Village Life, an Attack, a New Book

P1040464We’ve had about a foot of snow on the ground for the past few weeks. Power and Internet were out for two or three days, which provided a respite from all the buzz. Here in the village the snow is clean and muffles all sound. We hear no traffic from the nearby road. During the day we hear the bleating of a few goats, dogs barking, the neighbor’s turkeys gobbling. Outside at night we hear only the soft wings of the owl that lives in the barn, howls of the jackals and wolves down from the hills, and if you listen carefully snowflakes settling to earth. Inside there’s only the crackle of our wood fire, and Dinah Washington singing, ‘What A Difference A Day Makes.’

Angel FountainOn New Year’s eve we walked down the lane breaking through fresh snow, the scent of woodsmoke in the still air, a million million stars in the clear night sky, to dinner at a friend’s home. There were a dozen other expats, all Brits, save one German. At midnight we all linked hands and sang, Auld Lang Syne. I admit to tears, too many absent friends.

Today was Ivan’s name day, not birthday, but the day the Eastern church celebrates the saint for whom he was named. Byzantium still lingers in these parts. Even though Ivan’s English isn’t much better than my Bulgarian, which is almost nonexistent, we’ve become good friends during our visits here. Ivan’s one of those guys who can do anything, cook a tasty meal, build a house, dance all night with the ladies, all of whom seem to love him – handsome fellow with craggy features and a thick mustache. Ivan was in the Soviet Army about the same time I was in the U.S. Army, Cold War Era. We’ve talked about how, if things had gone differently, we could have faced each other over rifle sights rather than a glass of wine. This awareness deepened our friendship. There are certain things only soldiers can understand.


Ivan invited us and a couple of other friends for lunch to celebrate his name day. Ivan makes his own wine, which is quite good. Gamay grapes I think. He also makes his own rakia – brandy -which is very smooth, sneaks up on you and make the knees of the unwary go wobbly. Ivan’s cellar is filled with barrels of pickled cabbages and cucumbers, and jars of plums, peaches, green beans and other vegetables. All of which he grew and canned himself. His neighbors have a few chickens, goats, sheep, pigs, from which come eggs, milk, and meat. Ivan is always busy, doing work he appears to enjoy. Folks who are interested in off grid living and sustainability could learn much here.

Lunch was excellent: fresh hot baked bread, three salads, potatoes, roast pork, and cheesecake, along with wine, rakia, and a drink Ivan made by decanting a jar of his peaches, adding some water and blending it – a Bulgarian village smoothie. Events such as this are leisurely affairs, with time for conversation between courses, a glass of wine, a bite or two of this or that, the hours pass, the line between work and relaxation clearly marked. There is a way of life here that I feel lucky to witness, to be a small part of. I think it’s fading fast.

I was attacked by a dog pack in a village lane last week. I was alone, friends inside our high-walled compound. It could have gotten ugly, but I had a stick and was able to fight them off. Fortunately, these were only ill tempered village dogs, not the feral dogs that sometimes interbreed with jackals. Feral packs, part jackal or not, are a danger in the Balkans, even in the cities. Sofia alone is estimated to have over 10,000 stray dogs. Some pack up and go feral. Maulings are not unusual. Feral dog packs killed three people during the last couple of years in Sofia, one of them a visiting American. Life here might not be for the faint of heart, but it is rewarding in ways that might be difficult to understand from the air-conditioned comfort of a suburban home.

Our new book, Essential Survival Gear (written by me, photos by ML) has just been released. Sorry folks, no camo or automatic weapons, just simple, minimal gear and how to use it, with a few stories to illustrate certain points, stories that I hope are entertaining.

Essential Survival Gear

This book explains how I (now we) have been able to travel the world for decades with only a small bag and be prepared for anything anytime: wilderness, disaster zones, a fashion show in Paris, dinner in Hong Kong, Istanbul, or Rome. And how you can do the same, or stay at home enjoying life and be prepared for disaster without getting into survivalist silliness.

Ivan’s way of life is one example of preparedness. There are others. Our friends in the Le Marche region of Italy buy in bulk and will typically have on hand 40-pound bags of rice and wheat flour, 20-pound bags of white and lima beans, and large cartons of pasta. There’s always at least one whole prosciutto (dried ham) and various dry salamis and sausages; a large wheel of dry Romano or Parmesan cheese; a 20-pound tub of olives; strings of garlic; bins of potatoes, carrots, turnips, onions, and apples; large cans of tomatoes; and gallon jugs of olive oil. Ten-liter, straw-sheathed, green glass jugs of red and white wine come from the local co-op. In France, in addition to flour and other staples, it’s pâtés and terrines of goose, duck, and pork, which keep for months. Even city apartments have space to store dry and canned foodstuffs. During the years we were raising a family and maintaining a home in a large city, we always had on hand a supply of staples that would last for a month or so and a few weeks supply of bottled water. Simple prudence really.

