Showing posts from February, 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 v…

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.

Sofia's Central Baths

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

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,&q…

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.

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 dr…

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…

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 coun…

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-sp…

"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 sai…

Bulgarian Woodpecker

Seen in Yuzhen Park in January.

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…

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?

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."

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 ma…

Bulgarian Snowmen


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.