talks, and have been selected as Critics’ Pick by Time Out Chicago Magazine. Equally at home as a performer and producer, Ani Gogova has supervised numerous productions, most notably at Carnegie Hall, Harris Theatre, and Old Town School for Folk Music. Dr. Gogova came to the United States to complete her Doctorate of Musical Arts at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and was appointed at the Chicago College of Performing Arts at Roosevelt University—the youngest professor to join the world-renowned faculty of the Music Conservatory. Her dedication to education and collaboration with young musicians has led to numerous master classes, adjudication at national and international piano competitions, and teaching young pianists from all over the world at the prestigious Interlochen Arts Camp in Michigan.
The event concluded with a book signing and reception at the Consulate.
The American Research Center in Sofia would like to express its warmest gratitude to the Bulgarian Consulate General in New York for hosting the event in the warm environment of its premises. ARCS extends its special thanks to Dr. Ani Gogova for her beautiful and memorable performance.