Wednesday, 23 July 2014

A Great Bulgarian

When people are asked about famous, or great,  Bulgarians, their answers are often quite varied. Certainly many will mention the likes of Vasil Leski or Hristo Botev. There are some who might even mention John Atanasov, Vladimir Dimitrov or even Veselin Topalov. Those more interested in sports might mention Dan Koloff or Hristo Stoichkov. While all of these people have great merit in their own right, there is a quiet unassuming Bulgarian, who restores the idea of human kindness and goodness. A man by the name of Dobri Dimitrov Dobrev, which might not mean much on its own, for he is often known as Diado Dobri (Elder or Grandpa Dobri). Some even refer to him as the Saint of Baylovo.

He has just celebrated his 100th birthday, a wonderful milestone for this remarkable man. He was born in the village of Baylovo, just outside of Sofia, on July 29th 1914. Another famous Bulgarian was also born in this same village, the writer Elin Pelin, who once wrote "It is my native village, it is good but very poor".

Diado Dobri's father died during the First World War and it was left to his mother to raise him and his siblings. As with many of his age he doesn't remember much about his younger years. He married in the early 1940s, and he and his wife had 4 children. Sadly he has outlived 2 of his children. It was during a bombing raid of Sofia that he lost most of his hearing, when he was quite close to where a bomb fell.

In his younger days he would walk between his village and the capital, Sofia. Now that his legs aren't quite as good he relies on public transport. Many of the bus and tram drivers will not ask him for the fare, it seems as though everyone is touched by this man's goodness. He is as much of a landmark of Sofia as some of the old historic buildings. He can often be sighted in the capital holding out his tin cup, never asking for money but always grateful to receive a few coins. None of the money is for him, it all goes to charity and the restoration, and upkeep, of monasteries and churches across Bulgaria. He seems to have turned his back on material things, and lives frugally on his monthly pension.

Despite his age, he is out in all weathers, dressed in his home made clothes and shoes. He is always ready with a smile and a blessing for those who donate. Often the only food that he will eat during the day, is that which a stranger has given to him. He seems to love children, and many would say that the highlight of his day is kissing a child's hand. Unlike in the West he is not moved on by the Police, or terrorised by gangs of teenagers, but he is allowed to do his own thing in his quiet way.

Some might ask how one man can make a difference. Years ago he sold all of his possessions and then gave the money to the church. It has been estimated that so far he has raised in excess of 80,000 Leva (40,000 Euros), and he hasn't kept a single Stotinka for himself. Even today he is cited as being the single largest donor to the Alexandar Nevsky Cathedral in Sofia, when he made a donation of 35,700 Leva (20,000 Euros). He has also made large donations 25,000 Leva to the Elishnishki Monastery near Sofia, and to the village church in Gorno Kamartsi. He hasn't forgotten his parish church in the village of Baylovo either, as they received a 10,000 Leva donation. Orphanages across the country have had such things as their utility bills paid for by this man. Surely his actions, and his kindness, putting others before himself, should be an inspiration to us all. A very humble man, who doesn't do these things for acknowledgement, he is reluctant to talk about himself or his family, he just wants to carry on doing his good works as best he knows how.

Some of the time he lives in Sofia, where he is cared for by his daughter, but he also lives in a single room in a small out building within the grounds of the church of Saints Cyril and Methodus. There are no modern amenities, and even though there is a bed he prefers to sleep on the floor. Even in the winter he rolls his sleeves up and can be seen carrying water from the well. He is also not averse to helping out with the more physical aspects of maintenance and restoration work.

Many have said that actions speak louder than words, and this man personifies that for me. He doesn't worry about the trappings of finery, or the material things, he just helps those he can in the best way that he can. So maybe world, and church, leaders could be well served by taking a leaf out of this man's book. It is time to think of humanity, but act with humility. To take one of his own quotations from the film 'Mite', "The good will is just and true. Everything in it is good. We must not lie, nor steal, nor commit adultery. We must love each other, as God loves us".

