Saturday, 28 March 2015

It Has Arrived

Do you remember in previous blogs I mentioned about the red and white thread bracelets that are worn from the 1st of March, the Martenitsa? About how they are worn until you see a Stork, or you see the first fruit blossom? Well, as a change this year, despite scanning the skies, we took ours off when I happened to notice that our Apricot tree had suddenly started to show blossom. I am sure that they weren't there in the morning when I was out working in the garden, but there they were proudly unfurling themselves in the afternoon sunshine. So now our slightly grubby Martenitsi are hanging from various fruit trees around the garden. Despite today's weather I have been out in the garden again, and besides the Apricot tree, we also have Pear, Apple, Plum, Peach and Cherry trees all starting to display their wonderful Spring colours. Even on a dreary day, such as today, the insects are slowly waking up and lazily flitting from one open blossom to another. Hopefully the blossom will get pollinated without sudden frosts, or bad weather, damaging them. There is something very satisfying about sitting in the garden on a Summer's day eating fruit which has been freshly picked from your own trees.

Not only are the fruit trees coming into a show of Spring colour, but so are the Forsythia bushes. Their bright yellow flowers are a welcome sight on a grey day. Not only that, they also help to attract the early insects into the garden. Looking at the photo, it looks as though they could do with pruning once their flowers have dropped. Even though we are now nearing the end of March, Baba Marta is still having her say. We have had temperatures above 20C already this year, by comparison today at 11C feels a bit chilly. That might have something to do with last night's rain, and today's sporadic drizzle. So on fair days we are out in the garden mainly tidying up after the winter, but on days such as this it is Spring cleaning indoors. Various spiders have been evicted, windows have been opened to freshen the house up, and I have been tasked with cleaning the oven, fridge and microwave. Once the freezer gets lower that will be defrosted and cleaned too.

After having been cooped up indoors throughout the winter months, it is nice to be able to get outside and start pottering in the garden. Apparently clearing snow from the paths, and doing the daily log runs doesn't really count as getting outside. The cats are enjoying watching the birds who come to visit, but I am assuming they are thinking more along the lines of lunch, or toys, rather than them being a welcome indication that Spring has returned. The dogs are much more laid back about things, and their main interest, besides food, is where the sun will be at any given point during the day, and how can they ensure it is comfortable for them to bask. Fenric is also happy to have rediscovered his tennis balls, which had been buried under snow. I wish that they would all learn to wipe their feet before coming back in though, as we seem to have a constant battle against muddy paw prints on floors, walls, window sills and windows, alongside nose prints on the windows.

Yesterday, we went into town to do our shopping, and pick up a couple of bits from the ECont office. The Storks might not have made it to the village yet, or even Strelets, but they were there on one of the nests in Draganovo. One flew in front of the car as we went through Pravda. It is surprising that such a large bird, which looks so graceful in the air, can look like a broken hang glider when coming in to land. The one in Pravda was then quite happily strutting around the football pitch as though it didn't have a care in the world. My knees are hoping that the warmer weather will soon be following them, but that's what you get from kneeling on too many cold and wet steel flight decks working on aircraft.

One thing I have noticed is that our hallway must be the end point of a ladybirds migratory route. Everyday it is swept and dusted, and totally devoid of any sign of the little buggers. Five minutes later they are back again, some are quite happily marching about on the rugs, whereas others  haven't fared quite so well. I have looked and looked, but I can not find where they are coming from. Perhaps they are from a Ladybird equivalent of Star Trek, and that they have been beamed down. Oh all right I'll say it, "Beam me down, Spotty". Even the cats and dogs tend to avoid them, maybe they have also read my blog where I revealed that they can, and do, bite.

The only thing left for me to do on this blog is to remind everyone that the clocks change in the wee small hours of tomorrow. The clocks go forward an hour, so that means an hour less in bed. Hopefully the dogs will not be in too much of a hurry to go outside tomorrow morning. Wishing you all a wonderful Spring and Summer from us here in the back of beyond.  

Monday, 16 March 2015

Has Spring Sprung Yet?

Well here we are midway through March, and I keep asking myself whether Spring has finally arrived. Baba Marta is holding true to form, and is being very indecisive, but I wake up each morning in the hope of sunshine. At the moment the wind is still mainly coming from the North, and it still has a bit of bite to it. Some areas of the country are facing major problems, with big snowfalls which are now melting, being cut off due to the weather, and power cuts as the power companies can't get to the downed power lines. So maybe up here in the hills, in Paisii we aren't doing so bad. Sometimes we do get some sunshine during the day, but the evenings can still be a bit chilly. If it is damp outside we light the fire, if not the gas fire goes on.

