As we enter the period historians will eventually term the End Times, it's hard to know what to expect. Established certainties fall away in these post-truth days. All we have left is the unsettling bouffant of Trump's hair, and Vlad's hand on Donald's back, guiding the way.
Lately, my thoughts have been turning increasingly to legendary dead Bulgarian mystic Baba Vanga. (Actually that's a lie. I think about Baba Vanga all the time.) What would Baba Vanga make of the depressing stain on history that 2016 has been?
If you don't know who Baba Vanga is, here's a primer. Born Vangeliya Pandeva Dimitrova in Strumica, then part of the Ottoman Empire, Vanga was a legendary clairvoyant who is said to have predicted, among other things, 9/11, the 2004 tsunami, the rise of ISIS, and global warming.
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When Vanga was alive, people would travel from all over the world to her obscure village and wait for days for a brief audience with the legendary prophetess. My favorite Vanga story: A famous Bosnian actress traveled many miles to meet with her, and Vanga was obnoxious: She turned her back to the actress and sent her away. "I do not want to speak with you," she said. "Not now. Go and come back in three months." Two months later, the actress was dead.
I'd love to tell you more stuff about Vanga, but sadly my copy of the mystic's official biography is in Bulgarian, so I can't understand a thing. Here's a picture of the biography, by the way, in case you think I'm joking.
What the Vanga biography is good for, however, is pictures. The pictures are great! There's one of Vanga, eyes closed, leaning against a wood-paneled wall and scowling while important-looking dudes drink bottles of Coke. There's another of Vanga, mouth slack, eyes closed, meeting some religious-type guy in a big hat looking for all the world like your friend who just dropped too much molly and can't support her own head. Towards the end of the book Vanga looks like a cadaver they keep wheeling out to meet dignitaries even though she'd much rather be dead, but not all the pictures are like that. There are even a couple of her smiling!
Anyway, what with Vanga being dead and all, it was proving difficult for us to get in touch with her to find out what would happen in 2017, which is a shame because I have many questions. Will Kylie Jenner finally out herself as a performance artist? Will Trump finally out himself as a performance artist? Is everyone actually a performance artist?
Luckily, Madame Vanya was on hand to help. A fellow Bulgarian-born clairvoyant, Vanya realized she had gifts after Vanga came to her in a dream. I reached out to Vanya (by email, not dream) to ask whether she couldn't do me a favor and speak to Vanga from beyond the grave and let me know what to expect. Luckily for you guys, she said yes.
Side note: I appreciate there's a certain circularity in asking a psychic to contact another dead psychic to find out what may or may not happen next year, but it's the end of a very exhausting year, so bear with me.
I head down to south London one afternoon armed with a dictaphone and a notebook, ready to communicate with a dead lady. Walking into Vanya's cosy flat that she shares with her ex-hotel manager husband Richard, my first thought is, "For a flat full of china dolls, this place is surprisingly tasteful!" My second thought is, "I don't believe in clairvoyants."
Vanya, I quickly learn, is full of legitimately great stories. Like the time she was on a Russian gameshow to find the world's best clairvoyant (Russians are extremely into this stuff—it's a post-Soviet thing). They had Vanya on a chair suspended above water, right, and she had to describe someone she couldn't see, and if they got it wrong they'd drop her into water. Anyway, not only did she describe the woman in question but she also predicted that she had cancer, which she did!
You have a new handbag, yes? Put these petals in your bag and it will bring you luck.
Sadly, Vanya is unable to tell me if the woman was still alive; I guess her clairvoyancy doesn't work that way. Anyway, Vanya is now semi-famous and she says she gets stopped by eastern Europeans while grocery shopping in the Waitrose in Canary Wharf.
"Baba [Vanga] said to me, 'Daughter, you're in this world to help people and to help people, and all the world will know about you and talk to you,'" Vanya—dressed in a floral dress with neat auburn hair, tanned fingers massed with gold jewelry—says. I find my eyes drawn to the elephant pendant she wears around her neck.
"You either believe in this sort of thing or you don't," interjects Richard inconsequentially.
After a very long chat about how Vanya met Vanga (summary: dreams of Vanga, goes to Bulgaria, gets a lift with a nice lady called Vanessa, brings Vanga some sugar, bonds, stays with her until her death), Vanya kindly gives me a present.
