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For anyone who is even slightly observant to cultural trends, it is obvious that one of predominant themes in American cinema, TV, music, and commercials is violence. There is blood, blades, or bullets in almost every American blockbuster and computer game. Violence is simply part of the pop culture and no one seems to find it overly shocking any more.

Chalga-hip-hop singer Ustata in a commercial for Nestle ice-cream. Surely many little boys and girls will eat ice-cream this summer.

Sex, on the other hand, is taboo, and eroticism is an ancient art that exists only in Europe. Sex connotations are censored on TV, and movies with nude scenes often receive more strict parental guidelines (the sign that tells you if the movie is suitable for 12-year olds or 16-year olds, etc.) than those with killings. Lately, it seems that pop culture is becoming even more puritanical, like in the Twilight series where Bella and Edward will consume their love only after their marriage, or in Dear John where Savannah and John kiss and hug, but she still waits for him for more than a year to return from the war.

I don’t understand why Americans try to conceal sex so hard and still display so much brutality and bloodshed. Doesn’t it seem contradictory and maybe hypocritical? Probably the origin of the media sex-eclipse is the religiousness of many powerful American Christian denominations and sects. The saturation of guns and violence in pop culture reflects USA’s constant fighting and wars somewhere in the world, which have become part of the Americans’ daily lives just like action movies.

I go to college in the States, and I can tell you that someone’s attempt to keep youths pure from the sin of sex is absolutely in vain. Violence, unfortunately, seems to be engrained too deeply in politicians’ minds.

The commercial for mastika Peshtera with chalga singer Maria contains the lines "They are so big and juicy," which refers to the watermelons to go with your drink.

In Bulgaria, sex comes before violence. Sexual images inundate our pop scene, fashion, TV, magazines, and billboards. The young generation’s pop idols, the chalga stars, are platinum-blonde supermodels with silicone boobs and lips. One can mute their music videos and watch them as near-porn movies.  Girls age 7 to 37 love and imitate the chalga stars. Our TV commercial slogans go: “With licking comes the appetite” (for Nestle ice-cream), “Erases the memories” (for vodka Flirt), and “It’s the season of the watermelons” (for mastika Peshtera liqueur). Our young women like to carry themselves as provocative and sexy, which has brought fame to Bulgaria, and especially our sea resorts as destinations for alcohol and sex tourism.

Despite the abundance of sexual imagery, Bulgaria is not a sexual inferno really. Young people are liberal in their views, but there is no baby boom or STD epidemics (with the notable exception of the Roma people whose numbers are going up while the average age when their women give birth for the first time is in the early teens; but Roma culture is different from ours).

So this is what I’m confused about: How can it be that something so terrible as violence has been turned into a cult in America, while something so natural as sex has been stigmatized as taboo?! Simultaneously, how can it be that a country that greatly values traditional family relations, where homosexuality and abortion are still sensitive topics can have such a vulgar and sexual pop culture?!

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Speaking of summertime on the Black Sea coast and beautiful Bulgarian women, Lora Karadjova and Goodslav:


Recently, two American bloggers noticed the uniqueness of the Bulgarian refrigerator. It’s about time I address this cultural peculiarity.

Bulgarians never buy fridges. A fridge is given to them as a wedding present from the bride’s father or the groom’s uncle. Since then, the young family sticks with the same fridge forever.

They take it to the new home and to every consecutive apartment they have. They fix it when it breaks down. There is no such thing as a fridge beyond repair.

In the rare cases when a new fridge appears (because it came for free with the kitchen in a new apartment or because they won it in the lottery), the old one gets passed onto a relative or taken to summer house.

Why?

Well, what’s in a fridge? As long as it can keep a constant low temperature, has a lamp that turns on when you open the door, and does not leak, then it’s fine! True, our fridges don’t have fancy ice machines (we have ice cubes in a freezer) and water purifiers (we have sinks and brita pitchers, or bottled water); but I guess we just don’t care about fancy fridges. We’d rather think about fancy cars!

