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2014/03
Friday 28th March, 2014
Category: 2014/03
Tags: language

When I first came to visit Bulgaria I bought a little holiday phrase book to use (in emergencies).  Like all phrase books it covered useful things such as explaining to a doctor you have appendicitis with possible liver failure, or asking the shop assistant if they sell that particular style of blouse in red silk for your planned evening at a jazz concert.  From this I compiled my own little list of words I wanted to learn first: yes, no, please, thank you, I want, the numbers 1-10, a few colours and some basic food items.  There was no concept of grammar - definite/indefinite articles, perfect/imperfect verbs, gender agreement... these simply didn't exist for me.  I learned the words and began making up my own sentence combinations from them, something along the lines of 'I want 3 yellow banana.'  Nine years on things have thankfully progressed somewhat.

 

On Thursday I went with a couple of Brits to the mayor's office to request a dustbin for them.  This fairly simple task turned into an hour long interpreting session as the mayor wanted to tell them all sorts of things about the wonders of living here, as well as finding out about their background.  The next time you have a conversation with someone in your native tongue, make a note of how often your thoughts slip elsewhere even though you're following what's being said and are able to converse perfectly well.  Did you briefly mentally remind yourself of something you need to buy from the shop?  Did something in the conversation trigger a quick trip down memory lane? That's how it is for me, but when you're trying to translate a conversation to convey the gist to someone else, such lapses of attention result in loss of the thread entirely. Remaining focused for an hour was mind boggling!

 

Today things began in a much more relaxed manner with my weekly language lesson on Skype.  My tutor and I know each other well enough to be able to converse about the things in our daily lives and we usually follow part of a structured text book so the content of our discussions is very focused.  Imagine my horror this morning though when partway through the lesson my mobile phone rang.  Usually I would ignore it but for some reason this morning I went into auto pilot and excused myself while I answered it.  It was only as I hit the receive button that it occurred to me that this was an unknown Bulgarian number calling.  As I answered with a very cautious 'Ало?' I was SO conscious of my tutor sitting quietly next to me via the internet listening to every word.  It turned out to be someone from the community centre wanting to pop round to ask me something so I arranged for him to call round after my lesson was over.  Phone call completed I returned to the lesson where my extremely kind tutor was very complimentary and didn't mention any of the errors I'm sure my words were full of.  Still, what a tremendous confidence booster to suddenly be aware that I am handling myself in these situations with increasing frequency and managing to understand and be understood.

 

From 'I want 3 yellow banana' to 'Is it possible to come later, maybe around 9.30,  because at the moment I'm having a lesson on Skype'  after a mere 9 years of learning.  Just imagine my skills after the next 9 ;)

Tuesday 25th March, 2014
Category: 2014/03
Tags: guided walk Diskoduratera

If you've been following the blog from cold, wet, windy UK then take heart - it's now cold, wet and windy here too!  The water butts were dusted down yesterday and put back in place beneath the down spouts though one of them had to be repositioned this morning as I'd managed to place it so it missed the water altogether.  The other one is already three quarters full - around 150 litres of water - just goes to show how much rain falls even without a heavy downpour.

Fortunately last Friday was still hot and sunny and the ideal day for the spring walk to the Roman ruins of Diskoduratera.  We were quite a good crowd as there were 9 of us ex-pats accompanied by three Bulgarians, one of whom used to be a teacher and was to be our guide.  

To get to the ruins you head out of the village as if going to Dryanovo and when you get to a sharp left bend there's a sign pointing off onto a footpath.  I use the word 'sign' very loosely as the actual sign itself regularly falls or is knocked off, so the only marker is the pole it was once nailed to.  The path winds its way along the edges of fields, hedgerows and through woods.  Toilets and picnic tables were built at several points but sadly most of these have been vandalised or just been subject to the weather and are in a sad state of disrepair.  It's such a shame to see and perhaps a future little project could involve some of us having a volunteer day seeing if we can repair some of the damage.

We stopped at several points for our guide to give us some information about their significance. This is where an interpreter would have come in handy!  The first place we stopped at was apparently where the slaughter of animals took place many years ago. These places were located to the north, south, east and west of the village, and everyone would share in the food after the animal was cooked.  She also mentioned something about pretty girls all dressed in white coming here... hmm, Gostilitsan vestal virgins perhaps?!

