Back home, only security forces and criminals have guns. In Texas, shooting is a family activity! And presumably the Balkans are the scary place!

My vacation in Corpus Christi, TX included an afternoon at The Sharp Shooter, one of this seaside resort’s many shooting ranges.

At the Sharp Shooter, anyone above the age of 21 can buy, sell, and trade their handguns and rifles. Anyone without restrictions can simply come and shoot for fun! There is no legal age for shooting, which is why the Sharp Shooter offers a great promotion, I quote:

 Family Day on Sundays: Children (16 and under) shoot for free **With paying adult.** Bring the whole family and save.

I guess shooting has a family bonding role in Texas, just like playing monopoly or riding bikes in the park. It is also a completely gender-neutral activity, check this out:

 Ladies Day – Tuesdays: Women shoot for ½ price. They also enjoy free targets, eye and ear protection, gun rentals, and classes from our expert instructors.

These instructors, by the way, were very kind Texan men who gladly showed me their entire line of guns: Taurus, Remingtons, Weatherbys, Smith & Wessons, Brownings, Springfields, etc, including the “cute” pink mini pistols, which are “ideal for a lady like you”.

In Texas, you do not need a permit or license to buy a gun or rifle; you don’t even have to register as an owner. You, however, need a permit to carry a concealed (out-of-sigh) handgun, which you can easily obtain at the gun store in exchange for an application, two color passport photos, fingerprints, and proof of residency and age, and $125. Once you’ve got that document, you can tuck your gun in your belt, put your shirt over it, and carry it whenever and wherever you’d like. Still, some establishments such as bars, schools, hospitals, and amusement parks put up a sign at the door saying that you should leave your gun in the car.

You are permitted to carry your gun out in the open if you are on your property (which explains the movie scenes where an old lady pulls out a rifle from underneath her skirt and points it at the intruder in her backyard). You can also openly carry your gun while you are hunting, attending a weapons exhibition, practicing at a shooting range, or all similar “sports” activities, which would probably be illegal in most countries.

When in Rome, do as the Romans do, I said to myself, and shot a few times at the target with my friend’s rifle and guns. But still, I had a hard time understanding why my guy friends, who had just moved to Texas, had suddenly all bought a gun (or more than one, or even a whole collection of them). Even the greatest pacifist among them said he wanted to buy a taser (the thing that shoots up a metal rod in your skin and shocks you with electricity!).

“Everyone here has a gun,” the boys said, “so it’s a question of safety to have one as well.” I can’t say that I felt very safe having a burger in Hooters on a table with six guys, at least two of whom were carrying a concealed gun at that time. Kill me, I don’t get the logic (pun intended)!

What do you think? Is it ok to make guns so widely available and widely acceptable (to both children and adults)? What does this say of the American society, which has become so used to the presence of guns and violence that they don’t find it disturbing anymore? 

You might also enjoy:

Adventures in the Lone Star State: Selena and the Tejano Culture

Adventures in the Lone Star State: Texas Pride


In Texas, I saw the biographical movie Selena, and it helped me understand the Tejano culture.

Selena Quintanilla-Perez, The Queen of Tejano Music

Selena Quintanilla-Perez (1971 – 1995) was a Mexican-American singer also known as the “Queen of the Tejano music” and the Mexican equivalent of Madonna. She was the best selling Latin artist of the 90s and an idol for the Tejanos and the Latin world. Selena was murdered in Corpus Christi, TX just two weeks before her 24 birthday by the president of her fan club, Yolanda Saldivar. Her death was commemorated as a great tragedy by millions of fans. That summer, her new album Dreaming of You, with lyrics both in English and Spanish, became number one in the US Billboard 200, which made it the second highest debut after Michael Jackson’s HIStory.

The movie Selena (starring Jennifer Lopez) was my introduction to the Tejano culture. Tejanos (the Spanish word for Texans) are people of Mexican heritage who live in Texas and whose ancestors arrived there before or during the Texas Revolution. In 2000, they are about 6.7 million or 32% of the population of Texas.  The center of their culture is San Antonio. In general, their music is very close to the Cajun music of Louisiana, to the cowboy country music, or to the Mexican and Latino music. Their cuisine is a mixture of Spanish and American, or more commonly referred to as Tex-Mex: lots of tortillas, enchiladas, fajitas, chili, etc.

I find it very interesting that this is a culture that evolved out of the meeting of two very different peoples. Because the Tejanos live on the crossroads between Mexico and America, Selena has to be very flexible if she wants to send a message to both. The movie portrayed very well the challenges Tejanos have when it comes to cultural assimilation. One quote by Selena’s father really struck me:

We have to be more Mexican than the Mexicans and more American than the Americans, both at the same time! It’s exhausting!

The Selena Memorial in Corpus Christi, TX

Just think about it: Selena has to speak both Spanish and English and to know the customs and values of Mexicans and Ameircans in order to appeal to both and be accepted by both. Because she carries two cultural identities in her, she can never completely assimilate with one or the other. She is meant to live in both cultures simultaneously. And that’s why she has to try twice as hard.

