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And speaking of the “Gypsy Nightingale” Sofi Marinova To Represent Bulgaria in Eurovision 2012, I recently stumbled upon a very interesting documentary series from the UK, Big Fat Gypsy Weddings.

The series follow several gypsy families as they plan their daughters’ weddings and offers commentaries about this ethnic group’s traditions regarding interaction between the genders, family values, educating the youth, choosing a house, and so on. The 5-episode series aired for the first time in 2011 on Channel  4  ( on TLC in North America under the name My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding). The second episode got 8.7 million viewers, giving Channel 4 the highest ratings since Big Brother. Check out the series on YouTube:

 

The show distinguishes between Irish Traveler and British Romani Gypsies. What is fascinating to me is that these two communities seem completely different from the Easter European gypsies. So I made a little investigation:

There are three types or lines of Gypsies that emigrated from their land of origin in today’s Pakistan during three exoduses in the period 1000-1400s AD: Domari, the Egyptian and Middle Eastern Gypsies; Lomavren, the central gypsies of Armenia and Turkey, and Romani, who made their way to the Byzantine Empire, through the southern Balkans (Romania, Bulgaria, Serbia, Moldova, Hungary etc) and now populate all of Europe. The Gypsies have always been a semi-nomadic cultural group with their own language (and sixty dialects) and religion.

The Irish Travelers, which the TV series also focuses on, on the other hand, are not from the same Indian ethnic origin as Gypsies, but they share a similar nomadic background and do not mind being called Gypsies. Travellers are of Irish origin, populate Ireland, the UK, and USA, and have their own language and traditions, but are often put under common denominator with Gypsies because of their similar lifestyle.

I personally had never seen Gypsies in the light in which Big Fat Gypsy Weddings present them!  There seem to be striking differences between the living conditions and lifestyles of Western European and Easter European gypsies. On one hand, this is normal because there are such differences between Western and Eastern European countries in general. On the other hand, it really disturbed me to see that even the most ostracized and marginal community in Europe seems to be so much better off in  the West than in the East.   

The TV shows portrays Gypsies (Romani and Travellers) as a group with ostentatious sense of fashion, yet a very conservative worldview that is driven by a very strict moral code. UK gypsies may be over-the-top and hardly compatible with the “settled community”, but their culture seems fascinatingly rich. Thus,  UK Gypsies seem worlds apart from Eastern Europeans gypsies.  

The majority of Bulgarian and Romanian gypsies  live in poor conditions in the outskirts of the cities or in very poor villages (there are exceptions of course). In the countryside, their main occupation is shepherds or day-laborers. In the cities, they often collect metal for scrap, clean cars at traffic lights, beg, or pickpocket.  None of the Gypsy slums I have seen in Eastern Europe look like the nice houses portrayed in the British series. Like in the UK, Bulgarian gypsy families are large but mainly because girls give birth at a very young age and have many, many children.

Regarding their sense of style, I have never seen Bulgarian gypsies dressed as flashy and colorful as the Travellers in the UK in their daily life (except for a wedding, as the video below demonstrates).  Our gypsies usually wear clothes that they find or that are given to them, or very cheap clothes sold in bulk – so they look more like shabby street urchins than like provocative fashion divas. They would rarely be able to afford buying new dresses for each wedding they attend like their UK counterparts. Our gypsies do, however, put on make-up sometimes and often bleach their hair – and this applies both to boys and girls. Therefore, in Bulgaria we have a saying “dressed as a gypsy”, which might mean very scruffy and ragged, but might also mean  flamboyant to the point of looking ridiculous.

Bulgarian gypsy weddings are, similarly, a great celebration for the community, but in a very different, much less glamorous way. They usually include an orchestra (often times with a dancing bear), the entire village/neighborhood as guests, and a lot of bargaining and arranging the marriages of the next daughters in line. Compare this video from a Bulgarian gypsy wedding (notice the surrounding – this is the gypsy quarter in Stara Zagora) to the UK series and tell me what other striking differences do you notice?

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You Might Also Find Interesting: 

On The Gypsy Riots in Bulgaria from October 2011

Goran Bregovic Plays for Balkan Unity in Sofia

Gypsies in Sofia: FUNNY PICTURE

The Bulgarian English Wedding

The Polish Bulgarian Wedding,  Or Who Can Drink More: Polish or Bulgarian? 