   Our guide  

It was story time then as we arrived at a cornel tree covered in yellow blossom.  It's the sticks from the cornel which are used at new year to make survachka sticks which the children decorate and then tap adults with to bring good luck.  The Bulgarian word for the cornel is drian and is the source of the name of the town Dryanovo.  The story involved a woman who was searching for fruit and had to hide up the cornel tree when a hungry bear came along.  I Googled the story when we got home and found this version:

There was an old woman. She went to the forest to pick cornel. When she climbed up the tree , a bear stood under the cornel. 
--Get down , old woman! –growled the bear. 
- Why do I have to get down ?- asked the old woman. 
- I am going to eat you .
------O-ooo !- bewailed the old woman-Do not eat me, because I am old and stringy. Come to visit me at my home tonight. I have three daughters. The first daughter's name is Softly, the second daughter's name is Strongly, and the third's is Already. You can eat whichever daughter you choose. The bear trusted her and let the old woman go. When she filled her bag with cornels, she went home and locked the door .The night came on. In this time the bear came and began to shout: 
-Give me Softly, old woman.
And the old woman said from inside : 
-Softly spread her bed and now she is sleeping.
- Give me Strongly, old woman!- knocked the bear.
-Strongly has locked her door- replied old woman .
- Give me Already, old woman, or I am going to eat you-roared the bear. 
- You can not Already has learned not go into the forest alone to pick cornel- said the old woman and switched off the light. 
And the bear dragged her tail to the forest.

 The cornel

We passed the old flour mill, which I think was last functioning in the 1940s, and then cut across the fields. At this point we joined part of the original Roman road which passed this way, connecting the Danube in the north to Stara Zagora to the south.

When we reached the ruins themselves we began clambering our way round the excavated pits and over the remnants of the little Roman stronghold which used to be here.  We entered via the western entrance which has two soldiers' lookout points guarding either side.  There were four things at Diskoduratera: a coin mint, trading, and two other things which I've now completely forgotten!   There are quite a few engraved pillars laying here and there, some of them with discernable pictures such as a girl and some people holding circular objects.  

After exploring we made our way to a little picnic bench to eat our lunch.  The Bulgarians had of course brought enough food for everyone and so we shared the bread, banitsa, preserved beef and wine.  I'm sure she won't mind me telling this very funny incident, but one of our party was offered some more of the banitsa.  She protested that she only wanted a little piece but when she tried to take some from the tupperware box, she managed to get a couple of big chunks stuck together! This set us all off laughing while she tried to separate them.  Having pulled off a smaller chunk she then sat back down on the bench which promptly collapsed sending her tumbling to the ground, still holding the precious banitsa aloft! Poor woman - we all joked that it was the weight of the huge piece of banitsa that did it!

After lunch it was a very leisurely stroll back to Gostilitsa.  I'm sure there are dozens of other walks around the village where different things happened in the past, so hopefully we can persuade the Bulgarians to take us out again and help us find out about the locality we now live in.

  Some of the walkers

 

Thursday 20th March, 2014
Category: 2014/03
Tags: seeds garden nettles DIY

So exciting! Tomorrow is officially the first day of spring and already most of my little seedlings are sprouting under their bottle igloos.  Not wanting to count chickens or anything, but the winter wood has lasted really well. I think I've used maybe 5.5 cubic metres so far and not had to dip into next winter's supply yet, which is all drying out nicely down in the bottom shed.  

Speaking of wood, there was an intriguing event in the street during the week.  I could hear an awful lot of chain sawing going on but couldn't figure out exactly where from, so being inherently nosy I quickly got a bag of rubbish together so I could casually go out to the dustbin and see if I could see what was occurring. Had Bulgarian blood been coursing through my veins I imagine I would already have discovered the source of the noise, enquired as to why they were cutting whatever it was up and informed them that my cousin's neighbour's son could have done it twice as quickly for half the price, but I remain British through and through.  

Once in the street it became all too apparent what was going on.  There's a very run down house just along the street and in front of it was growing a huge walnut tree with its branches pressing more and more against the house.  Well it seems someone has decided to take action and the tree is to go.  There was a big cherry picker truck there and two or three men who were gradually lopping the massive branches off the tree ready to bring down the main trunk.  When they'd finished I went for a walk along there to look at the tree and you would be amazed to see how much of the street was now taken up by logs, branches and twigs!  It seemed never ending.  

