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After visiting Florida, Mississippi and Louisiana, the next top destination on my list was Texas. I must say, I love the Sudurn (that’s how you pronounce Southern, right?) culture! People are relaxed and negligee. They stroll instead of rush, look at you in the eye when you pass each other in the street, and are keen on starting and carrying on a conversation with strangers.
What made the strongest impression on me in San Antonio is the abundance of the Texas flag. I have been to many American states but have never before seen such evident display of state pride. Actually, I don’t think I even know what the rest of the state flags look like, other than the Massachusetts one (Massachusetts is probably the only other place where I’ve noticed similar state-patriotism).
You can sense the Texas pride not only from the profusion of lone-star merchandise in the souvenir shops or the ambiance in touristy restaurants; it’s also in the decoration in public places, the flags on many of the private houses, and the way people dress. Yes, everything about the cowboy hats, big buckle belts and the string-like bolo ties is true. It’s as if Texas has its own culture, which is of course influenced by the American and the Mexican culture, but also has its unique features (read my post about the Tejano culture). That’s why the cuisine is predominantly Mexican and you can freely communicate with almost anyone in Spanish (this reminded me of my vacation in Miami).
I was even a little bit surprised at how many times I saw the Texan flag next to the American flag or even the former taking precedence over the latter. It didn’t exactly become clear to me whether they two were like the two sides of one coin or if they were juxtaposed.
In Texas, I also became aware that each state has its own nickname, license plate, motto, animal, plant, etc. For example, Texas is the Lone Star State, Massachusetts is the Bay State, Florida – The Sunshine State, California – the Golden State, New York – the Empire State, etc.
Regional Pride in Bulgaria
We do have regional pride in Bulgaria, but our regions are cultural rather than administrative, and are in no way semi-autonomous like the American states. There are no such things are regional flags, mottos, or license plates. However, regions are defined by their folklore. Basically our mountains shape the Seven Folklore Regions of Bulgaria.
Counterclockwise from West to East, they are: the Shopski region (around Sofia), the Pirin region (around Blagoevgrad and Melnik), the Rhodope region (around Shiroka Luka and Smolyan), the Thracia region (around Plovidv, Kazanluk and the Rose Valley), Strandjanski region (around Burgas), Dobrudjanski region (around Dobrudja and Varna), and the northern Severnyashki region (around Veliko Turnovo and the Danube river).
National costumes, musical rhythm and dances have some major differences in each of these parts of the country. Other than that, we have some unspoken opinions about the characters of people in each region. My mother is from the Shopski region and my father is from the Pirinski (also known as the Macedonian region), and people say that this is a dangerous combination!
- Spent a semester studying and interning in London
- Jumped off a 10 meter rock into the sea at the North Pembrokshire coastline, Wales, UK
- Traveled A LOT: Visited Stonehenge, Manchester, Oxford, Brighton, Bristol, Bath, Brussels, Milano, New Orleans, LA, Miami, FL and San Antonio, TX for the first time
- Participated in a swimming competition and earned three ribbons
- Put Bulgaria on the rout of a girl’s trip around the world and spent 10 days roadtripping with her. Brought two other American girls to Bulgaria and left them with amazing memories
- Went to the International Bagpipe Festival in Gela, Rhodope Mountain and danced horo with hundreds of people in the open
- Windsurfed and kayaked off the coast of Sozopol at the Black Sea, Bulgaria
- Spent an entire night, from sunset to sunrise, dancing on the beach under Armin Van Buuren’s techno beat in Sunny Beach, Bulgaria
- Went to a Joe Cocker and to a Sting live concert in Sofia (Sting for the second time , saw Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar in a replica of the Globe, Aida in the London Opera, Cirque du Soleil in the Royal Albert Hall (the fourth show I’ve seen by them), and a Celtics game in Boston’s TD Garden
- Rode a horse on the beach, danced at a country bar with a cowboy hat on, rode a motorbike, and shot a rifle in Texas
- Saw the beginning of the building of the family winery
- Made some great new friendships all over the world
Happy New 2012! May it be better than 2011!
Happy Holidays, Dear Friends!
I’m back at home in Sofia for the winter vacation and just celebrated a lovely Christmas Eve with my family!
