there is a skating rink near the center of Sofia, just across the eagle bridge. it is about 30 meters long and ten meters wide, placed under a white tent, and contained within a pool-shaped structure with rock walls that is probably filled with water most of the year. the pool has piers that winter are completely useless and only serve the purpose of confusing the people who are trying to get down to the bottom of the pool. this occurs because people expect to find a staircase at the end of the pier and instead of that they discover a three-meter fall, at the bottom of which there is ice, sleet, sludge and other forms of snow. before you are allowed into the rink, you need to pay a fee which includes the entrance and a pair ice skates. the fee is not too high and once it is paid you can stay for as long as you want. As a result of this, there are people from all social strata –not only middle class folks, which are the customary clients attending these sorts of places in Mexico– showing up to skate. once inside, you discover that the rink is square shaped. however, people skate following an oval. the reason for this is quite obvious for anyone who has given skating a shot: it is easier to skate in a circle than to do it in a square. turning fast on a right angle is one of the most effective ways of ending up with your body on the ice (a somewhat normal occurrence in this place: it is common to see not only children, but also what seem to be experienced teenagers and adults, falling ass first on the cold surface of the rink, and then wiping the bits of ice shaved off by the blades of other skaters off their coats and pants). the skating rink of sofia seems to be a diverse place. there are children as young as six with parkas of football teams, teenagers with big metal cylinders in their earlobes, twenty something supermodel–looking bulgarian women in chanel pants, as well as the occasional post–soviet–mullet–sporting slavic–faced woman with long, pink glitter–embedded fingernails which would easily shatter into pieces if they ever touched the ice.
the user of the sofia skating rink is advised to not go fast as soon as he gets on the ice. he must follow the movements of the clockwise–advancing crowd and internalize the fact that there is no easy way to slow down once he or she has gained speed. this, of course, may pose a risk for other skaters, especially when the rink is at its busiest. however, once he feels confident enough, the user must continue to skate, for this is the only way for him to improve.
if one goes to the sofia ice rink, there are many notable things. perhaps the hot wine they sell is not the tastiest beverage this side of the Berlin wall, and perhaps the Eastern European chalga pop blasting out of the old speakers is not the most compelling soundtrack. however, something that is definitely interesting is the fact that, no matter how much you skate, it is impossible to go anywhere. the skating rink is effectively like a sort of hamster wheel, where movement is illusionary and futile. Perhaps the crowd is like a flock of birds which flies in circles, each person being a bird, singular if alone, but creating something larger than itself when put together with others. and there is something that can be done in the sofia ice rink that can put this into perspective: if one skates into the center of the rink, he will discover that the light shines strongest there, that the ice is white there whereas in other parts it is tainted by gray shadows that crawl into the lines cut by other skates. and if one stands smack in the center of the sofia ice rink, he will feel that the world is a clock that is moving around him, that the world is something that revolves around an unspoken point. and that is when, finally, one will feel, for a moment, that the sofia ice rink may be that point, that it may be the center of the universe.