The Tejan dilemma applies to all immigrants, people of mixed backgrounds, and even international students. You have to learn to embrace both of your identities (or both your home and host culture), but also you have to be flexible and bring forth one or the other of them when in the respective environment. In other words, you have to prove to the Mexicans that you are Mexican and to the Americans that you are American. It would be much more difficult to appeal to the Americans as a foreigner for example; yes, you might seem exotic and interesting, but you will never be accepted if you do not display an understanding of their values and ways of doing things.

Another way to put it is: “When in Rome, do as the Romans do”. So, having cultural sensitivity and understanding is very important for everyone but even more important for people of mixed descend and immigrants.

 

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Adventures in the Lone Star State: Texas Pride


The Texas and American flags by the Riverwalk, San Antonio, TX

After visiting Florida, Mississippi and Louisiana, the next top destination on my list was Texas. I must say, I love the Sudurn (that’s how you pronounce Southern, right?) culture! People are relaxed and negligee. They stroll instead of rush, look at you in the eye when you pass each other in the street, and are keen on starting and carrying on a conversation with strangers.

Cowboy cookbooks at a souvenir shop in San Antonio, TX

What made the strongest impression on me in San Antonio is the abundance of the Texas flag. I have been to many American states but have never before seen such evident display of state pride. Actually, I don’t think I even know what the rest of the state flags look like, other than the Massachusetts one (Massachusetts is probably the only other place where I’ve noticed similar state-patriotism).

The decorations on the Christmas tree in San Antonio, TX include: stars, cacti, cowboy boots, the outlines of the state, horse, longhorn, etc.

You can sense the Texas pride not only from the profusion of lone-star merchandise in the souvenir shops or the ambiance in touristy restaurants; it’s also in the decoration in public places, the flags on many of the private houses, and the way people dress. Yes, everything about the cowboy hats, big buckle belts and the string-like bolo ties is true. It’s as if Texas has its own culture, which is of course influenced by the American and the Mexican culture, but also has its unique features (read my post about the Tejano culture). That’s why the cuisine is predominantly Mexican and you can freely communicate with almost anyone in Spanish (this reminded me of my vacation in Miami).

I was even a little bit surprised at how many times I saw the Texan flag next to the American flag or even the former taking precedence over the latter.  It didn’t exactly become clear to me whether they two were like the two sides of one coin or if they were juxtaposed.

In Texas, I also became aware that each state has its own nickname, license plate, motto, animal, plant, etc.  For example, Texas is the Lone Star State, Massachusetts is the Bay State, Florida – The Sunshine State,  California – the Golden State, New York – the Empire State, etc.

Regional Pride in Bulgaria

The Seven Folklore Regions of Bulgaria

We do have regional pride in Bulgaria, but our regions are cultural rather than administrative, and are in no way semi-autonomous like the American states. There are no such things are regional flags, mottos, or license plates. However, regions are defined by their folklore. Basically our mountains shape the Seven Folklore Regions of Bulgaria.

Counterclockwise from West to East, they are: the Shopski region (around Sofia), the Pirin region (around Blagoevgrad and Melnik), the Rhodope region (around Shiroka Luka and Smolyan), the Thracia region (around Plovidv, Kazanluk and the Rose Valley), Strandjanski region (around Burgas), Dobrudjanski region (around Dobrudja and Varna), and the northern Severnyashki region (around Veliko Turnovo and the Danube river).

National costumes, musical rhythm and dances have some major differences in each of these parts of the country. Other than that, we have some unspoken opinions about the characters of people in each region. My mother is from the Shopski region and my father is from the Pirinski (also known as the Macedonian region), and people say that this is a dangerous combination!

Equipped with my cowboy hat and leather jacket, ready to ride the bull in Corpus Christi, TX

A postcard from the Riverwalk in San Antonio.Can you spot the lone stars?

The Alamo in San Antonio was the site of a battle between the Mexicans and the Texian Army


Just before Christmas, I visited San Antonio, TX and had my first real rib-eye stake at a restaurant on the Riverwalk!  I must admit, it was a masterpiece – you Americans know your steaks!

But then my friend asked for more barbecue sauce… and some chilly sauce, Cajun sauce, Dijon  mustard, and ketchup.  Why, OH WHY, would you ruin the best steaks in the world with so many sauces?!

And then there is the delicious, fresh, crunchy, natural salad…  and you plop on top of it a big squirt of Caesar, Ranch, Chipotle, Blue Cheese, Honey Mustard, Thousand Island, Santa Fe Blend,  Lemon Mayonnaise, Jalapeno Ranch,  Sesame Ginger, Hot & Spicy, Creamy Style Miso, Romano Basil Vinaigrette, Cranberry Balsamic, Italian, French, Russian, Mediterranean, or Greek Dressings… as well as all their light, reduced fat, fat-free, or organic versions. Does salad really need so many types of dressings?

