Watching the movie “Castaway”, I think anyone got a little emotional when “Wilson”, the soccer ball with the hand-stained face, was adrift in the open ocean. It might have been the character’s (loose) connection with sanity. Now, I’ve never really had that one thing that I held onto for dear life; I’ve never been stranded either. Yet, I have been known to leave ballcaps, bluejeans, and engraved Zippo lighters behind when leaving port. Most of the time, it was a voluntary trade for something unusual such as a Soviet Navy belt buckle. Or a Turkish lighter, an Ecuadorian fishnet hammock and even an Egyptian thobe (male one piece garment).
The USS PETERSON visited the Black Sea on the way back from a Red Sea deployment. We were unaccustomed to being welcomed as tourists; however, the Ukrainians were just as welcoming to American ships visiting Sevastopol. And we had cameras openly, not the kind you see in spy movies set in Eastern Europe, but like tourists from Scotland to Burundi: Japanese models. Like everything else marketed in the early 1990s.
Taking my new camera, I went out to look for amber . I tried to order a Black Russian (vodka and coffee liqueur) in a hotel bar that looked out upon the Black Sea; I had an equally impossible time finding an ice-cold Pepsi. And there were other distractions. Several of us ventured into a nightclub that was a bit of a circus. It featured a woman doing an acrobatic dance floor show that might have been a strip show. Who spoke or read Bulgarian to know from the marquee? Later, I was looking at some Russian znachki, these enameled badges or pins, that were collected in Russia like sports memorabilia or Hard Rock Cafe pins, back in the early 1990s. And walked away only to realize that I didn’t have my camera over my shoulder.
At the waterfront, I found a Port official to report my loss. He spoke no English and I spoke no Bulgarian. But nearly a dozen years after my last college class in Russian, we could haltingly converse about my missing camera in a common language. A few months later, the reply to my inquiry sent to the Canon marketing office in Sophia, Bulgaria was not promising. How many regular people could possibly own a Canon SLR camera in a nation that only had capitalism (glasnost?) for five or so years?
Bulgaria became a hot destination for inexpensive vacations by young western Europeans staying in hotels and hostels. Beachgoers enjoying the Black Sea. Perhaps some young entrepreneur used my camera to start a business. (Babes of the Black Sea?) Marketing ads for amber jewelry. Fashion images for the newest Yuppies. And perhaps my old camera is living there still. Twenty-three years ago I left my heart in Varna, Bulgaria. Well, not really. But I did leave my camera there.