Jeremy said earlier this month that January gets a pretty rough deal. It doesn’t really get going until around the 5th and then before you know it, you’re past the halfway mark. Not such a bad thing for a potentially cold and miserable month, but a little unnerving if you’re still struggling to come to terms with the fact that technically we’re already some way into the tenth year of this millennium.
Our second Bulgarian (and first marital) Christmas was spent largely indoors. This was partly because the festive season is a brilliant excuse for culinary experimentation and because it was COLD and eating helps stop the chill reaching your bones. We can also blame the discovery of a new website giving us access to free UK telly and our crazy decision to start watching another series of 24 and not being able to stop until we had finished. Which can – and very nearly did – mean 24 hours of non-stop viewing.
However we did manage to break off the tv marathon on Christmas Day to stroll into town, where we found Yambol busier than we have ever seen it. Seeing as the Bulgarians do their festive feasting on the evening of the 24th, they can spend the following day in town watching groups of ‘Koledari’ having a regional dance-off.
Each village or area around Yambol is represented by a gang of ten or so men dressed in traditional costume who link arms, stamp and chant together – think ‘morris dancing’ but with less hankies and more swords. In fact it seemed very symbolic: their hats are decorated with leaves and pop-corn (!?); a fellow at one end of the row wields a loaf of bread, at the other end a chap holds a sword aloft, upon which a few bank notes have been slid and at the front of each troupe is a rather scary masked man, who’s main role seems to be to make sure that the dancers don’t tread on the crowds. (And vice versa.) It’s strangely stirring stuff, each group taking its role very seriously. The footwork and timing was very complicated too, requiring much concentration from most members. It appeared that the more-than-occasional swigs of rakia were also helping proceedings.
Bulgarian rhythms are altogether very complicated. We rediscovered this fact not long after, on New Year’s Eve, when we tore ourselves away from the coziness of the flat to race to the town square in time to watch the tail end of a live diddly-diddly band, listen to a few cyrillic speeches – including one from the Yambol mayor who was quite obviously wishing he was somewhere else after he’d finished – and see a surprisingly spectacular midnight firework display, courtesy of the municipality.
It was then that the band struck up again to allow the locals to celebrate the beginning of 2009 by getting jiggy, and goodness me, there are some very light-footed Bulgarians out there! We tagged ourselves onto the end of a row of dancers and despite brave efforts to keep up (hindered only slightly by attacks of the giggles) just couldn’t quite get the hang of it. We have since heard that the NYE ‘Horo’ dance is particularly difficult as it is in 7/8, which would go some way to explain why our 4/4 feet were all over the place. Thinking back to the Koledari boys, I wonder whether a slurp of rakia wouldn’t have been a bit useful…
We had another first last week. We might have mentioned that for most of the last year we have had no light in the stair-well of our apartment block. Nobody had paid the bills, so we were all plunged into darkness. For ten months. Then suddenly last week there was light! A day later, larger than life Ivan (or Ivan The Great as he is now known) rallied round and the next thing we knew a meeting had been organised. And at 8pm that evening, for the first time in the nearly two years we’ve been here, a representative from every flat was together in one room. Some of these people I don’t think I’ve EVER seen, and there are only eight flats in our building. After a bit of shouting and mild stropping (perfectly normal), debts were paid and plans were drawn up as to how to manage the payment of future bills. Not long after that the homemade wine and rakia had come out and everybody was happy. Yippee!
Let’s see how long that lasts.
Other fun cultural events that have already passed us by, have been Jordan’s Day, when crazy Bulgarians jump into the icy depths of the Tundja river to rescue a cross (why would you do that?!) and Ivan Day. Strictly speaking, we didn’t entirely miss the latter name day, as Kris our next door neighbour, through a wall no thicker than toilet paper, had an enormous party which lasted until somewhere around 7.15am. Which was nice. We can only conclude from the length and volume of his revelling that all his friends were called Ivan.
The house project trundles on – we spent a hilarious day a couple of weeks ago with Gary & Lou and a couple of lump hammers knocking the damp plaster off the walls, which was very satisfying. Now window quotes are being sought, the electrician, Mincho is cued up to rewire as soon as the atmospheric temperature gets above 0°C and Jeremy is designing the living space as fast as his trusty Mac can get the dimensions organised.
Finally things are moving forward, but not before we whisk ourselves off for a skiing break in Bulgaria’s exclusive resort, Bansko next week. Both of us have been scouring the second hand shops for suitable attire and hope to look (and perhaps more importantly feel) the part. Never having skied before, I have no idea what to expect…I fear I may be perfecting ‘during-ski’ as well as après-ski!!
So watch this space for some silly pictures which will almost certainly be forthcoming after next week.
In the meantime here’s wishing you a fun January and much love from us all here in slushy Yambol.