And then I go to Shaw’s or Whole Foods, and I see entire aisles with sauces, salsas, chutneys, condiments, dressings,vinegars, and marinades. It almost seems to me that you don’t like the natural taste of food because you seem to always want to flavor it with something else.

I have been taught that fish requires only lemon, salad requires only salt and olive oil, and meat requires only salt, if anything at all. Bulgarian food is so much more simple compared to American, and yet I feel like it is more flavorful because you can actually taste the different vegetables or the different herbs in it.

I call upon the readers of this blog to switch the Chunky Blue Cheese Dressing for real crumbled feta, the Fat-free Italian Dressing for freshly chopped parsley and sun-dried tomatoes, and those yellow round plastic containers with real freshly squeezed lemons.

***

You Might Also Find Interesting:

Why Do Americans Have So Many Types of Breakfast Cereal

Food, the Best Bulgarian Ambassador to Korea 


 

IRé is a combination of imagination and reality, the artist says. Her music is a beautiful marriage of jazz, world music, pop, folk, soul, and blues.

You can trace flamenco, African, Brazilian, and Oriental motifs in IRé’s first album, but the artist clearly gets most of her inspiration from the Bulgarian folklore. Visit her MySpace page, YouTube channel or Facebook page. 

IRé, or Irina Zhekova, is a mathematician from Bulgaria who discovered her strong bond with Bulgarian folk music while studying in Paris. There, she met with her partner, Charlie Dalin, with whom she shares a passion for music that transcends styles and flows like pure imagination. Together, the artistic duo conquered France – Irina with her voice, guitar, and piano, and  Charlie with his percussions, whistles, and special effects.

IRé, as Irina’s friends and family have nicknamed her, describes her work as ethno jazz, but in fact it is a mixture of many styles.  IRé transfers her love for Slavic mythology into the lyrics she composes – for example her songs about beautiful samodivi maidens and vicious zmei dragons. The duo captured audiences throughout France with their “modern folklore” and unconventional performances of traditional Bulgarian songs.  Most of her lyrics are in Bulgarian, but some are in a melodious made-up language, where the sound takes precedence over content.

After her enormous success in France, IRé was warmly welcomed by the Bulgarian audience as a promising young ambassador of our culture and folklore.

 

Read more about Bulgarian music and folklore:

The Bagpipe Festival in Gela and Shiroka Luka in Rhodope Mountain 

Legends of the Bulgarian Samodivi

Festival of the Bulgarian National Costumer in Zheravna

The Kukeri Dance: Scaring Away Evil Spirits

 

 


A few days ago, I told you about a Po Zhitzata, the First Bulgarian Online School, which offers lessons in Bulgarian grammar, literature, history and geography to the children of expatriates and foreigners wishing to learn the language.

Today, I want to tell you about another entrepreneurial venture that serves as an ambassador of Bulgaria, Zelen restaurant in Seoul, Korea.

Zelen (which means green) was opened by two Bulgarian brothers, Mihal and Filip Ashminov and their Korean partner in 2007.  Mihal, who was previously a chef at the Sheraton Hotel in Sofia came to Korea when he was 21 to work at the Westin Chosun Hotel. There, he noticed that health-consious Korean women love his Bulgarian dishes. When he and his Korean partner came up with the idea to open a Bulgarian restaurant, Mihal called his brother, who was at that time a chef in Ireland, to come and get involved with the brave project.

Mihal and Filip Ashminovi, founders of Zelen Bulgarian Restaurant in Seoul

Since 2010, Zelen has two branches and is wildly popular among food aficionados in Seoul. There are four Bulgarian chefs and six Korean sous chefs. Mihal and Filip say that they do not adapt their recipes to the Korean taste: everything is prepared according to traditional Bulgarian recipes: Shopska salad, eggplant salad, tarator (cold cucumber soup), salami and mezze, sarmi (cabbage roll stuffed with rice and beef), stuffed peppers, vegetable moussaka, St. George’s style roasted leg of lamb, kiufte (meatball), shishche (skewers), yoghurt with honey, Bulgarian red wine, and so much more typical BG goodies.

Zelen is featured in ALL of Seoul’s BEST RESTAURANT GUIDES (seoulstyle.com, seouleats.com), and most articles recommend that you call in advance to book a table because the place is always full! MOST articles call Zelen “one of Seoul’s favorite restaurants”.

Well done, Bulgarian entrepreneurs! Keep up the good cooking!

***

More on Bulgarian Cuisine from My Blog: 

Buy Bulgarian Specialties at Trader Joe’s (photo)

Taking my Friends to The Crazy Cock, the Bulgarian Restaurant in London (many photos)

Preparing Bulgarian Christmas Eve Dinner (yum-yum photos)

Apres-ski: feasting on in Bansko (more eye-tearing photos)

The best Bulgarian cookbook IN ENGLISH that you can buy on Amazon


 

I believe in positive thinking and make-it-happen attitude. When you believe that you can achieve something, the whole universe aligns the right way and helps you achieve it.