Old Man Dobri by Miroslav Yotov

Saturday, 19 July 2014

When Suddenly Not A Lot Happened

Just in case anyone thought that I had fallen off of the face of the Earth, here is a new blog. I had hoped that something interesting might have happened, which could have been incorporated into a blog. The main talking points seem to be the weather, which has been very unsummerlike, and the World Cup. Well the World Cup finished almost a week a go, and I have to admit to being pretty underwhelmed by it all. Even the opening match was very uninspiring, and I can totally understand why Croatia felt more than slightly peeved. Normally such a match would be a showcase event, featuring the host nation, which in this case was Brazil. The same country who have lifted the trophy more than anyone else, but this time they looked very ordinary, with no real skills to get the crowd on the edge of their seats. Instead they resorted to the tactic of continually diving and trying to con the officials, now whether the officials fell for it or not is a moot point, but for me it set the tone for the rest of the tournament. There were a few exciting matches, but they were the exception rather than the norm.

England might have made it to the tournament but they didn't even make it to the knockout stages, but they were in good company as various fancied sides also fell by the wayside. The good news is that Crystal Palace played their first friendly match during the week and won 1-13 against GAK Graz, so maybe the Austrian non-league opposition weren't much good but football is largely a confidence game so it will be interesting to see how the next few friendlies go out in the States.

As the month has been so quiet, I thought that it would be an ideal time to write about one of the normal summer visitors. I did consider doing it last month while they were about, but other things seemed to overshadow them. Each year they seem to appear for between four and siz weeks. Their appearance is normally a good indicator that summer is on the way, but this year summer has been very much a stop/start kind of thing. I am of course refering to the Firefly, and in case you are wondering why there is a picture of an aircraft it is because that is a Fairey Firefly.

Many of us, having previously lived in the UK, will not have seen these wonderful insects before. Unless you were lucky enough to live out in the countryside, and then you might have seen a glow worm or two. Unfortunately modern living is destroying a lot of the natural habitats, even here in Bulgaria. So many of the hedgerows seem to be disappearing to make way for slightly larger fields, and mankind might benefit but it is the wildlife that pays the price. Fortunately Bulgaria still has a lot of undeveloped countryside, and hopefully it will continue that way, which allows some species to relocate. The Firefly isn't one of these creatures, they are non-migratory, and once their habitat is gone that is it for that colony. So I did start to wonder what I could do to help improve the lot of the ones we see in the garden. After all, they do give me so much pleasure watching them throughout June, even the cats are curious about them but don't seem to fancy including them on their diets.

Even though they are called Fireflies (Светулка in Bulgarian),  they are a winged beetle. They belong in the family of Lampyridae, which is probably Latin for Firey flying beetle type thingie. In Bulgaria we just seem to get the Fireflies which flash. Not as in standing on a street corner in a grubby raincoat type flash, more of a light's on, light's off type flash. So that would put them in the family of Luciolinae, I wonder if that has its roots going back to the Devil, in much the same way as matches used to be called Lucifers. Maybe mankind didn't understand how these beetles could emit a light without burning themselves when they were first noticed.

Being beetles their natural habitat is anywhere that there is rotting wood and leaf mulch for their young larvae to feed on. Normally it will often be quite damp, often near to a water source, so hopefully this damp summer hasn't caused too many problems for them. We have an area between two barns, where the ground is quite soft and loamy, and I have been throwing some of the bark from the firewood there so that it can breakdown quite naturally for them. Being between the barns means that it gets the rain water from both roofs, so it is quite damp, but sheltered at the same time. From what I have read Fireflies will mainly stay in the same area where they have been raised, so hopefully that undisturbed area will help to generate or even stabilise a colony. As they are beetles they are possibly carnivorous, so I am hoping that their natural prey will also thrive in that area.

