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Yesterday, Google’s logo wore a martenitsa, the traditional Bulgarian symbol of the coming of spring! The martenitsa is an ornament made of intertwined red and white wool, often in the shape of a boy and a girl.  It symbolizes the arrival of spring, good health, and fertility.

We start wearing the martenitsa on March 1st, the day of Baba Marta (Grandmother March), and we wear it until we see a budding tree or a stork.

March 1st is also popular in Romania and Moldova under the name Martisor. Google called its file Martisor but it linked to articles about Baba Marta.

I just received some martenitisi from my cousin and my mom. I wonder how my colleagues at my internship will react when I present them one each?

Read my article about hanging martenitsi on trees in Boston.

 


Interesting facts you will learn from this video:

  • Sofia (at that time called Serdika) is 1700 years older than Brussels.
  • Emperor Constantine the Great was considering Sofia for the capital of the Byzantine Empire, but eventually chose Constantinople. He said “Serdika is my Rome”.
  • The oldest functioning church in Europe is St. George’s Rotunda (326 AD). It is right next to the Bulgarian presidency.
  • In the 4th century, Serdika was the spiritual capital of the Christian world.
  • The Boyana Church frescoes are considered to be the portents of the European Renaissance.
  • At the age of 28, the Bulgarian architect Petko Momchilov won a competition against Gustave Eiffel.
  • The Square of Tolerance is a unique place in Sofia: within less than 300 meters, you can see temples from the world’s four major religions: a mosque, a synagogue, a Catholic cathedral, and an orthodox church.
  • More steel was used for the construction of the National Palace of Culture than for the Eiffel Tower. The building was erected for the commemoration of 1300 anniversary of the founding of the Bulgarian state.
  • Sofia’s motto is “Grows But Does Not Age.”

The Coca-Cola Company has always made the best Christmas commercials!  Their new marketing campaign is, once again, memorable, and this time, it even has a connection with Bulgaria!

The “Snow Globes” TV commercial was created in collaboration with Coca-Cola Germany and McCann, Madrid, and was produced by Bulgaria’s Boyana Film Studio in Sofia. Along with the emblematic Christmas Trucks and the reference to the polar bears, the commercial features only Bulgarian actors: Ivan Petrushinov as Santa, Dido Manchev as the store owner, Nikola Kiuchukov and Desislava Kasabova as the young couple, etc. The Californian Grammy Award winning band Train performs the song “Shake Up Christmas”.

I hope the commercial’s message  inspires you for a wonderful holiday with your friends, family and loved ones!


East Meets Barry West (official website) is an independent movie about two UK tourists’ encounter with the Bulgarian mafia!

An Irish man gets lost while traveling in Bulgaria. In between drinking with old Bulgarian folk, waking up besides goats, and fighting with Bulgarian auto mechanics, he meets Lisa, and Englishwoman who is desperately trying to save her sister from the hands of her lover, the Bulgarian mafioso and boss of the entire hospitality business of Varna, Plamen.

A really witty portrayal of the stereotypes about Eastern European mafia and the Bulgarian culture!  The movie is in English and Bulgarian, with English subtitles; starring English and Bulgarian actors, including Bulgarian r’n’b star Big Sha.

Things I love about the movie:

  • Magazine + pack of cigarettes = 80 English pennies
  • Old ladies singing in traditional costumes
  • Village’s mayor brings rakia to the feast (read my previous post Distilling rakia in honor of tax evasion)
  • Calling the trabant a “sex machine”. My other favorite nickname for the beloved East Germany two-stroke-engine automobile is “sex on wheels”
  • Mafiosos speaking English with thick Balkan accent
  • Hot Bulgarian girls ( and beautiful Veliko Turnovo and Varna scenes)

Find all the parts of the movie in YouTube! And don’t forget to pay attention to the beautiful places!


Enrique Iglesias has always had a special corner in my heart, and I can’t believe I missed  his FREE concert AT HOME, in Sofia, on September 29th!

I am sincerely jealous of Ralitza, the Bulgarian fan whom Enrique Iglesias KISSED while singing the song that melts every girl’s heart, Hero!

Enrique didn’t win over his fans’ hearts because he kissed a Bulgarian girl. He won them over because he told her:

“Ralitza, you are Sofia, you are Bulgaria… This is for your country!” Now that’s called great art and great marketing!