Our 30-year old fridge with magnets from different trips. It's still as good as a Swiss watch!

In case you ask, we have plenty of yoghurt, cheese, wine, olives, pesto sauce, wine, a watermelon, tomatoes, liutenitza...

This beast you see here is our fridge. My father both it in 1982 from Corecom for $320. During the Communist regime, Corecom was a store in Sofia that used only foreign currency and not the national lev. Therefore, the Western goods in it were pretty much unaffordable for most Bulgarians. Only foreign diplomats, the nomenklatura, and a small group of people such as scientists and flight attendants who were authorized to travel abroad could purchase goods there. This meant that people who were not authorized to have US dollars but were seen shopping at Corecom became subject of investigation.

Corecom offered special goods that were not available anywhere else: imported alcohol, foods, and tobacco, electronics, cosmetics, clothing, toys, books, magazines, etc.. “Corecom eggs”, for example, was the way Bulgarians called Kinder Surprise chocolate eggs, which at the time were only available at the exclusive store.

In conclusion, when visiting a Bulgarian club, try the pick-up like “So, what’s the story of your fridge?” I’d be curious to find out if anyone has any success.


Spirit of Burgas 2010 is coming up!

The hottest beach fest in Europe will take place as usual on 13, 14, and 15 August on the Central Beach in Burgas, the sea-capital of Bulgaria. It will feature more than 100 top international artists across 7 different stages.

For more info and tickets, keep checking the official site.


Yesterday, the Wall Street Journal published a surprisingly optimistic article titled Bulgarian Economy Stabilizing.

According to it, Bulgaria is coping with the financial crisis better than its neighbors. The country has delayed its application to the Euro zone (we are EU members since 2007), so that it might close the budget gap without raising taxes or having wage and pension cuts.

The WSJ notes the fast-developing infrastructure in Sofia and the new business centers and modern shopping malls that sprout like mushrooms (Ha! I used the same expression in my previous post.)

Despite the positive signs economists see in the numbers, Bulgarians are still persuaded that they are in the midst of the crisis. From my point of view, many businesses have closed down or are struggling. Many of the windows on the main shopping street, Vitosha boulevard, are empty. All sorts of shops and services offer great discounts and value packages. People travel less and prefer more economical means of recreation and entertainment.


It’s not only here, but it’s spreading fast like a parasite!

We got the first one in November 2008, and in February 2009, we already had the second one on that very same boulevard. Then, one opened by the seaside in Burgas, and today I noticed two at the same mall, The CarreFour Mall! That’s scary!

Will the diluted, tasteless coffee and the sugar-filled frappes replace the old-fashioned coffee places in Sofia??

Sometimes I don’t like globalization. I hope it never gets as bad as in the States. I don’t want to see one Starbuck on every corner in Sofia.

The expensive and pretentious coffee shops are the complete opposite of what Bulgarians understand by “having coffee”.

Is the time of the quaint little neighborhood cafe over? I miss its smell of coffee and cigarettes.

Will I ever see my mother drink home-brewed black coffee while chit-chatting with a girlfriend on the balcony?

Have the days when my grandmother’s friend would tell fortune by the Turkish coffee-grounds ended?

Will I ever be tempted by somebody’s innocent invitation “Let’s drink a cup of coffee…” again? Or will it have to be “Let me buy you a grande skinny soy dolce vanilla late with cream from the mall, mind you the $3.”


In February 2010, Nova Television made a short series about the life of an American woman living in Sofia. The journalist Pavel Vladimirov conducted an experiment: can an American live comfortably on 400 lev, or about 300 dollars,  which is more or less the average monthly salary here.

