Varna is a city in Bulgaria. The Black Sea lives here. It probably got its name from the old Turkish word Kara, which means both “black” and “north.” Because of the depth, the water in the middle of the sea does look black sometimes. Once you move out from the shores a few thousand meters, along a little shelf, the sea drops off into a fathomless abyss. It reaches the depth of around 7,300 feet at its center. It is black in another sense, too. Surrounded by countries like Bulgaria, Romania, Ukraine, Georgia, it is a sea less familiar to the West. It is, thus, the unknown sea. There’s a scale model of the entire Black Sea in a public park in Varna. You can play on it with your Bulgarian godchildren. The model is big enough that you have to use your hands to climb over the Caucus Mountains…. More…

Part of Chicago froze in the 1930s. I’ve been thinking of my old home city of Chicago a lot lately, and of my new home in Berlin. The thread that ties them together seems to be that they’re both stuck in time. In the same time. They have one foot in this chaotic contemporary period, but the other is still in the 1920s and early ’30s, each summed up as a Bob Fosse experience (Chicago and Cabaret).

The Girls of Murder City: Fame, Lust, and the Beautiful Killers Who Inspired Chicago by Douglas Perry. 320 pages. Viking Adult. $25.95.

And why not? It was a glamorous age for both. Berlin had its cabarets, Otto Dix, sex, and liquor. Chicago had its speakeasies, gangsters, and gunner girls. With what followed — rubble for one, crime and poverty for the other… More…

There comes in the life of every city an era of unsurpassed greatness. Whether it’s an aligning of the stars or simply a convergence of social pressures, cultural influences, history, and politics, the city bursts forth with great innovation, creative outpouring, and a lively sense of community. They are exciting times to live through, if you happen to be lucky enough to be there. Suddenly the world opens up and you are a part of something bigger than your own daily life. You can talk of revolution without having to use air quotes or a sarcastic tone, and riots can start over a jarring new form of music. Cities such as Bohemian New York, Weimar Berlin, Paris between the wars, pre-Revolutionary Moscow and Saint Petersburg, and pretty much every major Western city in 1968 brought into life new music, architecture, visual art, scientific advancement, and social structure. Residents watched as… More…