|Where dat chicken?|
Friday, 16 May 2014
“In the wilds of Borneo. In the vineyards of Bordeaux...” So sang Ian Dury as he bade his listeners hit each other with their rhythm sticks. This nineteen-seventies classic invokes the mysteries of far-flung lands and exotic peoples and what better way to introduce this anecdote of the week so far in the land of dragons at the edge of the known world – not for nothing was St George the patron saint of Bulgaria.
An agrarian idyll, a landscape of mountains and forests, wide open vistas, tinkling streams and secret, bosky trails, Southern Bulgaria is a walker’s world and near heaven for a large and energetic dog. Rambo strained at his leash as we climbed the steep path out of the village, up to the ruins at the old dam. He gave a low growl as we passed his old adversary Hotie, the ancient donkey who had once strayed onto Rambo’s territory. He looked quizzically at the cows and sheep placidly grazing in the clover at the wayside and then, curiosity satisfied, he came to heel and continued up the slope.
High overhead an eagle soared, tracing overlapping circles in the afternoon sky as he followed the rising air, but on the ground another avian entirely caught Rambo’s attention. Chickens. Dozens of them. And before we could restrain him Rambo lurched toward the flock, his lead pulled from Andrew’s grasp and trailing along behind him. As the chickens scattered ahead of him, Rambo focused on one particularly plump specimen and pursued him round and round the little glade. He never quite managed to catch up, but after a few circuits, to our untrained eyes, it appeared that this unusually speedy chicken had three legs.
Suddenly it bolted out of the clearing and back down the track. Rambo followed, his muscular frame exerting every sinew as he struggled to make up ground. The chicken disappeared into the yard of the local Kmet (Mayor) and Rambo followed, while Andrew and I, far behind eventually caught up with the panting dog. For a few moments all three of us gasped for air, as the smiling Kmet sauntered over. “Kakvo praveesh?” he chuckled “What’s up?” We struggled for breath before finally managing to acknowledge the greeting. Andrew uttered a breathy “Peeleshko!” pointing the way the chicken had fled, before coughing up a lung.
The Kmet laughed as he asked, “What about it?” Eventually, between us, we managed to explain how we had ended up in his yard in such a state. He found it hilarious and we passed a few pleasantries before Andrew gathered up the courage to pose the question on both our minds. “Are we seeing things,” he asked, “or did that chicken have tri kraka (three legs)?” The Kmet laughed heartily, “Razbira se!” he guffawed, “Of course! We breed them like that!”
In our halting Bulgarian and the Kmet’s rudimentary English we soon learned that he, his wife and his son all favoured the leg of a roast chicken. This way, he explained, through an entirely logical and practical feat of animal husbandry, none need be disappointed come Sunday lunch. I had just one more question, “Do they taste just the same as normal chickens?” The Kmet stroked his chin ruefully and admitted “We don’t know.” Andrew and I looked at each other and Rambo pricked up his ears as we waited for him to complete the admission, “We’ve never managed to catch one yet.”