Their adult lifespan is quite short so it is important for them to attract a suitable mate. As you might have guessed this is where the light comes in handy. With some species it is just the males which fly, the females take up position in tall grasses and such like. If a male is deemed suitable the female would give him a flash or two. I'm not sure but here in Bulgaria it seems as though both male and female fly. Often you will notice that one flashes and is answered by the other one flashing back, and so life goes on in the Firefly world.
These are nocturnal beetles, and as dusk falls they climb tall grasses, and plants before launching themselves into the evening air. The light that they emit is what scientists call a cold light. One can land on your hand and there is no chance it will burn you, which is quite handy for the Firefly itself as I doubt they are made of flame retardant material. They are what is known as bioluminescent, and are highly efficient light sources. Consider an ordinary domestic light bulb, it produces light but it also produces a lot of heat as well. All of the Firelies energy is spent on its light source, and no heat is generated. In the tail of a Firefly you will find two chemicals Luciferase and Luciferin, There's that Devil connection again. Luciferin glows under the right conditions and Luciferase is an enzyme used to trigger the light emission. There are still companies which buy live fireflies as these chemicals can be used for food safety and biomedical research. The two chemicals can be synthetically produced so the live trade in Fireflies is fortunately dying out.

I used to think that these flashing lights would make them easy targets for things like bats, but it seems as though these lights have the opposite effect. If anything does catch hold of a Firefly they will exude a bitter type blood, which in some instances is poisonous to the predator. Maybe that is why we don't see glow in the dark bats.

So hopefully with my efforts to try and help create a naural habitat, we should gradually see more of these wonderful creatures flitting about the garden. It might be a small step, but its an area we don't use, and maybe they will help keep the numbers of slugs and snails down.

Friday, 11 July 2014

A Slight Cock-Up On The Weather Front

You could be excused for thinking that July is a Summer month. In the course of normal events it is, however this year there seems to have been a bit of a cock up on the weather front. Normally you would be thinking about lazy days on the beach, perhaps looking forward to your feet cooling in a stream as it slowly meanders past, or maybe even barbecues and picnics. So far this summer has been notable for just one thing, and that has been the weather. There just seems to have been so much of it, and unfortunately not the type of weather that you would normally associate with the Summer.

There have also been baking hot days to contend with, and in many areas, ours included, they have warned people not to swim in the lakes and reservoirs. Some of these have been filling rather rapidly through both springs and heavy rainfall, and every so often they have been opening sluice gates to prevent these dam lakes bursting their banks. Unfortunately sometimes this has created further problems downstream. The main problem seems to have been caused by the mild winter and the seemingly endless rainfall. The ground in many areas is still saturated and can not absorb any more water.

Flooding is not unusual in the summer, but that is normally due to the ground having been baked like concrete. The water is unable to penetrate with any great effect, and so this can lead to flash flooding. Looking at the amount of man made rubbish caught up in these flood waters, 'civilisation' is also partially at fault. Cutting down trees, removing hedgerows and altering watercourses doesn't help matters either.

Many will have seen the news footage of this summer's flooding in places like Varna. Unfortunately this flooding either directly, or indirectly caused 12 deaths. It is probably safe to say that no-one predicted over a month's rainfall in the space of 24 hours. There were drainage ditches and culverts in place, but some had been partially blocked with illegal rubbish tips. I also seem to remember hearing that part of this drainage system had been damaged and interfered with. So the overall effect just seems to have snowballed, and some people were even likening the rush of water to a tsunami. With the way that cars were shown being thrown around on our TV's, they were probably not far off of the mark.

Another problem that people had to face was the mud. Anyone who has been to Bulgaria when it has rained will know just how sticky this mud can be. People were shown risking their own lives to help out their friends and neighbours. Those living in the lower levels of apartment blocks were invited to stay in neighbour's apartments above the water level.