The subject of this experiment is Carolyn Emigh, also known as Karolinka, an American  who came in Sofia in 2008 as a Fulbright scholar. She currently teaches at my beloved American College of Sofia (ACS):

Here, Carolyn is showing us the liutenitza, Bulgarian yogurt, and wild strawberry jam in her fridge. She takes us on a bus ride, the notorious Route 76, and tells us how she doesn’t pay for tickets because our ticket system is not automated:

In this episode, we see one of the folk-dance lessons that American teachers can take at ACS. Another American family tells us they don’t like the stray dogs and the trash in Sofia, but they like the old part of the city and the Bulgarian countryside:

In the last video, the journalist asks random people whether 400 lev is enough for life in the big city. The consensus is that it is not. We need a lot more to live comfortably. Instead of an epilogue, he asks Carolyn to name some popular politicians and stars. Her replies demonstrate that she is quite oblivious to what’s currently going on in our public space and in general, that Carolyn has a hard time adapting to and understanding the Bulgarian daily life:


To me, meeting Eastern Europeans in Boston is like being thousands of kilometers away from home and seeing my neighbors.

Check out Collage Dance Ensemble's official website for the 2010 show schedule

Although the cultures and peoples of the Balkans are very different, there is also a lot that brings us together when we are far from home. The love for music and fun, the passionate nature, and the respect for our traditions and origin are only some of our collective characteristics.

Collage holds auditions in late-August to early-September in Boston

This summer, I made a new Turkish friend. I was the delighted to learn from him that Boston is already familiar with Eastern European folk dance and music. He is part of Collage Dance Ensemble.

Under director and choreographer Ahmet Lüleci, Collage Dance Ensemble (official website) has been promoting Eastern European rhythms since the late 1980s.

Their mission is to bridge disparate nations, cultures, and religions through the unifying power of dance.

Collage uses traditional folk and modern music and original choreography

The company is a true patchwork of traditional and contemporary dance technique and music from all over the world: the performers are from Turkey, Mexico, the States, Bulgaria, and Ukraine; they are Muslim, Jewish, Catholic, and Orthodox; they perform Egyptian, Israeli, Ukrainian, Uzbek, Roma dances, and this is only part of their story.

Can’t wait to see some of their shows in the fall, and maybe join some of their dance lessons.


*Blush*

True, true…


Map of the current (green), under construction (yellow), and future (blue) malls in Bulgaria

In the past six months, three new malls have opened up in Sofia (The Mall, Serdika Center, and Sofia Outlet Center).

This makes it a total of eight, where the old ones are City Center Sofia, Mall of Sofia, Mega Mall Lyulin, Sky City, and Central Department Store (TZUM).  Seven other are under construction or in a planning phase.

I wonder who shops so much in this economic crisis?!

Fortunately, the new malls brought some long-expected brands to the Bulgarian market: MAC, Sephora, Zara, Bershka, the department store Peek&Cloppenburg  (the German equivalent of Harrods or Lafayette), etc.

Now if only some entrepreneurs took up the ambitious job to develop online shopping in Bulgaria, they could crush all of these malls.


Alex Raeva, singer and fashion designer

Once a girl friend asked me what makes Bulgarian women different from American.

It’s not about their physique because we have all types: the Mediterranean, with olive skin, light eyes, and dark hair; the Scandinavian type: fair, blue-eyed and blonde; and some with Arabic eyes and black hair. Some are elegant and slender, some are luscious and curvy, and some are plump and delightful.

Beloslava - singer and song writer

It’s about the way they carry themselves . A Bulgarian woman never goes out without touching up. It could be as simple as putting on some mascara, straightening or curling her hair, putting on some jewelry, or just a pair of heels.

Kamelia - pop folk singer and model

She doesn’t go out in flip-flops, Crocks, Uggs, sweatpants, or her pajamas (and she always combs her hair!).  She dresses with style. She matches colors and fabrics, and usually chooses the style that flatters her figure, nothing too loose and nothing that looks too tight where it shouldn’t.

Radost Draganova - TV host

The most significant difference in the style is that the Bulgarian always puts a sexy twist on her appearance: emphasized eyes, stilettos, a tightly-fitted top, skinny jeans, a mini skirt, or a low neckline are just some of her little secrets.

