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.  

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Bulgarian Bank Notes

The other day there was a report on the national news saying that foreign tourists, mainly on the Black Sea coast, were being targeted by scammers. These dishonest people are loitering near to sign boards posting the exchange rates, and claiming to offer better rates. The unsuspecting tourists might think that they are getting a bargain, but the notes that they are getting are pretty useless to them. Although they are Bulgarian banknotes, they are discontinued Bulgarian banknotes. It got me thinking about when we first came across, neither of us knew what a Bulgarian banknote looked like, so we might easily have become victims. So I thought I would let people know what to look out for, and I was quite surprised at what I actually managed to find out, so I thought that I would share it with you all.

The currency of Bulgaria is the Lev, and in each Lev there are 100 Stotinki. So it is a decimal type currency. Even with Bulgaria being part of the European Union for the time being they have not decided to take up the Euro, but the Lev for financial purposes is tied to the Euro at a rate of 1 Euro = 1.95583 Leva. Prior to 1999 inflation was spiralling out of control. To combat this, the Bulgarian Council of Ministers and the National Assembly put plans for the re-denomination of the Lev into action.In July of 1999 new coins and bank notes were issued by the Bulgarian National Bank. The rate of exchange was that for each 1000 old Bulgarian Leva, the individual would receive 1 new Bulgarian Lev. Up until the end of 1999 shops and businesses had to operate with both the new and the old currency notes. After that time the individuals could exchange their old notes for new in banks only. So perhaps it is these old style notes which are being used to dupe the unsuspecting tourists.

So now people should only see, and accept, the new style notes. This first note is the 1 Lev note, and features St Ivan Rilski (876-946). Christianity really came to Bulgaria in 864AD, and Ivan was one of the main preachers of Christianity in medieval Bulgaria. Shortly after his death he was made a Saint, and his earthly remains are housed within the famous Rila monastery. The monastery itself is featured on the reverse of the banknote. For those who are visually impaired if you look on the front of the note in the lower right hand corner there is a triangle on top of a square. The paper itself has a slightly orange tone to it, and the watermark is a rampant Lion. These notes are still legal tender, but in the time that we have been here I have yet to see one, as in 2002 this note was superseded by the 1 Lev coin.

The most common low value bank note which you will see is the 2 Leva note. As with most bank notes they increase in size, with the increase of face value. The years of issue for this note are 1999 and 2005. The front of the note depicts Paisiy Hilendarski (1722-1773), he is widely regarded as the man who set the National Revival idea rolling. He also wrote the "Historiae Sclavo-Bulgaricus", and an excerpt from this can also be found on the reverse of the note, along with heraldic shields and seals of Bulgarian Tsars. The overall design is violet and pink on a pale blue toned paper. The visually impaired aid is two rectangles, and the watermark is again the rampant Lion. There is talk that this note will soon be replaced by a coin as well., but for the time being it is nice to see our village's name on this note.

Moving up in value, and size, we next have the 5 Leva bank note. The years of issue for this note were 1999 and 2009. The famous Bulgarian shown on this note is Ivan Milev (1897-1927). He was a painter and a stage designer, and often sought inspiration from village life and folklore. Fragments from some of his works are depicted on both the front and reverse of the bank note. On the front there is "Art and the Crown of Thorns", while on the reverse you will find excerpts from "A Woman Harvesting", "The Bulgarian Madonna" and "Wedding of the Dragon". The colour is mainly a burgundy red on a slightly pink toned paper. You will note that the aid for those with difficulty seeing is two triangles, this time the watermark is an outline of the portrait as shown on the note itself.

The next denomination note is the 10 Leva note. The years of issue for this particular note were 1999 and 2008. The gentleman shown is Dr Peter Beron (1799-1871), apart from being a scientist he was also an advocate of Bulgarian learning and education. To the right of him you will notice a Rhinoceros, a globe and a whale, these are copies of plates from the Riben Bukvar, also known as the Fish Primer which dealt with advanced education. On the reverse you will see various sketches, an astrolabe and Dr Beron's own telescope. You will notice that the main colour used is an olive green and the paper has a beige tone to it. The visual aid for this note is a square above a circle, and once again the watermark is based on the portrait shown.

