Sunday, January 29, 2012


View from the bridge into the main square
Today we drove to Pernik, a town about an hour away, with some friends. The occasion was not casual tourism, as Pernik has been reported to us as the town that ranks near the top of several "worst" lists: Most Polluted European City (dropped to #3, apparently); ugliest in Bulgaria (this one may not be official but rather a widely-held opinion). Instead, we went for the Interational Festival of Masquerade Games "Surva", a festival designed to celebrate new year's traditions from around Bulgaria, the region, and, apparently, the world. (I didn't see any non-Balkan groups, but we heard about a Chinese dragon costume from a couple of years ago.)

Surva is an old word relating to 'new year', but one of the traditions that forms part of the surva is the kukeri, men who dress up like monsters, basically, to ward off the evil spirits in the new year. The festival dates back to pagan times.
These guys need helpers to make sure their hats don't get caught in the tress

This year, we saw groups from all around Bulgaria, representing different regional costumes, dialects, and dances; my Bulgarian is not nearly good enough to make out all the details of what they represent or even how to distinguish all of them, but the photos here give a small sample of the range. There were also groups from Slovenia and around the Balkans. Maybe we'll get a group together next year and see how we fare in the competition.

The bells they wear scare off the demons

A friend from school told us that the costumes that these men wear can cost up to 1,000 leva; one has to procure the skins of 4-5 goats or sheep, which are expensive to begin with, and then make the outfit. So I imagine that once you're in the kukeri club, you're a lifer.

It seems like the only way for these people in the costumes to have the stamina to make it all day in sub-freezing temps is to drink lots of rakia. The sun came out for a while, but we also had some snow while we were there. With more than 2 feet on the ground already, it was a chilly walk around town. This week, we're preparing for temps as low as -20C at night! Check out the icicle we've been cultivating off the roof of our place...

1 comment:

  1. That icicle is lethal!! Hope spring is starting to win the battle over Winter... xx