The Bulgarian woman is never simply casual, or simply sporty, or simply having a bad day.

She wants to look good for others and for herself.

***

The photos are taken from View Sofia lifestyle magazine’s article Top 50 Most Beautiful Bulgarians.


Notice the EU flag in the distance

Having been in Boston for the past six months, I had almost forgotten this idyllic sight: a gypsy family in a horse cart driving along with cars and public transport on major streets in our beautiful capital. In Bulgarian, a horse cart is called каруца [car-oo-tza].


“Life in Bulgaria is Like Swimsuit Shopping”

An American living in Bulgaria and teaching at my beloved American College of Sofia extends this metaphor in her blog, Karolinka In & Around Bulgaria. I urge you all to read her post because it is very amusing and thoughtful.

Take a look at the rest of her blog too, I’ve added it in my favorites.


After having such a wonderful time on the Fourth of July and seeing Americans sincerely celebratе their families, nation, and country, my only question is:  What makes us, Bulgarians, different; why can’t we, as well, be happy with ourselves and glad with who we are?

We always feel we are the underdogs. We are often cynical and expect the worst. If we want others to respect us as a nation and a people, we should first find reasons to be happy with ourselves. We should concentrate on our positive sides, expand our achievements, modernize our ideas and their execution, and offer support to our talented people with all means possible. This is the only way to reach our potential as a nation and an economy.

I would like to see Bulgarian flags on every window in Sofia on our Independence Day. I would love to see young people celebrating our national holidays in Bulgaria instead of emigrating abroad in search of better opportunities.


Finally my wish came true! I was in the States for Independence Day, July 4th 2010, a holiday that movies, books, and popular culture have turned into a symbol of the American culture.

Yes, it is true that at least two weeks before the Fourth of July, Americans adorn their homes’ windows, porches, front doors, and gardens with flags. Shop windows are decorated with stripes and stars, and there is all sorts of merchandise for the occasion: everything from patriotic blue-red-and-white costumes for kids to different holiday promotions for adults.

In Plymouth, Massachusetts, the celebration starts on the night of July 3rd with huge bonfires on the white beaches. People drink and have cookouts since sundown and carry on through the night. Every house is full of joyous New-Englanders, and the local police are pretty respectful towards the obnoxiously loud music, the open containers, the hazardous fires, and the underage party-goers.

This photo is actually from Rockport MA, not Plymouth, but someone dropped their phone in the Charles and couldn't take pictures for my blog.

The parades on the morning of July 4th are a favorite ritual for the kids, but I decided I was well past that age. Instead, I joined an all-day get-together and barbeque at my host’s friends’ house. I was pleasantly surprised to see that July 4th is not so much a time to fight aliens like in Independence Day or to listen to speeches about social injustice like in Born on the Fourth of July, but rather a time to relax with one’s family.

The real celebration begins at night. I learned that the nation’s premier show for July 4th is not the Washington or New York one, but precisely the Boston Pops Fireworks Spectacular.

This year was the 37th anniversary of the event. For those who are familiar with the city, Storrow Drive was closed for cars and literally packed with pedestrians. There were flags, balloons, and fluorescent light sabers; hot dog, ice-cream and clam chowder stands; people with painted faces, festive hats, and whistles. Some enthusiasts had put up tents on the Esplanade along the Charles River since sunrise, so that they could be close to the stage and have a perfect view of the fireworks.

Boston Pops (listen online), an orchestra that usually performs light classical and popular music in the summertime, played from the Hatch Shell for almost 800,000 people.

The fireworks that followed were truly breathtaking! The 20-minute masterpiece of pyrotechnics was firing from a platform in the middle of the Charles. The fireworks lit up the sky in the shapes of the American flag, planets, Irish shamrock, and hearts, and every other  color combination imaginable!

Next stop, seeing the ball drop in Times Square on New Year’s Eve!

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