At the end of January, on what will perhaps be remembered as the coldest day of 2010, a man emerges from the high gates of the National Museum of History in Boyana, on the outskirts of Sofia; the building used by former senior Communist Party apparatchiks as a luxury reception villa. He is tall and only lightly dressed against the bitter Balkan cold, but he walks firmly on the snow, which has been turned into a skating rink by dozens of visitors' feet. He gazes at Vitosha. The view from Boyana is obviously one of the best you can get, but on this particular day the snow-capped peaks and the low clouds make it seem other-worldly. Cherni Vrah, or the Black Peak, its summit, hovers over us somewhat menacingly. "Can I go there?" he asks.
If a good beginning heralds a good ending, Bulgaria – and the American community here – should feel lucky. In just a few days James B. Warlick Jr, the new American Ambassador to Bulgaria, has managed not only to meet all the important people in government (and out of it), but also to visit some places of interest as varied as Boyana Church and The Teahouse bar on Benkovski Street, near Vagabond's editorial offices. "I enjoy walking the streets of the city by myself. I really feel comfortable here," Warlick told us a few minutes before the start of the introductory cocktail reception at the American Embassy.
James Warlick visiting the National Museum of History where he was particularly interested in the 1878-1944 section
He didn't stay at his own party very long. Later that evening he had to go to the National Palace of Culture UNICEF-sponsored charity concert in aid of the Haitian children. "It's amazing that Bulgarians want to help a country that is literally on the other side of the world, especially during a period of economic difficulty," he said. "It really tells you something of the character of a nation." The amount collected for earthquake-stricken Haiti that night was 640,000 leva.
The post in Sofia is the first of its kind for James Warlick. A graduate of Stanford University, the new American Ambassador holds a Master of Letters in Politics from Wadham College, Oxford, and a Master of Arts in Law and Diplomacy from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. His previous appointment was as Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State in the Bureau of International Organization Affairs, where he was responsible for American foreign policy at the United Nations and a number of other multilateral organisations. Before that, as Director of the Office of European Security and Political Affairs, he was responsible for politicalmilitary and security issues in Europe and the former Soviet Union. In this position he advised, among others, Paul Bremer in Baghdad.
Interestingly, as James Warlick took over the ambassador's office in Sofia, his wife, Mary, became American Ambassador to Serbia. She will be stationed in Belgrade. The Warlicks have three children.
James Warlick (right) and Public Affairs Counsellor Ken Moskowitz in front of the Boyana Church, Bulgaria's first UNESCO-listed monument
"The priorities of my predecessors were clear – defence, security, and energy. I'll take this partnership further and will try to work more closely with ordinary people. I know that now in Bulgaria there are a number of sensitive issues like health care and education. These involve citizens, human beings, and I would like to help with that," he says.
Some Bulgarian researchers consider the 13th Century Boyana murals to have revolutionised religious art many years before Giotto
"Partnership" is a word the new American Ambassador uses a lot. "I want to build relationships based on trust and on our common values – and not only with officials, but also with different personalities," Warlick says. "The way I think about a relationship is like a beautiful rug or tapestry. It's pretty, but it takes a lot of time to weave. We want a relationship of many levels and different ways – that's the same as if we were making a tapestry. It is hard to make it, but I hope that I can be a part of the weaving." Having a command of the local language is an important part of the weaving process. "Here is my book of Bulgarian verbs," Warlick points. "I want to master the language, because otherwise I will be unable to communicate with some of the people here."
"I hope I will soon travel more outside Sofia," says Warlick, "although I can't single out particular regions in Bulgaria to visit. There are many beautiful places here. Some people have told me: 'You must visit the Rhodope' or 'You have to go to the seaside and see the Black Sea.' But wherever I go I would like to get to know the country, both the good and the bad aspects of it, and help wherever I can."