Monthly Archives: April 2014

Favorite Things, Inside Out

Here’s me in my brand-new vest, knit from Quince & Co Sparrow and one of the lovely designs from Knitbot Linen. This photo is also a contribution to Fashion Revolution Day, which I learned about from the amazing Abigail Doan.

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I thought this would be a great day to link to something I wrote for A Verb For Keeping Warm, almost a year ago. It’s a reflection on a maker’s place in the fashion food chain. Follow this link to read “Favorite Things” on the Verb blog.

Thank you, Abigail, for turning me on to Fashion Revolution Day! And thank you to the Verb team and every clothes-making bad-ass I know. Turn it #insideout y’all. -H/Х 

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Making Easter Eggs in Bulgaria

Did you know that Bulgarians traditionally dye eggs for Easter?

Yeah, I know. Americans do, too. But Bulgarians are really into Easter eggs, though!


dyeing 5,000 eggs in a Bulgarian monastery

Peace Corps volunteers are told that the presence of a sickeningly optimistic, naive newcomer can inspire locals to see their home country with new eyes. Likewise, conning my man into moving to Bulgaria with me has refreshed my curiosity about my former Peace Corps site.

Lorenzo, being naturally more inquisitive and observant than I am, has lots of questions. To my shame, I usually can’t answer them. I know more about Bulgaria than the average American, but not half as much as I should, considering I’m fluent in Bulgarian, lived here for two years, and have heard the country’s history, recited in Homeric monologues by at least four old men I met on trains, beginning with the words, “Thirteen-hundred years ago…”

A typical trip through town with Lorenzo is like this:

“Who’s that?” he asks.

“Uhh, Saint Sofia?” It was a good guess, considering it’s a giant statue of a beautiful saintly woman with a crown on her head, a huge bird and a wreath of laurels, and it’s smack in the middle of the city, which is called Sofia.

“Neat, what’d she do?”

“Uhhhh,”

Or, as we’re riding down General Totleben Boulevard, he’ll ask, “Who was General Totleben?”

“I guess he was probably a general,” At this point we’ve reached Macedonia Square.

“Why is it called Macedonia Square?”

“I don’t know, because Macedonia is next to Bulgaria?” At least I know that.

Good Friday and whatever-the-Monday-after-Easter-Sunday-is-called (Lorenzo’s the Catholic, not me) are both national holidays, which makes Easter a four-day weekend. I guess Christ rose so that for two extra days I don’t have to, at least before noon. Just as Americans ask their coworkers what their plans are for a long weekend, for the last few days our friends have casually asked us, “Are you going to dye eggs?”

“Why do people keep asking if we’re going to dye eggs?” said my beloved this morning, “I’m a grown-ass adult. I haven’t dyed eggs since I was nine.”

Do grown-ups not ask each other that question in the US? I don’t know anymore.

“Bulgarians dye eggs for Easter,” I answered, “And then everyone hits each others’ eggs against theirs, and the last person with a un-cracked egg is the winner, and they save their egg, and they’ll have good luck all year.” Or, as my friend Vonka says, they’re the loser, because they have to keep a hard-boiled egg for a year.

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this is the kind of thing you might find on your Facebook wall for Easter

Traditionally, Bulgarian Easter eggs were all dyed red. The first egg to go in the dye pot was supposedly sacred, and was saved until the following Easter (yes, that’s another egg you’re supposed to keep for a year). Those who have introduced heathen colors like blue and orange into their egg-dyeing rituals are still supposed to dye this first one red. According to this post, red eggs are indispensable around the homestead. You can rub them on your boils, bury them in your crops to prevent hail, or just glue the shells to your walls and ceiling for a witchy-chic look.

Once he saw egg-dyeing as another pagan, old-world custom that Bulgaria un-self-consciously carries on, Lorenzo was excited about it. We eschewed the somber bottles of red dye for red onions, like my grandma uses.

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The internet told me that leaves, rice grains and other detritus could make resist-dye patterns on the eggs, so I gathered what was in the house: parsley, dill, oatmeal, beans, sugar, yarn, and a granny square.

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We used fifteen eggs, seven red onions, and one extra-large pair of pantyhose. Next time, I’ll use three times as many onions and twice as many pantyhose for the same number of eggs.

We peeled the onions and washed the eggs. Each egg we wetted, wrapped with onion skins and stuffed tightly into a knotted pantyhose segment. If we wanted a resist pattern, we’d wrap the egg with a parsley or dill sprig, or a length of yarn, before putting on the onion skin. We messed around with the sugar, oats and beans, but got better results with the herbs and the yarn.

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Once an egg was wrapped in onion and tied snugly in nylon, it went into a big pot of water with a tablespoon or so of vinegar. For good measure I also threw in whatever onion scraps were left over from the peeling process. Then we boiled the eggs for twenty minutes, or at least until the electricity to the stove shorted out.