Of course the question arose as to what was going to happen to the wood - who did it belong to? Anyone who has read the whole blog (wow, gold star that person!) might recall another occasion when I mistakenly helped myself to a load of logs scattered in the street only to find someone had laid claim to them and I had to throw them all back there before the theft was discovered.  This time I wanted to be clear about the facts.  Well it seems no one knew exactly, only that the mayor had given the go ahead for it to be removed.  Clearly some people had already started taking the small twiggy bits away as there were neat piles appearing outside various neighbouring houses, but my eyes were drawn to the big fat tree trunk.  I was after a nice slice of that to use as a chopping block for when I let rip with my axe on the wood I will order later this year.  The little blocks I used last year are quite low and narrow and probably won't take many more hits with a wrongly aligned axe.  The thought of a nice chunky piece of tree trunk was quite tantalising.  I casually mentioned this to the neighbour I was talking to and left it at that.

The next day a lorry came rumbling up the street and all of the big pieces of tree were winched onto it and soon it was being driven away.  Ah well, so much for my plans... or so I thought.  Today the neighbour knocked on my door to clarify that I was after a chopping block and beckoned me to have a look at the left overs.  It seems there's quite a bit of wood still lying around and not just twigs. Walnut isn't very good as a chopping block though, he said, you need a different kind of tree.  He pointed to several nice big chunks of trunk stacked up in a corner and then jerked his thumb at the house behind us.  Those are perfect for the job, but they all belong to that lot. Hmm, perhaps I'll come back at mid-night, I told him with a grin.  We rooted around amongst the fallen walnut trimmings and I came across a big fat gnarly piece which was certainly wider than my current blocks.  Decision made, he got his chainsaw out of the boot of the car and soon cut off the section that I wanted.  It needs a little levelling (which he says he'll do once he's changed his chainsaw chain) but it's good and solid and will hopefully do me a few seasons.  Now I just have to find out if I can help myself to some of those kindling sticks as well!

I've begun digging out an area near the garage where I plan to have my paddly pool this summer.  I bought it years ago but because of all the renovations the past two summers it's yet to be put up.  It's one of those 'easy up' (I can hear derisory laughter already) pools where you supposedly just inflate the top ring and then fill it with water.  It's only an 8 feet wide one but that's enough for me to lay in it and cool off, with maybe the odd bit of circular swimming around the edge.  The instructions say the most important thing is for the ground to be level or else the uneven weight of water will lead to it bursting on one side, so I thought I'd get this bit done whilst the ground is still reasonably soft.  So far I've skimmed the weeds off the top layer and begun chipping the soil around and raking it to try and make it fairly level.  I was in the process of wheeling all the weeds down the lane to dump in the hedgerow when Stefan came along to his garage which is located down there. I smiled and greeted him and mentally challenged him to say anything. The fact that he's dumped a dozen carcasses of ancient vehicles all around his garage makes my little heap of weeds pale into insignificance!  He wasn't phased at all by what I was doing.  Good old Bulgaria!

Today, being a little chilly, I decided on an indoor project; making a spice rack for the kitchen.  That SO sounds like a CSE woodwork project doesn't it, and how I wish I'd taken more of an interest in these practical skills at school.  Anyway, I spent a bit more time on the planning stage than I did with the letter box, and I think the result is pretty good:

It holds the herbs and spices and doesn't fall over.  Result!

Inspired by this success I thought I'd celebrate with some nettles.  Yes, stinging nettles.  I've many times been meaning to try eating them as they are supposed to be highly nutritious and a good substitute for spinach in cooking.  My garden has a plentiful crop of nettles that I don't want and is sadly lacking in spinach, so win win.  I went out armed with the gardening gloves and picked off some of the newest looking shoots coming through.  Surprisingly some of them still managed to sting even through the gloves.  This posed the question of how to safely wash them.  I elected to get the gardening gloves wet:

Bashing them around under water seemed to get rid of all the stings thankfully.  I decided to just sautee them on the stove as a first go rather than try anything fancy, so popped them in a frying pan on top of the wood burner:

Very rustic, right? I was mulling over whether to add a splash of lemon juice or something when I decided to try one to see what it tasted like. I picked up one that had gone a bit crispy and it was just like eating that crispy fried seaweed you get at a Chinese - perfect! I left the rest as it was to crisp up and then scoffed it all as a snack.  It does definitely have that earthy taste of spinach but there was something else there too but I can't describe what.  Anyway, perfectly edible (perhaps I should be waiting 24 hours before the final verdict is given) and something I can experiment with in other recipes too.  Just have to find some better gardening gloves first.

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