Sunday, February 28, 2010

Purim in Sofia

Last night, Ellis and I decided to go to the Synagogue to hear the reading of the Megillah – The Book of Esther – for Purim. We arrived around 7:00 pm, and were greeted by friends and acquaintances that we’ve met in the past.

Also attending, was the newly appointed US Ambassador, James Warlick. We had the pleasure of meeting him and wishing him good luck at his new post here in Bulgaria.

The few times that we’ve attended services at the synagogue, there haven’t been many children around. But last night, they were out in full force, and dressed in every type of costume. The very little children were dressed as sheep, Eyor the Donkey from Winnie The Pooh, a mouse, and of course, there was a Spiderman, a pirate and more. The children from the school put on a small performance telling parts of the story of Purim – all in Hebrew! They did a great job (although I did notice one girl who had her lines written on her hand so she wouldn’t forget them!) They also sang some Purim songs – we were very impressed!

The Megillah was read, and the noise from the noisemakers was very loud every time that Haman’s name was mentioned (the villain of the story). After the service, we all enjoyed Hamentachen, the traditional cookies for Purim.

Happy Purim Everyone!

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Baba Marta is Coming!

On every street corner at busy intersections you can see stands selling martenitsa, the red and white yarn adornments traditionally given by Bulgarians on March 1 to mark the holiday of Baba Marta (Grandma March).

Baba Marta marks the coming of spring, and Bulgarians wear their martenitsa strings around their wrists, or attached to their clothing, until they see a first tree in bloom, or a stork, or it's the end of the month and it's time to move on to other things.

When removed from wrists and clothing, the martenitsa is tied onto a branch of a tree with buds. The entire custom is quite pagan, yet everyone seems to enjoy it. The red and white symbolize good health, but some believe they also symbolize the constant cycle between life and death, good and bad, happiness and sorrow.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Sofia's Central Baths

Built in 1911, Tsentrainata Banya is closed to the public and being refurbished, maybe as a museum.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Herbal Tea and Lilly

This was the second time we went to a concert of the Bulgarian group, Lilly of the West. Lilly is a Bulgarian who, along with her band of talented musicians, sings and plays American country and bluegrass music, along with folk music from Bulgaria and other countries. The concert was a matinee performance at the Tea House in central Sofia, and came shortly after the release of the group's new CD, "Lovin' You".

Jodie and I had called ahead and reserved a table, which was good because there weren't too many of them in the small Tea House, which regularly hosts jazz and musical concerts. We ordered steaming hot cups of herbal tea, a perfect antidote to the cold Sofia wind outside, and sat down to enjoy the concert.

Lilly and her band performed songs from the new CD, including "Pennies from heaven" and "Tennessee waltz". Other songs included Patsy Cline's "Walking After Midnight" and "You Say It Best When You Say Nothing At All," the country song written by Paul Overstreet and Don Schlitz sung by Ronan Keating in the film "Notting Hill".

Lilly has taught herself to play a fiddle, and this added to the entertaining music played by the group. The entire concert was thoroughly enjoyable and we look forward to the next one!

Monday, February 22, 2010

Dali and Picasso Visit Sofia

This is an outing we had been saving for a rainy day, although on Saturday when we made the trip, it was a wonderful spring day at 17 degrees Centigrade. We went to visit a new museum in Sofia - the Museum Gallery of Modern Art.

The exhibition at this small museum on Oborishte Street included works by Dali, Picasso, Chagall, Matisse and a few others. While it sounds impressive, we were finished with our tour in about 10 minutes. There just wasn't a lot to see. Picasso's granddaughter visited Sofia when this gallery opened a few months ago. That visit was probably more exciting than the Picasso works on display.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

The Sound of Running Water

The other night, when I went to sleep, I thought I heard the sound of water running in our bathroom, but I couldn’t see where it was coming from. When Ellis woke up, he also told me that he heard water, and was afraid that there might be a leak in the wall or under the floor.

I told him to speak to Marina, who is our contact from Ellis’s office for all of these problems. Marina called the landlady, who called the building maintenance, who then called Marina back, who then called me. (It would be so much simpler if I could just speak the language!)