Some of the other world-famous musicians who have given concerts in Sofia include: Madonna, Kylie Minogue, Rihanna, Sting, Bryan Adams, Sir Elton John, Seal, George Michael, Lenny Kravitz, Eros Ramazzotti,  Zucchero, Andrea Bocelli, Eric Clapton, AC/DC, Metallica, Depeche Mode, and many more.

Read Ellis Shuman’s review of the concert. Her and her husband’s blog is full of interesting stories about their Adventures in Bulgaria.


I’m really happy that I finally have an apartment with a kitchen! Down with dining hall food! I feel cleaner, lighter, and more satisfied and independent than ever! So much for kitchen poetry…

At 15 in Bulgaria, I usually chose between 3-4 types of cereal. My peers in the States chose between 30-40 brands.

I was walking in Shaw’s Supermarket the other day, and remembered the first time I came to the States. It was around 2003, and I was about 14-15. My whole family came to the East Coast for a vacation. We started with Disney World in Orlando, then Washington DC, NYC, State College in Pennsylvania, Pittsburg, Boston, and Niagara falls. We visited friends, went to museums, saw shows, sights, etc. We wanted to go shopping just for the fun of it. Honestly, we didn’t think we’d find something completely different from what was available back home or from what we had already seen in Western Europe. But I remember that one thing really struck us.

The supermarkets. We went to a supermarket in State College, PA that was as big as the biggest mall in Sofia at that time (TZUM).   It had an incredible assortment of food that we had never seen before. It had piles of shiny big fruit that were so beautiful they almost looked artificial (today, I know that they indeed taste artificial). It had Italian bread, Turkish delight, Arabic dates, Spanish gazpacho, Russian borsch, Greek olives. Finally, one thing completely blew our minds.

The good old muesli with yogurt will always be my top choice. With fruit and honey, its better than the whole cereal aisle!

The aisle with cereal. I bet this was the longest aisle in the store, and it was packed with boxes of cereal: crisp choco crunch frost flake bran berry buzz blast apple maple raisin banana cinnamon pecan almond wheat rice oat corn honey mini multi squares puffs pebbles clusters bunches Kellog Quaker Newman Mills Kashi Ralston Nestle… Who ate all these things?! How was it possible to have so many combinations? How was it possible to choose from such a variety? At that time in Bulgaria, we had a total of maybe three companies producing breakfast cereal: Nestle’s regular cornflakes, Bulgarian cornflakes, and muesli. We ate cereal with milk and sugar or muesli with yoghurt and honey. I think we were perfectly content with the choices we had.

Now, of course, we have giant malls and giant supermarkets like Americans do. This must be a sign that our standard of living is rising. We have a much larger assortment of Bulgarian and foreign breakfast cereal.

Yet even today, after I’ve been to Shaw’s and Whole Foods in Boston so many times, I still fail to understand why Americans need so many different types of cereal?!

***

You might also find interesting the rest of my Observations on the American Culture and Behavior, compared to those in my native Bulgaria:

Bureaucracy in America: Iron Policy of No Compromise

Sex and Watermelons in Bulgarian Pop Culture

It Doesn’t Get More Organic Than This


I would like to join the ongoing in Bulgaria public debate.

In mid-August, the Ministry of Economy presented the video clips for the new advertising campaign for Bulgarian tourism under the slogan “Magic Lives Here”. The campaign aims to change the perception of Bulgaria from a destination for low-cost European youth travel destination, to a more luxurious tourist destination.  The four video clips focus on our Black Sea summer resorts, mountain ski resorts, SPA and wellness centers, eco-tourism and cultural heritage. They are about be broadcasted on four European TV channels: Euronews, Eurosport, Discovery, and National Geographic, in September (read more in Radio Bulgaria’s website).

The project theoretically has a good perspective, but the video clips became notorious because the majority of Bulgarians don’t like them. Newspapers, TV shows, online media, politicians, intellectuals, and celebrities all took a stand in the public debate. The common opinion seems to be that the videos are full of clichés, that they copy other countries’ promo videos from several years ago, are outdated, are executed poorly, have bad quality, and don’t portray Bulgaria accurately.

The most widely discussed aspect, though, is the campaign’s cost. The making and broadcasting of the videos totals at 7.5 million leva (3.7 million euro), which is a significant sum for a country of this size. The campaign is partially funded by the EU. Experts in the field of advertising agree that the production price, almost half a million leva is way too high. Many common people believe that this money would have served better if it were invested in infrastructure.

One is for sure, an ad campaign can always be improved.

