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In June 2008, the first Bulgarian gay pride parade took place in Sofia.  I expect that this blog’s foreign readers cry out “Why so late,” to which I can only respond “Well, we had to start somewhere!” The 2008 parade was a small-scale event, which created a massive uproar in our society.  Days before the venue, the citizens of the capital had seen enough of anti-homosexuality posters and heard too many interviews with adversaries of the Bulgarian LGBT movement. The parade itself met with opposition from a small group of extreme nationalists and skinheads who threw a Molotov cocktail at the 150 participants. There were eighty-eight arrests that day, and as a whole, the event demonstrated the Bulgarians’ intolerance more than anything else.

In 2009, things started to change. The second gay pride fest was a colorful, peaceful, and merry event for participants and observers.

Sofia  Pride 2010 (official website) was the most successful event so far, with 800 participants, which makes it the second biggest LGBT procession on the Balkans, the one in Athens being the biggest. The walk for equality and acceptance started at Lovers’ Bridge and culminated in a concert in front of the Monument of the Soviet Army.

As in every western capital, Sofia’s highlife has always accepted homosexuality as something refined and even trendy.  Some of the biggest names in our pop culture are gay. In the same time, as in every western capital, we have extremists and homophobes who commit hate crimes against any and every group that is different, be it homosexuals, gypsies, or chalga fans.

Still, on a day-to-day basis, the majority of common Bulgarians, undoubtedly, have a hard time accepting homosexuals. When a girl comes out of the closet, people’s response often is: “But you are so beautiful, you could have any man.” When a boy comes out, his parents go through phases of shock, anger, and despair, and often blame themselves for “failing as parents” and “raising a child that is not normal.” The most frequent statement Bulgarians make is: “I accept them as long as I don’t have to see them.”

I consider myself more open-minded than the average Bulgarian. What is more, having lived in the States for two years now has helped me identify some of the reasons behind the Bulgarians’ intolerance for gays. I will throw them out as ideas, though one could write volumes and volumes on each topic.

Firstly, our society still lives in its old traditions and is very patriarchal. Although our women might seem emancipated businesswomen or highlife divas, the Bulgarian man is pretty much a macho type. He feels responsible for the family income and puts a lot of pride to everything he does and owns.Therefore, a lesbian who rejects his advances is a hit to his macho ego. A man who likes men downgrades the image that a patriarch is supposed to have. In one way or another, Bulgarians take homosexuality very personally, as if it directly affects and threatens them. Bulgarians have no problem being publicly drunk or vulgar with their wives or girlfriends, but when it comes to display of affection between members of the same sex, Bulgarian men find it outrageous (unless it is pure entertainment by two hot girls in bikini at a chalga club, in which way it is acceptable). As a result, Bulgarians try to distance themselves from anything homosexual. Most of them don’t mind reading about it in tabloids, as long as the thorn is not in their eyes.

Secondly, we believe in many stereotypes without realizing it.  We have stereotypes about other nations, other ethnicities, even other cities. We put labels on everything. We like to think of everything as simple and straightforward. We have standards for women’s beauty, for men’s achievements, for what is socially acceptable or not. To a certain degree, the States too has such standards, but they are a lot more open to free interpretation. For example, our music scene has 50% blond singers and 50% brunettes, and both have strong makeup, fake lips, and fake boobs. Similarly, “all gypsies are pickpockets” and “all gays have HIV.” Concerning the latter, poorly educated people trust everything they hear from not-so-trustworthy sources. And even when they hear something positive and something negative about a certain social group, they usually trust the negative one and adopt a stereotype, just to be on the safe side.

Thirdly, we generally have a negative worldview. For example, our sense of humor is often sarcastic and self-ironic. Being distrustful and suspicious is a feature of our national character. We like to have underdogs for everything.  That is why we blame others for our misfortunes, and often accumulated anger towards everybody who is different. We behave negatively towards things that we don’t understand and that we perceive as threatening. In a recent TV debate, a guest spoke about his anti-gay views, and his opponent lesbian’s response was “and you are fat with an ugly snout.”  Evidently, Bulgarians of all sexual orientations have a natural tendency to be cynical and spiteful.

Yet, there has been a huge progress since 2008. This year’s gay pride showed that Bulgarians are becoming more open and accepting of different people. As the Sofia pride slogan goes, “Be careful whom you hate, it might be someone you love.”

I received the most thoughtful gift in the mail!

I recommend you this wonderful traditional Bulgarian cookbook in English, from Amazon for as low as $10. You will lick your fingers!

