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The bagpipe contest in Gela

My mom, her friend Lidia, Oriana, and I left Sofia early in the morning to go to the Bagpipe Festival in Gela.

The drive is about 3.5 – 4 hours on narrow meandering roads through the Rhodope Mountain, which gave me just enough time to teach Oriana how to read in Bulgarian. I wrote down the Bulgarian alphabet (the Cyrillic alphabet that we share with the other Slavic peoples) and its transliteration in English. Oriana picked it up very quickly because unlike in English, in Bulgarian you pronounce exactly what you read. Her only difficulty were the differences between lowercase and uppercase and the variety of misguiding fonts. Soon, she could read all street signs!

Dancing horo to the music of the bagpipes on a meadow above Gela village

The festival in the village of Gela was in fact on a wide clearing among the hills above Gela. Hundreds of people had set up camping tents for the two-day festival and thousands more had come on foot for the day. As at any village fair, there were open grills with kiyfteta and kebapcheta, stands with souvenirs, jewelry, and toys, and machines for cotton candy and caramelized apples.

We left my mom and Lidia in the line in front of a gigantic barbecue with seven lambs roasting on skewers. Later, we saw the two of them had taken out a Maid of the Mist* raincoat to protect themselves from the pieces of roasted lamb that were flying from under the butcher’s axe. (*My mom still keeps the raincoats from our visit to Niagara Falls ten years ago).

You can't have a festival without the roasted lambs!

Meanwhile, Oriana and I sat down on the ground in front of the main stage of the bagpipe contest, in Bulgarian gaidarsko nadsvirvane. We saw men and women bagpipers, young boys and girls bagpipers, a duet, and even a bagpiper trio, and all contestants were dressed in colorful national garments.

Each time the bagpipers switched to a more upbeat rhythm, the crowd broke out dancing! Oriana didn’t resist and quickly joined the horo! Watch the video and see how fast she picked up the rhythm!

 

We saw a bagpipe maker who explained to us that Scottish bagpipes and Bulgarian gaida are very different: the Scottish instrument has three pipes and produces a solemn sound that makes it suitable for military marches and memorials; the gaida has one long pipe and a more melodious sound that often accompanies folklore singing. The most famous type of Bulgarian bagpipe is the kaba gaida.

With Oriana in Shiroka Laka

After a day of horo dancing, folk songs, and roast lamb misadventures, we went to the nearby Shiroka Laka village for the night. Shiroka Laka, with its  quaint little cobblestone streets and two-storey houses with white stone ground floors and wooden second floors with balconies full of flowerpots, completely charmed Oriana. I think she said she could live there. In Shiroka Laka, we also saw the famous school of Bulgarian folklore music, which most probably is where many of the bagpipe contestants study.

Until late at night we could see happy tipsy people coming back from the festival in Gela. One such happy and tipsy Nordic-looking boy was playing his own kaba gaida and walking down the street. He told us, in broken Bulgarian, that his mother was Norwegian and his father – Bulgarian, and that he had found himself a gaida in Norway and for the past six months had been teaching himself how to play by simply listening to folk music!

The Norwegian-Bulgarian who taught himself how to play the gaida

We stayed at the house of one of my father’s friends who is a famous journalist. The rooms were full of interesting souvenirs from all over the world, and the garden was inhabited by at least four cats. When we continued our journey in the morning, we left several bottles of our family winery Villa Melnik as a sign of gratitude to our host.

Today was a great cultural experience for Oriana. I think she appreciated the legendary Bulgarian folklore and ethnography.


 

The Bulgarian Rose is an essential ingredient of Katy Perry's debut fragrance, Purr.

 

Pop diva Katy Perry launched her debut fragrance, Purr, in early November. The perfume is sold at Nordstrom for $45 for 50 ml and $65 for 100 ml. The Nordstrom description reads:

“Purr by Katy Perry begins with the aroma of peach nectar and forbidden apple, evolves with a distinct floral bouquet of jasmine blossom, Bulgarian rose and vanilla orchid, and slowly reveals accents of creamy sandalwood and musk. Like the singer herself, Purr is playful yet sophisticated. Katy Perry transcends barriers with her music—so does her new fragrance.”

Let me tell you more about the legendary Bulgarian rose.

There is a place in Bulgaria, between the Balkan Mountain Range (Stara Planina) from North and Sredna Gora Mountain on the South and Stryama River to the West and Tundzha River to the East, called the Valley of Roses (Rozova Dolina). For centuries, people here have cultivated the Kazanlak Rose and extracted its valuable Rose Oil.

 

The Kazanlak Rose is one of Bulgaria's national symbols.

 

The scientific name of the Kazanlak rose, named after the major town in the Valley of Roses, Kazanlak, is Rosa Damascena. It has very small but very fragrant pink and pink-red flowers. From its petals, we produce the world-renown Bulgarian Rose Oil, also known as Rose Otto or Rose Attar.

