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Gorgeous traditional Bulgarian head decoration, ornamented with flowers and golden coins

Today is Tsvetnitsa (Цветница, from tsvete = flower)! Today Bulgarians who have the names of flowers celebrate!

Bozhura, Violeta, Dalia, Dafina, Elitsa, Jasmina, Zdravko, Kamelia, Kalina, Liliana, Margarita, Malina, Nevena, Ralitza, Roza, Tsveta, Yavor, Yagoda, happy name day to you all!

Bulgarians are lucky to have not only birthdays, but also name days! A name day is usually the holiday of a saint, and everyone with this name celebrates. For example, Valentin, Valentina, and Valio ought to celebrate on February 14th! They would prepare dinner or at least offer some rakia and salad to every guest that comes to their house. No invitations are necessary because everyone knows the dates of major name days. No presents are expected either, only flowers for the ladies, because all you need on this bright day is good food and good company.

The popular celebration of Tsvetnitsa of course has a religious origin. Tsvetnitsa is a Christian holiday (Palm Sunday in Catholicism) that marks the entry of Jesus in Jerusalem. It is celebrated on the Sunday before Easter. It takes place during Lent but people usually prepare fish.

Another name for Tsvetnitsa is Vrubnitsa (Връбница, from vurba = willow tree). According to the tradition, we bring willow tree branches that were sanctified in the church, twine a wreath from them,  and hang it on the front door of our home. The willow branch symbolizes the palm leaves with which the people of Jerusalem welcomed Jesus and bring health and good luck to the house.

Take a look at this wonderful blog post on Tsvetnitsa-Vrubnitsa from Mystagogy.  And read my other posts on Bulgarian traditions!

What makes you proud of your Name?


I witnessed a disturbing sight in nightclub Aura in the Atlantis in the Bahamas: a newly-rich young guy climbed up on the dancer’s podium, while his guy-friends were cheering from their VIP table, and started throwing dollar bills in the air over the dance floor. The guys had several thick wads of money and threw at least 400 on above the dancing people. It seemed like this wasn’t such an unusual practice in this club because the dancer simply squatted and started picking the dollars and stuffing them in her high boots. The whole club was excited to get their hands on some cash, but no one seemed to be as shocked as I was.

Actually I should be used to seeing this. I have often seen people throw napkins in pop-folk/chalga clubs in Sofia before. One can buy these packs of napkins from the club and throw them in the air while dancing.  The presumption is that one is filthy rich and carelessly throws money around. I’ve always found the gesture a stupid pose, but in fact, it is much worse than that.  

Why is wasting money such a source of arrogant pride and sick delight for a certain class of people all over the world? Why do we engage in such a pompous and egotistical gesture? What does is look like in the eyes of the observers and how does it “enrich” the ones doing it?


We saw a carnival in the Bahamas! The Marina Village in the luxurious resort Atlantis on Paradise Island organizes a mini-carnival on weekend nights (or maybe every night, I don’t know) for the entertainment of its guests. About ten-twenty locals dressed in traditional costumes walked, danced, played music, and sang along the main alley while the crowd of tourists gathered around them and joined in the festivity.

The costumes were gorgeous: long robes and lavish head adornment in bright colors with feathers and beads. The atmosphere was great!

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The Marina Village carnival reminded me of a similar event in Bulgaria.

The Kukeri Processions

In January, Bulgarian men dress up as Kukeri, ferocious beasts with coats of fur and feathers and large masks with fangs, beaks, and wings who scare the cold and the evil winter spirits away. The kukeri dance around the streets and ring big copper bells (chans).

By tradition, kukeri are young men and bachelors. They gather in groups and every group has a leader. There are similar characters in every group – there is a bride and groom, an old grandmother, a gypsy man with a dancing bear, a king; and all of them are men. Some of the more flamboyant costumes have wolf and fox fur and heads or paws, and real stag horns. Some masks are funny, and some are literally hideous and scary. The kukeri perform different rituals for fertility and good harvest.

The ritual is very typical of Eastern Bulgaria. The biggest annual kukeri carnival takes place in Pernik, just outside of Sofia.

Read more about the Kukeri Processions here. This is a good website on various carnivals around the world and also features articles on the Bulgarian traditions  martenitzi and Trifon Zarezan.


My belly-dancing teacher says that motion is joy. Through movement, you become comfortable in your body and find the center of your vital energy. While dancing, she says, learn to feel good about stretching your whole spine from the neck to the tail. Reach out your long arms from the shoulder to the tip of the finger and feel every muscle on the way. Then curve back like a cat and let the veil caress you while you relax. Feel good about moving, and your audience will enjoy your dance.    

She says that different movements evoke different sensations, but there is one movement that best concentrates and amplifies the energy of a woman. It is not the skipping of the ballerina or the shaking of the latino diva; and it is definitely not the grinding of a clubber.

The most sensual motion for a woman is the undulation. Undulations follow the natural female curves. They are waves of energy that pass through the female body, the arms, the diaphragm, the arch of the back, the belly; especially the belly, where they gently massage the organs. Undulations lend us charm and gracefulness. They follow the fluidity of our flesh. They symbolize waves of pleasure or the blissful contractions of childbirth.

