Like mother, like daughter | Kuwait, Kuwait

I love these two photos that my mom recently sent me from Kuwait:

The first, because of how surreal the image looks of her feet standing over a map of the city and the Gulf …

…and the second, because of the nicely captured correspondence of shapes and colors and the reflections on the car’s hood.

***This post is the second from a week-long series of photos from around the world, sent by friends and family, and part of The Ground beneath their feet series.***

Year in Review: 2011 | Here, there, everywhere… and even from Mars

Before jumping into 2012 with both feet, I thought I’d do my annual Year in Review post. This time, thought, I am doing things a little differently and instead of making a list of all of my favorite posts, like I did last year, I have picked just one post from each month of 2011. Some of the posts I chose are more informative, while others are more fun to look at than to read (and vice versa), but I enjoyed browsing through all of them and hope you will like the trip down memory lane too. Good times!

In the spirit of reflection that unavoidably comes with a retrospective post like this, I have to admit that looking through my archives has made me realize the continuous fortune I’ve had in the past year of being surrounded, reunited, encountered with, hosted, welcomed and accompanied by wonderful, fun, lovely, inspiring and gracious people, some of whom are mentioned in the posts below. Without them none of my travels would not be what they are, if they were to be at all. So this review is also a big THANK YOU to all of them, for making 2011 a great year for me.

So, here goes. My highlights of 2011, month by month, were:

January 2011:

On the threshold, where nothing is permanent | Mahabalipuram and Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India
My whole trip to India was nothing short of amazing for many reasons, one of which was that it coincided with the Pongal harvest festival, which meant there were beautiful, colorful hand-drawn decorations on the ground to be seen everywhere.

February 2011:

Blue Valentine | Kuwait

March 2011:

Oh so pedestrian | Sofia, Bulgaria
Not really much of a choice here, since I only posted once in March, but actually one of the texts that was the most fun to write this year.

April 2011:

Nobody puts Baby in a corner | Sofia, Bulgaria
A clear example of my belief that anything is worth writing (ok, blogging) about.

May 2011:

Eat Pray Love | Sofia, Bulgaria
Doing some of my favorite things with my favorite twins.

June 2011:

In the Palace | Balchik, Bulgaria
Not just because I was at the seaside, nor just because I was at a pretty fun and exciting film festival, but also because I was with one of my favorite friends at the most beautiful place on the Bulgarian Black Sea coast.

July 2011:

La belleza de las letr¡ah!s | Madrid, Spain
I have been pining to go back to Madrid and this year, ever since I saw the Letras neighbourhood, whose streets are beautifully engraved with literature several years ago. Cute guys lying down on the ground for my photo-taking pleasure were not part of the plan, but are always welcome.

August 2011:

Bits and pieces, in pairs | Barcelona, Spain
Probably the happiest, most carefree trip of the year. Luckily for me, though that was neither the first nor the last time I went to enchanting Barcelona and got to hang out with my friend Slavka.

September 2011:

The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree | Moscow, Russia
I didn’t get to go to Moscow myself, but the photo comes from my beloved jet-setter dad, with a short text from me, whose writing led to the discovery of the idea of Kilometer Zero markings, which I had been unaware of until now, despite previous sightings.

October 2011:

Off-season girls | Bodrum, Turkey and elsewhere
My trip to Bodrum was a real joy, not just because of the treat of swimming in the Adriatic in the beginning of October, but mostly for the chance it gave me to meet and spend time with a group of wonderful, amazing and inspiring women, some of which contributed to this post, and all of whom left a lasting trace in my heart.

November 2011:

Finding my feet | Montpellier, France
A bit of a nostalgic post, but a real pleasure to write.

December 2011:

Martian, like the planet | Lake Salagou, Languedoc Roussillon, France
…and, as promised, finishing off the year with a post from another planet!

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.