Imagine the thickest fog around Sofia airport – you can’t see beyond the end of your suitcase.  All around you, outbound flights are being canceled and inbound flights are being transferred to another airport. But you know that you must take this flight to London and be there on time, and you are positive that you will fly. It so happens that you are scheduled to be on the only plane in the entire Bulgaria Air fleet that is able to fly during fog, so you simply take off like it’s a piece of cake!

During the flight, you sit in seat 6B, nervously chewing on your free paper cup and hastily skimming over your notes for tomorrow. The person in 6A looks over at the paper in your lap and strikes up a conversation. It turns out, he also conducts interviews and is happy to give you a few good tips and even quiz you a bit. The 3-hour flight flies by. Then, he and his colleague offer to give you a ride to your hotel. They go way out of their way and spend an extra 25 minutes to get you exactly to the front door so that you don’t get wet in the rain. They both wish you good luck for tomorrow.

On the next morning, you talk to a very kind taxi driver who wishes you good luck wholeheartedly.  When it’s time for the interview, you enjoy yourself tremendously. “Whatever happens”, you say to yourself, “I’m glad I did that.” But you secretly know that you have just found the place where you belong.

While waiting for a taxi, you have a great conversation with the company’s mailroom man, who wishes you good luck. You get in the taxi, but it turns out that another car is blocking your way out of the parking. By the license plate that spells out your favorite drink’s name, it becomes clear that it’s the car of the big boss that’s not letting you leave the office.

Later that night, you meet good friends of yours at a pub and realize that your favorite drink is made by this same company and is not a summer drink only, but also has a winter edition. Your friends order it for you and wish you good luck. On the way back, you see the gorgeous St. Paul’s cathedral and find a lucky penny on the ground.

As you wait at the airport to go home, you meet an employee of the same company in the duty free shop and have a great conversation. He wishes you good luck.

Your flight is 2 hours late, so you decide to sit down and write a post for your blog. You finish the post with the words “Friends, please wish me good luck because I’m expecting a call.”

You are just about to post it on your blog when you receive a call, which you would not have been able to receive had the plane not been delayed. When you finish the call, you delete the last line and instead write:

Dear friends, I just got my dream job!


During the four years I’ve  been living abroad, I’ve met too many children of Bulgarian immigrants who speak broken Bulgarian.  It saddens me that some of them have completely assimilated into the foreign culture to the point that they have forgotten their origins and Bulgarian identity.

I know that London as well as some American cities have big Bulgarian communities with a church or even a school, but these are not everywhere and are not able to reach everyone. Read about the Bulgarian high school in London here. 

The solution is По жицата /Po zhitzata/, the First Bulgarian Online School.

I learned about the school through Valentin Nenkov, it’s founder, whom I met at a Bulgarian networking event at MIT. The Bulgarian virtual classroom provides classes in Bulgarian language, literature, history, and geography for both children and adults. The teachers are located in Bulgaria and the students are expatriates from all over the world as well as foreigners interested in learning the Bulgarian language. The lessons are conducted in real time every week.

I believe that knowing who you are means knowing your roots, so it’s very important to teach young Bulgarians living abroad about their country’s literature, history and geography.  This will help them preserve their culture and identity wherever in the world they might be.

This is a quote from the website of First Bulgarian Online School. If you fall into any of these categories, you know what to do:   

If you are here, chances are: you’ve been to Bulgaria; you’ve heard something about Bulgaria; you are married to a Bulgarian; you know “Zdravei” and “Blagodaria” and you are ready to learn and explore more. Whatever the reason is let us know today and start learning tomorrow with a tutor from Bulgaria.

 


My Christmas present this year was tickets to the Boston Celtics vs Toronto Raptors pre-season game at Boston’s TD Garden. This means that for my four years at BU, I’ve checked off two out of Boston’s four great teams. Yep, I have to speed up the process and see the other two before graduation!

Boston is said to be America’s top sports city. There’s the Red Sox, the Celtics, the Bruins, and the New England Patriots (baseball, basketball, hockey, and American football). You can imagine my motivation to see all these teams play since we don’t even have three of these sports in Bulgaria (and we are not really that good at basketball either)! Even these teams’ home arenas are considered key  tourist destinations: Fenway Park, TD Garden (for both the Celtics and the Bruins), and the Gillette Stadium.

Of course I wanted to do the whole ritual right: I went to TD Garden by T as a true Bostonian, had some Sam Adams at an Irish pub before the game, bought a green t-shirt from a street vendor, got a green shamrock painted on my face, and cheered with the crowd throughout the game!  Naturally, we won!

So after I check off the Bruins and the Pats, I also need to go to a NASCAR race and to a rodeo! Any suggestions when and where to do this?

And while we are still talking about sports, did you know that Bulgaria has one of the best fencing teams in the world? I certainly did not! I didn’t even know there was fencing here, and as it turns out, the best fencers are from Easter Europe and the Former Soviet Union! Who knew?!

