Bernard Marszalek says the Bulgarian tradition of aylyak or unhurried conviviality is hitting the streets of Berkeley
The BBC’s Soul of the City series recently highlighted the subversive cultural heritage of the city of Plovdiv in Bulgaria. It seems that Plovdivians proudly espouse aylyak – a word not much used outside the town. Most agree it derives from a Turkish word that means “idleness”. But it may be more accurately understood as “conviviality”. One resident characterised it as desire to find time to be with friends for a morning coffee and discover that you’re still talking into lunch. Another aspect of aylyak is to search out places – a side table at a café, a park bench, or just a tree to lean against to rest and to enjoy your surroundings.
Those of us who live in dense urban environments know well this sense of a slower pace when we visit a small town or village. A most pleasant experience is to enter a café in a small town for breakfast and find the place filled with folks conversing. Some quietly, some more animated, but all leaning back in their chairs. One of the surprising consequences of the pandemic-imposed restrictions on urban social life has been public strolling. Vehicles have seemingly abandoned the streets to the pedestrians who, to social distance, have taken to them.
Here in Berkeley, where I live, the municipal authorities have resisted previous attempts to establish pedestrian streets like those one finds everywhere in Europe. Maybe now that will change.
But as another consequence of health restrictions that only allow outside dining, the City has accelerated permits for what are called “parklets”. These are parking spaces adjacent to restaurants. In a matter of only weeks this summer dozens of these American-styled terraces have appeared. And each is unique – wood, cement, stone and wrought iron; some covered for shade, others outfitted with plants and sculpture.
Without years of public agitation, numerous raucous commission meetings, and interminable city government sessions, a dense urban environment finally has an opportunity to experience aylyak.