Thursday, February 24, 2011

A Very Good Day!!!

A Very Good Day!!!

Last Monday was February 14th.   Most folks around the world know that day as “Valentine’s Day”.   And in Bulgaria the 14th is Valentine ’s Day.   However, in Bulgaria, there is another celebration on February 14th.  It is St. Trifon day – also known as Trifon Zarezan day.   St. Trifon is the patron saint of wine producers, vine-growers and Tavern-keepers.   That means there is lots of wine consumed here in Bulgaria on February 14. 
But this celebration is not just a “bacchanal” drinking party.   It is also a day of work in the vineyards.   Zarezan means to prune the vines.   So that is the day in the spring when people start pruning their grape vines to prepare for the growing season. 
A couple of villages which my NGO supports are on the lower slopes of the Rhodope mountains, and they have some large vineyards.   In typical Bulgarian planning, Maria got a call Monday morning asking us to get a TV cameraman, and come to the Roma neighborhood to film the celebration.   Since there are many large vineyards around Plovdiv, St. Trifon day is celebrated in many nearby towns – with lots of old men walking the streets holding plastic cups filled with wine.   Getting Television to our little Mahala was not going to happen.    However, Maria and I could go to the celebration instead.   The people we work with invited us, and we hurried off.   We arrived shortly before the ceremony started.   It was a grey day, with light scattered showers.   But the rain did not put a damper on the party. 
Believe it or not, this was something I have wanted to do since we arrived in Bulgaria – go to a Roma party!  Lynn has talked about walking through her very large Mahala seeing (and hearing) the parties in the streets with the large sound systems blasting Turkish and Bulgarian music throughout the neighborhood.   When we arrived, the beer and wine filled-tables were in the streets, and the music was blaring with some folks dancing.   But before the party could continue, we needed to “prune the vines”.   
One of the younger women rushed off to change into more traditional dress.  The drummer and clarinet players started getting ready.  The small pail with “ceremonial” red wine was full.   The drummer started, and a very motley group headed off on the one stone street in the village.  Although I did not have my camera with me, someone else was taking video clips of the event.  I have inserted the videos into this blog.  They are not very exciting - - in fact they are boring!  But, if you have some time, pour a glass of wine and watch a little bit of life in a Roma village.  This first clip will show the parade preparation, and our "walk" toward the fields.  
Me - far left checking my pruned vine
From the “main” street, we headed down the dirt path into the poorer section of the Mahala.  With the rain, most everything was slightly muddy, but it was not too bad.  After that we passed through the “trash toss” area which is generally just a nearby field turned into a dump.  On the other side of the trash was the fields filled with vineyards.   The long video clip is the ceremony, speeches, and pruning of the vines.   Maria and I were just enjoying the walk, and listening to the speeches, when I realized they were asking me to also speak.   PANIC!!!  I can do this, but I generally need more than 5 seconds to come up with some words in Bulgarian.   But with Maria’s help we got through it.  The small group seemed to like it most when I said we hoped to get много пари (lots of money) from the harvest.   Then it was time for me to help with the pruning.   And when the drums started back up, it was time to head back to the main street.   We only had to get out of the way of one horse drawn wagon on the way back up the hill. 
When we got back to the party area, there were plenty of 10 liter plastic bottles filled with homemade red wine, and plastic cups to drink from.   I have learned that you have to be careful with Bulgarian homemade wine.  It seems to be more potent than my normal “box” wine.   But it is good!   We spent two or three more hours in the Mahala.  Several of our participants wanted to talk to us about seeds, fertilizers, and other things they would need this spring.   We wondered into their homes where a coal or wood stove was keeping a small room toasty warm and also cooking soups.  As we talked, there was more wine, walnuts, and food to eat.  And outside was the ever present street music.  I also spent some time at the tables filled with men celebrating (i.e. drinking more wine and beer), and even managed to meet a local politician who will be running for town mayor this October. 
A little before 4PM it was time to head back to the reality of Plovdiv city life and work.   Maria and I turned the car around, and headed home.   But we had a really good day!  
Thanks for reading

