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The famous Venice Beach Marijuana Doctors

My impulse for self-preservation was triggered in Venice Beach: “Get me out of this madhouse!”

Venic Beach is a strange mixture of something very commercialized and touristy and something absolutely alternative and controversial. Why did those people dress like that? Why did they behave in such a way? Are they so eccentric? Are they simply crazy?  Do they have some unhealthy urge to express themselves in the weirdest ways? Or is this just the pot fumes of Venice Beach? You tell me! This is what I saw; the good, the bad, and the ugly:

  • A guy playing the guitar while rollerblading on Oceanfront, Venice Beach

    The Marijuana Doctor: booths that sell Medical Marijuana Licenses. You pay to see the doctor, tell him that you have chronic migraine/dislocated shoulder/high stress levels/ stage fright/toothache, etc and he grants you a license that allows you to buy medical marijuana.

  • A Real Freakshow: I saw double-headed turtles and the famous wolf-man from the Guinness World Records. Find more pictures of the show on Yelp (not for weak stomachs!). 
  • Muscle Beach: the home of bodybuilding, where very athletic people perform gymnastics and acrobatics on special installations
  • You can take a pic with the sand octopus for a tip

    A skinny guy who had the skin color of the Tanning Mom in rollerblades wearing a thong and a helmet with the American flag

  • A guy playing a piano on the street
  • Completely stoned hobos lying by the side of the street
  • Very creative beggars by Santa Monica Pier had made cardboard  “targets”  where you have to throw throw coins through tiny slits. It’s a fun way to give money to the homeless!
  • Artworks of Marilyn Monroe as a Lakers player
  • Paintings drawn on old skateboards, sculptures made out of spare car parts, lots of graffiti, homeless people making sand sculptures, tattoo and piercing parlors, henna tattoos, bong shops
  • Street art or just creative begging under the Santa Monica Pier? Ask a question – throw a coin to get an answer!

    Sexy girls in bikini riding bicycles and rollerblades; lots of silicone

  • Gangster boys on longboards
  • Lifeguards who look like they came out of the TV show Baywatch
  • Lots and lots of surfers and street performers

Venice Beach reminded me a lot of Camden Market in London. Where else have you ever seen such eccentric street dwellers?

Muscle Beach athletes


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.

*

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


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.

 

You might also enjoy:

Adventures in the Lone Star State: Texas Pride


 

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

 

 


11 August 2011 – Armin Van Buuren, DJ Number One in the World, played at Cacao Beach in Sunny Beach until 7am on the next morning!

The show was the finale grande of Solar Summer Fest 2011- an annual festival organized by Yalta Club – voted #19 in DJ Magazine Top 100 Clubs, and sponsored by Tuborg.

The concert was absolutely mind-blowing! There is something incredibly inspirational about dancing on the beach all night long under the refreshing summer rain together with thousands of young people!

As the night was progressing, Oriana and I kept moving closer and closer to the stage until we spent the last hour or two on the frontline! When the sun rose, Armin came down from the main stage and reached out to his fans! He touched both mine and Oriana’s hand and signed his name on every hat and flag that his fans threw towards him. Finally, he took a big Bulgarian flag and wrapped it around himself to show how much he loves the Bulgarian audience – and thus completely and utterly won each one of us forever!


It is not easy to celebrate America’s Independence Day in Bulgaria, but I tried to be mentally as close as possible to my overseas friends. This is a list of the “American” things I did:

1. Spent the weekend evenings at the open-air jazz festival, A to JazZ, which presented the history of jazz: from its birth in Mississippi in the beginning of the 19th century, past the influence of swing and bebop, and until the music of the iconic Frank Sinatra and his interpretation of the American Dream. The event was organized by America For Bulgaria Foundation and took place in Doktorska Gradinka (Doctors’ Garden).

2. Went shopping in an American-style mall, where I tried on a pair of Levi’s and checked out which Hollywood movies were playing in the cinema.

3. Walked past McDonalds, Starbucks and Subway… but did not enter in any of them. Instead, bought some imported US beef jerky for my brother from the supermarket.

4. Tweeted and Facebooked my Fourth of July greetings through my smartphone.

Yep, no all-American cookouts in the back yard, bonfires at the beach, or fireworks over the Charles River this year. The fourth of July was just a normal summer Monday here in Sofia, without any sign of stars or stripes.  It’s such a pest that I’m always in the “other” country during big holidays!

Happy Fourth of July!

Read about my 4th July 2010 in Boston

 


Goran Bregovic‘s performance at the Balkan Music Awards 2011 took place in Alexander Batemberg Square in Sofia and  finished an hour ago!

The Balkan Music Awards featured performances by top singers from Greece, Serbia, Romania, Turkey, Macedonia, Croatia, Slovenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Bulgaria . There was also a stage appearance by the queen of roma music and Nobel Peace Prize nominee Esma Redzhepova.

The concert culminated with the sounds of the enigmatic Balkan musician Goran Bregovic and his Weddings and Funerals Orchestra! His first song was called “Presidente, halo!” and the second, a collaboration between him and Gypsy Kings, “Balkanjeros”.  The entire crowd went wild! Everyone was dancing! It was a true celebration of the Balkan spirit!

However, the event didn’t go entirely perfect. Only minutes before Goran Bregovic came up on stage and announced that he was dedicating his pieces to his beloved roma people, a fight between roma and Bulgarian boys had erupted near where I stood. I don’t know which gang provoked the conflict, and luckily the police intervened (although with quite a delay), but it was still very unpleasant to see signs of ethnic tension during a show that was meant to unite the peoples from the Balkans.

Keep making your music Goran because it transcends differences and connects people!

This video is not from tonight, but this is the Balkanjeros song, so enjoy!


