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It’s not just because he has a Twitter account and advises me on my Facebook netiquette. It’s not just because he’s my blog’s most fervent follower and always finds great additional facts for my articles and even proofreads them. It’s not just because he wakes up early in the morning and stays until late at night when I ask him to discuss an assignment with me on Skype. It’s not just because he emails me jokes and Yahoo Finance articles from his Blackberry.

My dad is cool and tech-savvy and I love him just because it’s him!


Bulgaria selected our representative for the most amazing international singing contest, Eurovision (read my previous post)!

Miro!!!

 

I can’t wait! I don’t doubt Miro will do a great job (even without Galia from the former duo KariZma). Miro is  charming and with great voice, one of the most prolific Bulgarian singers! His music sounds very modern and is usually soft and melodious (unlike Lordi, 2006’s travesty-of-winners).

Miro’s “I Lose Control (When You Are Not There)” with the (awkward) sado-mazo video but otherwise lovely lyrics:

In past years, the Bulgarian national television organized singing contests and allowed the public to vote for the performers they wanted to represent us in front of Europe. Although this was a democratic approach, the results were controversial: it seemed that the opinions of the experts, of the general adult audience, and of the teenagers (the ones who generally send the bulk of the text message votes) hugely differed. Somehow the more popular singers often outran the more capable ones (remember Dj Take Me Away, which didn’t even make the finals?)

This year, Bulgaria did what Greece, Italy, and Great Britain had always been doing. It took the voting privilege from the audience. The National Television (the organizers) invited fifty-one of the most well-respected Bulgarian musical specialists and asked them to nominate their favorites for this year’s competition. Miro was first with 10 votes. Number two and three were Poly Geneva and Nora Karaivanova (Music Idol winner) with 7 and 3 respectively. It would have been interesting to send Nora in Oslo! But I admit that Miro is more experienced and maybe the more appropriate choice.

Now, Bulgarians can vote for one of the five songs that have been created for Miro.

Listen to them here:   http://eurovision-bg.com/menu.html?news.htm

They are all wonderful, but I am a little bit disappointed that only two of them are in English. The lyrics are beautiful in Bulgarian, but how is Europe going to understand them?!?!?! 

I vote for the Angel song, if only someone translates it into English!!!

“August Is September”… because I am going away from you… I hope you too love this song:


My belly dancing class is going great, thank you for asking!

Last week I bought my orange hip scarf! It has metal coins that clink when I do the shimmies and create an energetic beat that really spices up the dance! The girls I dance with liked my scarf so much that they were asking me to put it on today, so I did (although I would’ ve been coy otherwise) and I really enjoyed myself so much more! Now all of them are buying hip scarves, and we’ll all dance with them – just for the fun of it!!

Its only our fourth class, but we already isolate the head, the shoulders, the heart, the belly, and the hips and layer their vertical and horizontal circles with different shimmies. We do several traveling steps and basic combinations. We also learned some beautiful hand motions like the lotus flower and the snake undulations. These make me feel so graceful!

The best part of today’s class were the veils! Our belly-dancing teacher brought ten beautiful veils from light, semi-transparent silks and chiffons, and showed us how to play and dance with them. She encourages us to find our unique movements and to interpret our veil dances the way we feel them. It is wonderful how distinctive each of us looks!

In this dance, my teacher said, we are very lucky to have the veil. It has a deep symbolical meaning: the veil is the boundary between the ordinary world and the magical, the mysterious, the belly-dancing woman. The veil is there to conceal and preserve the most precious…


Versai Club, Sofia

BBC featured Bulgarian pop folk music, chalga, in its Close-Up series: Bulgaria’s special brand of folk music.

I’m surprised to hear the inconsiderate and disrespectful language of the journalist, who seems to be mocking this popular cultural phenomenon in my homecountry. I wouldn’t necessarily argue that her facts are inaccurate, but in the context of the Bulgarian reality, they are more innocent than what she describes.

What is more, chalga and modern Balkan music as a whole (because this type of music is typical not only for Bulgaria, but also for Greece and Serbia) do not deserve such a belittling attitude, especially from someone who is not familiar with our mentality and culture.