I wish you to always reunite with your loved ones on such special occasions! I wish you and your families love, good health, joy, and success!
Today I have selected my favorite Bulgarian winter and Christmas children’s songs. Enjoy!
Click here to read my description of the Bulgarian Christmas Eve Dinner. I’d love to hear about your celebrations!
“Santa Claus is Clattering in His Red Boots”
“The Puppy Sharo and the First Snow” – it’s about the puppy Sharo who is looking out the window and sees, in utter dismay, snow for the first time!
“Over the Quiet Hills” – a village is nestled in the snowy hills of a mountain and quietly watches the flight of a Santa’s sleigh.
Today, December 6th, is one of the bigger holidays in Bulgaria: Nikylden, or the Day of St. Nikola Mirlikiiski, or St. Nikola the Miracle-Maker. St. Nikola is the guardian of fishermen, sailors, travelers, tradesmen, and bankers (Who can tell me what the connection between them is ?). Nikola was a historical figure born in 270 BC in Patara (today in Turkey). Legend says he inherited a great fortune from his father but gave it all away to those in need. The saint also performed many miracles that delivered sailors and fishermen safely from sea tempests. According to another legend, he plugged a hole in a ship with a carp fish and thus saved it from sinking!
Nikylden is more than a religious day for the Orthodox Christians; it is also a nameday for all bearers of the name Nikola, Nick, Nikoleta, Kolio, Nikolai, Nicholas, etc; actually, most Bulgarian families celebrate the holiday even if they don’t have a Nick in the family.
St. Nikola is also associated with the sea, ocean, rivers, and lakes, and in this sense is similar to the Greek god Poseidon (called Neptune in Roman mythology). Germanic nations also celebrate St. Nicholas’ day, although slightly differently, and even associate this saint with Santa Claus.
In Bulgaria, we eat fish on December 6th – preferably fish with scales like carp or sheat-fish because “naked” fish without scales symbolized poverty. We bake the fish whole and stuff it with walnuts (check out a few typical Bulgarian Nikylden recipes here).
To me and my family, the Nikylden feast is the equivalent of a Thanksgiving Feast because my father is called Nikola and he is a “tradesman”. This means that my house is always full of guests on this day!
Traditionally, you don’t send official invitations for your nameday: you are supposed to prepare a big meal and expect your closest people to show up for dinner by themselves. So you basically never know who is showing up until they do, but you expect your closest relatives, godparents, best man and woman, and good neighbors to pay a visit. They might bring flowers, alcohol, and other presents. Don’t expect them to leave before 2am.
The table is, naturally, very festive! In addition to the stuffed carp, my mother also prepares salmon, shark, scard fish and turbot (eh, probably not all of them every time!). We have a variety of salads and other yummy dishes and lots of wine – Villa Melnik of course!
I’m so angry I missed it again this year, but HAPPY NIKYLDEN, DAD!
Namedays are very big in Bulgaria, maybe even bigger than birthdays. There are less presents for the person celebrating but more of a communal feel since this day is not a personal celebration, but a celebration of all people who bear the same name, of the saint, and of all the virtues that the saint represents. I love my name, Militza, because it is the name of my great-grandmother and is very rare, but I’ve always been jealous that it is too rare to have a saint or a nameday associated with it! Oh well, I just get to celebrate my birthday and half-birthday!
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It’s not easy to be an international student in the States on Thanksgiving. They kick you out of the dorm for 5 days, all of your friends scatter to their respective places of origin, and you have to be very creative in finding what to do.
My strategy has been to try to be as traditional American as possible in order to experience the culture. Funny how that turned out!
Thanksgiving 2008: Three-and-two-halves Bulgarians and one turkey
The Grosse family was so kind to invite me and two other Bulgarians to their home in New Jersey over the Thanksgiving break. The Grosses used to live in Bulgaria and their daughters, the two half-Bulgarians as I like to call them, went to my high school in Sofia. So in 2008, they got together me and two other girls from that school who currently go to college on the East Coast. For dinner, we had all the ingredients of an American Thanksgiving Feast, but prepared the German way – potato dumplings, sauerkraut (German red cabbage), turkey breast (without stuffing), mama Grosse’s secret saus, all sorts of delicious German pastry (with strudels instead of pies), and of course, Bulgarian Red Wine Tcherga. My cultural experience was further enriched with Black Friday shopping in the Short Hills Mall.