When the sun is out, the cats and dogs have their favourite sunny spots already. Fenric has really got things worked out, as he goes up under the barn and drags his blanket where he wants it. If the sun moves, he just gets up and drags his blanket to his next spot. Whoever said that Boxers were clowns and not intelligent, hasn't met Fen. I just wish that before he comes in he would put his blanket back from where he got it, but that seems to be my job. Sometimes, if he's feeling generous, he will drag all the blankets out and build a dog nest which he will share with Sirius and Polly. On a rare occasion they will even share with a couple of the cats, but that seems fair as they will share in front of the fire with the dogs.

I am still waiting for the magic switch to be thrown, when everything in the village seems to burst into life at the same time. At the moment the trees are still looking all branches and twigs, but they are covered in leaf buds. Due to the height of the village we do tend to be a couple of weeks behind everywhere else. Down towards the bottom of the ridge road I did notice a few of the roadside shrubs slowly showing signs of green leaves, so it won't be much longer to wait. I have already noticed that the birds are more inclined to sing up in the trees around us, rather than huddle together coughing and sneezing. The cats have already started bringing us presents, yesterday it was a Salamander and a Tree Frog, not to mention various piles of feathers and bits of mouse.

Down in the South of the country, the Storks have already been spotted, but they have yet to make an appearance here. So for the time being we are still wearing our Martenitsi. We have started straightening the garden up after the winter, and rather than looking red and white, my Martenitsi are looking more red and grey and a bit grubby. Even though the sky is looking a bit overcast we now have washing out on the line. I have even managed to have a bonfire the other day, burning off dead leaves and twigs which have magically appeared over the winter. I'm sure that I did  it all in the Autumn. The remnants of the bonfire is now a bit soggy after this weekend's rain, but at least it means I'm not tempted to light it while the washing is out, probably saving me from a fate worse than death. The ground is fairly sticky underfoot, and that means mud. Although Bulgarian mud seems more like superglue, as it sticks to everything. So this morning we were more concerned with doing more spring cleaning indoors. Windows have been opened, and the bodies of the zombie ladybirds have been swept up. The windows have been washed, walls wiped down, and ceilings de-cobwebbed along with various spiders being evicted.

When we bought our house, the rule was that as a foreigner we had to create a company to do so. So like many we now have a company which doesn't actually do anything, but we still have to submit yearly accounts, which also have to be submitted for entry onto the national trade register. So all of the paperwork for that has been sorted out. Those buying property now don't have to do this as far as I am aware. We have also been and paid our municipal property and vehicle taxes. Our property tax bill was just under 25 Leva, but by paying it before the end of April we got a 5% discount. With the way that Sterling is at the moment it means that our equivalent to council tax works out at something like £11.43. As I was in town doing all of that I also renewed our house insurance, so that's us covered for another year. I did notice that the weather must be slowly warming up as most people are no longer wearing hats, some even had coats and jackets undone. It isn't quite t-shirt and shorts weather just yet, but soon the ice cream stalls will be out and about and I can sit in the square and indulge in just watching the world go by.

The snowdrops might have been and gone, but there are masses of wild crocuses along the roadside and in our garden. The daffodils and tulips are pushing up through the cold damp earth. Everything is poised for that switch to be thrown, and for Spring to be ushered in, including me. We might still get a few flurries of snow, but rain is more likely now. Weatherwise, March here has always reminded me of April back in the UK, but I wouldn't swap locations. The scent of woodsmoke on the air is getting less each day, it's being replaced by the smell of damp earth as they slowly start working in the fields. It really is a great place to live.  

Monday, 2 March 2015

A Busy Start To March

Early March is always a busy time here in Bulgaria, and it began yesterday. Many people have asked what all the fuss is about with Baba Marta, so I have decided to put my previous March blog bits into this new post to save people trawling through older posts in the archive. So even though the 1st was yesterday, some people still aren't aware about what it all signifies. Then there is also Liberation Day, which is celebrated tomorrow the 3rd. That is then closely followed on the 8th by Ladies Day. We also have our wedding anniversary to look forward to, and yes I do remember the date and how many years. I also remember what day we met and where, so the long term memory hasn't gone just yet. We also have various birthdays within the family, so it's all go here. So firstly let's have a look at one of my favourite celebrations, Baba Marta.

