Saturday, December 19, 2009
Sunday, December 13, 2009
Saturday, December 12, 2009
Sunday, December 6, 2009
In an attempt to follow customs, we went to the fish market Saturday and bought a live carp. We were warned about how and where we asked for “carp” because the name in Bulgarian can also refer to lazy unemployed people who sit in the café all day. Sooo…..asking for Шарани (sharani) in the café will result in a very different response than asking for it in the fish market! When we got to the fish market cleaned fish were available, but Mike thought he could reach into his memory bank from about forty five years ago and clean the fish himself. It would save him 1 ½ lev and we all know how Mike is driven by saving a buck!! He did not hesitate, and it looks like the memories came back clearly. Our Bulgarian tutor gave us some suggestions as to how to prepare it, either baked, stuffed with mushrooms, walnuts, onions, and a bit of tomato sauce or pan fried in a cornmeal dusting. We actually had the fish Saturday rather than wait for Sunday (thinking if we got sick, we would have a day to recuperate). All turned out well, the fish being very moist and tasty. Although this was our first time to the fish market, there was very little drama associated with it, only a little vocabulary review before going into the market. Guess that means we are integrating!!
On Friday night we strolled home together from Mike’s work place window shopping and enjoying the Christmas lights hung across the pedestrian walk through the city center. There is a large tree outside the government center and a few carnival rides at one end of the walkway with food, candy and trinket booths. Nearby is a stage set up for concerts and performances daily until New Year Day. We can determine what time the performances are but it is not always clear when reading the Bulgarian what we might be seeing. I don’t think it really matters. We’ll try to catch a few performances during the next month, but what we would really like to see is a full choir or the symphony. It has been very difficult to get that kind of information on the net, which has always been our primary source for such things back home. The visitor center sometimes has information, but not for everything going on in the city. We often seem to hear about things after the fact which is frustrating.
We visited several lev (dollar) stores today looking for a little Christmas tree, lights and decorations. We found many scrawny little trees, but settled on one about 1 ½ meters high (big table top size) that we did purchase and set up when we got home. With Christmas music we had downloaded before we left home playing on the computer (hooked up to our donated sound system) it started to feel very familiar. Even though the tree is little and pretty cheesy, it is all much more than we ever expected in the PC. The next week will be spent looking for or making some little decorations. We have not seen anyone selling cut trees on the street corners or vacant lots, so unless this is something that happens in the last week before Christmas, everyone must have an artificial tree if they have one at all. So many apartments are so small it is hard to imagine a full size tree fitting into them. We did start seeing some Chinese imports for Christmas in the stores awhile ago, but in general there is a much lower level of commercialism surrounding the holiday here than in the states.
We are unsure what we will do with our time during the holidays. We are thinking we will spend Christmas right here just the two of us, with time to skype the family and participate in their celebrations. There is a spa resort about 40 minutes from Plovdiv that many have recommended, which might be nice for two nights in the middle of the week followed by a return to Plovdiv for New Year’s Eve. During the 45 years of Communism, Christmas was not a public but rather a private family time, however New Year’s Day is a party time. So our guess (and it is only a guess) is that there will be a lot going on right here for us to enjoy. Many volunteers go back and visit with their host families for at lest part of this time, and although we have considered, we don’t have plans to do that right now.
If we don't connect with you before the holidays, know that you are in our thoughts. We love knowing you are out there participating in our journey from your arm chairs!!! We wish you a Christmas day full of wonderful memory making moments, and peace, good health, and love throughout 2010.
Merry Christmas to All
Lynn & Mike
Last weekend was Thanksgiving for the Peace Corps Volunteers in Bulgaria.
Those of you who are family know that for more than 20 years, Lynn and I always celebrated Thanksgiving by having both sides of our families come to our home. We would have a 20+ pound turkey and all the “fixings”. We would work the night before cutting, slicing, making stuffing, and getting the “bird” ready. On Thanksgiving Day everyone (even if there were 25+ people) would sit down at one long table for dinner. Thanksgiving was a very special holiday for Lynn and I. In 37 years of marriage, we were only home once at Christmas. But we were always home at Thanksgiving – and most people came to us.
When we moved from
But getting to this wonderful celebration was not without a “few challenges”! But our life here in
The first challenge was getting the turkey! In the US, you have limitless options for turkeys at Thanksgiving, and you can get BIG birds easily. Not in Bulgaria! Turkeys are not plentiful, and generally the best time to get one is at Christmas. We did find some frozen birds that were about 9 pounds. But many of the local folks told us that we could order bigger birds at “this or that store”. We probably spent the better part of a week visiting those stores. But everything turned into a “wild goose (turkey) chase”. The message was consistent. Yes you can order a larger bird, but only for Christmas. So… finally, we found some frozen turkeys that were about 10 lbs each - - and bought two! But then we went looking for one of those aluminum pans to cook them in. NOT in Bulgaria! So… our counterpart said his parents had some big pans they used to cook holiday meals, and would get them. But would the two turkeys fit in the pans, and then would the pan fit into our “smaller than normal” oven. Measurements were made of the oven, and three pans arrived to test. One of them was perfect – and just fit in the oven.
