Friday, November 27, 2009

Thanksgiving in Bulgaria

This week, we celebrated Thanksgiving in Bulgaria! My (Jodie) co-worker, Dennis, an American living here with his Bulgarian wife and family, extended an invitation to the office, to come and celebrate Thanksgiving at their home, with all the traditional fixings.

Ellis and I joined a few others from work and arrived at Dennis and Petia’s home on Thursday evening. Also included were teachers from the school where Petia works. There were about 25 adults, and quite a number of kids who went off to play in a different room.

When we arrived, there was a large array of salads, cheeses, dips, pickled eggs, and cold cuts already on the table. I contributed a cabbage salad, which was a big hit. One of the women, who is married to a Bulgarian but was originally from Syria, brought home-made hummus and tabouli salad – which Ellis and I really enjoyed.

After we all helped ourselves to the different salads, the main course arrived – 2 roasted turkeys, with traditional bread stuffing, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole and other vegetables. This wonderful meal was topped off with a New York-style cheese cake.

The one thing missing – I asked Dennis what happened to the football game on television – he said he still hasn’t figured out how to get that here.

Thanksgiving is really about spending time with family and friends, and doesn’t really have to be confined to the U.S. to be celebrated. We enjoyed spending a fun evening with new friends, and people that we didn’t know before, and wouldn’t have a chance to meet in other circumstances. Language and cultural barriers are overcome, and we all had a wonderful time and good food.

Thank you Dennis and Petia!

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Concert: Lilly of the West

I (Ellis) first read about Bulgarian singer Lilly Drumeva in a recent issue of Vagabond Magazine, and when I learned she sang American folk and country music, I wrote her an email. Awhile later we received an invitation to a concert of Lilly of the West staged at the Bulgarian National Radio studio and we were pleased to attend.

The performance was recorded for the Bulgarian Golden Radio Fund and was accompanied by an announcer giving the history of bluegrass and country music. The introductions were in Bulgarian, but with every other word being a mention of singers like Elvis Presley and Hank Williams, we understood everything.

Lilly sang a mixture of country, folk, bluegrass and original compositions, and with one exception, all of the songs were in English. She performed songs of Shania Twain, Patsy Cline ("Walkin' After Midnight"), and Sheryl Crowe. Lilly was accompanied by her very talented band consisting of Yasen Vasilev on guitar, Ivan Penchev on fiddle, and Svoboda Bozduganova on upright bass. Guest performers included Rayko Pepelanov on guitar, Michail Shihskov on Dorbo and piano, and Rumen Boyadjiev on drums.

We enjoyed every minute of the performance. On the last song of the show, each member of the band had a solo on "My Window Faces the South". For an encore, Lilly sang "Hallelujah" by Leonard Cohen.

After the show, we were invited to a glass of wine and we had a chance to meet Lilly (and get autographed copies of her CDs). We are looking forward to the upcoming release of the band's new CD, "Lovin' You" and also to attending more performances of Lilly of the West in the coming months.

The above picture shows Lilly Drumeva, Svoboda Bozduganova on upright bass and Rumen Boyadjiev on drums and is taken from Lilly Drumeva's website.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Concert: Israeli Marimba Player Chen Zimbalista

The Israeli Embassy in Bulgaria announced that famous Israeli percussionist and marimba player, Chen Zimbalista, would be performing in Sofia with the New Symphony Orchestra, so we made plans to attend. Jodie went to Bulgaria Hall in the center of the city one Friday morning and successfully bought the tickets. When we arrived last night we were pleased to discover that we were seated in the sixth row, center.

According to what we learned about Chen, he "has dazzled audiences around the world with an enchanting array of rhythmic sounds that he cajoles from more than forty instruments, played with his lightening quick hands, some of them at the same time. His music - a euphonious blend of pulses and beats - defies classification."

The evening's program actually started with Vivaldi's The Four Seasons, which highlighted four very talented young violin soloists. Then a huge marimba was wheeled to the front of the stage, and Chen came on to perform Concerto for Marimba and String Orchestra, Op. 12, composed by Brazlian marimba artist Ney Rosauro. You can actually see and hear some of this piece on Chen's website.

The audience was very ecstatic, and Chen was called out for repeated encores. Once he came out with a tamborine and played it in an exciting way we had never heard before. The next time he came out with a special drum, and the final time he came out and the entire orchestra played one section of the Concerto a second time.

After Chen finished, there was a short intermission, although many people left the hall thinking that the orchestra's performance had concluded. We stayed for the last part of the evening, Mozart's Symphony No. 36.

We have another concert coming up tomorrow night, of a slightly different kind. You can never have too much culture...

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Witness to an Act of Violence

They are all around us, but usually we don't pay attention. They are the gypsies, or as known here, the Roma. They clean the streets (in orange uniforms, when they are employed by the municipality) and they search through the garbage bins (where they are searching for themselves). They beg at street corners and in the middle of the streets, interrupting traffic. They are all around us, but usually, we hardly see them.

Last Saturday I (Ellis) took a walk through a small park alongside Cherni Vrakh Boulevard, a main street of the city being torn open for a new Metro line. There were three middle-aged gypsies, two men and a woman, sitting on a park bench, apparently enjoying their lunch, accompanied by beer.

Along came a tall Bulgarian man, probably in his twenties, and started shouting angrily at the gypsies. The one word I completely understood was "Haide", (Hurry up), as the man was forcing the gypsies to leave the bench, and the park.