When Marriage Stops Seeming So Far Away


The Gypsy Pearl of Bulgarian Pop-folk, Sofi Marinova, will represent us at Eurovision 2012

My favorite time of the year is coming closer! It’s time for Eurovision 2012, the pan-European music contest! It has been such a roller coaster for Bulgaria in the past six years!

We were on the way to greatness in 2007 with Elitsa and Stoyan Yankoulov (with were fifth woohoo!); then in 2008 I was sort of positive about Deep Zone coming up with their very catchy “DJ Take Me Away”; I had to close my eyes in 2009; in 2010 I put all my fate with my all-time-favorite Miro, and then in 2011 I was hoping that the European voters with find Poli Genova at least cute, but now…   now, I’m simply desperate by our choice of representative.

Bulgaria’s 2012 Eurovision contestant is Sofi Marinova with “Love Unlimited”. Don’t get me wrong, Sofi Marinova has an amazing voice and her songs become instant hits, but I think that this one is simply not one of them. Plus, her singing and image are… how can I put it… too Bulgarian for the average European taste (remember, the whole of Europe will vote for their favorite singers in the contest). But Sofi Marinova was elected during Eurovision’s national level finals on Feb 29th. She competed against 12 other Bulgarian singers and earned her title via a combination of jury and viewers’ text message votes. As you can tell, we Bulgarians love our gypsy chalga rhythms.

Sofi Marinova, also called “the gypsy pearl” or “the gypsy nightingale”, is a Bulgarian pop-folk singer of gypsy (Roma) background. She has a phenomenal 5-octave vocal range and is one of our top chalga singers. In her personal life, she is notorious for giving a son to her husband, then divorcing him, and getting with this ex-husband’s other son… but she’s cool otherwise 🙂

Instead of showing you her Eurovision song, I’ll show you my favorite duet of Sofi and Ustata . Of course, it’s a typical chalga video with very intelligent lyrics:

I don’t think she will reach the finals, but I’ll be crossing fingers anyways! Eurovision 2012 will take place on May 22, 24, and 26 in Baku, Azerbaijan.

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More on Eurovision and Chalga:

Eurovision 2011: Poli Genova Urges Young Bulgarians to Stay

Bulgaria’s Heart Breaker Miro Will Compete in Eurovision 2010

Sex and Watermelons in Bulgarian Pop Culture

BBC Close-Up: Bulgarian Pop Folk


During the first days of spring, I ironically had one of the windiest, coldest nights of my life in Vermont. As my shoulders were starting to throb with pain under the pressure of the beating wind, my fingers were turning blue and then becoming numb, and my brain was getting frostbite, all I could think about was ice cream.

Winter hat and ice cream? Never in Bulgaria - that kid will catch a cold!

In Bulgaria, I wouldn’t eat ice cream until probably mid-June, and then only until the end of August. Why would you eat something that cold unless it’s really hot outside and you are at the beach or outside in the sun? In the States, ice cream is maybe the number one dessert – everyone has at least one box of it in the freezer, and there are numerous ice cream parlors that are open and busy at any time of the year.

Ice cream (and the latest trend, frozen yogurt) is such a staple in the diet of the average college student here in Boston– it’s a treat, it’s midnight snack,  it’s comfort food, it’s exam time food, it’s after-party food. In wintertime or summer, there is always an occasion to get a cone at Ben & Jerry’s, J. P. Licks, or Emack & Bolio’s, and what is more – to eat it outside in sunshine, rain, or snow!  There is seasonal variation in the volume of sales of course, but it sort of evens out for the ice cream producers since they sell more cones through their outlets in the summer and then more boxes for home consumption through supermarkets in the winter.

We don't have sundaes or brownies/cookies with ice cream, but we love our melba - a fruit cup with ice cream, biscotti, and other goodies!

My excuse for my ice cream ignorance is that I’ve always thought that you can become ill from the cold. It’s just something that every Bulgarian mother tells her kids – always sleep under a blanket or bed sheet, never stand where there is wind current, don’t sit on the cold pavement, don’t drink chilled Coca Cola with ice too fast, and don’t even think about ice cream when it’s cold outside! (Mind you, chilled beverages in Bulgaria come with three ice cubes at most! There is none of this fill-up-my-glass-with-ice-and-sprinkle-some-beverage-inside that you get at American restaurants!) Also, the most vital body parts that you should never expose to wind or cold are your waist (because your kidneys and especially the ovaries might get sick), your head (I would guess because of the brain), and your feet (because it just sucks to have cold feet?).