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Our trusty stove, whose name rhymes with ‘badger’ in Bulgarian

We waited until the water was completely cooled before unwrapping the eggs, a feat of patience that deepened my understanding of what Jesus must’ve gone through.

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The result were mottled, rusty red eggs, just like at my Grandma’s house. Here’s my favorite:

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Happy Easter everybody! Христос возкресе! I’m sure these blood-colored eggs are just what He wanted, and have nothing to do with a pagan celebration of rebirth and fertility. -H/Х

 

This Bulgarian yogurt for MEN is blowing my mind

Super macho yogurt is relatively new in America, but it’s already found a place here on our shelves:

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I wasn’t editorializing in the title, the promo literature puts MEN in all-caps. The Mars symbol in the E is their touch, too.

There are plenty of products that trickle-down this way, but this one is different. The marketing of yogurt is so different in the US and Bulgaria that globalization has put something on our shelves that’s even more absurd than yogurt for dudes is normally.

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Last year in the US, a company calling itself “Powerful Yogurt” released a product for men. You know it’s for men because it’s got macho things like contours of six-pack abs on the label and it comes in “man-size” 8-ounce servings. That’s two more ounces than regular yogurt, which is edible only to little titty babies. The black and red color scheme, steer’s-head logo, and announcement of its protein content make it look like an aluminum-capped cup of beef jerky, the macho-est food.

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Black/red! Steer’s-head! Protein! MEN!

In the last few years, marketers found themselves with a problem: men don’t buy yogurt. In the English-speaking world, yogurt has become the most feminine-gendered foodstuff, just edging out salad. Marketers spend billions of dollars getting women to fear being fat and steer them to low-calorie yogurt. Yogurt’s nutritional composition was feminized by linking it to the prevention of osteoporosis—just like it’s now being sold as a protein-rich food to make you swole.

Men are doing enough shopping these days that advertisers are scrambling to win them over with macho packaging, lest men be scared off by the femme motifs that dot supermarket shelves. Agribusiness marketing teams are victims of their own success, but they’re doing the best they can to butch-up the most feminine-coded product. Despite the snarky write-ups nicknaming it “brogurt,” it’s already working: just look (or don’t) at this Men’s Fitness write-up about how yogurt totally makes your balls bigger and helps you get chicks pregnant (tl;dr: scientists examine mouse nut to leverage anxieties about masculinity into yogurt sales).

Here’s the thing, though: in Bulgaria there’s no gender-stereotype associated with this product. Eastern European capitalism is interesting partly because it’s so new: marketing is less sophisticated to just such a degree that it creates a distancing effect. Since advertising is so new, they’ve missed out on a lot here–like the hyper-gendering of yogurt. Not only did Bulgaria never gender their yogurt, but yogurt is the most universal food in this country. It literally is: Lactobacillus bulgaricus, a world-famous strain of yogurt, is one of Bulgaria’s proudest achievements. In terms of national pride, yogurt ranks up there with the Cyrillic alphabet and the computer.

Most products don’t have an organic reason to exist, and probably a comfortable majority of things have been created to capitalize on fears inculcated in women. Look how shamelessly mad-men types invented the blue/pink color binary (in the 1940s) or cellulite (in the late ‘60s). MACHO YOGURT that’s NOT FOR SISSIES was invented to fill a niche that marketers created when they made yogurt too feminine. This product makes sense in the Anglophone context in which marketers made yogurt feminine in the first place. However, thanks to the wonders of globalization, it was plucked from America and replicated in Bulgaria. So now we have SUPER BUTCH yogurt here, for no reason. The weirdness of this product is a funny side-effect of globalization—but, then again, never underestimate the marketing power of overwrought appeals to macho bullshit.

When you’re moving to Bulgaria…

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When I sat my friends and family down to tell them that my girlfriend and I are moving to Bulgaria, the response was the same. “I thought you were going to say she was pregnant!” No, nothing crazy! I’m just moving 6,000 miles to a country I’ve never visited before. Simple!

My Гадже (Gadje–lover/partner) observed that when she told people she was moving to Bulgaria, she got one of two reactions. The first, from people who had visited her here when she did Peace Corps, was excitement. The second, from people who hadn’t been, was unveiled skepticism. After all, Bulgaria is one of those places like Timbuktu, that Americans pull out to mean an impossibly faraway place. Continue reading

Two horse carts were parked in front of our block this morning. The drivers looked like mother and son, and they were inside the building working on a remodel. They came out as I was taking a picture. The woman looked like she didn’t have time for our shenanigans, but the guy smiled at us and invited us to keep taking pictures. -H/Х