Moving up in value we arrive at the 20 Leva note. It is claimed that this is the note which counterfeiters most often try to copy. Watch out for the years of issue dates they should be either 1999 or 2007. There was also a special commemorative 20 Leva note issued in 2005 which looks very different. The famous Bulgarian on this note is Stefan Stambolov (1854-1895), he was a poet and also a co-founder of the Unity Committee in Tarnovo. As a statesman in various roles he greatly influenced the modernisation of the nation. On the front of the note, to the right there is the Unity seal and also the cover of anthology of poetic works "Songs and Poems". You will also see a copy of his poem "To My Comrades". On the reverse you will see fragments of Sofia's Eagle and Lion bridges as well as part of the National Assembly building. There is also a winged wheel with lightning bolts, I couldn't find out the significance of this so I am hoping that one of our Bulgarian readers might be able to shed some light on this. The main colour of this banknote is blue, and the paper itself has a slight violet tone. The visually impaired aid is two circles this time, and the watermark is a depiction of the shown portrait.

If you do see one of the commemorative 20 Leva notes it should look something like this. It does have some added security features, such as the small window which will show a series of the figure 20 when held over white paper. Note that even this commemorative note still has the two circles to help the visually impaired.

Still increasing in denomination we find the 50 Leva note. You will find that some village shops do not like accepting these. The issuing years are 1999 and 2006. The character shown this time is Pencho Slaveykov (1866-1912). He was a poet, a translator, a columnist and a literary critic, which is why you will see parts of the National Theatre and the National Library in the background. On the reverse are two of his best known poems "A Song Of Blood"  and "Epic Songs". You will also see a female figure, this is meant to be a fellow poet, and his great love, Mara Belcheva. The visual aid comes in the form of two triangles, with their points facing each other, the watermark is once again a representation of the portrait. The overall colour of the note is brown, and the paper has a pale grayish- green hue to it.

Finally we arrive at the 100 Leva banknote, which was only issued in 2003. Once upon a time these were mainly used in business transactions, and still today many shop keepers view them with suspicion. The famous Bulgarian depicted is Aleko Konstantinov (1863-1897). He was a writer , and his most famous character was Bay Ganyo, a popular figure in Bulgarian literature. On the front of the note you will see various symbols of the Bulgarian Mountain Trekking movement, along with a depiction of Konstantinov's travel notes "A Journey To Chicago And Back". On the reverse there are various aspects from his life and works. The overall colour is green, and even the paper has a pale green hue to it. The visual aid is now an inverted triangle above a rectangle, and the watermark as you might have guessed is a depiction of the portrait shown.

I hope that the information will prove useful to people, even if it is only to find out what the current bank notes should look like. There are other security aspects linked with these notes, but I didn't think people would be too interested about the cotton threads in the paper. Although I did consider putting in about the holograms changing depending on how the notes are held. The majority of this information has come from the Bulgarian National Bank.

The observant will have noted that the blog figures have passed through the 55,000 mark. That was the 2nd target which has been surpassed this year, so a very big thank you from me. Without you reading these blogs it wouldn't be half as enjoyable writing them, and ferreting out information. Since the start of the year the blog seems to be reaching a wider audience, and that can only be due to all of you, especially those who share these articles with friends and family. So once again a heartfelt thank you from me, and let's see what the figures do by the ed of the year. Now all that I have to do is try and post this as the internet is playing up due to the weather.  

Saturday, 14 June 2014

Mud On The Road

It seemed like only two weeks ago we were looking forward to the end of the rain. Then the sun came out and everything looked to be heading towards summer again. The day time temperatures were going up into the 30s, there were blue skies and the sun shone all day. Then someone mentioned the up coming weather, and once again it looks like the rain will be putting in an appearance. At least with the temperatures it should be warmer rain, but I do wonder just when summer will actually get a chance to start. Perhaps it is a plot to let us football fans spend some quality time in front of the TV watching the World Cup.

The ground has only just started to dry out from the previous downpours. With the extra moisture in the soil and then the heat, the humidity has increased to various degrees of stickiness, and it has really boosted the numerous weeds. When it was raining you couldn't get out to do anything about them, when the rain finished the mud took on the characteristics of super glue. As there had been so much rain, many of the seedlings were washed away from their trenches, into what is probably now a mixed vegetable patch. Also the upper surface of the mud became smooth, and we now have a crust an inch thick. As you can see from the photo we are not the only ones in the village to have these problems with the vegetable patch.