This time it seemed to be Varna which bore the brunt of things, but it could so easily have been anywhere in the country. Around this way there was some general flooding, with minor damage. We were told that at one point the River Yantra in Veliko Tarnovo rose to 6 metres. The problems were not just confined to the coast as places like Kilifarevo were also hit. Roads have been damaged, homes have been wrecked, and businesses have been affected. The cost of sorting things out is going to be astronomical, and I only hope that the money goes to where it is genuinely needed and not to tarmac some politician's driveway and refurbish his house.

Things have been slowly getting back to 'normal' in many areas. Collection points have been started to help those unfortunate enough to have been caught up in all of this. As the water levels have receded, the flies and the mosquitoes seem to have gone into a breeding frenzy. The little buggers seem to be everywhere. We have tried various bug repellents, fly sprays and citronella things. The Aikon and Fendona sprays, which we normally use, are proving largely ineffective. These bloody bugs are just laughing at us as they swoop in to take another bite. Some evenings I look even more like the Elephant Man than I usually do. One things that they haven't overcome yet is the good old-fashioned fly swat. If you have ever wondered how come Bulgarians have got so good at tennis, try a summer here with only a fly swat as your means of protection.

The rains departed and people began to look forward to the summer actually starting. The temperatures began climbing, and with them the ground began to dry out. Well the moisture in the ground seems to be almost boiling off, as the humidity has ramped up sharply. You wake up all sweaty and go for a shower, the humidity levels make it difficult to dry yourself off. As soon as you put so much as a sock on, you are once again sweating like a marine in a spelling test. The ladies probably can't wear much make-up as it would soon be sliding down their faces. So at times it feels as though I have become a walking fly paper.

As if that wasn't bad enough, Sofia had a hailstorm the other day. Not the normal pea sized hail which you would expect to see around the end of autumn. These were great big things, I had seen a photo showing hail stones the size of a tennis ball, but as Sod's Law dictates I couldn't find that picture again so I have grabbed a few from the internet and from friends just to show the kind of thing that I mean. Once again it has been no laughing matter, as there was 1 death and over 40 injuries reported. Yes, I did check the calendar and it is definitely July, but with these strange weather events I am beginning to wonder whether my calendar had problems in the printing stage.

Homes and businesses had their windows broken. Car windscreens, both front and back suffered. Some of the worst hit were open air car parks and used car lots. There would have been no protection for the vehicles, and I am guessing it would have been very unpleasant for those who were caught up in it all while they were out and about. Now is possibly not a good time to ask for ice in your drinks while in Sofia. I know that double flazing firms seem to be ten a penny, but I have yet to see anything like Auto Glass over here. It is probably about and its just me not being observant though.

So to sum up the summer so far. People have grown webbed feet due to the incessant rain, various lichens and fungi are now growing on everyone. We have all turned a uniform mud colour, and are slowly cooking ourselves, while dodging rocks of ice. So welcome to the summer, the good news is that I haven't heard of anyone saying that they'relooking forward to the winter. Yet, but there is still plenty of time.

In the meantime I have dug up this weather poem which I remembered from my childhood, and it just about sums things up.

Monday, 30 June 2014

Music To My Ears

Well another Glastonbury has been and gone, so it seems like quite a good idea to take a look at music over here in Bulgaria. It seems to be all round us at times. Even in this quiet little village you can often here radios being played out in gardens during the day, and occasionally into the night. We have heard a couple of different thoughts behind the purpose of playing loud music. Some have said that the vibrations deter snakes from the gardens, whereas others claim that it helps the chickens lay better eggs. If the chickens had any sense they would be wearing ear defenders, as if we can hear it clearly in our garden, it must be quite deafening right up close to the radio.

