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During the first days of spring, I ironically had one of the windiest, coldest nights of my life in Vermont. As my shoulders were starting to throb with pain under the pressure of the beating wind, my fingers were turning blue and then becoming numb, and my brain was getting frostbite, all I could think about was ice cream.
In Bulgaria, I wouldn’t eat ice cream until probably mid-June, and then only until the end of August. Why would you eat something that cold unless it’s really hot outside and you are at the beach or outside in the sun? In the States, ice cream is maybe the number one dessert – everyone has at least one box of it in the freezer, and there are numerous ice cream parlors that are open and busy at any time of the year.
Ice cream (and the latest trend, frozen yogurt) is such a staple in the diet of the average college student here in Boston– it’s a treat, it’s midnight snack, it’s comfort food, it’s exam time food, it’s after-party food. In wintertime or summer, there is always an occasion to get a cone at Ben & Jerry’s, J. P. Licks, or Emack & Bolio’s, and what is more – to eat it outside in sunshine, rain, or snow! There is seasonal variation in the volume of sales of course, but it sort of evens out for the ice cream producers since they sell more cones through their outlets in the summer and then more boxes for home consumption through supermarkets in the winter.
My excuse for my ice cream ignorance is that I’ve always thought that you can become ill from the cold. It’s just something that every Bulgarian mother tells her kids – always sleep under a blanket or bed sheet, never stand where there is wind current, don’t sit on the cold pavement, don’t drink chilled Coca Cola with ice too fast, and don’t even think about ice cream when it’s cold outside! (Mind you, chilled beverages in Bulgaria come with three ice cubes at most! There is none of this fill-up-my-glass-with-ice-and-sprinkle-some-beverage-inside that you get at American restaurants!) Also, the most vital body parts that you should never expose to wind or cold are your waist (because your kidneys and especially the ovaries might get sick), your head (I would guess because of the brain), and your feet (because it just sucks to have cold feet?).
My Russian professor said that it was the same in Ukraine and Russia: they also believe that you can “catch a cold from the cold” and that ice cream is only for the heat of summer. On the other side of the spectrum, there are some cultures that drink hot tea when they feel the hottest in order to cool off! What do you think, is the idea that cold can bring you diseases just an Eastern European superstition or is it wisdom?
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The young mother is leaning on the bed over two sleeping angels. The baby twins look like cherubs with their golden hair and rosy cheeks. The old women, who have come to pay praise to the mother and her children, admire the sight for a few minutes… and then spit on the babies: “Пу, пу! Да те насерат кокошките!”
Don’t worry, it’s not what it seems!
According to the Bulgarian superstition, the jealous Devil hears all praises and steals or harms the object of admiration. That’s why when a baby is born, or when a child is exceptionally beautiful, we pretend to be spitting on it and say “may the chickens poop on you” out loud, so that we deceive the Devil. The whole thing in Bulgarian sounds like: “Pu, pu! Da te naserat kokoshkite!”
This constant fear that something wonderful might happen to us, but someone might see it, become jealous, and take it away from us is deeply engrained in the Bulgarian mindset. Since childhood, we are taught not to boast too much and not to trumpet abroad our happiness because someone might jinx us. Being too beautiful, too healthy, too successful, always comes at a price.
Maybe this strange mindset originates from the 500-year period when Bulgarians were under Ottoman yoke. For 25 generations, Bulgarians had to hide their religion and any fortune from the oppressors. The law was such that if a Christian wore beautiful clothes or rode a horse in front of Muslims, those would be taken away from the Christian.
Often, Ottomans stole the beautiful Bulgarian girls they liked and made them wives in their harem. Once in a few years, Bulgarians had to pay a “blood tax”: the Ottomans collected the strongest and healthiest young Bulgarian boys, took them to the hearth of the empire, converted them to Islam, made them forget their home and parents, and trained them as the most ferocious among the sultan’s soldiers. Thus, our people came to believe that everything good and beautiful should be kept hidden. This was their survival tactic.
Today, it is cute superstition.