The winter of my [dis]content | Kuwait and Sofia, Bulgaria

In the span of 24 hours, I went from this:

To this:

And, yes, there is something more disturbing about those two pictures than my unfortunate choice in footwear in the second one (to my defence, it was a lapse in judgement caused by the rush with which I ran out, to buy some bare necessities after coming home to a fridge whose only content was a half-full milk carton with milk that had gone very, very bad in the two months I wasn’t here): What’s more unfortunate, in case you’re missing the point, is that I went from +25 °C to – 5 °C. So, please stop staring at my ugly boots.

The 30-degree difference in temperature didn’t make my coming back to Sofia any easier or less sad than it already is. Besides the standard drop in spirits that usually accompanies coming back from a long trip, I miss the sun and the sea, I miss my mom and my dog, I miss my old high-school friends and the new exciting and cool people I met, I miss dancing every other day, eating good food, the constant feeling of ease and leisure I had there. Not necessarily in that order.

It’s not all bad news, however. On the flip side, there are reasons I’m happy to be back and things I’ve been looking forward to: I get to see the rest of my family; I start working; I’m home, hanging stuff on the walls and watering the plants that miraculously survived my long absence and neglect; it’s been great catching up with friends whom I’m very excited to see and who seem genuinely happy to have me back. Also, I’ve missed being able to have a glass (or two) of good wine, perhaps more than I’d like to admit.

Blue Valentine | Kuwait

If you’re not into the whole red-roses-and-stuffed-teddy-bears-kind of celebration, give Saint Valentine the cold shoulder. Instead, you can mark the day Bulgarian-style and honor Trifon Zarezan  – the patron saint of vine-growers, wine-makers and drinking-establishment-keepers, by consuming copious amounts of red wine.

Or, ideally, you could unite the two: get drunk on cheesy, nauseating love, while getting inebriated with heavy wine that makes your head spin and your teeth purple. But beware: both eventually make you blue in the face and cause a massive hangover the next day.

For auld lang syne | Kuwait

Happy New Year!

Last night, I exchanged text messages and phone calls with friends who were marking the beginning of the New Year in different time zones, starting several hours before I rang it in at midnight and lasting well into the night afterward. I entertained myself by thinking that I was receiving messages from the future (from those to the East of me, where 2011 had already began) and then, after midnight, that I was sending words from the future into the past (to friends in Bulgaria, Slovenia, England and New York, where it was still 2010, while I had already entered not just a new year but a whole new decade). It’s funny how technicalities, such as different time zones, can become so invested with meaning and, as an extension, sentiment. Speaking of technicalities, in this case the rotation of the earth, and sentiments, I was also reminded of this.

A Not-So-White Christmas | Salmiya, Kuwait

Though it seems a little strange to be celebrating Christmas in 20°C-weather among palm trees, I’m still essentially rocking the holiday spirit, which for me is being with family (and, in this case, dog), as well as (cheesiness alert!) feeling all warm and fuzzy on the inside, regardless of whether there is a snow storm or a sand storm outside the window.

So…. Marry Christmas, wherever it finds you!

Before the end of the year, I’d like to catch up on the backlog of photos and stories that have accumulated in the past month or so, with the aim of starting the New Year with a fresh slate. They include (links will be activated as I post them):

• two guest posts: one with photos from my Brazilian friend Tiago, with his endless enthusiasm for and marvel at Bulgaria; and another from one of the 2Melinas, for our Cross Balkan Blogging project;

• the remaining posts from my trip around some of Central Europe’s capitals: in addition to Bratislava and Budapest, which are already up, I have photos and stories from Vienna and Berlin;

a surprise post!;

and a post on the first snow in Sofia.

Let’s see how much I manage to get done in the next five days, in between all the other things that keep me oh-so-busy, like eating, reading books, taking naps and hanging out with my parents, the dog and some high school friends, interspersed with plenty of coffee and tea breaks.

In the meantime, wishing you a similar type of productiveness. Enjoy the holidays!