Lucky, the Celtics' mascot, is flying in the air

It kills me that Bulgarians do all these amazing things but we don’t know how to popularize our achievements even among our own people. I wish someone popularized this game and taught Bulgarians to be proud of our teams and their victories! Sports always bring people together, and if someone made sports more popular in Bulgaria*, our people would have more reasons to feel national pride.

*(The only really popular sport in Bulgaria is soccer – and we do have some great soccer players like Dimitar Berbatov and Hristo Stoichkov)


The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2011 annual report for this blog.

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 59,000 times in 2011. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 22 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

In 2011, there were 77 new posts, growing the total archive of this blog to 186 posts. There were 226 pictures uploaded, taking up a total of 286mb. That’s about 4 pictures per week.

The busiest day of the year was January 15th with 560 views. The most popular post that day was Restaurant Customer Service in Europe or the States: What’s Your Pick?.

Your most commented on post in 2011 was Google Celebrates Baba Marta

Attractions in 2011

      These are the posts that got the most views in 2011.

Restaurant Customer Service in Europe or the States: What’s Your Pick? 6 comments October 2010

Red Army Soldiers Gone Superhero: Graffiti Artist Transforms Soviet Monument In Sofia 3 comments June 2011

BBC Close-Up: Bulgarian Pop-folk 3 comments February 2010

The Most Beautiful Place In The World: The Seven Rila Lakes 4 comments August 2010

Why Do Americans Have So Many Types of Breakfast Cereal? 160 comments September 2010

Some of your most popular posts were written before 2011. Your writing has staying power! Consider writing about those topics again.

See you in 2012

  1. Spent a semester studying and interning in London
  2. Jumped off a 10 meter rock into the sea at the North Pembrokshire coastline, Wales, UK
  3. Traveled A LOT: Visited Stonehenge, Manchester, Oxford, Brighton, Bristol, Bath, Brussels,  Milano, New Orleans, LA, Miami, FL and San Antonio, TX for the first time
  4. Participated in a swimming competition and earned three ribbons
  5. Put Bulgaria on the rout of a girl’s trip around the world and spent 10 days roadtripping with her. Brought two other American girls to Bulgaria and left them with amazing memories
  6. Went to the International Bagpipe Festival in Gela, Rhodope Mountain and danced horo with hundreds of people in the open
  7. Windsurfed and kayaked off the coast of Sozopol at the Black Sea, Bulgaria
  8. Spent an entire night, from sunset to sunrise, dancing on the beach under Armin Van Buuren’s techno beat in Sunny Beach, Bulgaria
  9. Went to a Joe Cocker and to a Sting live concert in Sofia (Sting for the second time :), saw Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar in a replica of the Globe,  Aida in the London Opera, Cirque du Soleil in the Royal Albert Hall (the fourth show I’ve seen by them), and a Celtics game in Boston’s TD Garden
  10. Rode a horse on the beach, danced at a country bar with a cowboy hat on, rode a motorbike, and shot a rifle in Texas
  11. Saw the beginning of the building of the family winery
  12. Made some great new friendships all over the world

Happy New 2012! May it be better than 2011!


Happy Holidays, Dear Friends!

I’m back at home in Sofia for the winter vacation and just celebrated a lovely Christmas Eve with my family!

I wish you to always reunite with your loved ones on such special occasions! I wish you and your families love, good health, joy, and success!

Today I have selected my favorite Bulgarian winter and Christmas children’s songs. Enjoy!

Click here to read my description of the Bulgarian Christmas Eve Dinner. I’d love to hear about your celebrations!

 

“Santa Claus is Clattering in His Red Boots”

 

“The Puppy Sharo and the First Snow” – it’s about the puppy Sharo who is looking out the window and sees, in utter dismay, snow for the first time!

 

“Over the Quiet Hills” – a village is nestled in the snowy hills of a mountain and quietly watches the flight of a Santa’s sleigh.

 


I had one of those experiences that make me feel more and more native to New England – I shucked oysters!

Oysters are those huge shells that you might have seen in movies served raw on crushed ice with lemon juice, cocktail sauce and horseradish and slurped out by rich old businessmen while smoking a cigar.  They are a sign of great luxury and an aphrodisiac.

Of course all Bostonians are cool enough to eat oysters (that is, as long as they have the guts to). My personal record I think is four raw oysters in the Union Oyster House. But after I did that I needed to lay still for a while.

Shucking oysters, however, is a whole new experience that helped me gain an even deeper appreciation for this slippery seduction meal.

We went for a free oyster shucking lesson at the North End Fish Market (on Saturdays, at 99 Salem Str).  We were given gloves, a chisel-like knife and a bunch of local oysters that looked like solid rocks.

