It’s all Greek to me | Nea Plagia, Greece

At the end of a long weekend – both literally and figuratively, I am now finding myself in Greece for a few days.

The reason for the long weekend in Bulgaria (the literal one at least; the figurative one is the subject of another post altogether) is that today is a national holiday. On May 24 – the Day of Bulgarian Education and Culture and Slavic Literature, Bulgarians celebrate literacy, the Cyrillic alphabet and the two brothers credited with its creation, the Saints Cyril and Methodius. Incidentally, they were born not far from where I stand today – in Thessaloniki, present-day Greece, but at the time (9th century) – a part of Byzantium.

Although the Cyrillic alphabet is supposedly based on the Greek one and Greek words are at the roots of many words in other languages, I find Greek pretty much impossible to decipher. Even if I manage to make several letters out, I am still utterly lost, as the words – even those that are usually the same across most Western languages, are completely different. I mean, come on! When hotel is hotel pretty much across the board (ok, Hungarian excepted), why does it need to be ξενοδοχείο (pronounced xenodocheío) in Greek!?!? I mean, I get the xeno- root (same one as in xenophobia), but give me a break! I guess I just take for granted being able to read and understand at least a bit. (Thinking about it now, I remember feeling a similar kind of frustration in Budapest.)

So, the English saying “It’s all Greek to me” is making total sense right now.

As in, if someone were to tell me that the Pythagorean theorem states that, in any right triangle, the area of the square whose side is the hypotenuse is equal to the sum of the areas of the squares whose sides are the two legs, I – being the total math idiot that I am, would say, “It’s all Greek to me.” (All right, granted that this example is further muddied by the fact that Pythagoras himself was an ancient Greek, but you get my point.)

Anyways, a quick look at the expressions used to describe something incomprehensible in different languages shows that, in addition to Greek, Chinese also has the reputation for being unintelligible (at least to Dutch, French, Hungarian, Lithuanian and… ahem, Greek speakers, among others).

The Serbs, Croatians, Slovenes, Macedonians, Czechs and Slovaks, on the other hand, find Spanish villages utterly confusing. More particular geographical, historical and social factors seem to play a role in the understand of the Italians, for whom Arabic is incomprehensible; the Egyptians, who find Hindi mind-boggling; and Punjab speakers, who have an issue with Farsi.

The Chinese, meanwhile, have dropped potentially offensive comparisons in favor of more poetic idioms, describing things that are indecipherable as ghost or heavenly script.

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The ground beneath her feet: Long-distance-love | Bhutan

This photo was sent to me by my lovely, mind-blowingly talented, always inspired and infinitely inspiring friend Dechen, all the way from Bhutan.

Dechen, Happy (belated) Birthday! I miss you every day and hope for many more reunions of this and other kinds!

The beautiful spontaneous artwork in the photo is by a friend of Dechen’s, whom I don’t know personally but have admired from afar (hi, Chand!) and whose painting hangs in my house in Sofia (thanks, Dechen and Tintin!).

Berlin Wall | Sofia, Bulgaria

During the visit of the fine2meline to Sofia, on one of our many extensive and exhausting walks around the city (I’m not complaining!), we happened upon a fragment of the Berlin Wall. A gift from the municipality of Berlin to the citizens of Sofia, it stands, somewhat awkwardly, in the park of the National Palace of Culture, next to the memorial to the victims of totalitarianism. I was surprised to see it here, but apparently there are dozens of large wall fragments now on public display around the world. (Here is a map.)

It’s strange to think of these fragments, now scattered around the globe, but actually so closely connected and forever tied to a single place. On the other hand though, the wall obviously meant something enormous, something that deeply affected even those corners of the world faraway from it and, today, still stands for something that split not just Berlin but the entire globe in two and which is now, thankfully, in the past. So, in a way, it seems that these remnants do belong to the world and not just to Berlin.

This year marks 40 years since the start of the wall’s constructions and 22 years since its fall. We are a part of the last generation that was born and started growing up behind the Iron Curtain.

***On a lighter, but connected note and just so we keep up with the culinary flavor of the twins’ visit, go read my guest post about Berliner doughnuts on fine2meline.***

Eat Pray Love | Sofia, Bulgaria

My two favorite twins fine2meline finally made it to Sofia for a week-long visit of fun fun fun. Thinking back on it, it seems that much of our activities were centered around eating. When we weren’t actually eating, we were either talking about it, planning our upcoming feasts, commenting on past meals, making restaurant reservations, shopping for groceries, cooking (in which case, by ‘we’ I mean ‘they’), setting the table, clearing the dishes or trying to digest the copious amounts of ingested food.