Thanksgiving 2009: Disney World, Orlando
Another not-so -typical holiday, I guess. Timmy and I went to Orlando, FL, where we spent the day riding on roller coasters, trying to get out of haunted houses, and spinning on all sorts of carousels. We saw a mini-city made up entirely of Christmas Lights, but didn’t really experience anything particularly Thanksgiving-ly other than the roasted turkey leg on the bone that Timmy and I devoured.
Thanksgiving 2010: Plymouth, It Can’t Get More American Than That
Now this was the epitome of Thanksgiving! We were in Plymouth, MA, where the Mayflower dropped anchor. We saw the Plymouth rock, which marks the symbolical spot where the pilgrims landed and the “Plimoth Plantation”, which is a living history museum. At the Plantation, we visited a 17th century English village that recreates the way the pilgrims lived. There are costumed actors who have adopted the roles of actual historical figures and pretend that it is still 1627. So when I told them that I am from Bulgaria, they asked me how things were in the Ottoman Empire! Their historical knowledge was impressive! The other part of the Plantation is the Wampanoag Homesite where you can meet real Native People and talk to them about their culture and history from a modern perspective. Finally, I had a very American, very lovely Thanksgiving lunch with Timmy’s family : with a house full of bubbly relatives, mountains of food, and football! Exactly as Thanksgivign should be!
Read more about my meeting with Timmy’s family here.
Thanksgiving 2011: The Middle Eastern Version
My roommates and I organized a pretty interesting semi-traditional feast for our friends. (Actually, Emma, who started preparing the turkey three days earlier and woke up at 7am to start cooking that day, should get all the credit. I simply decorated the living room with real fallen leaves, but then it ended up in vain because our oven exploded the night before and we eventually had to move the party to a different apartment, the so-called “Arabs’ place”.) So, Emma ended up cooking for 30 people, most of whom were… Arabs! She invited all of us to hold hands and say what each of us is grateful for. Then we all sat down on the floor, Americans, Pakistani, Saudi, Bulgarian, German, and Chinese (in front of the American and Saudi Arabian flag?!), and had the most international Thanksgiving dinner so far!
So I am pretty sure that I now fully grasp the meaning of Thanksgiving! This holiday is about bringing people together and allowing them to share a beautiful experience like one big family! Cheers!
1. Spent the weekend evenings at the open-air jazz festival, A to JazZ, which presented the history of jazz: from its birth in Mississippi in the beginning of the 19th century, past the influence of swing and bebop, and until the music of the iconic Frank Sinatra and his interpretation of the American Dream. The event was organized by America For Bulgaria Foundation and took place in Doktorska Gradinka (Doctors’ Garden).
2. Went shopping in an American-style mall, where I tried on a pair of Levi’s and checked out which Hollywood movies were playing in the cinema.
4. Tweeted and Facebooked my Fourth of July greetings through my smartphone.
Yep, no all-American cookouts in the back yard, bonfires at the beach, or fireworks over the Charles River this year. The fourth of July was just a normal summer Monday here in Sofia, without any sign of stars or stripes. It’s such a pest that I’m always in the “other” country during big holidays!
Happy Fourth of July!
Read about my 4th July 2010 in Boston
Bailey and Maura, the two American friends who visited me in Bulgaria for a couple of days, left today. I always invite my classmates from Boston University to come visit, but actually having two of them at home was even more thrilling than I had imagined!
I took Bailey and Maura around Sofia, then south through Sandanski – a city famous for its hot mineral springs and spa centers, the Rhozen monastery, and Melnik – the wine capital of Bulgaria. We entered Greece through Kulata and visited Thessaloniki – the second biggest Greek city. After that we stopped at the port Kavala and then entered Bulgaria through Kato Nevrokopi. We finally spent some time in the ski resort Bansko before heading back to Sofia.