The result of all these phone calls, and the cause of the “sound of running water” in our bathroom: the architects didn’t want to ruin the look of the building from the outside, so all the drainage pipes from the roof actually go through the building. Since the weather has warmed up, and the snow is melting, the water from the roof is draining down through the pipes inside the building, and this is what we are hearing.

Pictured: our bathroom drain.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Two Small Discoveries

I’ve mentioned before that we can’t always find certain products in the supermarket, since we either don’t know what they’re called, or we can’t read the labeling on the packages, so we don’t know what we’re looking at.

Every once in awhile, we suddenly come across something that we’ve tried to find before, but without success. In the past week, this has happened to us twice!

We’ve stayed away from all delicatessen meats, since most of these seem to be made of pork, which we don’t eat. But after seeing turkey on a menu in a restaurant, I told Ellis that we should remember the word for “turkey” in Bulgarian, and then look for it next time we were at the supermarket. Sure enough, we were able to find packages of turkey cold cuts! We bought a package and enjoyed a great meal of turkey sandwiches when we got home. And yesterday, my friend Monica told me of a shop where we can get chicken cold cuts also – it only took us a year!

The other product that we found this week was – breadcrumbs. I’d seen spicy breadcrumb mixtures, but just couldn’t find plain breadcrumbs anywhere in the supermarket, although we looked everywhere that seemed logical to us. Then, last night, while Ellis was picking out a loaf of fresh bread, I was standing next to a shelf of packaged breads, and there, right in front of me, were breadcrumbs! We weren’t positive that this was what it was, but when we got home and looked up the word on the package in the dictionary, we confirmed that we had indeed, finally found breadcrumbs….. Next week – schnitzel for dinner!

галета = breadcrumbs

Friday, February 19, 2010

A Year in Bulgaria

This week marked the end of my first year in Bulgaria. It’s hard to believe that it’s already been a year, on the other hand, sometimes I feel like I’ve been here forever!

So, how to sum up the year? To start with, we’ve had some amazing experiences – we’ve had a chance to travel around the country – and most of it is very pretty – from the mountains and the forests and to the seaside. We’ve enjoyed visiting the “Old Towns” of Bulgaria and seeing architecture that is very different than anything we have known before. We’re looking forward to continuing our travels once the weather warms up.

Along with the traveling in Bulgaria, we’ve also managed to get out of the country – to Rome, Bucharest, Macedonia and Budapest. Bulgaria is ideally located for travelling to other countries at an affordable price – and weekends give us a chance for small getaways.

We’ve enjoyed learning about the Bulgarian customs and holidays – you are able to absorb so much more by actually living in a foreign country than when you are just a tourist. We appreciate all of our Bulgarian friends who have taught us so much about their lives and customs – they have enriched our lives also by sharing with us. I hope that we have also been able to give them something in return by comparing notes on how we celebrate some of our holidays.

We’ve made some wonderful new friends, and made some interesting acquaintances that we may never have had a chance to meet in our normal lives.

The language has been a challenge – we took lessons in Bulgarian, but don’t really feel that we have made much progress in 1 year. Maybe by the end of our second year, we’ll be able to hold a simple conversation!

I have to mention the weather – I have discovered that I really DON’T LIKE SNOW! It’s pretty for a day or two, but a whole winter of it is by far too much for me! I guess that one of the lessons that I have learned is to appreciate the Israeli winters, which I was always so critical of beforehand. I’ve even come to like rain! The one good thing about the winter – is the spring that comes at the end! Spring in Bulgaria is beautiful – flowering fruit trees, beautiful weather – even Sofia looks pretty in the spring!

Living away from our family and friends has also given Ellis and me a chance to experience a different life together as a couple. This is the first time we’ve lived in a city and an apartment. We enjoy the convenience of being able to walk to a nearby restaurant, or to decide at the last minute to see a movie. There is a lot to explore, and we enjoy sharing the discoveries together. We never know when something new or different will happen, and it’s an adventure to be able to share these experiences with each other.