In the video, the journalist pays a visit to Sofia’s Versai club (obviously on a weekday night judging by the number of people) and interviews chalga singer Elena. Take a look and feel free to give your feedback!

Watch the BBC video


Yane Sandanski was born in 1872 in Vlahi, near Melnik, Bulgaria

 

What the world today calls the “Miss Stone Affair” is an exceptional story of national duty, revolutionary ideologies, bandit means, international crisis, great manhood, and sturdy womanhood.   

Miss Ellen Maria Stone was an American Protestant missionary from Roxbury, Massachusetts who arrived in Bulgaria in 1878. This was in the time immediately after the Russo-Turkish wars when Bulgarian gained back its independence from the Ottoman Empire after five hundred years of yoke. Still, the Treaty of Berlin of July 1878, did not grant full independence to all regions of Bulgaria, which gives rise to a new movement for the autonomy of the Bulgarian regions Macedonia and Odrin from the Turkish rule.   

In 1901, the revolutionary organization IMORO (Internal Macedonia-Odrin Revolutionary Organization) was suffering from utter lack of money, so its leaders resorted to kidnappings for ransom of rich persons as a means to earn money for the cause.   

On August 21st, after a three day ambush, Bulgarian revolutionary leader voivoda Yane Sandanski, together with Hristo Chernopeev and Krustio Asenov and their cheta (revolutionary group) kidnapped Ms. Stone on the way from Bansko to Gorna Djumaya, Blagoevgrad region. The men took Katerina Stefanova, Tsilka, as a maid for the 55-year old American missionary, and later found out that she was pregnant in the fifth month. The abductors demanded 25,000 golden Turkish lira (about 110,000 USD) and held the women for six months until they received the ransom.   

His troops come in support of the Bulgarian army officers

 

Now don’t be scared. Both women were in good hands. Yane Sandanski was not only a fervent patriot and a fierce opponent of his repressive ottoman enemies, but he was a man of his word and a charismatic, noble leader. Born in Vlahi, a village near Blagoevgrad, Bulgaria, Yane Sandanski believed that the Bulgarians in the region of Macedonia should riot against the Empire and should found an autonomous state in a greater Balkan Federation. Today, he is a common hero for both Bulgarians from Bulgaria and Macedonians from the Republic of Macedonia. One of the most beautiful cities in Southern Bulgaria is named after him.   

Yane Sandanski ‘s cheta took great care of the two women (Ms. Stone spoke Bulgarian) and kept them safe in Vlahi. According to memoirs, Sandanski did not let “a hair fall from their head” and even organized a feast for Ms. Stone for one of her American holidays, Thanksgiving.  Some sources say that Ms. Stone developed a Stockholm syndrome: she fell in love with her abductors and their noble cause.   

Meanwhile, the affair became an international crisis situation. The States were reluctant to negotiate with the outlaw organization or with the Bulgarian diplomacy. The protestant lobbyists were pressing the US Senate. The American public had to raise the ransom money from donations, and the press became very interested in the incident with the American and her pregnant maid. The world’s attention fell on the strained Macedonian-Turkish relations and the unhappy fate of the Balkan peoples after the Treaty of Berlin.   

In February 1902, the ransom was finally paid and the women (with the baby, which was successfully delivered) were set free. Upon her return in Massachusetts, Ms. Stone held numerous lectures on the Macedonian issue and called the public to action in aid of the revolutionary movement. In her memoirs, she calls Yane Sandanski “the good man.” Both I and Ms. Stone consider him by no means a bandit, but a hero, because we understand his righteous motives.   

He was killed in 1915. His famous thought were engraved on his tomb: "To live means to struggle: the slave for freedom, and the free man for perfection"


I just read this nice post about Sintra, Portugal (http://garga-blog.com/snimki/sintra/) by a Bulgarian who has dedicated his blog to “people who don’t have work, even when they are at work.” 

I also visited the magical city of Sintra this past summer and wrote an article about it for a friend’s magazine, Paradox: http://issuu.com/paradox/docs/paradox_4_issue_press, pg 35-36 (in Bulgarian).  Take a look and I hope you are inspired to visit the place! 

The architects of this castle must have had more imagination than the creators of the Disney princess movies!