I tried to show the girls a good variety of everything you can find in Bulgaria – beautiful mountains, traditional architecture, good food and wine, clubbing and bars in the capital, as well as the Greek ancient monuments. I tired to explain to them the political and economic realities of the Balkan countries and their role in the EU. I also told them more about our interconnected history and culture and taught them how to read the Cyrillic alphabet (click to read my post about it).
The word the girls used to describe Bulgaria was “different”. Their reaction and this word demonstrated to me that they really understood what they saw, and indicated to me that I had succeeded in presenting my country objectively.
Bailey and Maura understood that Bulgaria and Eastern Europe are “different” because they are not as orderly or settled as England or the States. There is always something bittersweet about the scenery. From the ornamented neo-classical buildings with the unattractive graffiti on the walls in the capital to the picturesque green fields and mountains with the weather-beaten pothole-filled roads, nothing in my country is only black or only white.
Especially our congested cities where shopping malls sprout even where there is no planned streets or parking spots create the feeling of misbalance that is so typical for most of Eastern Europe. Still, our lives do not lack in any convenience or sign of modernity, and our dynamic lifestyles revolve around universal priorities such as family, fun, work, and nature. We can at the same time shock and charm foreigners. That’s why I think that “different” is a very good way to describe us.
Read more about our Bulgaria Trip:
Bulgarians are denominated as Greek Orthodox Christians, so we celebrate Christmas Eve on December 24th. (In contrast, other Orthodox countries like Russia, Georgia, Ukraine*, Macedonia, Montenegro, and Serbia follow the tradition of the Russian Orthodox Church and celebrate Christmas Eve on January 6th and Christmas on Jan 7th). It is a very private holiday, and is always celebrated by the (closest or extended) family at home.
On the morning of December 24th , my mother and I clean the entire house early and start preparing the meals. We are supposed to have fasted for the past forty days, but none of us is that religious or, as a matter of fact, that strong-willed. But even though we don’t fast, we always make sure that the Christmas Eve dinner is free of meat, cheese, butter, etc.
According to the custom, we prepare an odd number of meals. Scroll down to learn more about each one.
We all sit around the table, and my father (or the oldest person at the table) reads the prayer. Then he breaks up the pitka, a special bread that my mother makes from flour, salt, water, and yeast only. The first piece is for the Mother of God and Her Son. The second one is for the house, and after that dad distributes the rest of the bread to the four of us. Then we look for the hidden coin in the bread, which would bring good luck and prosperity to whoever finds it! This year, the coin was in my father’s piece, which is ok because it takes the pressure off me and my brother!
In addition to the bread, we have bobena chorba (bean soup), zelevi sarmi (rice stuffed in sour cabbage leaves), kolacheta (donut-shaped bread), two types of tikvenik (pumpkin banitza), oshav (fruit compote), and fresh fruit. We drink red wine (yes, even my seventeen-year-old brother, Viva Europe!). All the meals should remain on the table throughout the night, so that the good luck does not leave our house.
My family exchanges presents before or after dinner. I guess we just don’t have the patience to wait until Christmas Day morning like Americans do. In the past, my mom would make me and my brother walk the dog. Then as we come back in, she would tell us we just missed Santa by a few minutes, and we would rush toward the Christmas tree.
We do decorate Christmas trees and we do have Santa in Bulgaria. The older generation actually knew the Soviet version of Santa Claus, Diado Mraz (Grandpa Frost). Diado Mraz is very similar to Santa with the only exception that he is usually accompanied by his daughter, Snezhanka (SnowWhite) and brings us presents on New Year’s Eve.
We then spend the rest of Christmas Eve watching movies or Christmas concerts on TV or playing games. It truly is our most favorite family holiday!
“I’m really sorry. My family is crazy,” Timmy said.
In the grandparents’ cozy dining room, around the festive table, Timmy’s gregarious family members and I were celebrating my first real Thanksgiving, Irish style. In the beginning, there was a big fuss about who is sitting where because no one wanted to sit next to the two left-handed people; no one wanted to get elbowed from the left. The merrymaking continued throughout dinner, and the most cheerful giggling came from Timmy’s mom and her twin sister’s corner. Next to me, his other aunt was teasing her son, a second-year frat-boy, about his older Latina girlfriend. This aunt also said that I don’t have to eat Timmy’s mom’s jelly if I don’t like it, and instead passed me her own tomato and pesto stuffing.