The most difficult part, I found, was slipping the knife in the hinge (imagine thrusting a knife into solid rock) and cracking the top and bottom shell open.  Then you slide the knife all the way around the oyster until you actually separate the two shells – and by “slide” I mean strain your muscles and try to push the knife through until you almost break your wrist. Finally, the easy but embarrassing part is to gently slide the knife under the oyster and cut the flesh that connects it to the bottom shelf and then flip it upside-down to have “better presentation” or, if you are me, just drop it on the table and then awkwardly pick it up. At last, you can squeeze in some lemon and slurp it out with a grin on your face. Good job!

After shucking 4 oysters each and deciding that we’d better put an end on seafood for the day, we continued our tour of the North End, the Italian neighborhood in Boston.

 You might also like:

Picking Apples and Cranberries in New England

The Great American Cookout at Kimball Farm

The Boston Marathon 


St. Nikola, a Bulgarian icon

Today, December 6th, is one of the bigger holidays in Bulgaria: Nikylden, or the Day of St. Nikola Mirlikiiski, or St. Nikola the Miracle-Maker. St. Nikola is the guardian of fishermen, sailors, travelers, tradesmen, and bankers (Who can tell me what the connection between them is ?). Nikola was a historical figure born in 270 BC in Patara (today in Turkey). Legend says he inherited a great fortune from his father but gave it all away to those in need. The saint also performed many miracles that delivered sailors and fishermen safely from sea tempests. According to another legend, he plugged a hole in a ship with a carp fish and thus saved it from sinking!

Nikylden is more than a religious day for the Orthodox Christians; it is also a nameday for all bearers of the name Nikola, Nick, Nikoleta, Kolio, Nikolai, Nicholas, etc; actually, most Bulgarian families celebrate the holiday even if they don’t have a Nick in the family.

Poseidon (Neptune) puts a pagan spin on the celebration of St. Nikola

St. Nikola is also associated with the sea, ocean, rivers, and lakes, and in this sense is similar to the Greek god Poseidon (called Neptune in Roman mythology). Germanic nations also celebrate St. Nicholas’ day, although slightly differently, and even associate this saint with Santa Claus.

In Bulgaria, we eat fish on December 6th – preferably fish with scales like carp or sheat-fish because “naked” fish without scales symbolized poverty. We bake the fish whole and stuff it with walnuts (check out a few typical Bulgarian Nikylden recipes here).

To me and my family, the Nikylden feast is the equivalent of a Thanksgiving Feast because my father is called Nikola and he is a “tradesman”. This means that my house is always full of guests on this day!

Traditionally, you don’t send official invitations for your nameday: you are supposed to prepare a big meal and expect your closest people to show up for dinner by themselves. So you basically never know who is showing up until they do, but you expect your closest relatives, godparents, best man and woman, and good neighbors to pay a visit. They might bring flowers, alcohol, and other presents.  Don’t expect them to leave before 2am.

Stuffed carp - I want to be home right now!

The table is, naturally, very festive! In addition to the stuffed carp, my mother also prepares salmon, shark, scard fish and turbot (eh, probably not all of them every time!). We have a variety of salads and other yummy dishes and lots of wine – Villa Melnik of course!

I’m so angry I missed it again this year, but HAPPY NIKYLDEN, DAD!

The Russian church St. Nicholas the Miracle-Maker in Sofia, Bulgaria

Namedays are very big in Bulgaria, maybe even bigger than birthdays. There are less presents for the person celebrating but more of a communal feel since this day is not a personal celebration, but a celebration of all people who bear the same name, of the saint, and of all the virtues that the saint represents. I love my name, Militza, because it is the name of my great-grandmother and is very rare, but I’ve always been jealous that it is too rare to have a saint or a nameday associated with it! Oh well, I just get to celebrate my birthday and half-birthday!

***

You Might Also Enjoy:

The Newborn Baby and the Naming Dilemma

St. Sophia and Her Daughters: Faith, Hope, and Love

Tsvetnitsa: Name Day for All Flowers


The highlight of my college career! I swear, it was by chance that they gave me ribbons in the colors of the Bulgarian flag! It's fate!

I just went through the highlight of my college career! Nothing can surpass the excitement and feeling of pride with myself after finishing my first swimming competition – not even the first day of classes, possibly not even graduation!

This swimming competition was probably one of the few competition sporting events I have ever participated in. But this is not the best part! The best part is that two semesters ago, I couldn’t swim!

Allow me to start from the beginning! During my sophomore year, I wanted to sign up for a sailing course here at Boston University. They told me that I needed to pass a swimming test. OK, I said to myself, thinking that I knew how to swim.

As it turned out, I knew how to move in the water from shallow point A to shallow point B using a stroke that resembles breaststroke only with my head above the water like a submarine’s periscope. No one at Sunny Beach had ever told me that this is not the right way to swim!

So needless to say, I got flunked. Not only that, but I also discovered that I am utterly terrified of the deep water (BU has an Olympic size pool) and can hardly hold my breath for more than 5 seconds (so much for hookah pipe). In other words, I almost got a heart attack and a panic attack simultaneously in that pool. I was that close to accepting that I will simply never learn how to properly swim (big deal, right..)

