Finding Er Maluk

This is an ode to er maluk (ь), the most beautifully subtle and rare letter — at least in Bulgarian — of the Cyrillic script. As your perception of its beauty is highly dependent on your operating system, web browser, and available fonts, I’ve prepared a pre-rendered sample so that you may gawk at its understated glory:

Er maluk (in the PT Sans font)
Er maluk (in the PT Sans font)

When I was learning to read and write Cyrillic a few years ago I thought this character looked simple and unique. To my dismay, it was explained as “having no sound” and “not being used very often.” Coming from a linguistic background of English, Spanish, and Swahili, I was thinking, “What the hell does that mean?

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I Love Spain (but I’m Not in Love With It)

Tiles depicting Isabel de Castilla at the Plaza de España in Sevilla, Spain
Tiles depicting Isabel de Castilla at the Plaza de España in Sevilla, Spain

In 1469 Isabella I of Castile married Ferdinand II of Aragon and set into motion a fascinating chain of events. Their marriage brought together two of the largest kingdoms on the Iberian Peninsula and this unification is seen as the basis for “Spain” as we know it today. The “Catholic Monarchs,” a title bestowed on them by Pope Alexander VI in 1494, initiated the Spanish Inquisition, defeated the last Muslim empire in Western Europe, and authorized the expedition of Christopher Columbus to the New World. Reverence — or at least reference — to these two figures is seen repeatedly in cathedrals, statues, parks, and street names, etc all over Spain.

There is more to Spain than bricks and the stories they tell, but I’ll leave that to Lonely Planet et al. Here are a few of my highlights from ten days of driving around Madrid and south-western Spain.

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Rambling Man With a Torch in Sofia

STOP!” he shouts, right as I’m about to take my money from the ATM in downtown Sofia. Alarmed, I turn around to find some bearded man standing right behind me, holding what — at first glance — looks like a gun. “Holy shit,” I think, “am I about to get jacked?

Butane torch
Butane torch (By Hustvedt [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons)

Oh wait, WTF, that’s not a gun,” I say to myself, as I remove my card from the machine. The “weapon” appears to be a large, hand-held lighter, or maybe a butane torch. “Is this guy going to burn me or something?!” I think, waiting the longest three seconds of my life for the ATM to spit out my money. Me staring, him rambling, I hear the word leva (the name of the Bulgarian currency) — maybe he’s trying to sell it to me? Worst. Salesman. Ever. I grab my money, stuff it into my pocket, and walk away quickly.

I’m still not sure if I was in danger of getting burned (for example) or if he just wanted to sell the damn thing to me. It will probably be a while before I go back to that ATM again, though!