Meanwhile, the twin and her husband started arguing about their year of marriage. When it turned out that she was wrong, she lovingly nagged him about his Southern accent. In the other side of the table, Tim’s mom was asking if we could please take a bite from a dish that her colleague at work had made, so that she could at least say that we tried it. As a good son, Timmy was trying from everything… several times: the sweet potato casserole, the cranberry jelly, the stuffed baked clams, and of course the mouthwatering turkey.
At one point, his dad tried to cut the family’s volume in order to hear Timmy’s sister’s greetings from California over the phone’s loudspeaker. In order to send a picture to the cousins who couldn’t make it this year, the grandmother instructed us to pose in front of the camera. We ended up having to take six or seven shots because she kept telling Timmy to put on a normal face. Then everyone praised the grandmother’s special apple pie, and the grandfather proudly pointed out all her handicraft on the walls and shelves. Then In the end, everyone asked her for a different digestive: various teas, coffees, mint candy, and brandy. Timmy’s mom blamed him of being an alcoholic for asking for brandy.
“Every family is a little bit crazy,” was my response.
Thank you for a charmingly crazy Thanksgiving!
Pop diva Katy Perry launched her debut fragrance, Purr, in early November. The perfume is sold at Nordstrom for $45 for 50 ml and $65 for 100 ml. The Nordstrom description reads:
“Purr by Katy Perry begins with the aroma of peach nectar and forbidden apple, evolves with a distinct floral bouquet of jasmine blossom, Bulgarian rose and vanilla orchid, and slowly reveals accents of creamy sandalwood and musk. Like the singer herself, Purr is playful yet sophisticated. Katy Perry transcends barriers with her music—so does her new fragrance.”
Let me tell you more about the legendary Bulgarian rose.
There is a place in Bulgaria, between the Balkan Mountain Range (Stara Planina) from North and Sredna Gora Mountain on the South and Stryama River to the West and Tundzha River to the East, called the Valley of Roses (Rozova Dolina). For centuries, people here have cultivated the Kazanlak Rose and extracted its valuable Rose Oil.
The scientific name of the Kazanlak rose, named after the major town in the Valley of Roses, Kazanlak, is Rosa Damascena. It has very small but very fragrant pink and pink-red flowers. From its petals, we produce the world-renown Bulgarian Rose Oil, also known as Rose Otto or Rose Attar.
It takes about 3000-3500 kilograms of rose petals to produce 1 kilogram of rose oil, which in turn costs about $7,000. In the past, the price of rose oil almost reached that of gold, so to Bulgarians, Rose Otto is “the liquid gold.”
Bulgaria is the largest producer of rose oil in the world. Other top producers are Turkey, Morocco, Iran, France, and Italy. The rose oil is widely used in the perfume, cosmetics and pharmaceutical industries (Read more about Rose Oil Info and Uses). Some of the perfume brands that use rose oil as their essential ingredient are Dior, Givenchy, Kenzo, Gucci, and Nina Ricci, but undoubtedly the most famous perfume containing Bulgarian Rose is Chanel No.5. The oil is contained even in the most expensive perfume in the world, Imperial Majesty by Clive Christian, which sells for about $300,000 per 500 ml bottle.
Rose oil production is very labor intensive and requires great expertise. The petal-picking season lasts only 20 days in a year. To preserve the best qualities of the petals, the rose-pickers, traditionally young girls, have to gently pick the blossoms one by one early in the morning, before the rising sun evaporates the dew from the petals. Naturally, the rose-picking season is an occasion for celebration.
The Festival of the Rose (read more) takes place in the beginning of June in Kazanlak since 1903. Some of the highlights include the beauty contest “Queen of the Roses,” the rose-picking ceremony in traditional folk costumes, and the parade with folk music and dance, masked kukeri (read my post on the kukeri carnival), and traditional art. The rose festival in Kazanlak is a true celebration of beauty!
Did you read my post on the Festival of the National Costume in Zheravna?
Reason: To them, it’s a crazy, senseless masquerade and just another reason for girls to dress slutty and for guys to drink beer… where did they get that idea from?
