A guided tour of Pyongyang, the capital of North Korea. Old-fashioned hospitality in the communist D
Saturday 28 July 2018
Up past the corner of the field, where knee-high meadow grass gave way to a sheer wall of wood and ivy, a triangle of something not quite natural broke the tree-line.
The rooftop was made in the old Bulgarian style – wooden frame held together with pegs, and clay tiles shaped over the knee before being left out to harden in the sun. A few tiles were missing, but otherwise, the traditional craftsmanship held its shape.
I had to push through a tangle of thick brambles to reach it. Down in the garden, or in what I assumed had at one time been a garden, a couple of broken sheds rose above the summer growth. I didn’t even try for those, instead following the ghost of a pathway up to the front door. As I crossed the threshold, for the briefest of moments, I felt a peculiar feeling as though I ought to knock.
Inside, the building smelled of mushrooms and wet wood. It had evidently been a simple yet not unpleasant abode – the fireplace and mantel, the wooden boards that made the floor and ceiling, even the handcrafted window frames had been made to a standard almost unseen in modern dwellings; a precise attention to detail which, even in this sorry state, gave this house the distinct character of a home.
It was impossible to tell how long it had been abandoned. Nothing inside looked contemporary: the square bed featured a timeless landscape motif painted on the headboard; the glass jugs strewn by the door were wrapped in wicker covers like something out of the Middle Ages. Electrical fittings had been here once, but their absence now aided the illusion. No papers, no plastic, no symbol, sign nor fabric (other than some polyester sacks I later found in the attic) would have dated this home into the last few hundred years.
Though I suspect the house got left a lot more recently than that; the shape of the path up the garden was still just about visible. The vines, clutching at bricks and exterior pillars, had not yet made their way inside. The residents had not left long ago… but up until relatively recently they had been here, for the most part living a lifestyle long-since forgotten by most others.
An adjacent building had been a workshop, where perhaps these very beams had once been cut. Dry seams in the plaster of the fireplace showed evidence of repair and maintenance. These people had kept animals too and I wondered just how self-reliant they had been, out here in the woods, living like their ancestors even as the world around them grew and changed.
But not any more. Apparently they moved on. Or perhaps they passed away. This house they left behind could still survive, provided someone does something with it soon… but that probably won’t happen. Bulgaria seems to have more houses than people, with a population that’s decreasing every year. This old house has no power, just empty track marks in the walls where copper cables were stripped away by looters. It doesn’t even have a road to reach it.
Still, I closed the door behind me as I left; wondering how the house would look by the time it next had a guest.
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