A Soap from Sofia
Some objects are just that; obects.
Until you hear about their story, then they become more than that – a signifier of time, of place, of experience.
Even though it is just a soap bar.
I do not know the brand, I do not know what it is made of. It smells like the “dog soaps” people in Central America use to cure rashes and “sarnas” from their dogs; or even themselves. I would know – I used them for many years. It is a low-key sulphuric aroma, like a chemical product that fell out of the line before the pleasant scents were added. My senses have been conditioned, and the result is that I feel I am holding a product that was smuggled out of the processing plant. The lack of label, that I bought it in an old market in Sofia and wasn’t even offered a bag to put it in adds to the mystique of it.
I hated this soap the moment I realised I didn’t buy it as part of a trade-in game.
Last January, when I was freezing my hands off in sleet-drenched Sofia, I took a Leva out of an envelope given to us by the little tour we were doing. The Alternative Sofia walking tour was a scavenger hunt and puzzle game: a map guiding you to one place, providing clues that this space would put together, so you can discover the next location. Towards the end of our tour, we briskly walked towards Serdika Central Market, an open door collection of market stalls – you know the type, fruit, vegetables, local handmade crafts, an art gallery, random plastic knick-knack nobody needs, dog food, drills, old stuff found in someone’s attic. You know the sort.
The envelope asked us to buy anything for 1Лв and we were running out of time. I wanted something useful, a cool thing. The wind was picking up, we had to be back to the starting point, so I just picked up whatever. This soap. I thought it would be like a previous location, where we left something and picked up something else. An exchange across time and cultures. But, nope, the whole point of the money in the envelope was for us to experience shopping like locals. And, you know, I really liked that. I really did.
But then I ended up with a smelly soap I didn’t know what to do. I could’ve left t in Bulgaria, but, alas, I do not like to waste things. In my bag it went.
And I am glad I didn’t get rid of it because it turns out is the best damn stain-remover soap I’ve ever had. It cleans ink and paint off brushes better than solvents. It gets rid of bicycle grease stains with one wash! One fucking wash! This smelly… thing. This soap that was given to me without any packaging. This common day object that people in central Sofia might get because it is cheap, and it works is so much more to me.
Every time I use it, new memories are created. Old ones revisited.
A souvenir that isn’t a souvenir. An experience made from whatever soap is made out of.
What a wonderful, stupid, and useful thing to have fallen in love with.