Sunday, February 20, 2011



I know this entry is very late, but “better ----- than never!”   So… Here goes.
Our trip to Rome over the holidays was GREAT!  It was everything we hoped, and much more.  We spent six full days there.  Many people had told us that was too much time, but Lynn and I found plenty of things to fill days with, and were never bored. 
We had a very early (6:00AM) flight on Dec 27th from Sofia.  But we were in the center of Rome by 10:00.  After dropping off luggage at the main train station, we immediately began to explore the wonders of Rome.  Our very tentative plan was to just try to get a feel for things on Monday.  But that did not happen.  We went to the coliseum first.  The size of things was what amazed me.  How did people build these colossal structures 2,000 years ago without cranes, bull dozers, and modern equipment?  We decided to get tickets for the Forum, Coliseum, and Palatine Hill Monday afternoon.  This was not part of the plan, but it turned out to be an excellent decision.  As we moved thru the week, we realized our first few days were almost “tourist free” compared to the number of people arriving later in the week.  By Thursday, Rome was exploding with crowds of New Years’ party people.  Doing the most popular attractions early was the best thing for us. 
Our second day was the Vatican.  We had signed up for a tour on the internet.  Although there can be as many as 20 people on this tour, Lynn and I were the only ones that day.  The tour generally lasts three hours, but Andre (the guide) spent four and a half hours with us.  Sometimes things just “go right” and we certainly were lucky that day. 
One of the things we enjoyed most was jut walking the narrow streets (more like wide paths), and stumbling upon piazzas, fountains, and beautiful churches.  There seemed to be a cathedral in every piazza, and each one was prettier than the last. 
Lynn had found an apartment for us to stay the week and it was great.  It had a functional kitchen, separate bedroom, and living room with a couple of comfortable chairs.  Most important, it was in a perfect location.  We were a few hundred meters from the top of the Spanish Steps.  When we booked it, we did not realize how good the location was.  But we could be out most of the day, come back and cook dinner, and then head out for another “exploration walk” after dinner.
In addition to the Vatican, Forum, Coliseum, and Palatine Hill, we managed to see most of the famous churches, squares, and old neighborhoods.  We visited the catacombs, and spent part of a day at the Roman Civilization Museum ( a place most tourist seldom go, but we loved it).  New Year’s Eve was spent at Popolo Piazza, one of largest piazzas in Rome. It was not as crazy as Times Square, but there were many thousands of excited (ie drunk) Italians there, and many of them had fireworks to toss into the crowds.  We were safely on the hill overlooking the piazza and it was just fun! 
Many of the places we visited did not allow flash photography.  But, Lynn got some amazing natural light pictures of beautiful art.  Without trying to bore you with a travel log, I will put some of them at the end of the blog.   There are not any good pictures of Lynn and I.  It was much colder than we had expected, ad we were bundled up in layers looking like little kids in winter or the “Michelin man”. 
Rome was wonderful.  We recommend it highly.  Although we are not sure how much fun it would be in the high tourist – hot summer season. 
Thanks for reading

Everyone has a painting like this over the door.

Thursday, February 3, 2011


Making Do!!!!
I found myself noticing the ways in which Bulgarians “make do” on a daily basis as I traveled to school early last week. Within the fifty minute commute I picked up on three such incidences.  The first was right outside the door. It had snowed lightly the previous night and the inch or two of snow had changed our world into a fairyland.  The kitchen broom is an obvious choice for removing snow from the windshield of your car, but I was surprised by the use of a long handled umbrella. It was moderately effective, but I wondered if it would ever be functional as an umbrella again!   Eight minutes later, while waiting at the bus stop, an older woman was waddling toward me. She had something on her head, not exactly a scarf, not exactly a hat, but something to keep her head covered. It was bright yellow and had a rather strange shape to it. I found myself staring trying to figure out what it was.  A close look as she passed revealed that it was a T-shirt draped/ arranged in such a way that the bottom corners were sticking out like little wings just over her ears. The third observation was in the Mahala. A man was sharpening his knife on the concrete light pole. This is an age old trick but because it came on the heels of these two other improvisations it sharpened the thought of how often in a day Bulgarians use what they have to do what needs to be done. They don’t have garages, kitchen cabinets, sheds or whatever full of things used for one thing and one thing only.But they are “savers” and those garages, or back yards may have a stockpile of raw materials that can one day, perhaps ten years from now, be used again..

A city dwellers collection!!!
"Left Overs" in Krum's yard - waiting for that "perfect use" sometime in the future!

Another Corner of Krum's parents village yard - more stuff never tossed away!
 They have a great sense of creativity and problem solving when they are working around the house or farm, but often it does not transcend from their personal lives into their work lives. At school, I find them throwing many resources out, not recognizing the potential they harbor for future activities. Mike and I have mused over this many a time and wonder if it is related to the attitude toward work that was established in Communist times. The parameters of their work were narrow and very clearly defined. We could be way off the mark, but there does seem to be a different attitude toward problem solving at work versus at home or doing something you love.