As a Bulgarian would say “Yes, but no!”  That night, I had a nightmare about drowning and woke up drenched in sweat and determined to learn how to swim!

Since then, I completed a beginning swim class, passed the swim test, completed beginning sailing and intermediate sailing, completed intermediate swimming, tried jet skiing, catamaran, wind surfing, and kayaking, went coasteering (jumping off 10 meter rocks in freezing 3-degree C water wearing full wetsuit, boots, and a helmet, off the coast of Wales) and now, successfully completed a swimming competition!

I don’t know if you can imagine how scared I was as I was about to do each of these things, and then how proud I felt with myself for not giving up and persevering. If there is one thing I learned in college, it is that I can do anything!

I participated in five events today – three individual and two relays in a team of four. I earned  ribbons for my individual events! And isn’t it just precious that the three of them – Second Place 100m backstroke, Third Place 50m breaststroke, and Fifth Place 100m freestyle, are in “White, Green, and Red”. Karma: I’m Swim Team Bulgaria! 

Me, windsurfing in calm waters near Sozopol, Bulgaria

Totally uncoordinated, but very very happy! Near Sozopol, Bulgaria

Kayaking in full gear near Pembrokeshire, Wales, UK

Coasteering with Preseli Venture

Coasteering - climbing up rocks and then jumping off! Wales, UK

And sailing on the Charles in Boston!

Read more about the Bulgarian beach here:

Armin Van Buuren at Cacao Beach

Nesebar and Sand Sculpture Fest in Burgas

And about rowing on the Charles here:

 Joking with the Turkish Rowers, Head of the Charles 2010

The best picture of the Head of the Charles 2011 ever!


I bought liutenitza and kyopolo at Trader Joe's in Boston

To all devotees of Bulgarian cuisine: Trader Joe’s sells the two gems of Bulgarian culinary genius: liutenitza and kyopolou!

Liutenitsa (liutenitza) is a heavenly spread made of, tomatoes, red peppers, carrots, onion, eggplant and herbs that could be a little bit spicy or not. We spread it on bread or use it as a side to grilled meat… and actually anything else. My personal favorite is a slice of bread with liutenitza (the layer should be as thick as the bread) and Bulgarian white feta cheese! Yum-yum!

Kyopolou (kiopolo) is made of roasted eggplant, garlic, parsley, olive oil, and sometimes peppers or tomatoes. It is served cold as an appetizer or spread on bread. See recipe  for both spreads (we call them salads) from BG Taste.

Several countries on the Balkans have similar products. You might have previously tried Turkish kopoglu or Serbian ajvar.

So if you are craving an authentic taste of Bulgaria – run to Trader Joe’s! They call the two products “Red Pepper Spread” and “Eggplant Garlic Spread”, but the labels clearly indicate that this is a “Product of Bulgaria” and a “Traditional Bulgarian Recipe”. Enjoy!

Find the nearest Trader Joe’s here.

 

If you want to try out more Bulgarian recipes yourselves, you can take a look at the Bulgarian cookbook I received last year or read my blog post on preparing a Bulgarian Christmas Eve’s dinner.


Dear Dad,

Something terrible happened to your credit card. It kind of slipped away from my wallet into the cashier’s hands… multiple times. But you are happy when I’m happy, right? And I got mom something nice, so that hopefully, at least she doesn’t ask for more for a while.

Love,

Your only daughter

 

Black Friday

Black Friday is the day after Thanksgiving and it marks the beginning of the Christmas shopping season – with insane discounts! Hundreds of people camp outside the major shopping malls the night before and rush in the stores as soon as they open doors. This year, the Boston Cambridge Side Galleria opened at 1am!

My friends and I are not the extreme type, so we went shopping at 11am and still found the mall packed! “40% off until 1pm”, “Buy One Get One Free”, “2 for $30, 4 for $45”, “The More You Get, The Bigger the Discount” are only some of the attractive signs that lured us into one store after the other!

No wonder why this day is called Black! We finished shopping at 4pm, completely physically and financially exhausted! Long Live American Marketing!


It’s not easy to be an international student in the States on Thanksgiving. They kick you out of the dorm for 5 days, all of your friends scatter to their respective places of origin, and you have to be very creative in finding what to do.

Bulgarian-German Thanksgiving at the Grosses, 2008

My strategy has been to try to be as traditional American as possible in order to experience the culture. Funny how that turned out!

 

Thanksgiving 2008: Three-and-two-halves Bulgarians and one turkey

The Grosse family was so kind to invite me and two other Bulgarians to their home in New Jersey over the Thanksgiving break. The Grosses used to live in Bulgaria and their daughters, the two half-Bulgarians as I like to call them, went to my high school in Sofia. So in 2008, they got together me and two other girls from that school who currently go to college on the East Coast. For dinner, we had all the ingredients of an American Thanksgiving Feast, but prepared the German way – potato dumplings, sauerkraut (German red cabbage), turkey breast (without stuffing), mama Grosse’s secret saus, all sorts of delicious German pastry (with strudels instead of pies), and of course, Bulgarian Red Wine Tcherga.  My cultural experience was further enriched with Black Friday shopping in the Short Hills Mall.

