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I recently saw an excellent performance by Dear Abbeys, Boston University’s most celebrated all-male a cappella group. A cappella is group singing without instrumental accompaniment, where some of the singers sing the lyrics, while others create a beat with their voices and imitate various instruments. The Dear Abbeys amused the audience with dancing and a fun short video too. In addition to performing old-time favorites in an a cappella style, they also did a parody mix of hits by the pop divas Lady GaGa, Beyonce, and Rihanna.

 Without drawing any parallel to BU’s Dear Abbeys, I will show you a very serious song by a very serious contestant for the Bulgarian Music Idol 2008 (our version of American Idol ). The name of the performer is Valentina Hasan, and she is singing one of Mariah Carey’s most famous songs.

This is not a parody; Valentina is convinced that she has all the lyrics down. She has no claims to speaking English very well. She learned the lyrics just by listening to the song over and over agan. Take a look:

 Although Valentina Hasan did not go on to the next round of the music contest, she became hugely popular. Her comic performance, her poor singing abilities, and her confidence in her knowledge of English made this video an international hit.

Four million people saw it on YouTube during the first month. By the third, Valentina’s clip reached thirteen million hits. It inspired a wave of imitators to shoot their own videos singing Ken Lee. Valentina’s followers are individuals, groups of friends, and even whole offices from around the globe. The catchy “Tulibu dibu douchoo” has been interpreted in many different version including house and disco.

Consequently, Valentina was invited to many of Bulgaria’s top television shows such as Slavi Trifonov’s Show and Azis’ Show. She was invited to perform again during the finals of Music Idol. She was featured in the international press, including Anderson Cooper’s 360 and PerezHilton.com.

When I came to Boston University, the first thing a guy from Hong Kong, whom I had just met, asked me was if I knew of Ken Lee. Of course I knew!

In an interview with the real star, the host of the French show “Le Grand Journal” showed Ken Lee to Mariah Carey and asked of her opinion. Mariah responded that everyone who has the courage to go on television and sing in front of so many people deserves a round of applause!

***

Read about another Music Idol performer, Preslava Peicheva, (this time a real singer) here.


And while some people are jogging, others are working hard towards their undergraduate journalism degree. These two Emerson College students, the girl behind the camera and the eccentric anchorman, are interviewing a silent living sculpture just a few steps away from the Marathon’s finish line.

This is undoubtedly the best city for college students!   


 Where do you see the most loud, passionate, dedicated crowd of cheering supporters in Boston?        

 It’s not in Fenway Park during a Red Sox game. It’s during the Boston Marathon!        

There come the elite women!

 

On the third Monday of April, Massachusetts celebrates two holidays: Patriots’ Day and the Boston Marathon. While I didn’t see any historical reenactments of the battles of the American Revolutionary War, I saw plenty of cheerful sports spirits.        

The Boston Marathon is the world’s oldest annual marathon. It is run on Patriot’s Day, which people know as simply Marathon Monday. Every year more than 20,000 people from a number of countries run the 26.2 mile race from the town of Hopkinton to Copley plaza in downtown Boston. There are several divisions that start the race in 30 minute intervals: wheelchairs’, elite men’s, and elite women’s. Four Olympic Champions have won the Marathon. But I will let the media cover the fancy side of the event, and I will tell you about the side I witnessed.        

Athletes with disabilities are truly inspirational, and receive the warmest support from spectators.

 

The spectators were as spectacular as the event itself! This Monday, a crowd of more than 500,000 watched the race. People were standing in the street along the route, some had climbed on stairs, poles, and fences, some were watching from their windows and balconies, and some were even atop their roofs! From Kenmore Square down Commonwealth and all the way to Boylston and Copley, the whole of Boston was out and about!  Everyone had cowbells and posters with the names of their favorite runners, who were most often their friends and family!        

A wall of support in Kenmore Square

 

Indeed, right behind the elite groups run all the sports amateurs and jogging aficionados, who often times look much less professional in their funny costumes and interesting hairstyles. These are the runners I enjoyed watching the most! Although the crowd recognized some of the famous runners, it really wanted to see the every-day people who were running just for pleasure… and glory!        

Behind the finish line, I saw young people and old people, fathers and mothers, lawyers and students, and all of them were equally breathless and equally happy that they had just run the Boston Marathon and had participated in this memorable event together!        

That’s what I call sports spirit!       

This lady athlete told my good friend Lena that the Boston Marathon is the best in the world and that everyone should run it at least once in their life. As Lena said, Go Boston!


Speaking of taxes, let me present the Bulgarian view of this unnecessary and easily avoidable social burden.

As a member of the EU, Bulgaria had to comply with the European standard excise duty on alcohol and tobacco products. This basically meant that prices of bottled alcohol and the cost of alcohol production would increase drastically.

Home-made alcohol is brewed from garden-grown plums, apples, and grapes in large distillers in basements and log cabins

So far so good, but the European Union didn’t know that for centuries, Bulgarian families have produced wine and rakia (80 proof alcohol made from grapes, apples, or plums) in the comfort of their homes. The European tax would mean that many low-income families would be deprived of their traditional source of income and of a very typical Bulgarian alcoholic delicacy.  