My belly-dancing teacher says that undulations harmonize us and makes us feel feminine and alive.

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Read more about the belly-dancing classes I’m taking here.


I am always pleasantly surprised that I discover Bulgarians everywhere I go! Who would think that the lady receptionist at our hotel in Nassau is a Bulgarian!

I never fail to recognize the Balkan accent, even if the person’s English is perfect. There is also something about the structure of the cheekbones, the skin complexion and the emanation of the face; something that I can never describe, but that infallibly speaks “Bulgarian”!

Our receptionist has lived in the Bahamas for fifteen years. Eva and I thought she must have fled the communist regime over twenty years ago. She told us that there used to a big group of Bulgarians in the Bahamas, but few of them were able to earn permanent working documents, and most left.

She was kind and helpful to us as I think every Bulgarian should be to her fellow countrymen, at home or abroad. Finally, she showed us a picture of her child, a young mulatto girl, and we understood why she stayed in the Bahamas for so long.


Instead of a marlin (a type of tuna) and a flamingo, the Bahamian coat of arms should depict a bottle of rum and a conch! Both seem to have a special role in the Bahamian culture. 

A local preparing conch salad on his boat

 

The signature dish of the Bahamas is conch fritters, which to me sounded both promising and disappointing. I was hoping that a Caribbean island would have better choice of seafood dishes, but about all they had was fried conch and fried grouper (sigh!). Conch tastes similar to clam and mussels, chewy and bland.  A variation of the dish is conch salad, which Bahamians claim is an Aphrodisiac. 

Street vendor selling conch in Nassau

 

Aside from the gourmet cuisine, conch is also highly valued for the properties of its large pink shell. Bahamian craftsmen make statues and jewelry out of it. Street vendors sell beautiful conches as souvenirs. 

Rum is the other trademark of the Caribbean. Bahamians drink it straight, put it in cocktails, and even in cakes. The rum cake is a must-try, especially with banana or coconut flavor. From the drinks, anything with rum is good – piña colada and especially bahama mama. 

Señor Frogs seemed like the most popular place for American tourists in Nassau, although any bar can serve you delicious cocktails. A good place to eat and experience the local culture is the Fish Fry, a street with small restaurants that offer everything from jerk chicken to piña colada prepared in a traditional way.   

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Read more about the Bahamian culture in my post on “Bahama Papas and Bahama Mamas” 

A restaurant in the Fish Fry


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 🙂  

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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.


What fascinated me most about the Bahamas was the attitude of the local men. Bahamian men are the incredibly friendly and amusing!  

I thought that Spaniards are the only ones who’d dare to call after girls in the streets, but Bahamians are even braver! “Enjoying the Bahamas, ladies?” was their playful way of saying hello.  

And although Eva found their comments annoying, I thought they were just being sociable in a manner that is very typical for cultures of these low latitudes. Spanish men’s whistling, I argued with Eva, is always sexually charged; it makes a woman feel revered and wanted.  Bahamians, on the other hand, call after girls simply to attract their attention and to make them smile at their rather silly jokes. Let me illustrate with a story:  

The jet ski guy at Cable Beach promised me, "the lady in green," a free ride next time! But riding what?

 

 

  

Eva was already lying on the beach while I was still struggling to put my towel on the sand without letting the wind blow it off.  

“Beautiful, let me show you what we in the Bahamas do for our ladies,” said a local guy we had never seen before. He brought four stones and with them weighted down the four corners of my towel. He did help!  

Then he sat between me and Eva and started chatting with us! Are we enjoying ourselves in the Bahamas, did we like the sun, which was our hotel and room, he asked. Would we like to stay with him in the Bahamas and become his Bahama mamas?  

 Eva did not tolerate his humor and tried to hiss him away: “HELL NOOO! We aren’t telling you anything!” Her fierce temperament only motivated and entertained him even more! He winked at me and continued to tease her and “hit on” her.  I found the situation hilarious! All his comments were obvious jokes: playful, but not disturbing at all in my opinion. Basically, he spent twenty minutes maddening her and making me giggle. It was his lunch break, and I guess this is how he likes to pass his time: by making silly talk with foreign white girls.  

Finally, he told another local passer-by that he’d pay him to take Eva to lunch, so that he and I could be left in private (because I was the one who got his jokes).  At this point, even Eva couldn’t pretend she was annoyed and burst out laughing!  

So the moral is, Bahamian men are some silly Don Juans! They are hilarious and I love it!  

Bahamian with Jamaican flavour taking Junkanoo Beach sand off the streets

 


A big shoutout to all my friends spring-breakers in paradise-on-earth the Bahamas!  

Welcome back to reality and cold rainy New England!  

Junkanoo Beach, Nassau, the Bahamas

 

My spring break was an exciting week in Nassau, the sun-bathed, rhythm – captivated, rum-infused capital of the Caribbean islands of the Bahamas.  My friend Eva and I spent seven days in Nassau.  I trust that the impressions we gained from this country are worth sharing. Stay tuned.  