It takes about 3000-3500 kilograms of rose petals to produce 1 kilogram of rose oil, which in turn costs about $7,000. In the past, the price of rose oil almost reached that of gold, so to Bulgarians, Rose Otto is “the liquid gold.”

 

Young rose-pickers throw petals in the air along the streets of Kazanlak

 

Bulgaria is the largest producer of rose oil in the world. Other top producers are Turkey, Morocco, Iran, France, and Italy. The rose oil is widely used in the perfume, cosmetics and pharmaceutical industries (Read more about Rose Oil Info and Uses). Some of the perfume brands that use rose oil as their essential ingredient are Dior, Givenchy, Kenzo, Gucci, and Nina Ricci, but undoubtedly the most famous perfume containing Bulgarian Rose is Chanel No.5. The oil is contained even in the most expensive perfume in the world, Imperial Majesty by Clive Christian, which sells for about $300,000 per 500 ml bottle.

Rose oil production is very labor intensive and requires great expertise. The petal-picking season lasts only 20 days in a year. To preserve the best qualities of the petals, the rose-pickers, traditionally young girls, have to gently pick the blossoms one by one early in the morning, before the rising sun evaporates the dew from the petals. Naturally, the rose-picking season is an occasion for celebration.

 

The Bulgarian Festival of the Rose proves that beauty is ageless!

 

The Festival of the Rose (read more) takes place in the beginning of June in Kazanlak since 1903. Some of the highlights include the beauty contest “Queen of the Roses,” the rose-picking ceremony in traditional folk costumes, and the parade with folk music and dance, masked kukeri (read my post on the kukeri carnival), and traditional art. The rose festival in Kazanlak is a true celebration of beauty!

***

Did you read my post on the Festival of the National Costume in Zheravna?


1. Persuade Bulgarian friends to celebrate Halloween – FAIL

Reason: To them, it’s a crazy, senseless masquerade and just another reason for girls to dress slutty and for guys to drink beer… where did they get that idea from?

2. Persuade American friends to visit Salem, MA (origin of the witch hysteria) for Halloween – FAIL

Reason: Not worth the effort, especially since there are plenty of frat parties around

3. Buy a costume from costume store (Garment District in Cambridge, MA) on Oct.30thFAIL

Reason: Everything is too expensive ($100 for an Avatar blue latex costume)

4. Make my costume/make-up myself – QUESTIONABLE

Reason: No one was sure if I was a ventriloquist doll, an harlequin, a big baby, or an outright clown… oh well…

5. Enter a club on Halloween – QUESTIONABLE

Reason: The tight mob was pressing at the doors of the club, the bouncers were taking their sweet time letting people in  although the club itself was empty, guys were climbing on top of parked cars in order to cut in line, and a girl had a stroke of panic because she was pushed around and almost suffocated

6. See a costume competition in a club – QUESTIONABLE

Reason: It turns out, being creative or funny in your costume choice so last-year. Being Katy Perry in her whipped-cream-bra-and-blue-wig costume or Lady GaGa in her swimsuit-like costumes is in!

7. Watching the Boston Halloween Bike RideSUCCESS!

Reason: I watched at least a hundred enthusiasts who had dressed up themselves and their bikes coming from Cambridge, through Boston, and down Brookline. Next year, I’m in with you!

8. Eat candy/drink pumpkin spice latte – SUCCESS

… the things we do to avoid getting “tricked”

***

If you want to see some really scary and beautiful costumes, take a look at my previous blog entry about the traditional Bulgarian monster costumes kukeri, compared to some beautiful carnival costumes from the Bahamas.


We saw a carnival in the Bahamas! The Marina Village in the luxurious resort Atlantis on Paradise Island organizes a mini-carnival on weekend nights (or maybe every night, I don’t know) for the entertainment of its guests. About ten-twenty locals dressed in traditional costumes walked, danced, played music, and sang along the main alley while the crowd of tourists gathered around them and joined in the festivity.

The costumes were gorgeous: long robes and lavish head adornment in bright colors with feathers and beads. The atmosphere was great!

*

The Marina Village carnival reminded me of a similar event in Bulgaria.

The Kukeri Processions

In January, Bulgarian men dress up as Kukeri, ferocious beasts with coats of fur and feathers and large masks with fangs, beaks, and wings who scare the cold and the evil winter spirits away. The kukeri dance around the streets and ring big copper bells (chans).

By tradition, kukeri are young men and bachelors. They gather in groups and every group has a leader. There are similar characters in every group – there is a bride and groom, an old grandmother, a gypsy man with a dancing bear, a king; and all of them are men. Some of the more flamboyant costumes have wolf and fox fur and heads or paws, and real stag horns. Some masks are funny, and some are literally hideous and scary. The kukeri perform different rituals for fertility and good harvest.

The ritual is very typical of Eastern Bulgaria. The biggest annual kukeri carnival takes place in Pernik, just outside of Sofia.

Read more about the Kukeri Processions here. This is a good website on various carnivals around the world and also features articles on the Bulgarian traditions  martenitzi and Trifon Zarezan.

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