I recently spent some time in Bulgaria, and one of the many highlights was having dinner with two elderly Bulgarians. It was a pretty surreal experience, and I learned some valuable lessons on good health and longevity
Let me set the scene…
We (me and my partner Sam) had made it safely past the terrifying wolf-like guard dog chained outside into the living room of a simple home in a tiny village in Eastern Bulgaria. Our hosts were a lovely, traditional Bulgarian couple. As far as we could make out, she was called Stank and he was Midgeure (see picture…. nothing to do with the singer of Ultravox, unfortunately!) – another neighbour, a friend of theirs, was also there.
The first thing that became apparent was that we had no language in common. They had Bulgarian, and a spattering of Russian. We had, between us, English, bad Spanish, and very basic Mandarin. That didn’t seem to matter though, and we were greeted warmly and fed well.
We ate some excellent tomato salad and barbecued pork. The tomatoes were from the garden, and the pork was from a pig that Midgeure had killed himself only a few days before (all this information was obtained slowly, with much miming!) – It was truly delicious.
And this was washed down with some Rakia, which is the homemade brandy that all the locals make with the surplus fruit from their gardens, and by the taste of it, comes in at about 90% alcohol!. A new toast came every few minutes, so I was trying to take small sips in order to maintain at least base level of consciousness!
Anyway, I was struck by the generosity of these people, who had so little to give. I was also struck by the remarkable good health and high spirits that they seemed to be in. Once I’d managed to convey that, Midgeure was keen to pass on the secrets to his long life, and his advice had three main strands:
1. Fresh natural food. Like all the locals in this, and similar villages, every inch of spare ground was cultivated. I noticed grape vines, a number of fruit trees, lettuces, radishes, and tomatoes to name just a few. In Bulgaria, the common people eat what they grow. It’s the definition of organic, local, seasonal and of course super-fresh. And it tasted absolutely amazing!
2. The other thing you couldn’t miss in the garden were the bee hives. He had around a dozen, which he tended daily. I was amazed to see him pottering around wearing trousers and a T-Shirt, without a stitch of protective gear. I asked if he got stung, and his friend told me, through hilarious and greatly exaggerated mime, that anyone else approaching the hives would get stung, but Midgeure never did. Unfortunately the language barrier stopped me from finding out why this was but when I watched him with the bees, I was instantly reminded of watching a t’ai chi practitioner. He had slow, graceful, and fluid movements. Nothing sudden, nothing jerky. I’m sure this was a deliberate and practiced way of moving, and I wonder exactly what effect it had on the bees, if any. (If any beekeepers would like to make any comment on this, I’d love to hear!)
The honey, incidentally, was also delicious. Regular consumption of this fresh honey was his second long-life secret. It was raw – straight from the hive, and not pasteurized and ‘dead’ like the honey I’m used to. Fresh honey like this a real superfood, and worth seeking out if you can get it.
3. Finally, he was keen to point out the importance of a relaxed and calm attitude. There was no doubt that he considered this a vital part of good health. When you’re relaxed, and stress-free, he said, life is easy.
And there you have it. This is not rocket science, really, it’s largely common-sense. But in that environment, the message really struck home. The contrast to the average Western life was so massive, that it really made me realise how frantic and stressed our lives are, and how un-natural, sterile and packaged our food is.
So often we look for complex answers to difficulties and health problems in our lives. But sometimes, maybe we need to go back to basics. Fresh natural fruit and veg from the garden, naturally reared pasture-fed meat, raw honey, relaxation and calm. Now we may not be able to replicate that completely, but I’m sure there’s something we can all take from the simple wisdom of a 73 year old Bulgarian…