And I will be inviting friends to many Bulgarian dinners next semester!

On the cover, banitza, a delicious pastry with cheese and spinach (savory) or pumpkin and walnuts (sweet)

The best thing about learning to cook is asking others to try your dishes!

About six months ago, a girl friend, a recognized chef herself, teased me that I would be a terrible mother because I couldn’t cook a thing! I was shocked but I have to admit, she was right.

When I moved to an apartment-style university dorm with a kitchen, I went crazy buying pots, pans, and baking trays! I started experimenting with fish, vegetables, and pastry. I baked, sautéed, and caramelized every night!

My favorite part of cooking is when my roommate and friends tasted my dishes! The initial skepticism towards my “experiments,” the moment of surprise that followed, and the final sigh of delight, gave me pleasure and pride!

I started cooking out of anxiety for my future as a mother and my nostalgia for typical Bulgarian dishes, and now I can’t stop combining exotic American foods with old-favorite Bulgarian recipes.

Since I’ve been home, I’ve made Massachusetts-style baked fish with vegetables and mint, blueberry and my-grandma’s-garden-raspberry muffins from Plymouth, innovative green salad with avocado like the ones I get from Haymarket, caramelized shrimp and onion like on Newbury, teriyaki-pineapple chicken a la Pensacola, and so on.

Funny fact, my dog refused to eat the teriyaki chicken.

Watching Father of the Bride is a nice way of spending this day when your dad is not around. And even if he doesn't know of this holiday, you ought to call him and say "I love you, Dad!"

I thought it was weird that Bulgaria doesn’t celebrate Mother’s Day (celebrated on the second Sunday in May).

Still, we honor our mothers, sisters, grandmothers, aunts, girlfriends, and female colleagues on the International Women’s Day (March 8th).

Now, I realize that we don’t have Father’s Day (third Sunday of June) either.

This is reprehensible!

It’s not the case that we don’t respect our parents. On the contrary, family is one of the most important values in our culture. I guess it’s just a curious omission that we’ve made in our calendar.

Dad, Mom, I don’t need a special holiday to thank you for everything you do for me and to say how much I love you!

I would like to tell you about a sun-girl who creates treasures of beauty and happiness.

Lalo Orna is a unique jewelry-maker.  She gets inspiration for her artistic creations, necklaces, bracelets, rings, brooches, key chains, and candleholders, from her dreams, her friends’ wishes, and the people and places she gets involved with.

The designer’s home is Israel, but her jewelry factory is in Bulgaria. The LALO brand has stores in Tel Aviv, Sofia, Boston, Tokyo, and Kazakhstan, and distributors in many countries in Europe and Asia.

In fact, I knew the brand well before I knew its workshop was in Bulgaria. I went in the designer store on Boston’s Newbury Street thinking that this is some famous Western brand. I was greatly surprised when the salesperson told me that Lalo Orna is based in a small village near Sofia. I raised my eyes from the colorful rings and bracelets on the shelves and, indeed, I saw landscapes from my native region and photos of smiling women in folk garments with beads and threads in their hands. Naturally, I immediately bought several LALO pieces for my closest friends!

I hope the LALO treasures bring happiness to you too.

After taking belly-dancing for  a whole semester, it would be a shame not to tell you about a unique Bulgarian dancing ritual, nestinarstvo.

Nestinarstvo is dancing on living coals with bare feet.

This old ritual dates back to pagan times. It is part of the celebration of the day of Saints Konstantin and Elena (the Roman emperor who proclaimed Christianity to be one of the Empire’s official religions and his mother), June 3rd.

In old times, in the morning of that day, the whole village walks in a procession to the nearby river, where the nestinar dancers with consecrate Konstantin and Elena’s icon. The village sets up a huge fire on the main plaza and celebrates during the whole day. By nightfall, only the living coals remain. Then, the nestinary fall into trance. With the icon in hands, they start dancing barefoot on the hot coals under the rhythm of drums. Sometimes, the nestinari (male) and nestinarki (female) speak like prophets. On the next morning, their feet have no signs of burns.

In Bulgaria, the nestinari ritual is typical only for the region of Strandja mountain. Today, the ceremony is still kept only in one village, Bulgari. In other places it is only a tourist attraction.

Surprisingly, other cultures that are very distant from ours have similar practices: some shamans in North Africa and the Far East also dance on fire.


Read about other Bulgarian traditions in my blog.

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June 2010

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