My Russian professor said that it was the same in Ukraine and Russia:  they also believe that you can “catch a cold from the cold” and that ice cream is only for the heat of summer. On the other side of the spectrum, there are some cultures that drink hot tea when they feel the hottest in order to cool off! What do you think, is the idea that cold can bring you diseases just an Eastern European superstition or is it wisdom?

 

Other Articles Related to Superstitions: 

Spitting on a Baby Protects in From the Evil Eye

Lucky Like a Chimney Sweeper

H.C. Andersen’s Mermaids and Slavic Samodivi, Folktales of the Spring

 


Background: Spring break is a week in late March or early April when all universities in the US give off. This is the time when all underage American college students flock to Mexico, the Bahamas, the Dominican Republic, Jamaica or Puerto Rico and (completely legally) pass into drunken oblivion for the duration of the vacation. The most visited attractions during the break include booze cruises, bar hopping tours, and beach raves. The large majority of students come back from Spring Break with face piercings, shaved eyebrows, tattoos, or STDs. The most frequent ways of describing the Spring Break experience are “whatever happens in (insert location), stays in (insert location)” and “shit went down”.

I thought for me, a calmer trip to a relaxing tropical US destination was in order this year, so I decided to visit my good friend in Miami, FL (read about our trip to Disney World). As it turns out, Miami was very well prepared for the Spring Break invasion.

During the day, we were sunbathing in South Beach literally under the surveillance of a squad of policemen. They were walking up to every single beach towel or lounge chair and looking around for open containers, illegal substances, or suspicious behavior. It was hilarious that they were all dressed up in uniforms and equipped with truncheons and handguns under the scorching sun while the vacationers were chilling or fooling around in the sand. I’m not sure if I felt secure or amused by the police’s presence.

Miami police scrutinizes spring-breakers on the beach

Busted with an open container!

Cool Nike-s, officer!

Now I feel safe at the beach!

I also noticed that open containers are forbidden outdoors in South Beach. However, smoking is allowed in clubs and bars. In the same time, it is illegal to sunbathe topless on the public beach in Miami, so people have to go to special adult pools to enjoy that privilege.

The beach in Miami is also very wide and without any buildings on it. Ocean Drive and the beach bars are very far from the shoreline, and so are hotels. In contrast, the Bulgarian shore at our top resorts Sunny Beach and Golden Sands is scattered with beach bars that blast techno day and night or lounges with white cushions where you can grab a mojito or a bowl of watermelon and listen to some chill out music. As cool and fun as our beaches are, our bars and hotels unfortunately eat up a lot of the beach, and thus force many people to look for alternative, uninhabited beaches. Fortunately, in Bulgaria you can always drink alcohol and go topless at the beach (and not only there)!

A wide white beache in Miami

The beach in Lozenetz, Bulgaria is occupied by hotels, beach bars and lounge chairs

At night, Miami seems even more like a CSI episode. The police had cut off one lane of a street and were making every single car go through a DUI check (driving under the influence is a very, very major offence in the States). The officers were pulling over certain cars and going through them with a detection dog! As my friend, a University of Miami law student said, such random search operations are completely anti-constitutional, and the criterion for pulling a car over is that the driver looks Latino or black! But then again, I guess in Miami it feels like Spring Break all year long, so maybe all this police presence is justified!

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I’ve never written a post about America’s weight issue because I think that too many people have written about it, and also it hasn’t ever particularly bothered me. Yes, I have seen more obese people (both in number and in size) here than anywhere else in the world, and I think we all know what the reasons are. But I’ve noticed that the biggest health freaks are also American. Anyways, this post is not about fat people but about fat people in wheelchairs.

It was nice to see that Disney World was very accessible to people in wheelchairs. But then I realized that these weren’t really wheelchairs but more like automatic chairs that wheeled healthy-looking people around. Eh, healthy is not the exact word. These were people who are not disabled but have trouble walking because they are obese… or as my American friend put it, because they are “lazy fat Americans”. Ouch!