The other afternoon while we were up under the barn, hiding out of the way of the sun, I could hear strange mechanical noises in the distance. I did remember reading on a local Facebook group, that the stretch of road, which I refer to as Bomb Alley, is due to be repaired. So being the inquisitive sort I thought photos might come in handy for a blog at some stage. I grabbed my camera and headed out of the gate, turned round and came back for some fresh batteries and then once again I set off. It didn't take me too long to work out that the noises were coming from the wrong direction for it to be Bomb Alley. I decided that as I was out I might as well go and have a look anyway, as it's only a 10 minute walk away.

As I wandered up the hill, there are fields on one side and woodland on the other. Through a gap in the hedgerow I was able to see that the rain had done some damage to a wheat field. Well it might also have been barley or corn, but you get the gist of it. If it is wheat, then we can expect to see the price of bread and flour going up. It might not look that bad, but the main problem is with the humidity which can cause a mildew like growth. In effect it can mess up a whole crop. In some areas we have noticed that they are harvesting already, and ploughing the fire breaks ready for burning the stubble.

As I continued to climb the hill I noticed that there were signs that the mud had escaped from the fields and run down the road towards the village. The next field which I passed had been planted up with Sunflowers. It was possible to see where a lot of the smaller sunflower plants had been washed away. It was similar to the gardens but on a much larger scale. It must have been like a river running through the field as once again there was a smooth crust which had formed. We have been breaking the crust up in the garden, just to allow the rain a chance to soak into the ground rather than end up who knows where. As to how the farmers will tackle this problem I have no idea. By now I had been walking for 20 minutes and I still hadn't got to the top of the hill. It never seems quite so far when you are driving, but I do know that it is quite a constant climb.

I finally made it to the top pf the hill, and the drop down to Bomb Alley is between trees, so provided some welcome shade. Bomb Alley is down in a dip, and as I got closer it was clear to see that there had also been problems with this large field of sunflowers. It was possible to see where the surface water had cut a swathe through the plants. Not only that it had also crossed the road to go into the lower field. I have since learnt from the villagers that the road itself was 2 feet deep in stinking sticky mud. It was so bad that it even made the BTV news.

One thing which I did discover is that there is actually a drainage culvert, but it seems as though it was pretty ineffective. The worrying thing is that previously it had been hidden by vegetation, and on a few occasions I have moved over to allow a vehicle to pass going the other way. Looking on the bright side all of the trenches and craters have now been filled in by mud. So that will cause problems when they actually get round to doing the repairs. I do have to admit that this road has been getting progressively worse over the last six years. It has now been reduced to a single track .

Tractors and farm machinery, not to  mention the village bus have driven over this mud track further compressing it. So the track now resembles a Scalextrix circuit, with mud kerbing to prevent any deviation, and a mud crown in the centre. The crown proves a problem for normal vehicles as their sub frames and exhausts rub along it. With the additional rain which we are now expecting it could cause even more problems down there. While it is dry it just creates huge dust clouds which get everywhere, but this fine dust when added to rain will soon become mud again.

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

When Sirens Sound

Well, so much for 'flaming June', it seems to be more of a damp squib so far. There has been so much rain just recently that rivers have swollen, and in places they have burst their banks. Roads have been closed for various reasons, but almost all have been storm related. Even though this is only the 4th of June, each day we have had a thunderstorm rumbling around. My knees tell me that we are also likely to get even more wet stuff today. Or it might just be because I was actually in the pool yesterday cleaning it. Even with the solar cover on the water was cold, had the Titanic been about I wouldn't have been surprised to see an iceberg floating by. On the bright side we have seen the normal Fireflies about, although with this unseasonably cold and damp weather their erratic flight patterns might be due to them sneezing and coughing in midair. At times it feels like being back in the UK with the gloomy looking grey skies, and having to wear more clothes than normal for this time of year.

