Day to day events mostly cataloguing my complete lack of understanding and common sense!

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2014/02
Thursday 27th February, 2014
Category: 2014/02
Tags: martenitsa

I can feel myself gradually relaxing into the Bulgarian mentality of socialising at every given opportunity and this morning saw a gathering at the community centre to make Martenitsas. A Martenitsa is a red and white coloured adornment which people wear from March 1st (known as Baba Marta day) until they see the first blossom or a stork or till the end of March.  Mind you, the way the weather has been so glorious recently, there is already blossom showing in some regions of the country, so it will be Martenitsas on on Saturday and take them off again on Sunday for some!

For all their simplicity, the Martenitsas hold a wealth of symbolism, and here are just a few of the many examples:

Traditionally March is thought of as the only female month of the year, a month of rebirth and conception as the land shows the first signs which will lead to a fruitful harvest in late summer.  The white thread represents light, the solar energy which will bring growth, the red represents the blood of conception and birth (once upon a time wedding dresses were red too).

Another story concerns Baba Marta (which means Grandmother March), a moody old woman who either helps or hinders spring in arriving.  Tradition says that the red and white symbols are supposed to make her happy and so she will bless us with an early spring which in turn is good for the crops.

A third popular explanation is more historical in nature.  It concerns Khan Asparuh who was the first Bulgarian king.  When he and his people crossed the Danube into what is now Bulgaria, he sent word to his sister, Huba, that he had found a place where they could settle. When Huba received this message she managed to escape from captivity, found a horse and rode south all the way to the Danube.  Having got this far, she was unable to find a safe place to cross so she tied some white yarn to the leg of the falcon who had brought her the message from her brother, and let it fly up in the air whilst she held the end of the thread. The falcon flew along the river but just at the very moment it found a safe crossing point it was shot down by an enemy arrow. When Huba followed the thread to where the dead bird lay, she found the thread stained red with blood.  She crossed the river and was safely reunited with her brother and to remember this joyful moment the tradition of wearing the red and white threads was begun.

Of course there are many more variations on these themes but for me the best thing is the pleasure of giving and receiving the little red and white tokens and being part of something celebrated by the entire nation.

It's hard not to see a stall selling hundreds of Martenitsas in the lead up to March and they can be bought for less than a lev, but this morning there was the opportunity to go along to the community centre and find out how to make some of them for yourself.  There was a good turn out of both Bulgarians and other nationalities and the huge balls of red and white wool on the table were rapidly put to use.  There was a book with ideas for making Martenitsas and the Bulgarian lady next to me made a beautiful little boy and girl doll decoration complete with crocheted hats.  Some made pompoms, others braided strands for bracelets and there was card to cut out shapes to wind the wool onto.  (I made a pair of flowers and a heart with beads hanging from it).  Mariana showed me how to do a sort of macrame knot using three lots of wool and a couple of ladies crocheted beautiful bracelets.  

 All very industrious

All the Martenitsas, along with those made earlier by the school children, will be put on display on a tree branch in the foyer for a few days.  Baba Marta should be singing for joy!

Wednesday 26th February, 2014
Category: 2014/02
Tags: walk soup kitchen

Today the sun shone gloriously again which was perfect for the planned walk from Slaveykovo to Yantra.  This is partly in preparation for the big sponsored walk in May which will take in the surrounding villages, following paths through the countryside.

We drove to Slaveykovo to meet Sue who was guiding us, along with her three beautiful dogs and one cat who joined us for the first hundred yards or so.  The walk took us out of the village along a marked track before cutting across a field towards a little copse.  

 Just after we crossed the field

We passed a dried up stream bed where there would be a waterfall when the rain has been heavy though Sue said she'd yet to see it actually flowing. There were tiny crocuses here and there on the ground; really intense yellow:

After emerging from the copse we crossed a grassy area with an odd ditch running across it before joining another track which lead down into Yantra, past a lady sitting with her flock of goats.  A thoroughly enjoyable walk with some beautiful views along the way.

From Yantra we drove to Skalsko where a weekly soup kitchen has been started to give people the opportunity to try traditional home cooked soups and to raise money for charity. Today's soup was 'bob' soup with the traditional white beans, and went down a treat along with some fresh soft bread.  I believe next week it will be nettle soup - if it turns out to be just as tasty I shall swipe the menu because there's a year's supply of the main ingredient in my garden!

Monday 24th February, 2013
Category: 2014/02
Tags: language garden veggies folk songs

Managed to let the fresh milk boil over yet again this morning! It happens every Monday without fail.  Mitko delivers a litre of fresh cow's milk to me which I put on the stove to heat before transferring it to the jug and then the fridge after it's cooled again.  Every Monday I look at the clock and I think okay, five minutes for the stove to get hot enough then I'll switch it off and let the milk just simmer. Of course I can't waste the precious five minutes watching it boil, that would be too simple, so I inevitably turn on the computer for a 'quick' check on Facebook.  Ten minutes later I'm dragged away from the jokes and cat photos by the sound of hissing in the kitchen as the milk once more pours out of the saucepan and onto the hotplate.  Next Monday I will take my laptop into the kitchen with me!

Some of the village babas are doing a little concert for some children in Gabrovo in March and on Thursday I sat in with them for rehearsals.  Luckily they had copies of the songs and since not everyone needed to see the words I swiped some to take home. I could make out some of the words but I think a lot of it is written in slang or uses old fashioned words so I'm going to get my language tutor to explain them to me next lesson.  I could make out one of the songs though which involves a young maiden going to collect water in a gourd when a Gostilitsan lad comes along. He asks her for the gourd as a symbol she will accept him as her husband which she willingly does (who could refuse a Gostilitsan boy after all!) and the song ends with her vowing to plant gourd seeds in their garden so that future generations may find love as they did.  (That's my interpretation anyway).

Now for a quick tour of the veggie patch as preparations begin for this year's planting:

 Lettuce seedlings developing quickly

 I finally have some proper cold frame hoops courtesy of Baba Ivanka (payment for snipping her vines)

 My cucumber fence in place

 Tomato stakes dug in - extra tall ones this year.

 Plastic bottles for deeper watering, in theory.

Indoors I have lots of tomato and cucumber seedlings flourishing and in the garden the carrots are starting to show.  I've also done a couple of rows of celery and 176 onions - red and white.  Yes, I counted them! Allowing for tiny ones and complete failures I might not need to buy onions again this year :D

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