Instead of taking part in the blaming and whining, I’d like to take a more productive stand in this debate. Here is my list of the things the next campaign should not omit (in no particular order and without claiming to be exhaustive):

Tourism and Nature:

  • Hikers going to the Seven Rila Lakes
  • White mountain peaks of Rila and Pirin with skiers and snowboarders
  • The wide golden beaches and deep blue of the Black Sea coastline
  • Crowds of people at sea resorts like Sunny Beach and Lozenetz with their luxurious restaurants, clubs and hotels
  • Rafting  in Struma river in September  surrounded by the autumn colors of the forest
  • Small quiet beach camping sites like Smokinia with surfing, windsurfing, and diving
  • Balneotherapy at the mineral hot springs in Velingrad
  • Horseback riding in the Balkan mountain range near the village Skravena
  • Families visiting the Thracian sanctuary at Perperikon
  • Beach festivals (The Spirit of Burgas), concerts in the open, and clubs in Sofia
  • Rock-climbing near the Belogradchik rocks
  • Students exploring the prehistoric paintings at the Magura cave and the Ledenika cave
  • Views from Sofia, Plovdiv, Varna, and Rouse

Cultural  and historical heritage:

  • Thracian golden masks and jewelry
  • Ancient Roman amphitheatre in Plovdiv
  • Typical architecture of 17th-century houses in Veliko Turnovo
  • Houses-museums of Bulgarian revolutionaries in Koprivshtitza
  • Old crafts from the time Bulgaria was in the Ottoman empire in Etura
  • Vast vineyards and wineries in Melnik, the wine capital of the Balkans
  • Scary masks at the Kukeri carnival in Pernik
  • Nestinarki dancing on fire in the village of Bulgari
  • Esoteric Paneurhythmy dance ritual near the Seven Rila Lakes
  • Children hanging martenitsi on blossoming trees
  • Rose-picking and rose-oil production near Kazanluk
  • Singers and bagpipe-players in traditional garments during the folklore festival in Zheravna
  • People dancing the horo during a wedding
  • Merry crowds enjoying the Bulgarian cuisine, lukanka, liutenitza, banitza, in a kruchma (pub) in Bansko
  • Orthodox Christian baptism in the Rozhen monastery and the icons in the Rila monastery

Take a look at this beautiful promotional video made by the Bulgarian tourism authorities.

I hope it inspires you to visit our wonderful Black Sea and mountain resorts and tourist centers. Culture, history, archeology, architecture, cuisine, sports, entertainment, recreation, luxury, you can find it all in Bulgaria!


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?!


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.


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!


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

 

***  

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


One of the greatest commercials ever made about the greatest whiskey-makers dynasty ever born.

Breathtaking windpipe music and a spectacular road view in the background.

“Hey piper, shut it!” And the Scottish actor Robert Carlyle starts narrating the story of the young lad named John and the Johnnie Walker brand.

When he was only 14, young John inherited a grocery store from his father. There, John developed a passion for blending different single malts. Later his sons, who carried the same entrepreneurial spirit, further developed the whiskey, and their brand became a leader in the industry.  Some of their trade marks became the square bottle, the tilted at exactly 24 degrees label, and the slogan Keep Walking.

As the narrator keeps walking on a picturesque mountainous road, various artifacts like portraits, bar doors, and barrels illustrate his story. The Scottish accent, in perfect synchrony with the soundtrack, recreates the truly unique atmosphere of Johnny Walker’s magnificent journey. 

A state-of-the-art commercial about ambition and true Scottish spirit.


Check out this amaaazing song!!! It can lift up your spirits even after you go all the way to Boston Logan to find out that your flight is 50 mins late and there’s no chance you could make the connection and have to go back to a cold dark dorm room and spend a night doing homework. Yeeey for Delta Airlines!! And Discovery Channel’s awesome ads!


PETA is famous with its brave and clever campaigns. Nudity seems to be their trade mark

 

According to animal activist from PETA, the only way to decrease the number of homeless cats and dogs dumped in shelters, where most of them are eventually euthanized, is animal birth control. This is exactly what this clever campaign with adult movie star Sasha Grey promotes. 

The phrase “Too Much Sex Can Be A Bad Thing: Have your cats and dogs spayed or neutered” is fresh and catchy. The photos are sexy and artsy. The cause is good. What more does it take to make it work? 

Please spread the word!  

Read more and watch a video at http://www.peta.org/Featuresashagrey.asp

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