Vowels: A, E, I, O, U

Just came across this exquisite video, which captures the beauty of the sound of language and combines it with the visual appeal of excellently selected moving images.

[vimeo http://vimeo.com/32830670 w=640&h=360]

The video was made by filmmaker and illustrator Temujin Doran, who used archival sound recordings from the 1945 Linguaphone series English Pronunciation – A practical handbook for the foreign learner.

***This post is part of the alphabet series, which contains photos and stories about letters from various alphabets. For a more systematic and organized run-down of all the letters in the English alphabet, also check out the Woman of Letters page, which is updated continuously with new letters as I stumble upon them.***

Debris after the frenzy | Sofia, Bulgaria

Don’t say I didn’t warn you. As predicted, the last 10 days were a constant and unyielding frenzy of work, fun, excitement, stress, euphoria, adrenaline, pressure, hellos and goodbyes. Every night in which I was able to sleep more than five hours or spend more than six or seven at home was considered fortunate, while a stroke of luck was needed every day, as I rushed out, to find clean clothes and practical shoes to wear for the next 16 hours.

Yesterday the festival closed and last night I slept for 12 hours straight. This morning, when I noticed this on the floor by my front door and next to my bed, I wondered – for a brief moment, who trashed my house while I was away.

Drumroll… Sofia Film Festival | Sofia, Bulgaria

The 16th edition of the Sofia Film Festival Festival opens tomorrow. If you’re in town, pick up one of those paper programs and go see a movie. You can also check out the entire jam-packed program of film screenings, guests, presentations, talks, press conferences and other events online.

{Working for this year’s festival has been keeping me busy as a bee lately, so excuse the sporadic and laconic posting, which is likely to continue through the next 10 days or so.}

In the Palace | Balchik, Bulgaria

I just got to spend four days at the northern Black Sea town of Balchik, courtesy of the In the Palace Short Film Festival.

The festival itself was a pleasure to be a part of. Its atmosphere was friendly and relaxed  – surely helped by the location, but also by the very international group of filmmakers, volunteers, journalists, organizers and other film people who attended. They were numerous enough to make the town buzz with excitement, but not too many, as to overwhelm it. The fact that only short films were shown, in this case, also assured that much of the pomp that sometimes comes with bigger festivals was missing.

The town of Balchik itself is, at first glance, plagued by many of the ever-present annoyances of other Black Sea resort towns – the crappy pop music constantly blasting from every possible eating establishment, the hoards of loud Russian tourists and the services industry’s general attitude towards visitors, ranging from negligible (at best) to aggressively appalling (at worst). The town also boasts many communist-era hotels, which would have had a certain kind of old-school appeal if they weren’t so hopelessly decrepit.

In spite of all that, Balchik is one of the most charming towns on the Bulgarian coast. This charm is owed entirely to the so-called Palace, located in the southern end of the town, which is in fact an enchanting complex of small buildings scattered around a lush and beautifully arranged botanical garden. The complex was built in the 1920’s by Queen Marie of Romania, who established her summer residence there.

The queen was the first royal to declare herself a follower of Baha’i faith.  Her belief in the unity of religions is apparent throughout the complex in the unlikely combination of symbols: from the minaret topping the main residence to the Roman-Arab bathhouse, the traditional Bulgarian-style verandas, a Moorish courtyard, the huge earthenware pots from Morocco, a Hellenistic marble throne from Florence, the giant inscribed stone crosses from monasteries in Moldova and the Muslim gravestones. The whimsical garden has a slightly overgrown feel to it, although the thousands of flower, tree and plant species it boasts are in fact all meticulously labeled and diligently looked after. The sea can be seen from everywhere, as the whole complex is built on a steep hill overlooking the water.

While best viewed (and photographed) in the daytime, I discovered a special kind of pleasure of walking around the Palace’s grounds at night, when they are at their most peaceful and quiet and one can hear the leaves of the old trees rustle, the frogs croak and the waves breaking against the nearby shore. In addition to running into other festival guests along its alleys, walking around the garden at night also made for other memorable meetings. Although it almost gave me a heart attack when it happened, one evening we had the rare pleasure of running into two stocky badgers, which – in retrospect, were probably much more startled by the encounter than we were.

The other image that I am definitely keeping from this visit to Balchik is the dozens and dozens of flying paper lanterns, which the guests released from the beach on the closing night of the festival and which twinkled and drifted slowly over the sea in a display that obnoxiously tacky and exploding fireworks have nothing on.

CBB*: isolacinema 7 | Izola, Slovenia

I was sad to miss this year’s edition of Kino Otok/Isola Cinema film festival on Slovenia’s Adriatic Coast. Happily, one of the fine2meline was there again and brought back some memories from last September, as part of our Cross Balkan Blogging Project.* (Coincidentally, in the last couple of days, I have been constantly reminded of Izola, where I was for last year’s Kino Otok, as I am now at another film festival taking place on the coast of another sea. But more on that coming up later.)

from 8th till 12th of june -isolacinema- film festival was the place to be.

here we were drawing an animation. it was a part of the film workshop.

* More about the Cross Balkan Blogging project and all posts from it.