2. Persuade American friends to visit Salem, MA (origin of the witch hysteria) for Halloween – FAIL
Reason: Not worth the effort, especially since there are plenty of frat parties around
3. Buy a costume from costume store (Garment District in Cambridge, MA) on Oct.30th– FAIL
Reason: Everything is too expensive ($100 for an Avatar blue latex costume)
4. Make my costume/make-up myself – QUESTIONABLE
Reason: No one was sure if I was a ventriloquist doll, an harlequin, a big baby, or an outright clown… oh well…
Reason: The tight mob was pressing at the doors of the club, the bouncers were taking their sweet time letting people in although the club itself was empty, guys were climbing on top of parked cars in order to cut in line, and a girl had a stroke of panic because she was pushed around and almost suffocated
6. See a costume competition in a club – QUESTIONABLE
Reason: It turns out, being creative or funny in your costume choice so last-year. Being Katy Perry in her whipped-cream-bra-and-blue-wig costume or Lady GaGa in her swimsuit-like costumes is in!
7. Watching the Boston Halloween Bike Ride – SUCCESS!
Reason: I watched at least a hundred enthusiasts who had dressed up themselves and their bikes coming from Cambridge, through Boston, and down Brookline. Next year, I’m in with you!
8. Eat candy/drink pumpkin spice latte – SUCCESS
… the things we do to avoid getting “tricked”
If you want to see some really scary and beautiful costumes, take a look at my previous blog entry about the traditional Bulgarian monster costumes kukeri, compared to some beautiful carnival costumes from the Bahamas.
Today is a national holiday celebrating the Unification of Bulgaria. On September 6th, The Principality of Bulgaria (Княжество България) and Eastern Rumelia (Източна Румелия) were unified into а common state.
The Congress of Berlin in 1878 put an end on the Russo-Turkish War and resurrected Bulgaria after almost 500 years of Ottoman yoke. It divided Bulgaria into an independent state, the Principality of Bulgaria, stretching from the Balkan mountain range to the Danube, and an autonomous state within the Ottoman Empire, Eastern Rumelia, an area between Rila, Rhodopi and the Balkan. The third part of Bulgaria, the region Macedonia, remained entirely in the Ottoman Empire. The reason for this separation was that Great Britain and Austria-Hungary feared restoring Bulgaria to its previous huge territories and providing its new ally, Russia, with too much influence.
Naturally, the Bulgarians were not happy with the new arrangement. Their strive for unity after the decay of the Ottoman Empire became part of the Eastern Question.
In 1880, the Bulgarian Secret Central Revolutionary Committee was created, and its main task was to unify the Principality and Eastern Rumelia at first and then to aid the unification with Macedonia. BSCRC’s leader was Zahari Stoyanov. The Bulgarian Kniyaz (prince) Alexander I Battenberg himself was patron of the movement.
September of 1885 was marked with riots in Eastern Rumelia, the most famous of which is the riot in Panagyurishte. On September 6, Rumelia’s militia itself took over the governor’s office in Plovdiv. The governor, being a Bulgarian patriot appointed by the Ottomans, did not resist and surrendered Eastern Rumelia to its Bulgarian brothers. Kniyaz Alexander I signed the unification.
The followed diplomatic pressure from England and Russia, both of which expected the short-lived nature of the separated Bulgarian state, prevented the Ottoman Empire from sending troops to Eastern Rumelia. The Unification was a fact. But this was only the beginning of the Macedonian Question.
Timmy, your people must be crazy for dyeing the Chicago River, a White House fountain, and everything else that’s in their way GREEN! But I guess, as Guinness said, “everyone is Irish on March 17”!
So Happy St. Patrick’s to you!
St. Patrick’s Day started out as a religious holiday celebrating the patron saint of Ireland, but today this day is considered a celebration of Irish culture all over the world! People wear green, paint shamrocks everywhere, and drink lots of good beer!
Boston is home to a big Irish diaspora, and the mass pub crawling in the Irish Southie quarter that started this weekend will reach its culminating point tonight!
At least I know which little leprechaun will steal my pot of gold :)
And if you prefer wine to beer (or Bulgarian girls to Irish boys), read my previous post on St. Trifon Zarezan, the celebration of wine.