The gypsy woman and one of the men hurried down the path, but they left the papers and beer bottles from their lunch on the ground around the bench. The third man was about to escape as well, but the Bulgarian called him back and made him pick up the litter (well, this is the good part of the story).

As the third gypsy started to walk away, the Bulgarian started kicking him. The kicks, accompanied by shouts which I couldn't begin to understand, became more and more violent. Finally, one kick landed smack in the gypsy's back, and he went sprawling onto the pavement. The gypsy picked himself up, without comment or fighting back, and limped away. The Bulgarian man who had driven them from the park, turned around, and was hugged by one of his friends.

I walked away, amazed at this act of violence against these gypsies.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Tis the Season...

Winter is fast approaching here in Bulgaria. The temperatures have dropped drastically – at night and early morning, they seem to hover around the 0-2 range, and even the warmer days take a long time to warm up. The skies are greyer, we’ve had rain, and one day of light snow (fortunately, I was in Israel for that day, but I got reports from Ellis!) The top of Mt. Vitosha is getting a light cover of snow, which is starting to stick.

Most of the trees have lost their leaves and are looking very bare. The ground is still covered with a layer of leaves, but at this point they’re all wet and soggy and not very attractive. It’s a sharp contrast to Israel, where the country becomes green and blooms in the winter when the rains come (if they come), and here everything is stark and bare and grey.

Another sharp contrast to Israel is the arrival of Christmas decorations and displays. While walking around the city center on Friday, I noticed many shops have started putting up Christmas decorations. There was even one shop that was devoted entirely to Christmas balls and wreathes. I remember this from my childhood in the States, but living in Israel, Christmas comes and goes with very little mention. Since this is one of the major holidays celebrated here in Bulgaria, it will be interesting to see how they continue to prepare for the holiday.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Abandoned Flower Car

Recently there was an announcement that the Sofia Municipality will begin collecting abandoned cars from the sidewalks and streets of the city. Most of them are eyesores and interfere with walking, however, some have developed a certain charm about them.

Sofia, November 2009.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Yuzhen Park Carpeted in Leaves

From our walk in the nearby park on the weekend...

We had a house guest this week = Tal Peer from Neve Ilan, son of our good friends Iris and Philip.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

High-stepping Bulgarian Presidential guards

From our visit on the weekend to the center of Sofia.

Monday, November 9, 2009

First Composition in Bulgarian

Аз изкам да напиша раэкаэ на Български език за първи път, но за съжаление не зная много думи.

Проблемът е че в работата ми, аз говоря само английски и нямам време да науча нови думи.

Когато казвам нещо на български, колегите ми ме отговарят на английски защото те предпочитат този език.

По през същото време, когато уча български, колегите ми учат английски.

Някои от колегите ми са от Израел, и не изкат да научат нито един нов чужд език.

Аз мисля че ако работата ми е в малко село, далеч от София, и ако хората там знаят да говорят само български, аз ще мога да говоря български език.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

An Israeli restaurant in Sofia

The Holy Land is walking distance from our home. The newly re-opened restaurant on Vitosha Street offers an Israeli cuisine, and in its earlier version was a Lebanese restaurant. With our Israeli house guest, Tal Peer from Neve Ilan, we walked through Yuzhen Park and decided to satisfy our Sunday lunch time appetites with something familiar from back home.

"Opening the table" with a selection of 12 Oriental salads is not cheap (7.50 Leva per person) but the salads were good and definitely Israeli. There were two versions of eggplant salad, tabuli, spicy carrots, pickled vegetables, red cabbage, and an egg salad. But as Jodie noted, you would never be served pitted olives in Abu Gosh.

We had to wait a few more minutes for the pittot to arrive, so that we would have something to dip into our tehina sauce. The pittot were very thin and wafery, but they were hot out of the oven.

For our main course, both Jodie and Tal had the kebab and fried potatoes, and I had the grilled chicken fillet with fried potatoes. Next time we will have to try their felafel. Unfortunately, there was neither Turkish coffee or tea with na'aneh to finish the meal.

The Holy Land restaurant has been open in its Israeli version for two months. What makes it different from a visit to Abu Gosh is the fact that the waiters speak Bulgarian, and not Arabic, and it is slightly higher class dining. Oh, also the fact that during the Sunday lunch time hour, we were the only diners there, but even so, we'll be back!

Friday, November 6, 2009


Just missing the Halloween season, there are big orange pumpkins for sale everywhere (well, orange on the inside). These were on display at a stand on Chreni Vrakh street on our way to work.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Extreme Weather in Two Countries

Jodie was in Israel for a few days, leaving me on my own in Bulgaria. In both countries, during this period, there were extreme weather conditions.

Israel experienced a very wet week, and the heavy rains caused flooding in some towns. Checking in at our Neve Ilan home, Jodie discovered that the roof had leaked onto our refrigerator. Jodie reported, "It poured!"

It was bit colder in Bulgaria, where the temperatures dropped to minus 2 degrees Celsius. And then the first snow of the season hit Sofia, with snow flurries throughout the day. When I walked home from work, the ground and trees and cars were covered in white. The next morning, Mt. Vitosha was white capped as well, but by the time Jodie returned to Bulgaria, the weather had warmed up and all signs of winter were gone. For now.