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As surprising as it sounds, studying “double-abroad” for a semester in London, UK, while studying full-time in Boston, USA, has helped me rediscover my connection with Bulgaria and with my family in many new ways.
As I was strolling about South Kensington last week, I happened upon the most beautiful tri-colored flag fluttering above the door, on the side of which there was a golden plaque saying Embassy of the Republic of Bulgaria. What a nice surprise to find out that my Embassy was right next door to me during my stay in London! I wouldn’t have thought about looking for it myself.
Yet the feeling of comfort at the sight of my national flag was nothing compared to the feeling of comfort when I met with my cousin, Petra. Petra bears the name of my father’s mother, and I – that of his grandmother.
Petra just completed her undergraduate degree here in London, and is now looking for a job in the non-profit sector. Because both of us study abroad, we rarely saw each other in the recent years. It was amazing to hear how similar our stories about living and studying abroad sound, and how we both try to popularize the Bulgarian culture and history among our friends. Maybe she too should start a blog.
The highlight of our reunion was when Petra and I went to a folklore dance class at the Embassy. It is a beautiful building and an arts gallery. We danced in the main hall, surrounded by contemporary Bulgarian paintings, right in front of the grand staircase and a golden Bulgarian Coat of Arms. There were ten-fifteen dancers, both beginners and almost-professionals, and one instructor. We danced to some of the most famous national folk songs. At one point, we were all dancing the horo and singing „Имала майка едно ми чедо, едно ми чедо Никола” (see the video). At this moment, I was sure that everyone felt very patriotic!
The dance classes at the embassy take place every Thursday and Friday from 7:30pm. Usually, both Bulgarians and foreigners of all ages attend. It’s a great way to celebrate the Bulgarian folklore and to get a good work out!
Check out the official website of Boiko Andonov, a Bulgarian folklore dancer and choreographer in London.
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 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.”
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 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?
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
For the next three days, the village of Zheravna will be a one-of-a-kind time machine. The Festival of The National Costume Zheravna 2010 will take place from August 20th to 22nd for the third year in a row. It will gather thousands of people from all regions of Bulgaria to celebrate with dance and music as their ancestors did 100-150 years ago.
The only condition for attending the festival is to wear a traditional costume. It could be authentic, theatrical, or custom-made. It could represent any region, social status, profession, or craftsman guild. See pictures and read more about Bulgarian folk costumes on the official website from the link above.
Participants will enjoy traditional cuisine: meze, cheeses, dried and grilled meats, banitza, breads, wine, and rakia. They will observe and take part in old-style wrestling, kukeri parades, nestinari dances, and the work of various craftsmen. The celebrations will be accompanied by traditional bagpipes, kettle drums, and cymbals as well as by dance performances by professional folklore ensembles and troupes from all Bulgarian ethnographic regions and other Balkan countries.
The use of modern devices and technology, even of chairs, forks, and watches is very restricted in order to ensure the authenticity of the experience. The festival is organized by Foundation “Bulgare”. Zheravna 2010 is a truly magnificent reincarnation of Bulgarian culture and heritage.
- Read my post about the Bulgarian Rose Festival in Kazanlak.
- Italian impressions from Bulgaria (slideshare.net)
Today is the 205th birthday of Hans Christian Andersen, the Danish master of fairy tales and author of my most favorite children’s story, The Little Mermaid. Among his other works, which have kindled the imagination of children all over the world, are Thumbelina, The Ugly Duckling, The Little Match Girl, The Steadfast Tin Soldier, The Emperor’s New Clothes, The Princes and the Pea, The Snow Queen, and The Wild Swans.
Andersen’s anniversary and the beginning of spring are a good occasion to tell you more about my favorite Bulgarian folk tale.
As a child, I thought that the two most enchanting mythological creatures of all were Andersen’s mermaids and the Bulgarian samodivi.
In the Slavic tradition, the samodivi are forest spirits that take the form of beautiful young women. They are forever young, with long fair hair, long white robes, and bewitching eyes that can sweep a man off their feet and even kill him. All samodivi are sisters. During nights in the spring, when the moon rises, they get together in open glades deep in the forests of Rila and Pirin mountain and dance the horo barefooted. Nothing is more beautiful than the song and dance of a samodiva.
The samodivi are in fact invisible. Only exceptional people can see them: those who were born on Christmas Eve or in the Saturday before the Bulgarian Orthodox Easter.
Sometimes a samodiva would kidnap a young shepherd and make him play his kaval (a wooden flute) while her sisters dance the horo. She might kill him, but if he does her a favor, she might also become “his sister”: become his protector and even give birth to his child. One of our greatest legendary heroes, Krali Marko (King Marko) was nursed by one samodiva and had another one as a sister-protector.
Thus the samodivi, like the mermaids, are beautiful but treacherous. They take merciless revenge on any man who wrongs them or on any woman they envy and send them a deadly disease.
A samodiva is in the human world from early spring (March 25th) to the late summer (August 29th). She spends the cold months in the secret village Zmeikovo together with the zmeiove (zmei – a Slavic dragon), rusalki (rusalka – a Slavic mermaid), and vili (vila or samovila – another Slavic female forest spirit).
Listen to Samodiva by Balkandji. Their music is “metal with folk motives.” The lyrics speak of a “wild” samodiva who goes out at night when the forest is dark and men start singing songs. She is beautiful but the look of her eyes is as poisonous as a snake.