Thus, the whole nation rose against the cruel tax. The people threatened to enter protests and to hide their distilling condensers in their attics and basements.

Not long enough, the government complied with the people’s demand to preserve the home-made wine and rakia and abandoned its plan to raise taxes. It was a true people’s victory.

But this is not the climax of my story.

As a sign of gratitude, Bulgarian villagers named a brand of home-made rakia from vintage 2009 after our Prime Minister Boiko Borisov, Borisovka. Not surprisingly, the village happens to be the picturesque Kapatovo in the Melnik region, the birthplace of my father! The idea for Kapatovo’s rakia Borisovka came from the Russian vodka Putinka, which was named after Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. Boiko Borisov, similar to Putin, is a notorious figure in the Bulgarian political arena and in our popular culture.

It seems that not only Americans have a special attitude towards taxes!

Read the article on Kapatovo’s rakia Borisovka from Reuters.  


Since I’ve been writing about so many Bulgarian holidays and bizarre celebrations , I decided to share a little bit about a unique American day for a change.

Tax Day or April 15th is officially the day on which tax returns are due. US citizens, residents, and aliens have to file tax statements on their previous year’s income to the state and federal government. The federal administrative agency that is responsible for collecting taxes and enforcing tax law is the Internal Revenue Service, the dreaded IRS.

Tax Day is a unique holiday in the American pop culture together with April Fool’s Day, Super Bowl Sunday, and Marathon Monday.  Alas, it could be very stressful for those who put off their taxes until just before the deadline. At night on April 15th, last-minute tax filers wait in long lines at major 24/7 postal offices in order to buy stamps and have their tax returns postmarked before midnight. 

Usually, Tax Day is associated with great financial frustration and many retailers offer special promotions to relieve taxpayer’s stress (Free Starbuck’s Coffee on Tax Day). The day after Tax Day, on the other hand, is a day for generous celebration!

Unfortunately, even poor foreign college students with absolutely no income and no understanding of the IRS also have to file taxes. Failure to do so shows up on our “record” (whatever that is). Well, I did file my taxes on time, and it was actually an interesting experience. Although I was exempt from paying anything and although I got to fill out only one fifth of the forms a regular taxpayer should fill out, I felt very good about doing something that the rest of this community does. Filing my tax return actually made me feel like part of the American community. It sort of showed me that I’m in Boston not only to get an education and to have fun, but also to be a responsible member of this beautiful city’s community. I guess, our community.


I didn’t think that the best party I go to in Boston would be entirely Bulgarian!   

The Farewell BG EUforiya kupon/party in Boston was smashing!

 

 Ten years ago, Nikolay Markov, Niki, came up with the idea of a chalga-free Bulgarian dance party for Bulgarians living in the States!   

 His first party, in honor of the National Liberation Day, took place  in the Bulgarian Embassy in Washington but had mediocre success. His second one was on another national holiday in the popular Bulgarian restaurant/bar Mehanata in New York and was a tremendous success!   

Since then, Niki and his friend and partner Alexander Petrov, Sasho,  have turned BG EUforiya (Bulgarian-European Euphoria) into a regular club event. The DJ duo calls themselves Masters of Kupon, kupon being the word for a blasting party.   

The DJs mix modern dance and techno European rhythms with favorite Bulgarian songs: everything from modern pop to old classics and even traditional folk dances; everything but chalga, of course.   

BG EUphoriya became extremely popular among the Bulgarian partylovers in the States. The Masters of Kupon toured clubs in New York, Boston, Washington, San Francisco, LA, Miami, and Chicago. In 2001, they became (even more) international with tours in Canada, Spain, France, the UK, the Czech Republic, and the good old Bulgaria. BG EUphoriya was the number one dance party for Bulgarians and their friends all over the world!   

I can’t believe I didn’t know about them earlier! The party I went to this Friday was part of BG EUforiya’s farewell  tour (sponsored by http://www.bgfocus.com), and I’m so glad I got to be a part of it! Dj Niki transferred us back in time and space with his dance-remixes of our favorite pop songs: D2, Yikeda, Doni and Momchil, KariZma, Obraten Efekt, Slavi Trifonov, Miro, Elitza Todorova and Stoyan Yankulov, Grafa… ! We were all singing our hearts out! Towards the end of the night, all of us danced the horo  and ruchenitsa to traditional rhythms! The kupon was amazing! Thank you, BG EUforiya!


I tied my martenitsa on a budding magnolia tree on Bay State Road, on the Boston University campus! I wonder how many Bulgarians are there in Boston now and how many of them took off their martenitsi with the first signs of spring!


The Irish Catholic Easter tradition turned out to be very similar to ours!

I'm not sure if I prefer sweet chocolate bunnies or cute real bunnies

My Easter Sunday began with mass in a beautiful Catholic church. Some people seemed bright-eyed and cheerful, some had come mainly to see their neighbors and socialize, and some were obviously fulfilling their yearly duty of going to church. So far, same like us the Orthodox!

Had there been kids around, they would have participated in an Easter egg hunt, the equivalent of our battles with eggs. In this hunt, parents put candy, money, or clues in hollow eggs and hide them all over the house and garden. Kids compete to be the one to find all their eggs first. I wish I could hunt for Easter eggs too!