Did you see that Pixar movie WALL-E where the post-apocalyptic humans move around their city in automated gravity-defying armchairs and watch life from their plasma screens while munching on burgers and milkshakes? Yep, that’s almost what I saw in real life!

Can someone explain to me why did those people use wheelchairs?


When I first went to Disneyland Paris more than ten years ago, I thought I had woken up in a fairytale.  A few years later, when I visited Disney World Orlando, I once again felt like I was being transferred into the land of magic.  I recently visited Orlando twice more as an adult (more or less), and I still felt completely entranced by the place. Disney World truly is an enchanted factory for happiness. I wish more cities could learn from the amusement park’s practices and implement them to make our living environment a little bit more pleasant.

Parents and kids burst out singing and dancing together with the actors on Main Street

What makes Disney World so magically perfect is the attention to detail. Every lamp post has a tiny little ornament, every bench leg has some sort of embellishment, every fence or grating has a little twirl or swirl that makes it look intricate and beautiful. Buildings under reconstruction are covered with panes that display what the façade will look like and pipes or technical equipment are hidden under beautiful covers that resemble bushes or rocks. Such details can make the most mundane or unattractive objects look delightful to the eye.

I wonder if the actors smile for pictures behind the masks?

I remember from ten years ago my mother’s astonishment at the perfect Disney pavement. There is not a single pothole, not a single chipped paving-stone in any of the kilometric alleys. The drainage system is constructed perfectly, so rain water seemingly washes away without forming puddles by the sidewalk. In Sofia, they pave and repave the streets every single summer, but they just don’t do it properly, so cobblestones get pulled out or asphalt cracks up and forms potholes. In Disney you do something once, but you do it at the highest quality and then maintain it.

A sea of strollers inside the theme park

What impressed me even more that some of the attractions is the order put into action in the park. Hundreds of people wait in queues at any single moment, but there is never pushing or cutting in line or any tension. Unobtrusive enclosures form very long and narrow lines that meander in front of the attraction’s entrance, so people slowly move forward in a row of one or two. A clock shows you the estimated time of waiting, which again tells you what to expect and alleviates any negative emotions associated with the wait. Moreover, waiting in these lines is enjoyable because there is music and themed sculptures or interactive screens around you. There is also a system for avoiding the wait – get a “fastpass” now from a machine by the entrance and come back in a few hours at the indicated time, and you will get through the fast lane. I hate to remember how I have to wait for hours when I need to get some administrative job done in Bulgaria in a line that is more like a crowd of aggravated people trying to cut in front of you to reach the single window/desk/counter where the bored bureaucrat sits.

Perfect decorum while waiting in line

The service in Disney, naturally, is impeccable. My friends and I were wondering how is it possible for someone to smile so much. Surely, the dancers, performers, waiters, attractions assistants, actors dresses up as characters, and tour guides, cannot possibly be always in a good mood, but they know that the visitors want to see only happiness during their vacation, so they make sure they play their part accordingly. I was also wondering, do the actors who wear big fluffy costumes with masks smile during photos? My answer is, I am sure they do! Because although the actors are just doing their job at that moment, the joyous smiles on the faces of the kids (and the grown-up kids) surely evoke reciprocal feelings in the actors.

No wonder why everyone lives their dreams in Disney World

And speaking of kids and families, it is funny how much Disney caters to parents in addition to children. With all the crying babies, whimpering toddlers, and sniveling teenagers, a vacation at Disney could soon turn into a nightmare for the parents! So there are huge parking spaces for strollers inside the park for parents’ convenience, a special menu for “little princesses and princes” consisting of macaroni & cheese, peanut butter & jelly, and chicken nuggets (apparently these are American children’s favorite foods?!) at every restaurant, and even a lot of “cooling stations” where you can enjoy tiny water droplets being sprayed on you when the Florida heat becomes unbearable.

Finally, Disney’s fireworks are more magnificent than my capital’s on our national holiday! Disney World has mesmerizing fireworks shows in two of its parks (Epcot and Magic Kingdom) every single night all year round. This makes it the second largest purchaser of explosives in the United States. Unquestionably, Disney knows how to make magic come to life!

 

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You Might Also Enjoy:

Bureaucracy in America: Iron Policy of No Compromise

My New Adventure with American Institutions: Social Security

 

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