In full bloom | Sofia, Bulgaria

While most of the Christian world celebrates Easter today, Bulgaria – which goes by the Orthodox Calendar (Easter is next Sunday, according to it) marks Tsvetnitsa (the equivalent of Palm Sunday, whose name is derived from the world tsvete – ‘flower’).

Besides the religious meaning of the holiday, Tsvetnitsa also has a markedly secular spirit as the name day of people whose names are related to or derived from flowers, trees, or anything from botany or nature in general, such as Lily, Violeta, Margarita, Tsvetan(a) Yavor (‘sycamore’) and Yasen (‘ash tree’) –  and yes, those last two are very common men’s names.

This is usually kind of perfect, as the day falls right when spring has finally arrived and seems set to stay. Or at least that’s what it looked like yesterday, when the sun was shining and flowers were in full bloom. Today it’s rainy, gloomy and cold, but that’s spring for you, I guess.

Happy April Fool’s Day! | Sofia, Bulgaria

Since practical jokes, pranks and other such shenanigans are a bit hard to illustrate in the format of this blog, I thought I’d share the enlightening story of how the first day of April came to be an occasion for such activities.

April Fool’s Day seems to be connected to the switchover from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian one. According to the former, which was used until the second half of the sixteenth century (in most European countries, through some abolished it later), New Year’s was celebrated and gifts were exchanged on the first day of April. The new Gregorian calendar that replaced it thereafter moved the beginning of the New Year to the day on which we still mark it today – January 1.

But every year – just like the days following the time change for daylight savings (and I will not mention how I a certain somebody who went through the better half of last week, thinking that time was still one hour behind), some people didn’t catch on very quickly – they stuck to the old calendar and continued to celebrate the New Year and show up with gifts on April 1. Those “fools” were mocked by their friends, which stuck paper fish to their back and called them Poisson d’Avril, or April Fish.

Nowadays – according to the ever-so-wise Internet, “April 1 is a day for practical jokes in many countries around the world. The simplest jokes may involve children who tell each other that their shoelaces are undone and then cry out “April Fool!” when the victims glance at their feet.”

So there you have it. Happy April Fool’s Day and I hope you are either the source or, in the less enjoyable case, the butt of at least one good practical joke today! (Although it must be said that the weather this morning pulled a good one on all of Sofia’s residents – it was – and still is – snowing!)

Shamrocks and Leprechauns | Sofia, Bulgaria

Éire has had a special place in my heart ever since I spent a month living in Derry in Northern Ireland 11 years ago. Saint Patrick’s Day is just one opportunity to remember and think about the Green Island every year, regardless of where I find myself on it, usually over a pint (ok, maybe several) of Guinness (Hello, Deaglan Mac Farland!). Today, it’ll be a glass of Jameson on the rocks.

P.S. The leprechauns kept getting out of the frame or making themselves invisible when I was taking the picture but they said to tell you “Sláinte!”

Happy Christmas!

Another year, another Christmas spent in un-Christmassy weather and surroundings… But, like last year, snow and pines and cozy fireplaces and sparkly garlands come only second to the joy brought by spending the holiday with people I love, eating good food and feeling all festive (and mushy) on the inside.

Hope you are doing the same. Merry Christmas!

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.