Easter dinner in the Irish custom was a lovely experience! Timmy’s family prepared shrimp and fresh cheese-filled celery for appetizers and honey glazed pork with scalloped potatoes and green peas as the main course. The aunts, uncles, some of the cousins, the grandparents, and some neighbors sat around the table on the porch, ate, talked, told jokes, and laughed until the wine and the chocolate eggs were gone. Once again, same like my family!

Looks like Easter is a great holiday everywhere!


I’m very homesick right now! My family and my aunt’s family are going to our villa in the quaint village of Kapatovo in the Melnik region for the Easter weekend. The garden must be covered in blue spring flowers. The sun will be warm and the breeze will be cool. Spring is the loveliest season  there!

Although the Orthodox tradition calls for red eggs, we decorate them in every way possible!

According to the tradition, my mother and my aunt will paint the eggs on Saturday. We prepare hard boiled eggs and color them in special paints. We make them red, green, blue, orange, and yellow. We use cotton to make the colors gradate. We also use candle wax to draw on the hot eggs and make beautiful imprints. We paint the outlines of leaves with different shapes on the eggs.

On Sunday, everyone will be “dueling” with the eggs:  One person holds the egg with the sharp end down and hits the other person’s egg, which is with the blunt end up. The egg whose shell breaks loses and is eaten. The egg that wins continues to duel other eggs. In the end, there is one champion egg. (When we were kids, my brother and I once found a duck egg, which was bigger and stronger than any chicken’s egg, so we became the ultimate champions!)

In the Orthodox tradition, the red eggs symbolize Christ’s blood. One red egg has to be put aside and kept for the whole year. During the following Easter, the family would open the egg. If it is rotten, the year’s harvest will be poor. But if the egg is still good (and it usually is!), the year will be good, and the house will be full of happiness and prosperity.

Making the kozunak requires a lot of time and effort. My granmother prepares it with raisins and lokum!

The feast in Kapatovo on Sunday will be delicious: All morning, my mother and aunt will be roasting the lamb. My grandmother will prepare rice with pieces of liver. She will also make the salad: green salad with lettuce, cucumbers, green onions, radishes in thin slices and slices of hardboiled eggs on top, and she will crush the lettuce, which always makes it soft and releases its juice. The green salad is very important: it symbolizes spring and the first fresh vegetables and fruit that have been harvested this year.  Finally, my grandmother will make the kozunak: the traditional Easter sweet bread with walnuts, raisins, marmalade, and lokum.

My father will pour our family wine in everyone’s glasses and all will be merry!

I wish I could be with all of you! I love you and have a wonderful Easter!


Today is the 205th birthday of Hans Christian Andersen, the Danish master of fairy tales and author of my most favorite children’s story, The Little Mermaid. Among his other works, which have kindled the imagination of children all over the world, are Thumbelina, The Ugly Duckling, The Little Match Girl, The Steadfast Tin Soldier, The Emperor’s New Clothes, The Princes and the Pea, The Snow Queen, and The Wild Swans.

Andersen’s anniversary and the beginning of spring are a good occasion to tell you more about my favorite Bulgarian folk tale.

As a child, I thought that the two most enchanting mythological creatures of all were Andersen’s mermaids and the Bulgarian samodivi.

In the Slavic tradition, the samodivi are forest spirits that take the form of beautiful young women. They are forever young, with long fair hair, long white robes, and bewitching eyes that can sweep a man off their feet and even kill him. All samodivi are sisters.  During nights in the spring, when the moon rises, they get together in open glades deep in the forests of Rila and Pirin mountain and dance the horo barefooted. Nothing is more beautiful than the song and dance of a samodiva.

The samodivi are in fact invisible. Only exceptional people can see them: those who were born on Christmas Eve or in the Saturday before the Bulgarian Orthodox Easter.

Nothing is more beautiful than a Bulgarian samodiva, or more dangerous

Sometimes a samodiva would kidnap a young shepherd and make him play his kaval (a wooden flute) while her sisters dance the horo. She might kill him, but if he does her a favor, she might also become “his sister”: become his protector and even give birth to his child. One of our greatest legendary heroes, Krali Marko (King Marko) was nursed by one samodiva and had another one as a sister-protector.

Thus the samodivi, like the mermaids, are beautiful but treacherous. They take merciless revenge on any man who wrongs them or on any woman they envy and send them a deadly disease.

A samodiva is in the human world from early spring (March 25th) to the late summer (August 29th). She spends the cold months in the secret village Zmeikovo together with the zmeiove (zmei – a Slavic dragon), rusalki (rusalka – a Slavic mermaid), and vili (vila or samovila – another Slavic female forest spirit).

Listen to Samodiva by Balkandji. Their music is “metal with folk motives.” The lyrics speak of a  “wild” samodiva who goes out at night when the forest is dark and men start singing songs. She is beautiful but the look of her eyes is as poisonous as a snake.


April’s Day Fool!

Google once again showed that it is a company with personality! Few other can play a joke on the whole world and get only smiles out of it!

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