Family & Early Life

Depending on the acceptance of the old or the new Orthodox calendar, Petar Ouvaliev was born in Sofia on 30th December 1914 or on 12th January 1915, first child of Hristo Ouvaliev and Guina Zdravkova.

The parents built and lived in a house on Ulitza Karnigradska (now demolished and replaced – at No. 1 – by an apartment block) with, as Petar always loved to recall, their own cow in the garden to ensure fresh milk for the children. Petar had now acquired a sister, Teodora – afterwards more commonly called ‘Dora’. The house was covered in wisteria and proved a meeting place for many of the intellectuals of the time.

Both children, Petar and Dora, were early exposed to an open and international world culture and, as a result of their parents’ language abilities and beliefs, were enrolled first in Italophone educational establishments: Petar in Italian Primary (Alessandro Manzoni), to be followed by French; Dora Italian Primary and Secondary in Sofia. In an article written in 1949 for the Italian review Film, their London correspondent Pierre Rouve wrote:

It was 1921 and my father – who had only one fault, but a huge one: he was wholeheartedly European – said to my mother: ‘We’ll need to send this son of ours to an Italian school. If one day he’ll want to be a cultured person, he’ll need to start by speaking Italian. Thus it was that I found myself the only foreigner in a small Italian school in a pretty small Balkan capital and, if I haven’t quite succeeded in becoming what my father would have wished, it is entirely my fault.

After the Italian primary school, where he gained a thorough, fluent and lasting knowledge of and competence in the language (and for which we can be sure that his father was proud of him!) Petar Ouvaliev was sent, for his secondary schooling, to the Augustinian Brothers’ “French College” in Plovdiv (whose building now forms part of the Paissi Hilendarski University and where I, while attending a recent meeting of a European programme group, had the very strange, even eery, experience of sitting at a table in what would have been the boys’ dormitory...). There the uniform, the programme and the discipline were strict: often minor infringements of, for example, the uniform code would meet with punishment, usually detention.

By this time Petar Ouvaliev was developing a passionate interest in plays and musicals. Whereas other boys, he recalled, would be kept in for punishment on a sports afternoon, the Brothers very cleverly taught him a lesson by keeping him in on Saturdays, the day when he would otherwise have returned to Sofia for the weekend and, of course, gone to the theatre! His early youthful passions for Mimi Balkanska and, later, for Rouzha Delcheva and their performances led to an improvement in his behaviour in school!

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