It seems that no matter where you go there is music of one form or another playing. If you go into a store there is music, if you go and sit in a cafe there is music. Thankfully one habit seems to have changed, when we first got here what was playing on the TV had no resemblance to what you were actually hearing. Quite often you will end up listening to one of the folk music channels on the TV.
Now it might not be to everyone's taste, but it is part and parcel of Bulgarian life. I have to admit that at times it does sound a bit twiddly to me, but it shouldn't be totally dismissed. You have probably heard more Bulgarian folk music than you realise, as clips are often used in films. One which immediately springs to mind is the Jason Statham film Hummingbird, if you have seen that film you will have heard a haunting Bulgarian song "Malka Moma" which was performed and co-written by Neli Andreeva. Bulgarian folk music has even made it into space, Valya Mladenova Balkanska singing "Izlel e Delyu Haydutin" is included on the Golden records which were aboard the Voyager missions launched in 1977.

Regular readers of the blog will hopefully remember me writing about various music festivals. Quite often they seem to be rock orientated, as many Bulgarians do seem to like their rock music. Some of it does seem to be early Led Zeppelin or Deep Purple, but it goes right the way through to the modern stuff. Even tomorrow there will be many Bulgarians welcoming the sunrise to the strains of Uriah Heep's July Morning. I don't claim to be a rock music aficionado but I do have to say that I have been impressed by some of the groups which we have seen at these festivals, and that is without going up to Sofia and seeing some of the Internationally known bands. Even some of the local bands do some outstanding cover versions. Their enthusiasm alone makes going to these event so worthwhile, and some of them are free to attend. It does seem as though music festivals are springing up all over the place.

One form of music which I can't really get to grips with is something called Chalga. Basically it seems to be a hybrid between pop music and folk music, but it doesn't seem to be the better bits of either. The only thing which I can attribute its popularity to has to be the videos which accompany these songs.

There are often more clothes just about being worn to keep within the bounds of decency, and they don't really seem to fit in with the 'plotline' of these videos. Sometimes they might as well not bother with the clothes, as they do little to cover various silicon enhancements. Some of the characters do seem to be a bit larger than life, albeit a little bit odd, but I guess the same could have been said about an early Elton John, David Bowie or Freddie Mercury. It would appear that some of the Bulgarians are also a bit dismissive about this Chalga music, and in my opinion quite rightly claim that it doesn't have anything to do with the real Bulgaria. Maybe one day it will all click for me, but so far it just hasn't happened.

As much as I love this country a lot of the music is beyond my understanding. Having said that I wouldn't be at all surprised to find that some of the things I listen to would be considered a bit odd by your average Bulgarian. Fortunately the internet is now getting better and I can now stream UK radio. It is just something that I am familiar with, not just the music, but also the way that the DJs present it all. I do have to admit often I do take a small amount of pleasure listening to the weather reports stating that it is peeing down with rain while we are melting in the sunshine. I have finally sussed out how to pick the radio signal up in the barn. My computer is down in our lounge so the signal would have to go through loads of earth to reach all the way up there. I have now got an audio cable extension running from the cellar up into the hallway window. So when I want UK radio round the house and garden I plug one end of this cable into my computer and the other into an FM signal transmitter. So the radio in the cellar gets the signal, the radio in the kitchen gets the signal and the radio up in the barn also gets the signal. Quite possibly if Emi and Said re-tuned their radio they could also get the signal too.

While Net's laptop was being sorted out I noticed this little gadget in the computer shop. It is an MP3 FM Modulator for the car. So the next time I am faced with a long journey I don't have to search for radio stations which might play something which I would enjoy every 15 minutes. Now I can download music onto a USB flash drive or memory card, and once I have found a clear FM wavelength listen to exactly what I want to listen to. It was even suggested that I would be able to download UK radio podcasts and listen to them. It reminds me of when I was based down at Culdrose in Cornwall and used to spend weekends in Poole. My mate Soapy Watson used to record the Radio 4's play for the day, and we would listen to countless plays as we drove backwards and forwards. So now I am sorted out for music both at home and in the car, well I will be once I have finished loading up this USB flash drive, who knows maybe in time I will include some Bulgarian music, but maybe not Chalga.