 

Thanksgiving 2009: Disney World, Orlando

Another not-so -typical holiday, I guess. Timmy and I went to Orlando, FL, where we spent the day riding on roller coasters, trying to get out of haunted houses, and spinning on all sorts of carousels. We saw a mini-city made up entirely of Christmas Lights, but didn’t really experience anything particularly Thanksgiving-ly other than the roasted turkey leg on the bone that Timmy and I devoured.

 

Thanksgiving 2010: Plymouth, It Can’t Get More American Than That

Now this was the epitome of Thanksgiving! We were in Plymouth, MA, where the Mayflower dropped anchor. We saw the Plymouth rock, which marks the symbolical spot where the pilgrims landed and the “Plimoth Plantation”, which is a living history museum. At the Plantation, we visited a 17th century English village that recreates the way the pilgrims lived. There are costumed  actors who have adopted the roles of actual historical figures and pretend that it is still 1627. So when I told them that I am from Bulgaria, they asked me how things were in the Ottoman Empire! Their historical knowledge was impressive! The other part of the Plantation is the Wampanoag Homesite where you can meet real Native People and talk to them about their culture and history from a modern perspective. Finally, I had a very American, very lovely Thanksgiving lunch with Timmy’s family : with a house full of bubbly relatives, mountains of food, and football! Exactly as Thanksgivign should be!

Read more about my meeting with Timmy’s family here.

 

Thanksgiving at the Arabs, 2011

Thanksgiving 2011: The Middle Eastern Version

My roommates and I organized a pretty interesting semi-traditional feast for our friends. (Actually, Emma, who started preparing the turkey three days earlier and woke up at 7am to start cooking that day, should get all the credit. I simply decorated the living room with real fallen leaves, but then it ended up in vain because our oven exploded the night before and we eventually had to move the party to a different apartment, the so-called “Arabs’ place”.)   So, Emma ended up cooking for 30 people, most of whom were… Arabs! She invited all of us to hold hands and say what each of us is grateful for. Then we all sat down on the floor, Americans, Pakistani, Saudi, Bulgarian, German, and Chinese (in front of the American and Saudi Arabian flag?!), and had the most international Thanksgiving dinner so far!

So I am pretty sure that I now fully grasp the meaning of Thanksgiving! This holiday is about bringing people together and allowing them to share a beautiful experience like one big family! Cheers!

 


I found this awesome new campaign promoting my neighbor Romania. I don’t know if these clever ads will really attract tourists, but they will definitely create some positive associations and increase awareness for the country.

I like how they focused on scientific and sports achievements instead of nature, culture, and historical monuments, which are very typical themes for such national campaigns. The images look modern and catchy, I love them! Go Romania!

Let’s see if you know the names of all these people? (Answers at the bottom of the post).

Answers: Henri Coanda, Ilie Nastase, Nadia Comaneci, Nicolae Paulescu,Stefan Odobleja.


Dry cranberry harvest at Flax Pond Farm, Carver, MA

I did the quintessential autumn activity in Massachusetts  – I went apple picking and cranberry collecting! Our day trip was organized by Boston University’s  Sustainability@BU.

The cranberry is an evergreen shrub that gives small red fruit similar to tart blackberries. It is delicious dried like raisins or made into juice and is an integral part of the Thanksgiving dinner in the form of the sweet cranberry sauce that goes with your turkey. There are five major cranberries producing states: Massachusetts, New Jersey, Oregon, Washington, and Wisconsin, as well as some provinces in Canada.

Sorting dry-picked cranberries

The grower-owned and operated cranberry bog we went to is called Flax Pond in Carver, Massachusetts. The farmer, Jack Angley gave us a compelling overview of the lifecycle of this most typical Massachusetts fruit.

There are two ways to harvest cranberries – wet and dry – and we were lucky enough to see both!

The dry way is far more laborious because it involves a lot of handpicking in addition to using comb-like machines that “comb out” the berries from the thick shrub. Dry harvest produces higher quality cranberries that can be sold fresh and eaten straight away (although they taste way too bitter to me in this way).

The wet harvest, however, looks much more impressive and is what most people associate with cranberry production. The plants are grown on the bottom of a dry bed and once they ripen, the bed is flooded and becomes a bog! Because the berries are hollow inside, they rise up to the surface of what now looks like the Red Sea! Then all you need to do is collect the cranberries with a pump! Because of the water and the bacteria that live in it, the cranberries should be immediately frozen of processed.

Wet cranberry harvest

Up to the knees in cranberries, that's life!

Next, we went  apple picking at Highland Farm in Holliston, MA. Apple picking is also a New England favorite because of the many orchards in the region. We tried Fuji, Gala, Honeycrisp, Mutsu, Golden Delicious, and many more whose scrumptious taste was much more memorable than the name.

Apple picking with Anna!

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