Thursday, March 8, 2012

The Power of Proofreading (or Not)

So, it was brought to my attention in recent weeks that there is an error in the naming of the web address for this site. Those of you who have had to search for it and had no luck may already know what I'm talking about. That's how Phil found the error.

I don't know how it happened. "P" and "A" are not even close to each other on the keyboard, nor is "Pahilip" a cute nickname that I use for Phil and got used to typing. But you can imagine that I haven't lived it down since it was discovered. Overheard in our house:

Me: Didn't you get my email?
Phil: I don't know; maybe you sent it to Pahilip.


Me: Phil, are you listening to me?
Phil: Oh, sorry, I thought you were talking to Pahilip.

This is a cautionary tale. What goes on the internet, stays on the internet, and the internet means "world wide web." Take it from me, proofread your work carefully.


Chestita Baba Marta!

Bulgarians celebrate a very unique tradition of welcoming in "Granny March," or Baba Marta, on March 1st with the presentation of martenitsa to each other. These little red and white bracelets, or sometimes figurines, are meant to symbolize purity (white) and vitality (red), but also herald in the spring, which is said to begin in March. Baba Marta is known to be a grouchy old lady with mood swings, which is, apparently, analogous to the weather at this time of year in Bulgaria. While I don't appreciate the association, I have to say the bit about the weather is right on, so far; we've had temps in the 50's followed by another 2 inches of snow in the last week. Things are looking up, though.

Back to the symbolism for a minute though, which seems to be open to interpretation. Some of my students tell me that the martenitsa also represent the legend of a famous Bulgarian, Khan Asparuh, who sent a message tied to the leg of a pigeon (or a falcon) to his wife, to signal that he was ok; the string was tied too tight, and the red blood on the white string symbolizes this moment in national lore. It may also symbolize the rosy cheek of a maiden against the backdrop of late-winter snow. Or it may be that it was the blood of Khan Asparuh's pigeon/falcon, but because someone shot it. (That student may have gotten some details mixed up.)

Here are some of the martneitsa I received from my students:

Regardless of the symbolism, the end result is that students and adults alike arrive at school laden with bundles of these martenitsa, and they bestow them upon each other and their teachers while reciting a list of deeply-felt wishes for health, long life, every-dream-coming-true, many days of sunshine, etc. It's an unequivocally happy day with no real burdens attached: the bracelets are either homemade or can be bought at little cost, and everyone seems moved by the spirit of generosity and well-wishing. It's also cool to think that, anywhere I go in the world, I might see one of these martenitsi and know that it's probably a Bulgarian--or maybe a Macedonian or other neighbor--as the tradition is unique to this part of the world.

So, Happy Baba Marta, wherever you are, and may she bring us all a dose of spring as soon as possible!

Turkish Delight

View from our window
Not a great title, but I was out of ideas. The truth is, Istanbul is a sensory overload.

A couple of weeks ago, we took a little jaunt to Istanbul over a long weekend. We barely scratched the surface of all there is to see, do, and understand about the city and its layer upon layer of history, but the little taste we got was delightful. We're glad that it's only an hour's flight from Sofia.

We were lucky to have enjoyed a stay in the Empress Zoe Hotel, thanks to a gracious gift from some of Phil's family; what an awesome little place. It's tucked right in the heart of Sultanahmet, which is great, especially if you only have a short time and want to be very central to many of the main sights. We spent our first evening out on the town with a friend of a friend who took us to hear some great music and to see some of the night life along Istiklal street.

On our first day, we did what any first time visitor would do: we visited Hagia Sofia and the Blue Mosque. The Hagia Sofia is incredible; no longer serving as a church or a mosque, it is a museum dedicated to its own history as both of those. A pretty great metaphor for the city itself. We also saw this sulky seraphim on the ceiling and found him hilarious.

 Item #2 on the must-hit list, of course, were the bazaars. I found Grand Bazaar to be uninteresting; it's chaotic in an overcrowded-mall kind of way, and the goods seemed like they were made in China, but the Spice Market was good fun.  We stocked up on lots of great things we haven't found as easily here in Sofia: hot curry, whole spices like cardamom and coriander, garam masala, and some great dried fruit.

Aside from that, we took some super-walks through various neighborhoods, some of which we
Inside Hagia Sophia
planned to visit and others of which we stumbled upon. The walk from Sultanahmet through the neighborhood of Topkapi Palace, across Galata bridge and over to Galata Tower, arriving in Beyoglu, was a lesson in itself. Coming from a city full of right angles, I found myself forever turned around in Istanbul, but there is a lot of fun in taking the wrong street there.

I think I speak for both of us when I say that, at least for people who haven't woken up next door to a mosque all our lives, the call to prayer is very haunting, and while walking around the city, you can hear it spreading from mosque to mosque, as if in a round. The city's secular life is very vibrant, and so hundreds of people carry on without paying any attention to the call, but there were a couple of places where a waiter told us, "Sorry for the slow service!! I'm here alone--everyone went to pray!!"

 One of the most amazing things about the city was how everyone we encountered seemed to have the gift of gab. Even when it was abundantly clear that we were not, under any circumstances, buying a carpet, not in that store, not in any store we passed, regardless of how authentic the woman in the window doing the weaving looked, people continued to draw out the conversation, finding other ways to engage us such that, many minutes after we had stated our firm resolve and cast our inscrutable New Yorker glance, we found ourselves still there chatting with the person--with whom, at this point, we were on a first-name basis. In the square off of Hagia Sophia (the Hippodrome), we spent at least 15 minutes with Erol, who plied his magic on us with such memorable lines as, "Where are you from? Must be Texas; your eyes look like Texas eyes..." He told us about a favorite teacher from when he was young and how he had searched for her on the internet to say hello, but to no avail. He seemed genuinely sad about this. We didn't buy a carpet, but we did seriously consider swinging by his shop.
Overlooking the plaza around the Spice Market

We didn't make it to the Asian side this time, nor did we get to any of the other towns along the coast. Anyone who has some good Istanbul tips for our next visit, send us a suggestion; the list keeps growing.