The hardest part of being here is being away from our family and friends – we miss all of them, and eagerly wait for our vacations in Israel in order to “charge the batteries”. And we know that it will be even harder for us, once our first grandchild will be born in April. But, this also gives us something wonderful to look forward to!

So, as we start our second year in Bulgaria, we are looking forward to more travelling and meeting new people and more exciting adventures!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

A Pause in Our Formal Studies of Bulgarian

About three weeks ago, Jodie and I informed our private teacher that we were stopping our weekly sessions with him. We did this not because of a desire to stop learning Bulgarian, but because we realized that after almost a year of studies, we were not any closer to getting a grasp on conversational Bulgarian.

Admittedly, a once-a-week hour class is not nearly enough. However, with our busy work schedules, that was all we were able to handle. The key to learning a new language is practice, and this is where we failed. Both Jodie and I work in English-speaking environments, where even our Bulgarian coworkers handle most of their daily affairs in English. We would have made more progress if we had less intellectual colleagues, different kinds of jobs, or if we lived in a remote area and we were forced to speak in Bulgarian.

We continue to make efforts to talk with taxi drivers, cleaning staff, apartment building doormen, and supermarket clerks, but when we fail to understand their fast-spoken responses, the conversation dies off. To my credit, I did manage to purchase a mattress for our bed entirely in Bulgarian, but this was most likely due to the use of many hand motions as well.

In our last few sessions with him, our teacher was testing our listening comprehension skills, a world away from our current inability to understand the basics of the language. Will we resume our Bulgarian studies? Hopefully we will, but right now we are on a break.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

"Valentine's Day" on Valentine's Day

How romantic is this = to see the new film "Valentine's Day" on Valentine's Day. This just goes to show that new releases of Hollywood films are released in Bulgaria at the same time they are first screened in other places around the world.

Lucky for us, films are not dubbed into Bulgarian, unlike the many American television shows that are shown on the different channels here with Slavic words coming out of the actors' mouths.

We have enjoyed many films at the Cineplex theaters, located at the City Center Sofia mall just a few minutes' walk from our home. Recently we have seen "Sherlock Holmes," "When In Rome," and "Public Enemies". One movie got away though. We saw that the George Clooney film, "Up in the Air", was playing once a night in a "pre-premiere" run, so we were sure it would be shown the following week. Unfortunately, that film disappeared from Bulgarian screens very quickly.

A good word should be said for the theater itself, as the seats are very comfortable, seat assignments are made on a computer screen when purchasing tickets, and there are no intermissions. Let's check and see what's playing next weekend.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Bulgarian Woodpecker

Seen in Yuzhen Park in January.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Carnival in Jodie's Office

It started with a casual comment from our Italian worker, Luca, and ended up with a Company Carnival.

A notice went out from Vladi, our HR manager, inviting us to participate in a carnival in honor of the carnival in Venice. The event was to take place on Friday afternoon, and we were told to dress up in the style of carnival, and that each department should have similar costumes. Prizes were promised for the best costumes, and refreshments would be served.

As I usually don’t work on Fridays, I wasn’t really thinking about dressing up. But somehow, I woke up at 4:00 am on Thurs. morning with an idea for Monica/Finance to dress up. I told Monica my idea, and she thought that it was a great idea and that we should do it together.

So – what was my brilliant idea? We compiled some of the funnier, stranger e-mails that we received from clients, bosses etc, and printed them up on strips of paper, which we then attached to our clothes. Here is a small sample of some of the emails – spelling and punctuation as per original mail!

• Dear Finance: Please update the payments file that we will not pay
till the end of 6 months and remember not to pay him!

• We're dating service, so the expense is not high and we don't
need the income immediatly. you can payout after one or two months, and i don't
care about this. But i think all should be clearly, i mean there may have fraud
or charge back order you need to check and the minnimum balance is not enough ,
you should email and notice about this. I really understand it.

• Dear Finance: Thank you for your prompt response, but please
arrange to retransfer the existing fund (last week's transfer) from our Paypal
Account to our bank account. It will be a great help to us.