In this book I explain in detail the four layer system which consists of:

1. Your clothing and what’s in your pockets
2. A ready bag small enough to always be with you, a purse or briefcase for example
3. A small, light, rucksack
4. Home base, which is for most of us a house or apartment in an urban or suburban area

Equally important as this minimal gear are the lessons on how to use it, and, building on one of my previous books, The Tao of Survival, survivor’s mindset. Publisher’s like the word ‘survival.’ It’s currently a hot button. From my perspective, what I write about is life and living.

Essential Survival Gear: A Pro’s Guide to Your Most Practical and Portable Survival Kit

Tao of Survival: Skills to Keep You Alive

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18 Responses to Village Life, an Attack, a New Book

  1. Nancy Agustin says:

    Hi James: Freya Barrington recommended you highly. I just now started following you. Can’t wait to read your masterpieces.

    • James Morgan Ayres says:

      Hi Nancy,

      Thank your for your comment. I don’t know about ‘masterpieces,’ but I do the best I can.

      Be well,


  2. Karen says:

    Love seeing our life here through others eyes.
    This was a lovely read (apart from the dogs..)
    Thank you James

    • James Morgan Ayres says:

      Thank you for your kind comment Karen. The dogs are just part of life here too, not nearly so troublesome as Los Angeles traffic.

  3. Lorenzo Ybarra says:

    Hello, Jim ,

    Thanks for the update. I felt I was right there. Your writings always seem to be those of an accomplished best seller.

    I am glad to hear you are in Bulgaria–a place I enjoyed very much while visiting you. I would like to visit it again. Please say hello to my friends there.

    Masako and Scott are visiting me here in Los Angeles. We read your material together.

    Best wishes to you and ML.


    • James Morgan Ayres says:

      Hello Lorenzo,

      Thanks for your comments. Glad you enjoyed the piece. Still waiting for best seller status. Your friends here also say hello and ask when you’re returning.

      Say Hello to Scott and Masako for me.

      Be well,


  4. mlr4443 says:

    Great piece Jim. Sorry to hear about those dogs but the rest sounds wonderful. Miss you both!

    • James Morgan Ayres says:

      Thanks Art. No worries about the dogs, just a little exercise, gets the blood circulating. We miss you folks too. Would love to see you here.

  5. Robin Munson says:

    Hi Jim,
    Love the description of the quiet beauty of the village, and especially, the snowfall. Wish we could be magically transported there! I am so sorry to hear of the dog attack, but so glad you were able to fend them off. Yikes! Congratulations on the new book — Just bought our copy!

    • James Morgan Ayres says:

      Hi Robin,

      Thanks for your comments, and for ordering my new book. It is very beautiful here in all seasons, and you can be magically transported here. Just go to the airport and…:-) The dog attack was the first time in all of our visits here we’ve had any kind of problem, and really, that was a minor one.

      Love to all,


  6. Jim Morris says:

    We miss you guys, but I always enjoy the Sojourner’s Journal.

  7. Carl Totton says:

    Dear James,
    Thanks for your always interesting life adventures. You make many of the rest of us look boring in comparison! Glad you had and k new how to use a stick for the dogs! They can do a lot of damage if you don’t know how. In many areas, one should always have a walking stick for this and other reasons.

    Thanks again for the bird’s eye view of life on the wing. Also, I’ve ordered your book, I’m sure it will be just as essential as your others! Carl T.

    • James Morgan Ayres says:

      Hello Sifu,

      Thanks for your comments, and your confidence in ordering my new book. As to the dogs, yes, I’m glad I took those stick and cane classes, but I was also lucky. I was able to get my back to a wall so the pack couldn’t get behind me as the alpha was coming in direct. That’s how a pack always operates. If that wall hadn’t been there it could have turned out differently.

      Other than the once in a blue moon problem this is a very nice place. You might want to visit one day.

      Be well,


  8. Johnny Hogue says:

    Jim, As usual, your words left me breathless and it seemed I was walking alongside you in the village. I felt the bone chilling cold and did not like it but could easily conjure the image of your visit to Ivan and friends, a warm feast, the light-headed feeling of the wine, and the warmth of the fire.

    Do the villagers there practice organic (aka original) gardening or are they now using pesticides and herbicides? In our village in Turkey, all the villagers have gone the “cidal” route.

    Thank you for sharing these moments. You are gifted to have such memories.


    • James Morgan Ayres says:

      Thanks for your kind comments Johnny. Agribusiness here uses all the nasty herbicides and pesticides. Most of the villagers do not, simply because they can’t afford them. Also, there is growing awareness and more small farmers who are going organic.

  9. Kathy says:

    James I loved this piece and felt I was right there with you, ML and Ivan, sharing all that hospitality and good food and wine. Wobbly knees? Surely not 🙂 awful to hear of the dog pack, and good that you can bring it to our attention. Loved the snow scenes and next time will listen carefully for the sound of those flakes falling. May I wish you and ML all the very best of success in your new book, which I am off to order right now!

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