View of the Atlantis resort and the yachts in front of Marina Village on Paradise Island

 

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Read about my previous trip, to Dubai, and share my impressions from this ancient-futuristic world.


I recently had a conversation about the way Americans and Bulgarians perceive family names and what impact they have on our life choices.

My American interlocutor said that he was once offended when someone tried to learn more about him by asking “What does your father do?” Instead, he though, they should’ve asked “What do you do?”  Why should my father be a benchmark for me, he said.

I disagree. To me, my father and my family are a source of pride. I am honored when I am connected or compared to my father because to me this means that I have lived up to a great expectation.

But I don’t know if I’m thinking in such a way because I’m Bulgarian or because I’m me.  

Maybe it’s because I’m Bulgarian: In the States, you middle name is randomly chosen, just as your first name.  But in Bulgaria, my middle name is the first name of my father. We always carry our name first, then the name of our fathers, then the name of our family kin.

I can’t escape thinking that this concrete bondage creates a feeling of duty.  My interlocutor agreed and said that Americans whose name ends in “Junior” usually belong to a rich and old elite where succession of businesses or careers is also typical (such families are the Bushes, the Kennedys)

But then, maybe it’s because I’m me:  Speaking of family names, maybe my particular family name matters even more than the Bulgarian naming tradition. I know that my last name is unique;  really, it’s very uncommon and you couldn’t even pronounce it. We are an old and large family, and I know that anybody who carries this last name is my relative.

Because our name makes our kin so distinctive, I feel that whatever I do, I have a last name to live up to. Otherwise, my failures will be traced back to my family and might hurt its reputation.

 I wonder, if I had a more common name, if I were called Brown or Smith or Ivanova or Petrova, would I still have such strong emotions for my name? You tell me.


Lately, I have been trying to familiarize myself with online social media (as you can tell from my blog) and internet marketing (that’s a long story). I’ve also been thinking about wineries (that’s an even longer story). So there it is, my thoughts on how the two can work together to create some very interesting initiatives.  

The Fledgling Wine initiative joins the efforts of Twitter, the Californian winery Crushpad, and Room to Read, a non-profit that promotes literacy for children from third-world countries.     

$5 from every $20-bottle of the fledgling Crushpad wine, vintage 2009, goes towards the noble cause of Room to Read.  

What makes this initiative interesting to me is that it presumably targets wine connoisseurs,  who are generally expected to be more affluent than the average person (since they are used to buying wine from this same vineyards for $50 per bottle, according to the winemaker).  

I believe that it’s a great idea to target wine-lovers, who often times are the intelligentsia , the more sophisticated social class, and who would spend their money not only on good wine, but also for good causes.  

Still, by lowering the price of their wine and starting this “social winemaking project” in partnership with Twitter, Crushpad takes away from the elitist feel of buying vintage wine for a socially responsible cause. Crushpad makes the connoisseur experience available to everybody.  

The idea of making something far-fetched and elitist (such as premium wine in the eyes of the wine-ignorant, access to the global communication flow in the eyes of the internet-unacquainted, or education and literacy in the eyes of poor kids in India) seem attainable and real, is the heart of the Fledgling Wine initiative; and a truly noble cause.  

That’s why I think the Fledgling Wine is such a great project. Read more about Twitter’s Bottles for Books.  

Cheers!  

And happy Liberation Day, March 3rd, to all Bulgarians living and studying abroad!  

Watch this video from the official website

 

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Read my post on the Bulgarian Day of Wine, Trifon Zarezan.


In springtime in Bulgaria, blossoming cherry trees are covered in red-and-white martenitsi.

 

 Today, the Bulgarians in Boston also celebrate Baba Marta! March 1st is the day that marks the beginning of spring!      

The legend says that Baba Marta, or Grandmother March is a good old lady with a changing temper. When she is happy, she sweeps away the winter, cold old Dyado Mraz (Grandfather Frost), and makes way for the sun and the beautiful young Spring. But when Baba Marta is angry, she brings cold March winds.      

On this holiday, we give each other martenitsi , small adornments made from white and red wool, which symbolize good health and vitality during the new year.  We tie martenitsi on the children’s wrists, wear them as brooches, decorate the house with them, and tie them on domestic animals and fruit-trees . We keep our martenitsi on until we see a stork or a budding tree. When we do see these heralds of spring, we tie our martenitsa on the tree-branch, put it under a stone, or set it flowing in a river.      

A martenitsa can have many designs, but the most popular is Pizho and Penda, who are a white wool boy and a red wool girl.

 

I was so disappointed that I had forgotten to bring martenitsi from home (again)! But thanks to my good friend Vladi, I have a martenitsa now! Thank you Vladi! Keep the Bulgarian traditions in Boston going!      

Chestita Baba Marta! 

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Read my post on Trifon Zarezan, the unique Bulgarian holiday of vine-growers and wine-makers, which we celebrate together with St. Valentine’s Day.

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