OK – we had the Turkey (s)! But what about the pies? You can not have Thanksgiving without lots of pumpkin and apple pies! However, there were a couple of problems doing this. First, we have not seen pies here like the pies at home. In fact, we were having problems trying to find pie plates. We did find circular baking dishes, and decided to use them. All of our pies now became “deep dish”. Next was the challenge of making pie crust without shortening. A hundred years ago, they used pig lard. And, in the end, that is what we used. Lynn had to do a test of a deep dish apple pie. It was almost perfect. All of the men in my office loved it! The last challenge was the pumpkin pie. This was a little harder. There are pumpkins in Bulgaria. Well – at least there are very large “round with ridges” grey squash which they call pumpkins. They use machetes to cut them! We did not think they would really work. Thanks to the internet, we were able to learn that a butternut squash was almost a perfect match for a pumpkin. We have lots of those here! We had a recipe, but we did not have the tools to “puree” the squash, and then there was the issue of making a “deep dish” pumpkin pie. A potato masher, and lots of time “beat” the squash into the right consistency. Lynn added the spices, and we cooked it. Adding some “home (hand) beaten” whipped cream, and everyone thought we were back in the US.
We were not the only ones cooking. Everyone brought food, or made it here. Our little kitchen was always humming with people making something. We had foods like “spicy corn” (this is really good), salmon hors d’oeuvre, sausage dressing, apple squash, apple cake, gnocchi, mashed potatoes, along with plenty of wine and “rakia”. And, when everything was ready, we were all able to sit down at one long table to share the feast. During dinner, we all shared the stories of our favorite (or normal) Thanksgiving. It was interesting to hear what others had done. A few of our guests said that this was one of the most traditional Thanksgivings they had ever had.
For Lynn and I, it was doing what we had loved doing with family for so many years. We were able to bring back almost all of the traditions. We had guests the night before, and worked to get things ready. We went for a walk/hike up one of the hills in the center of Plovdiv before the big feast. Everyone shared in making the meal. There was the long table, and everyone able to sit at it. And most important, before sitting down we all joined hands, and one at a time told everyone what they were most thankful for.
What was even better was the new “traditions” that we added. After dinner and deserts, we stayed at the table and played UNO. Then we settled down for a movie projected on the wall. We watched a 25 year old film called Volunteers. It is a spoof about Peace Corps volunteers in 1962, and seemed appropriate. At breakfast the next day, we introduced the concept of eating deserts, and other volunteers introduced us to “turkey omelets” (they are very good).
Late on Sunday, the last of the guests left to go back to their sites. Lynn and I put the air mattresses away, cleaned up, listened to the quiet, and missed all the noise, hub bub, and excitement. But, many of the guests are already asking if we will do it again next year. The answer is YES – definitely!
Saturday, December 5, 2009
We had a visitor a while back who made the observation that Plovdiv is a "Cat Town". This, of course is opposed to being a "Dog Town". I had never paid much attention to the animal population but his observation raised my curiosity. It didn't take long to see what he was talking about. Mike and I had both already experienced a quick rise in blood pressure when a cat or two unexpectedly came flying at face level out of the dumpsters positioned at the edge of the street as we walked by. The dumpsters are their feeding grounds and there can be a half a dozen at a time in the vicinity of one dumpster. I wonder if cats are territorial? They come in all shapes and sizes, pretty and ugly, but nothing about them makes me want to take one home. They can of course be found almost anywhere, not just hanging around the dumpsters waiting for their next meal.
A November 2009 survey of stray animals in the city reports 7,623 cats and only 686 dogs. Whether the numbers are accurate or not, the ratio probably is. The advantage of being a "Cat Town" is that cats are not nearly as bothersome as dogs (at least in my opinion). Sofia on the other hand appears to be a "Dog Town" as was Varshets (our training site), but the worst place I have personally experienced stray dogs was the mountain village where we spent our first three nights in Bulgaria. I really did not like walking past the many dogs that laid claim to the area around the hotel no matter how often we were told "oh, the dogs are not a problem!" I'm always afraid in this kind of setting of the pack mentality developing quickly.
This whole stray cat and dog thing is reflective of "government at work" or perhaps "not at work". There have been programs of mass euthanasia to try to eradicate the problem , but they have since been outlawed. Here in Plovdiv there is currently a "catch, neuter and release" program, but many argue it is not aggressive enough. Add to the stray problem the irresponsible owner problems particularly of "latch-key" dogs, who are free to roam and come home at the end of the day!
I don't spend a lot of time thinking or worrying about the cats and dogs here in Plovdiv, but it is just one more part of city living that I have not previously experienced. Adaptability is the key here! I have learned to either walk behind or give a wide birth to the dumpsters particularly if it is after dusk!!!!!