A man, stories and a museum As a foreigner I didn ́t know anything about the character Bay Ganyo. I am sure you know him and his story if you are from Bulgaria or interested in Bulgarian culture but for the people like me, who had no idea, let me explain you the hype around Bay Ganyo. Maybe you heard about Svejk, a character that should describe the bad or funny sides of Czechs, Tartarin of Tarascon to describe the same side of French people or Ostap Bender to describe the Russians. The fictional Character Bay Ganyo is the same thing, a character considered an exemplary image of a Bulgarian anti-hero: an uneducated, ignorant, egoistic and poor villager. However, this Bulgarian character created by Bulgarian author Aleko Konstantinov was inspired by a real person! This person was Ganyo Somov a rose trader from Enina, a village near Kazanlak. These two men met at the Chicago international fair in 1893. Aleko Konstantinov, who was a lawyer, traveller and founder of organised tourism in Bulgaria, was the exact opposite of Bay Ganyo. He wore an elegant suit, but often went to bed hungry and signed his letters with “Your incorrigible idealist and altruist”.
The fictional counterpart had a short debut in Konstantinov’s travel notes To Chicago and Back about the author’s visit to the World’s Columbian Exposition in 1893. Soon afterwards he published the famous satirical short stories in a collection entitled Bay Ganyo Goes to Europe. The first ones have a comical side. One of the most remarkable incidents happens in a Viennese public bath. For nearly half an hour Bay Ganyo looks for a nail on the wall to hang up his treasure, the bag with phials of attar of roses. Then he stands naked on the edge of the pool, beats his hairy chest King Kong style, yells out “Bulgar! Bulgar!” and jumps in amongst the flabbergasted Viennese with a splash.
In the second part of the book Bay Ganyo returns to Bulgaria and his character takes on a sinister “ura”.
“You will kiss one hand,” Bay Ganyo says, “and I will kiss both hands; you will kiss the knees and I will kiss the feet; you will kiss a special place and I will kiss an even more special place.” As a woman and a
feminist in the 21 century I understand why many Bulgarians don’t want to be associated with the characteristics or the behaviour of this fictional character. Yes it ́s funny but it is also not an appropriate
behaviour. I think we need to appreciate the good sides of this character and also be okay with it to question some of his behaviour. At the end, it ́s only fiction and we should appreciate the funny side of
this character. The Bulgarians are well aware that they can never escape Bay Ganyo. So, even though they do not like him very much, they have to deal with him. Several years ago, the citizens of Kazanlak
decided to put up a monument to the literary character.
But the story is interesting till the end because of the mysterious murder of the author Konstantinov. On 11 May 1897, while travelling in a horse drawn carriage, Aleko Konstantinov was shot and killed in an ambush near the village of Radilovo. Historians believe that the real target was the other man in the carriage, politician Mihail Takev, but rumours claim that Konstantinov was assassinated by his own
fictional creation, Bay Ganyo. Ironically, sometime earlier, when asked about the happiest day in his life, Aleko Konstantinov had answered: “When I had the idea to create Bay Ganyo.”
As you can see this character and his story has many depths and shouldn to be only seen as the “bad guy”. He also represents the funny, ingenious, energetic and pragmatic side of Bulgarians.
Speaking of funny and energetic Bulgarians, Rumen Somov, a Photographer , Tatoo Artist from Kazanlak and descendant of Ganyo Somov is planning on creating a Bay Ganyo museum in Enina and we are very excited for that! He already planned things like a tree for wishes and tattooing special tattoos for luck in the museum! That would be the first museum ever to do that!