So, as you can imagine, we didn’t have much time for pictures.* It is, in fact, a small wonder that we were able to do anything else at all. Even when we did, eating managed to make its way into whatever else we were doing. Take a stroll around Sofia? Only after we fortify ourselves with some delicious soup and then take a few beer breaks along the way. Have a look at the Women’s market? Why not use the chance to stop by for some mekitsi (fried dough) and a meal at a Turkish restaurant (where we were the only female customers)? Go to the Rila Monastery? Sure, and we might as well have some delicious sourdough bread (and mekitsi again!) in between all the sightseeing, the hiking, the writing of prayers (on small peaces of paper, which then get folded and places between rocks) and the making our way through cave holes (made precarious by our growing girths). Hang out with friends? Would love to, provided it all happens over a dinner table. Join the evening crowds at the Night of the Museums and Galleries? But of course, assuming they let us into the museums with two loafs of said sourdough bread in our bags. Go out on the town? Not without a heavy dinner to start with and a classic sobering-up visit to Divaka in the middle of the night. Staying in? Sounds good, considering we could have some of my grandmother’s sarmi or cook dinner ourselves.

I was a little heart-broken after Tina and Nina went back to Slovenia. Thankfully, there was the homemade cheesecake they left behind, which kept my spirits up for a few days (Thank you! Hvala! Merci! – and not just for the cheesecake. “Still hungry!”).

*Incidentally (or not), both of the pictures in this post were taken immediately after eating – the first one is on Shishman Street, just a few steps away from our favorite souperie Supa Star, and the second is the entryway of the Street Bistro on Tsar Asen Street, which boasts some of the tastiest meatballs and the most outrageously entertaining waiter in the city. Protruding bellies were diligently cropped out.

All about my mother | Kuwait, Kuwait

I am very lucky and blessed to have my mother as a mother. This is something that I am reminded of almost every single day.

But I am confused about this Mother’s Day thing, both as a concept and as a celebration. Since my mother is not the kind to stand on ceremony, we have never really celebrated it in my family. Whenever I remember to tell her “Happy Mother’s Day” she just rolls her eyes and says, “Whatever.” In Bulgaria, the holiday is kind of a leftover from the Communist era – it is marked on International Women’s Day (March 8). I know my mom generally dislikes the hysterical celebrations of lofty concepts (such as “motherhood” and “womanhood,” in this case), which was kind of a specialty of the Communist regime, so I suspect this may be one of the reasons she’s not a big fan of the holiday.

I have to admit that I, too, am a little skeptical about the rationale behind celebrating one’s mother on just one particular day. Seriously, what about the other 364 days of the year? My confusion about the holiday isn’t really helped by the fact that, depending on where you are in the world, Mother’s Day could be celebrated anytime between February (Norway) and December (Panama and Indonesia). Several, but not all of the formerly communist states and ex-Soviet republics, such as Albania, Armenia, Belarus, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia, Romania, Serbia, Slovenia and the Ukraine, join Bulgaria in marking the day on March 8. Russia, weirdly, does it on the second Sunday of November. Most of the Arab world celebrates it on March 21, after a journalist introduced the idea in Egypt from where it then spread. But the biggest group of countries overall – including the land of Hallmark, commemorate Mother’s Day on the second Sunday of May, which happens to actually be…. today. And I happen to be visiting my mom.

Just now I went over to tell her Happy Mother’s Day and she looked at me incredulously and asked how I come up with this stuff. Like I said, I am very lucky to have my mom.

Wishful thinking: Dressed up potholes | Paris, France

I just came across (via my friends at Trendland) this set of pictures* from the Nid de Poule (Pothole) project, although it looks like it took place in 2009 and must be long gone by now. In it, Juliana Santacruz Herrera filled potholes along Paris’s sidewalks with vibrantly dyed and braided long pieces of fabric that she coiled into the breaks. These street interventions, as she calls them, not only provide an entertaining and colorful contrast to the city’s gray pavements, but also make for a humorous and eye-catching method of dealing – albeit temporarily, with a problem that many big cities face.

Sofia may lack the sparkle of large cosmopolitan cities, but it suffers no shortage of potholes (more on that here). I’m thinking they could use some colorful decoration while the municipality takes its time getting them fixed. Wishful thinking, indeed….

*All photographs: © juliana santacruz herrera