New York, I Love You | Sofia, Bulgaria

How strange, almost creepy, it was to walk around some New York City streets, among things that were so recognizably of New York – underneath fire escapes and awnings, by traffic lights, street signs and lamp posts, past parking meters, a subway entrance, blue postal boxes and yellow newspaper dispensers, in front of delis and bistros…. It all felt almost real, apart from the ghostly quietness of the streets…. and the fact that they were actually located on a film studio lot on the outskirts of Sofia.

The detail with which the New York City streets at the Nu Boyana Film Studios were replicated was stunning (Yes, real NYC sewers are also made in India. I checked.), which made simple oversights even more blatant (avenue numbers in Manhattan barely reach double digits, so I wonder where that 73 AV sign came from… then again, it was knocked down on the ground).

Even more bizarre was walking through a film set which replicated a real place, and not just any place, but one that I have a soft spot for. It was unlike the completely made-up Küstendorf, built without a real-life original, or Warsaw’s rebuilt old town, which only looks like a film set, but is in fact a real-life part of the city. You see, I love, love, love being in New York – not least of all for the rush I get when walking around its streets. So, it was exceptionally odd to be on what so closely resembled those streets without getting even a trace of that rush and without hearing any of the sounds or smelling any of the smells that, I now realize, constitute so much of what makes New York feel like, you know, New York.

Being careful what I wish for | Izola, Slovenia

The first day after I arrived in Izola, on Slovenia’s short but charming Adriatic coast, the sky opened up and it seemed like all the rain in the world poured out onto the little quaint town. The narrow, stone-covered streets became impossible-to-cross rivers, the sky was a foreboding shade of gray and the wind found ways to get under and through all the layers of clothes, scarves and hat that I had wrapped myself in, and pierced my skin.

Although I am usually happy to be on the coast when the weather is bad – as I don’t see the appeal of sitting on the beach and baking in the sun amidst hoards of tourists and screaming children, this time I was annoyed that my time at the seaside would be ruined and kept hoping that the bad weather would only last for a short spell.

The next day, we came up with an idea to shoot a small video based on the access we had to empty movie theaters and the premise of the disappointment of being at the seaside when the weather is bad. And then, the gloomy clouds started to let up and the waiting started. Just as I had wished that it would stop the day before, I now found myself hopefully looking at the sky, praying it would rain. Instead, it just got better and better each day, the wind subsided and the sun shone more and more brightly.

On the last day, after shooting an adjusted version of the film (minus the rain), half-disappointed and half-happy, I lay in the sun on the wood-covered platform by the sea, and reminded myself to be careful what I wish for. Because I just might get it.

À la recherche du temps perdu | Izola, Slovenia

As part of the Kino Otok film festival’s program “Open Book: literature in the streets and on the screens,” parts of Marcel Proust’s novel In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower were placed around the town – in the form of writings on the sidewalks, posters, graffiti and coffee house readings.

While trying to understand the texts, since they were in Slovenian, I sometimes cheated by adding a few letters here and there to make new meanings, with varying degrees of success. In this case, “which was swimming” became “ekaterina was swimming.”

Speaking of Proust (as I usually do all the time – over a glass of absinthe and amid clouds of almost impenetrable cigarette smoke), I just found out about an expression, which describes something I have experienced occasionally but never knew what to call.  Stemming from Proust’s novel À la recherche du temps perdu, the so-called “episode of the madeleine,” which is a traditional French sponge cake, is used to refer to the instance when the taste, smell, sight or sound of something brings a memory of the past in a sudden, involuntary flash.

Tina Nina Ekaterina | Mali Vrh, Slovenia

Since I am an only child, the idea of having siblings is already quite strange to me. Although I understand that, in theory, brothers and sisters are a very natural thing, in practice I can’t quite imagine what it must be like to have somebody close to my age and as closely related to me as my parents. I find twins even more mind-blowing. Identical twins, especially, are a source of endless fascination – you not only have somebody who is so closely related to you, but was born at the same time as you and shares your exact DNA. I can’t even begin to fathom all the possible implications.

I met Tina and Nina a week ago, at the start of a documentary filmmaking workshop at Trška Gora in Slovenia. When all the participants were thinking of possible topics for a documentary, the first thing that of course sprang to my mind was that of twins.

Since then, the three of us have spent a large part of our waking hours together, partly under the pretense of trying to come up with a more specific idea about this project, and partly because we somehow got swept up into shooting a film on another topic as part of a bigger crew.

Though Nina now has short hair and Tina – longer, which makes telling them apart more automatic, and a few days have been enough to see that shared DNA doesn’t mean shared personality, I still spent much of my time around the twins in astonishment. The two have been graciously patient with my infiltration efforts, constant pestering, idiotic questions and frequent urges to prod them. By now, they’ve gotten used to the jaw dropping, I think.

During that time, things that would be perfect to include in a documentary about twins have come out: to my question “Which one is this?” about a childhood photo of one of them, they both answered, simultaneously: “That’s me.”; the first thing an old family friend inquired when running into Tina (minus Nina) was, “Which one are you?”; situations effortlessly yielded themselves into good twin/evil twin jokes; when one stalled in trying to explain or do something, the other would pick up from there and continue…

Unfortunately, this particular documentary will have to stay in my head, at least for the time being. Today, the three of us shot some footage that is more fiction than documentary. Here is the final result:

At any rate, it’s been double double fun fun.

Incidentally (ok, not really), I learned that Slovenian is the only Slavic language that retains full grammatical use of the dual, including special dual forms for nouns and verbs.