Poli Genova, Bulgarian contestant for Eurovision 2011

It’s that time of the year again: time for Eurovision 2011 – Düsseldorf. (read my post about Bulgaria in Eurovision 2010)

This year, the Bulgarian contestant is the lovely Poli Genova!

I still remember Poli as the face of the children’s music TV show Bonn-Bon. Born in 1987, she now hosts and stars in many shows while also pursuing a degree as a Director.  Poli took part in the national level of Eurovision 2009, but her song One Lifetime is Not Enough became second in the finals.

This year, she became the national champion with a new song, Na Inat (In Defiance)!  The lyrics go: “I will find the strength inside me, I know there is so much that I can achieve. There is so much love in me, there is a reason for me to stay. We will stay and we will find a reason to stay in spite of everything. There is so much we can achieve here.” Thus, the song urges young Bulgarian people to stay in our country and to try to achieve their dreams here, “in defiance”! Poli is the perfect person to sing such a song because she is the epitome of successful Bulgarian youth!

Listen to the Bulgarian Eurovision 2011 song below and comment if you absolutely love it!!! Do you think that Poli should translate the lyrics?

Watch Bulgaria’s performance on the Eurovision semi-final on May 12th and vote for Bulgaria!


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.


10.  Tell her she has a cute accent

9. Teach your friends how to pronounce your girlfriend’s name correctly

8. Be able to point Bulgaria on the map and teach your friends to pronounce the capital Sofia the right way, with the stress on the first syllable

7.  Learn more about Bulgaria’s history: the ancient Thracians, the khans, the Bulgarian Empire, the Ottoman yoke, the revolutionaries, the socialist era, modern-day tourist destinations

6. Find a Russian/Greek/Turkish store that sells Bulgarian food and buy her liutenitza, sirene (cheese), or lokum/baklava. Know that real yogurt is made from Lactobacillus Bulgaricus and real red wine comes from the Melnik region

5. Call her to ask whether to use green or red peppers in the shopska salad that you are making for her

4. Listen to her Bulgarian and Balkan music playlist. Respect Lili Ivanova and Goran Bregovic

3. Be able to eat all the lukanka, kebabche, liutenitza, sirene, and banitza that her grandmother offers you and to try at least three types of rakia: from plums, grapes, and apricots.

2. Learn to dance pravo horo. And always lead it

1. Learn at least a few Bulgarian phrases. Start with Здрасти [Zdrasti] – Hello and Обичам те [Obicham te] – I love you

You might also find interesting:

“And God Created Bulgarian Women” from Vagabond magazine

An interview with the Swedish spouse of a Bulgarian woman from the blog “How to Marry a Bulgarian”


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.


Miro’s song Angel Si Ti (You Are an Angel) will represent Bulgaria in Eurovision 2010 in Oslo. The song’s official video was released in March.

Vote for Miro on the semi-finals on May 25th and 27th! Watch the contest streaming live from Oslo. And then vote for him again on May 29th! Let’s vote Bulgaria the European music winner!

Miro wrote the song himself, and you can tell. Another author’s words could never have sounded so sincere and deep. This is my translation of the lyrics:

We were children

Some of us have grown up

Others have not

They remained angels

You have the key

The doors are closed

Behind them lives an angel with wings

You are and angel, don’t you believe?

An angel foretells your path

You are angel, have you forgotten?

Your love proves it

Like an angel, be merciful

An angel in its grace

Mercilessly righteous

You are an angel

Among vivid vanity, be yourself

Don’t replace the truth with lies

Because you are different

You are an angel

You are..

You are..

You are my angel

You are an angel, don’t you believe?

An angel foretells your path

You are angel, have you forgotten?

Your love proves it

***

Read more in my previous post on Miro and Eurovision.


I didn’t think that the best party I go to in Boston would be entirely Bulgarian!   

The Farewell BG EUforiya kupon/party in Boston was smashing!

 

 Ten years ago, Nikolay Markov, Niki, came up with the idea of a chalga-free Bulgarian dance party for Bulgarians living in the States!   

 His first party, in honor of the National Liberation Day, took place  in the Bulgarian Embassy in Washington but had mediocre success. His second one was on another national holiday in the popular Bulgarian restaurant/bar Mehanata in New York and was a tremendous success!   

Since then, Niki and his friend and partner Alexander Petrov, Sasho,  have turned BG EUforiya (Bulgarian-European Euphoria) into a regular club event. The DJ duo calls themselves Masters of Kupon, kupon being the word for a blasting party.   

The DJs mix modern dance and techno European rhythms with favorite Bulgarian songs: everything from modern pop to old classics and even traditional folk dances; everything but chalga, of course.   

BG EUphoriya became extremely popular among the Bulgarian partylovers in the States. The Masters of Kupon toured clubs in New York, Boston, Washington, San Francisco, LA, Miami, and Chicago. In 2001, they became (even more) international with tours in Canada, Spain, France, the UK, the Czech Republic, and the good old Bulgaria. BG EUphoriya was the number one dance party for Bulgarians and their friends all over the world!   

I can’t believe I didn’t know about them earlier! The party I went to this Friday was part of BG EUforiya’s farewell  tour (sponsored by http://www.bgfocus.com), and I’m so glad I got to be a part of it! Dj Niki transferred us back in time and space with his dance-remixes of our favorite pop songs: D2, Yikeda, Doni and Momchil, KariZma, Obraten Efekt, Slavi Trifonov, Miro, Elitza Todorova and Stoyan Yankulov, Grafa… ! We were all singing our hearts out! Towards the end of the night, all of us danced the horo  and ruchenitsa to traditional rhythms! The kupon was amazing! Thank you, BG EUforiya!

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