And some nice emails:

• Dear Finance: Thanks for your prompt reply. I really appreciate it!
Have a nice weekend!

• Dear Finance: Wau! Many thanks, that truly was fast. I’ll
remember this when I next time discuss on the response rates & customer
service levels of payment service providers – and promote you to other game

• Dear Finance: It’s very nice of you to follow up closely. Thanks
for everything.

So, I came to work on Friday afternoon and Monica and I got into our “costumes” – Monica also brought in colored wigs for us.

Other costumes varied from colorful wigs, an angel, a princess, Mortisha, and a few others. The big hit of the Carnival, was our co-worker, George, who resurrected Michael Jackson – and did a great job of singing one of his songs.

Prizes (which Monica and I also won) were small noise makers, in keeping with the Carnival Spirit – and, it was all quite appropriate for Purim, which we celebrate at the end of the month.

It was a pleasant break from a busy week, and we all enjoyed “Carnival”!

Friday, February 5, 2010

The Peasants of Iowa

At dinner the other night with my Bulgarian coworkers, I told them that I was born and raised in Iowa. One of them asked me what we called the peasants of Iowa. I didn't understand.

"The peasants of the South are called rednecks and the peasants of the East are called hillbillies. What do you call the peasants of Iowa?"

I laughed. I wonder, would you call the peasants of Iowa hicks?

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Pri Yafata

I joined some of my colleagues for a team dinner out, while Jodie stayed home. We went to dine at Pri Yafata, a typical Bulgarian restaurant with a few locations in Sofia. The food was good and we all had a good time. An interesting story was how the restaurant got its name.

"I, Stoyan, was born on 25 February 1916 in the family of Bozhana and Atanas, Kruchmaria. I remember that my father was running the tavern at the Village Square. As I was selling southern fruits during the winter, I named my company Yafa, after the Israeli town of Yafa where my fruits came from. So this is how Yafata became my nickname."

And why is Pri Yafata such a popular venue for the locals? Perhaps it's because of what Stoyan wrote: "The tavern was doing very well and it was always crowded, because I never diluted the wine with water."

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The End of Our Mattress Woes

The bed in our furnished apartment was extremely uncomfortable. The mattress sat inside the bed's bottom frame, but the support bars were part of the mattress itself. This made the mattress extremely heavy. To make the bed, I would struggle to pick up a corner and Jodie would quickly slip a fitted bottom sheet into place. More than once the heavy mattress fell, catching my fingers inside the wooden frame.

Worse than the weight, though, was the fact that we felt the metal support bars inside the mattress when we slept. And for some strange reason the mattress seemed to dip slightly downwards towards the head of the bed. There was no way to get a good night's sleep on the bed, and we were waking up with severe back and shoulder pains.

Two weeks ago I walked through the snow to a store called Happy Dreams not far from the American Embassy. The salesgirls did not speak any English, but I was able to work my way through a mattress order entirely in broken Bulgarian. I paid for the mattress, learning that the payment covered the delivery as well, and received two Happy Dreams coffee mugs as a gift (one of them broke later that day at home).

The mattress was delivered last Friday, and the deliverymen didn't stand around expecting a tip. They wondered if they should remove the old mattress, but Jodie showed them how heavy it was, and that it was part of the bed itself. The new mattress was placed on top of the old one, making for a very high bed. But it's a comfortable one!

Our mattress woes are over. On a weekend morning when it's snowing outside we can stay lazily in bed, because it's a comfortable place to be.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Bulgarian Snowmen

Monday, February 1, 2010

Scenes from a Snowy Park

Jodie and I were totally unprepared for a heavy snowfall which hit Sofia this morning. In fact, yesterday the temperatures hit 5 degrees Celsius and it felt like summer had come at last. But not all of the old snow had melted yet. This morning's snow piled up quickly, but by mid-afternoon there were blue skies above.

On Saturday I took a walk through nearby Yuzhen Park, where many families were enjoying the mild weather. Parents were pulling their children on sleds, and there were snowmen everywhere. No doubt today's new snow will make the park more beautiful than before.