It is the celebration to welcome the coming of Spring and the waning of Winter. It is depicted by a cranky old lady called Baba Marta, or Grandmother Marta. Marta is a play on words for March, the month being called Mart in Bulgarian. Weather wise we find that it is quite similar to April in the UK, one day it can be brilliant sunshine and the next you can be confronted by all sorts of weather. I seem to remember something being said about in like a Lion and out like a Lamb. So the weather can be as contrary as an old lady, one day she can be all sweetness and light, but the next it could be like she has been on a diet of vinegar and lemons. Definitely not an old lady to mess with, and one who will keep you on your toes. So far she has been smiling, so the sun has been out today. It is so much nicer to hear the birds singing in the trees, rather than coughing and sneezing. There have even been a few bees lazily droning by, hunting for the crocuses and snowdrops which are now out in the garden. The daffodils and tulips are also pushing their way up through the soil, hopefully they won't come up blind this year or that we have some late frosts.

On the 1st March Bulgarians exchange Martenitsi, and wish each other Chestita Baba Marta! The custom is to essentially wish each other good health, luck and happiness. When Baba Marta is smiling the sun shines and the weather is warm, but when cross, or her bunions are playing her up, the cold stays longer and it may even snow.

These Martenitsi are the red and white ornaments, made from twisted threads and are often worn around the wrist or neck, pinned to the left side of clothing, especially coats and jackets. You can even see them decorating house doors and hanging in vehicles, some people even buy them for their pets to wear. At this time of year there are many stalls selling these Martenitsi, but there are still those who prefer to do things the traditional way and will hand make them for their friends and family. The colours are quite significant, with white symbolising strength, purity and happiness, and the red with health, blood and fertility. As shown in this picture Snowdrops are quite often incorporated as they are often the first things flowering after winter.

Quite often you will notice that a couple of figures are represented, and these are known as Pizho and Penda. Pizho is the male figure, and can be identified by being mainly white. As you might have deduced the mainly red figure is the female of the two, and is called Penda. Maybe it is a Bulgarian version of Yin and Yang, with all things being balanced out.

There are different schools of thinking, firstly there are those who feel that a Martenitsa can be thought of as an amulet and is used for protection against Baba Marta, whose mercurial temperament can cause unexpected misfortune. Baba Marta is thought to be gentler and more forgiving towards the person who is wearing a Martenitsa. Some feel that a Martenitsa can also be used for fortune telling or to encourage the desirable outcome of a wish. Some also believe that wearing a Martenitsa will also hasten the coming of Spring. I have to admit to being guilty to smiling when I see the Martenitsa stalls set up, it gives me a little lift thinking that soon the warmer weather will be back with us. Even though the daytime temperatures look to be holding quite steady, the night time temperatures are set to remain above zero. Now that we are wearing our Martenitsi I have already started my annual version of Stork watch, the good news for us is that last year a pair of young Storks built a nest in the village.

Tomorrow sees a very important day in the Bulgarian calendar, so all shops are closed as it is a public holiday. This year marks 137 years of Bulgaria's Liberation from under the Ottoman yoke, where they had been held for five centuries. The actual Independence Day is celebrated later in the year in September. So tomorrow commemorates the signing of the San Stefano peace treaty in 1878 between the Empires of Russia and Turkey, which enabled the Bulgarian nation to re-emerge, although that wasn't the final version of the peace treaty.

This peace treaty came at the end of the war of Liberation which was fought between 1877 and 1878. The Russians became involved due to atrocities that the Ottomans had carried out against the Bulgarians in the April uprising of 1876. Fortunately it was reported by an American journalist who was working for the British press.

There are many famous names linked to the Independence movement of the 1870s, some are even known to us foreigners, some of who I have mentioned in previous blog posts. People such as Hristo Botev, Georgi Rakovski, Lyuben Karavelov and Vassil Levski were leading figures in the Independence movement but the deciding factor in ousting the Turks was the Russian involvement. This was when Tsar Alexander II of Russia declared war against the Ottoman Empire, over concerns about treatment of orthodox christians in Bulgaria. After the liberation Bulgaria came under Russian administration for a couple of years, but it also allowed Bulgaria a gradual transition to achieving nationhood once again.

Tomorrow there will be celebrations held throughout the country. There are normally large solemn celebrations held at the memorial atop the Shipka Pass, which was where fierce fighting took place during the war. This is of such significance that various politicians, and heads of the military, are often in attendance. Flowers and notes of thanks are often placed at the various liberation memorials on this day. The parades are quite sombre occasions, but once the wreaths have been laid it is time to celebrate, and the Bulgarians don't need much of an excuse to enjoy a party. Don't be at all surprised if fireworks light up the night sky tomorrow evening, hopefully Baba Marta will keep her happy head on, and the weather will be good.

Ladies day is hopefully quite self explanatory, and if you are in one of the villages it is quite possible that the village ladies will come calling. That is next weekend so no need to panic just yet.