A Bulgarian friend reminded me that, there are certain things which happen at this time of year which will remind people that they are in Bulgaria. For those in towns, cities, and maybe even larger villages, don't be surprised to hear air raid sirens wailing at midday on June 2nd. In smaller villages we get maybe a Donkey back firing or an extra loud crow from a cockerel. Don't panic you are not about to come under attack. Some say that the sirens will sound for a minute, but others say that they should sound for three minutes. When the sirens sound everything stops, possibly not too bad at a weekend but should the 2nd fall during the week, lessons halt in schools, public transport pulls to a halt. Then when the sirens cease life continues as normal. The purpose of the sirens is to remind all Bulgarians of those who have sacrificed their lives in the name of Bulgarian freedom. The focus of this is a Bulgarian national hero, Hristo Botev. Even today you will notice numerous streets and parks which have been named in his honour.

Maybe you are wondering who this man is. He was born in 1848, and died in 1876, so even though he only lived for 28 years he must have been quite something to cause so much respect.

He was born in Kalofer. His father was a teacher and also involved with the National Revival towards the end of the Ottoman occupation. As one might imagine he had a lot of influence on his son as he grew up. Once Hristo had completed his education in Kalofer, his Father sent him to Odessa to continue his education. While there he grew to admire the works of some of the more liberal Russian poets and intellectuals. He completed his education in 1865, and spent the next two years teaching in both Odessa and Bessarabia. At the same time he was also writing his own first poetic works. Not only that, he was starting to forge links with the Russian and Polish revolutionary movement. In other words he was starting to develop his own political ideology.

His father had fallen ill in 1867, and Hristo returned to Kalofer to teach in his father's stead. During public celebrations in May, young Hristo stood up and made a speech against both the Ottoman authorities and wealthy Bulgarians. He felt that these wealthy Bulgarians were in collaboration with the Ottoman regime. Due to this speech he was forced to leave Kalofer. Ideally he wanted to head for Russia, but finances dictated that like so many other Bulgarian exiles he ended up in Romania. For a while he even lived in an abandoned mill near Bucharest. It was here that he became friends with another Bulgarian hero, Vasil Levski.

He became convinced about the need for an armed uprising to enable Bulgaria to throw off the Ottoman yoke. Others were of the same mind and so guerilla units, made up from Bulgarian emigres, were created in Romania. Once again he found himself working as a teacher, but at the same time he kept close links with the fledgling Revolutionary movement and its leaders. In 1871 he became editor of the revolutionary newspaper Word Of The Bulgarian Emigrants. Unfortunately he was imprisoned for some months due to his collaboration with various Russian revolutionaries. On his release he started working for the Liberty newspaper which was edited by Lyuben Karavelov, he also wrote articles for Budilnik.

Tragedy struck in 1873 when the revolutionary leader Vasil Levsky was captured. He was the undisputed head of the revolutionary movement. So his execution in February was a severe blow, and caused the revolutionary movement to become split. Half wanted to exercise caution , whereas the others, including Botev, urged for immediate action. The split rumbled on for a while, then due to the revolt in Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1875, it was felt that the time was ripe to begin the revolution on Bulgarian soil.

In April 1876 an armed company was formed to cross the Danube and join in the expected armed uprising. Disguised as gardeners and labourers these 200 men joined the passenger steamship, Radetsky, from various ports along the Romanian shore. Once together they broke out their weapons and seized control of the ship. They disembarked at Kozloduy, kissing the soil of their homeland, with Botev at their head. As they headed inland it soon became clear that the promised uprising had not taken place. Botev and his staff officers decided to continue to head for the mountains at Vratza, and they would try to rouse the population as they progressed. Unfortunately the area was heavily patrolled by enemy forces, and these revolutionaries soon came under attack. The revolutionaries fought several defensive skirmishes against numerically superior forces. The revolutionary force was split and under cover of darkness made their way through the enemy lines. Once clear they continued with their drive to the mountains.

The revolutionaries were pursued by enemy forces, and so once again they split into two. These two units took to the high ground near Mount Okoltchitza, where it would be easier to defend themselves. Various attacks were repulsed throughout the day, but as dusk was falling Botev was mortally wounded by a single shot from an Ottoman sharpshooter. That day was equivalent to what is now June 1st, and due to the loss of their leader the revolutionaries suffered a loss of morale and started to disperse. So now each year on June 2nd the whole of Bulgaria, both young and old, pay silent homage to all who gave their lives in the name of freedom. It does make me wonder whether the same level of respect will be shown in a couple of days time when they world reflects on the events of D-Day 70 years ago, when so many young lives were lost in the name of freedom.