29 May 2006

Blogging blahs

I was going to write about our nice little mid-week holiday last Wednesday (Cyril & Methodious Day) and about my first bike ride on Saturday, but I just don’t feel like it—sorry. My mind is already drifting to vacation; this time next week I will be sailing off the coast of Turkey with Mike (MBAEC volunteer in Romania,) his friend, and Simon & Sarah. Should be a good time—I’m really looking forward to it, and promise to write all about it afterward.

22 May 2006

Seniors Rule!

There was a giddy sense of excitement throughout Sofia over the weekend. High school kids around Bulgaria graduate on or about this date, and they are not reticent in letting everybody know of this achievement. Beginning on Wednesday night, I heard groups of high school senior yelling, “edno, dve, tree…” (1,2,3…up to 12 in Bulgarian) followed by a big yay, and then—within 30 seconds—starting over again. Then on Friday and Saturday evening, they were driving or being driven around town: car horns honking, hanging out of windows and sunroofs; and, of course, continuously hollering. Apparently, part of the graduation festivities is a formal dance—much like a high school prom in the US, but only for seniors.

16 May 2006

Report Card Day

Today, the long-awaited EU progress report for Bulgaria (and Romania) was released. Speculation has been rampant on whether BG & RO would accede to the European Union on the original date of January 2007 or be “held back” for another year. Well, the news is good, but not certain. The European Commission said, “Romania and Bulgaria were on track to join…but they must speed up reforms in several areas.” Most notably, the EU is—understandably— concerned by inaction on the anti-corruption front. The final decision will not be made until early October; so, like a procrastinating student, Bulgaria has dodged the bullet and gotten another extension. Never the less, this evening we shall raise our glasses of Rakia and toast to EU ascension.

15 May 2006

The Post-Mall Era

Friday marks an important day in the millennia of the history of the Bulgars. Before 12 May 2006, there was no purpose-built edifice dedicated to consumerism that we all know and love as “the mall” (мол in Bulgarian.) I know this sounds bombastic, but it’s actually quite significant* and especially poignant for me, an American. I am no mall rat, but as I wandered through “City Center Sofia” on the first full day of shopping on Saturday, I felt the palpable warmth, familiarity, and comfort of this temple of capitalism, even when looking out of the 4th floor windows on the distinctively Bulgarian scenes on Cherni Vrah Blvd. Later this month, another high-rise, downtown mall is scheduled to open in Sofia—no doubt the beginning of a new era of shopping in Bulgaria. Understand, I am not disparaging nor exulting this—just making an observation. I'm glad they have this new choice, while at the same time lamenting some of the inevitable changes it will bring.

*Well, actually there is a multi-story shopping center with all kinds of high-end boutiques smack in the middle of town called ЦУМ (TzUM.) However, since this is the old (communist) “Central Universal Store”, Bulgarians don’t consider this a real mall. Other Eastern European countries (especially Poland) have taken to malls like fish to water, and the trend extends to all kinds of rising economies around the world according to a Newsweek International article I read a couple of months ago.

08 May 2006

Cinco de Mayo

My Синко дей Майо party was a great success. At one point, there were over 30 people in my little apartment. On numerous occasions, we had to explain why we Americans celebrate a Mexican holiday, as it was about half and half Americans vs. Bulgarians (with a Turkish couple and a Macedonian guy thrown in for good measure.) If you measure a party by its clean-up, this one was even better than my birthday party; I took out over 10 bags of trash, and had mop the floors 3 times to get it clean.
Joel frying up some ground beef
the American guys

02 May 2006

May Day

Chestit Praznik! (which, I found out from banners flying today, means "happy [any] holiday") This makes the second Monday off in a row—it's going to be hard to get used to 5-day work days again! The first of May has historically been labor day or "worker's day" around the world (except US, Canada, etc. because of the communist flavor of the holiday.) Thankfully someone told me about this on Friday, or I would have showed up to an empty (and locked) office on Monday morning; unfortunately it was not enough time to plan a trip. Anyhow, on Monday I walked around town looking for the May Day festivities, and I found it—sponsored by the Bulgarian Socialist Party— in Borissova Garden: three or four stages (music), food vendors, balloons, mimes, throngs of senior citizens, and even an old hammer and sickle flag or two.