 

Some of the tresures of Sintra are this ancient fortress, the royal castle, and the luxurious villas of the old aristocracy.

 


Family bonds can be a marvelous thing! My mother and father were just spending the weekend in the house where he was born, in Bulgaria’s Melnik region. As they were taking a walk in the nearby village, someone recognized him as the son of his father. My grandfather had a good reputation in the region because our clan is old and well-known in Southwest Bulgaria.  The people who recognized my father invited him to sit with them. They told him we were relatives. My father didn’t recognize their family name at fist, so they explained to him how we were related:

A woman from their kin, Elena Talkova from the village of Harsovo, had married a man from our kin, Alexa Milyov from Kapatovo, over 125 years ago! She had a daughter and two sons,  the younger of whom was the father of my grandfather Alexa. Elena had died over a 110 years ago. Still, the family preserved her memory, and the two kinfolk still consider themselves relatives!

Later, one of my father’s uncles confirmed that over 50 years ago, we had family interaction with the Talkovi kin and that we will continue to perceive ourselves as one family as long as the successors remembered the family history.

I believe in preserving family traditions. That’s why my brother is also called Alexa, and I am named after my great-grandmother, Militza.


If you are in love, celebrate St. Valentine's day. If you are in love with wine, celebrate Trifon Zarezan's Day on Feb 14th (Feb 1st, new style)

You are either very happy or very miserable on Valentine’s Day; there seems to be no middle position.  For most people.

Bulgarians have found a simple solution to this problem of the extreme emotions. We celebrate two holidays on February 14th, St. Valentine’s and St. Trifon Zarezan!

On the day of St. Trifon Zarezan, the guardian of vine-growers, we celebrate our love for wine! According to the old custom, this is the day when you prune the old twigs of the vine, so that it can sprout anew in the spring. This is an old ritual for vitality and fertility. Vine-growers, gardeners, winemakers, tavern-keepers, bartenders, and men called Trifon have a special day.  Together with them, we all feast and drink wine.

Actors dressed in traditional Bulgarian clothing demonstrate how to prune the vines in preparation for the spring

So, if your loved one is with you, celebrate St. Valentine’s! If not, get on some good wine and forget about love!  Different saints for your different desires!

(The Catholic St. Valentine’s Day was not very popular in Eastern Europe before Western pop culture introduced the holiday. Today, shop windows’ decorations, love-themed events, and the general obsession with chocolate, red roses, and pink hearts testify that Bulgarians, as most other peoples, prefer to be drunk on love, not wine.)

You can learn more about the folklore aspect of Trifon Zarezan from this article: http://www.balkanfolk.com/news.php?id=94

Read more about other wonderful Bulgarian traditions, Martenitzi and Kukeri Processions.


As I walked in the courtroom, the benches in the gallery were full of people. One could feel the tension between the lawyer and the witness, Nicole’s landlord. The lawyer was annoyed that the witness was so inconsistent with his testimony: the latter had read and approved a certain police transcript four times in the past, but now claimed it was not accurate. From the tone of the questioning, it was clear that this was the prosecutor’s cross-examination. I thought the prosecutor did an excellent job because he was passionate and conveyed his dislike for the witness to the observers. The defense was too indifferent, so his point did not come across. During the second witness’s direct examination, the prosecutor persuaded me that Nicole made an “it wasn’t me” hand gesture in the night of the arson.

It was interesting to observe the interaction between the different players in court. The judge granted the lawyers permission to approach the witness stand. The court reporter sat almost invisible throughout the trial. The deputy hastily swore in Michael without any of the solemnity that movies portray. I though the trial was much less formal than what I had expected. The lawyers spoke in a simple way. There was nothing too eloquent or clairvoyant about their questions.

The defendant, Nicole Chuminski, to my surprise, was in the room! She was sitting behind the defense’s table, but she seemed so reserved and civil that at first I thought she was a second lawyer. I would have never assumed that she was the woman who, in April 2008, had set her girlfriend’s, Anna Reisopoulos’, house on fire and burned her two children to death. I was surprised she did not wear handcuffs or that she did not explicitly react to anything.