"These are flowers from the shrine of Marianna, a Russian Orthodox saint," Vanya explains. Cue a long story about how Vanya got the flowers blessed (summary: goes to Moscow, buys flowers, tells off flower seller for shouting in front of the flowers, finds nice policeman who lets her push in enormous queue, has flowers blessed.) Vanya wraps two rose petals in a Kleenex and hands them to me.
"You have a new handbag, yes? Put these petals in your bag and it will bring you luck," she says.
I haven't bought a new bag in about a year, but I'm also in a really small living room with a camera pointed at my face, and Vanya is such a nice lady, so I nod like a particularly dumb breed of dog.
Finally, so it's time for Vanya to communicate with Baba Vanga to get her predictions. I wasn't sure what to expect at this point—I've never visited a clairvoyant before—but something like the scene in Jumanji where the board comes to life would have sufficed.
Unfortunately, asking Vanya to speak with a dead lady is a lot like just having a normal conversation with Vanya, as far as I can tell. I considered making up some entertaining stuff here, but I don't want to do a Boris Johnson and get fired making up quotes, so here's what actually happened.
"So, I guess I want some predictions for 2017," I stammer nervously.
Vanya nods and asks me what I want to know. Is this it? I thought we'd at least hold hands or something, but we just wind up having a regular conversation like we're on a really bad date. Hesitantly, I ask the main question on everyone's lips: Will Trump be a horrific president?
Vanya stares into the middle distance like a cashier trying to figure out exactly how much to short you on your change. (Apparently this is what communing with the dead looks like.)
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"Not many people believe that Trump will be a good president," she eventually responds. "At the beginning people will be negative, but in the end he will put things in the right place and America will be very happy with him." It's not the answer I was expecting, nor does it seem remotely likely, but whatever—who am I to argue with a dead Bulgarian lady?
Also, Trump will serve two terms.
Next up: Brexit. Should we be worried? "Brexit is not a bad thing for England," Vanya responds. "It will be hard for two years and then the third year will be very good for England. We will be very strong."
It strikes me that, for a dead lady, Baba Vanga is very right-wing and reactionary and xenophobic. For example, when I ask Vanya to ask Baba about the threat from ISIS, she dismisses it and tells me that the real threat is from unchecked immigration.
"This country has to be more careful with immigrants who come from other countries," says Bulgarian-born Madame Vanya/Baba Vanga. Weirdly, Baba is extremely specific in identifying the precise parts of the UK (or England, as she persists in calling it), where Muslims are supposedly failing to integrate.
"It's Nottingham, Birmingham, North London," Vanya says, "Those are the places that the special police need to concentrate on."
At this point I start scanning the room for copies of the Daily Mail, but all I can see are those infernal china dolls. Is this Vanya or Vanga talking? Revisiting my biography of Vanga later in the day, I notice that everyone in the book is white (to be fair, the book's in black and white so it's hard to tell.) Maybe it is Vanga talking, after all. Could it be that Vanga, beloved baba of Eastern Europe, really is a racist?
I ask about how things will be for women particularly in 2017. "Things, the salary, will be equal," she says. Some good news for 2017—no more gender pay gap, ladies. Next up: aliens. "Are we going to find aliens or be contacted by aliens in 2017?" I ask.
Things get confusing here, so I'm just going to reproduce exactly what Vanya said word-for-word.
"Yes, because I saw them and the day when I saw Vanga, she said, 'Where are your aliens?' I look at her and I say, 'You're blind but how can you see them?' She said, 'I don't need eyes to see these things.'"
Obviously, we need to watch out for the little green men in 2017. If you're wondering what they look like: "They were three-eyed and mine is that high," Vanya says, raising her arm about a meter from the floor. "And no, they are not dangerous," she adds, expecting my next question.
I have lots more questions I want to ask Vanya, like, "When exactly will the world end—can you give me a precise date?" and "How should we prepare for the impending collapse of Western civilization?" and "Will 2017 be the year of Larry?" but the alien chat's kind of unnerving me and the dolls are looking at me and I want to get out of there, so I wrap it up.
I leave Vanya's with a handful of blessed petals, a stone that will apparently help with my mother's chest pains, and a deep, inexorable confidence that next year's going to the best one ever. Thanks, Baba Vanga, you blind, xenophobic crone. If you're reading this from beyond the grave, please don't curse me.