Finally, now that I have observed a trial, the court seems way less like an omnipotent and unattainable institution to me. Now I know that the court is quite reachable and straightforward, so that it may be of service to all people, not only high-profile attorneys.


I love Bing because of the marvelous pictures and the interesting facts they put up every day. And now I love them even more because they put up the amazing Belogradchik rocks!  

Belogradchik is a must-visit-in-your-lifetime place!

 

Belogradchik  is a town in Northwestern Bulgaria, near the city of Vidin, between the Danube and the Serbian border. There is an observatory in the city, amazing rocks in the outskirts, and numerous caves in the area.  

The Belogradchik Rocks are fairytale-like rock formations with curious shapes: one can clearly see outlines of the Madonna, the Shepherd, the Horse Rider, the Eagle, the Schoolgirl, and Adam and Eve.   

In 2007, the Belogradchik Rocks were semi-finalist in the New 7 Wonders of Nature contest!  

My favorite site around Belogradchik is the ancient fortress Kaleto . It was built during the 2nd-3rd century by the Romans who guarded the important roads there. It was later used by the Byzantine and Bulgarian soldiers as a defense fortress.  

The Rocks were formed from the clay, silt, and sand deposits on the bottom of an ancient sea, which rose with the rise of the Balkan mountain range. Once dry, the rocks were eroded by temperature fluctuations, water and winds for millions of years. The red color comes from the iron in the sediment. Erosion carved over 100 caves in the nearby rocks.  

The most famous cave in the region is the Magura. It is 3000m deep. What is unique about it, beside its size and beautiful stalactites, stalagmites, and chambers, are the over 700 cave drawings made by humans from the Bronze Age: over 30,000 years ago! Drawn with red clay and bat guano, those illustrate hunting and festive rituals.


It’s almost time for Eurovision again! This is Europe’s favorite song contest! Every country elects its best performers and sends them to the international song contest. Within the country, there is a series of national TV song contests where viewers can vote for their favorites via phone calls or text messaging. Of course, the best songs become instant hits and the bands become amazingly popular (often times young and unfamiliar bands participate). The goal is to elect the band/signer that will represent your country in front of the rest of Europe.

The Eurovision finals are broadcasted live on every national television in Europe! This makes us all simultaneous viewers of a one grand song contest! And we love it! During the show, you vote again for whomever you like most (except your own contestants). Finally, the individual votes from each country are calculated and each country gives points based on the vote; 12, 10, or 8 points are awarded to the top three favorites (points below 8 are not that exciting to follow).

Of course the show is spectacular!! And it is very emotional too because there is so much national pride involved. Certainly one of the most entertaining things about Eurovision is the geopolitical voting. Basically, countries tend to vote high for nationalities whom they fancy (most often, their neighbors) and vote low for the ones they don’t like. Minorities and immigrants also strongly affect the outcome because they always vote for their country of origin. For example, historically Bulgaria gives many points to Turkey because we have such a big Turkish minority and many points for Serbia and Macedonia because they are “our Slavic brothers”. In return, we get votes from Spain and Greece because so many Bulgarians work in these countries. On the other hand, Romania rarely votes for us because they know our wine is better (wink!:) and because our cultures and languages are very different. Cyprus and Greece, UK and Ireland, and Portugal and Spain always award each other because they have similar culture and languages.  There is also the Nordic block: Finland, Norway, Litva, Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia  and the former USSR block who always vote for each other.

 So the best part of Eurovision for me is exactly the moment of guessing each country’s vote! Dad and I watch it and, having in mind where nations have diasporas and what their historical relations are, we guess what their vote will be seconds before the telehosts announce it! And we are pretty accurate!!

Still, Eurovision is a spectacular event! It has introduced stars like ABBA and Julio Iglesias to the world. And while we are waiting for the May 2010 contest in Oslo, Norway, let me show you  what I think was the  best song we haev ever presented on Eurovision. It’s Elitza Todorova and Stoyan Yankulov’s “Voda” (“Water”) from Eurovision 2007! (In this case, the voting system played a bad joke on us and we ended up only fifth; but i trust you will love the song anyways!)

And just because I really like them, here is a second song by Elitza and Stoyan!

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