Author Archives: Huelo

Knitting in Bulgaria

sweater sighting at Kukeri Festival in Pernik, Bulgaria

sweater sighting at Kukeri Festival in Pernik, Bulgaria

While Lorenzo’s busy learning Bulgarian at breakneck speed, and sharing his keen insights into our charmed lives here in Bulgaria, I’m knitting.

Living here provides endless inspiration, and a welcome new perspective on my hobby/obsession. Recently I posted a piece on my blog, entitled, Knitting is a Right, Not a Privilege, about how learning from Bulgarian knitters has completely changed my outlook. I wrote the piece for other knitters, but anyone who’s ever worn slippers made by their baba will probably relate:

Here, handknits are widely available, and consequently, not treated gently. When I knit in public, no one suggests I should sell my work. Instead, people remark that their grandma makes new socks for them every winter, or that they buy all their slippers from a prolific neighbor. At the market, I like to compliment anyone I see wearing a handknit sweater, or a garment that’s been visibly mended. Usually, the wearer will beam and tell me who made or mended it for them, or if they did it themselves.

You can find the full article here. Enjoy!

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Never, Again

Do you recognize this badge?

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Does it carry any symbolism for you? Does looking at this photo evoke any emotions for you? Do you know where it came from and what it means? Do you have an idea of who wore this inverted brown triangle on their chest, and why?

The brown triangle was the badge worn by Roma prisoners in concentration camps across Europe during World War II. Some Roma wore green or black triangles, identifying them as criminals or social outcasts, instead of brown. Thousands of Roma were slaughtered in Serbia before making it to camps. Others were expelled from Romania and starved to death in a Romanian-controlled section of Ukraine. By the end of the war, virtually the entire Roma population of Croatia was dead.

Of the estimated 23,000 Roma who were expelled to Auschwitz, almost 20,000 died. The infamous doctor Joseph Mengele was particularly fond of Roma children for his experiments. Other concentration camps in Europe held only Roma prisoners, including the Lety camp in what is now the Czech Republic. At the site of the former Lety concentration camp, there is now a pig farm.

No one knows exactly how many Roma were killed in Europe in World War II. Most estimates are in the hundreds of thousands, with some historians claiming over a million were killed.

After the war, a court in Germany ruled that the Nazi persecution of the Roma was not racially motivated, effectively barring Roma Holocaust survivors from receiving reparations. German authorities did not acknowledge the Roma genocide until 1982. To say that discrimination against Roma continues across Europe to this day is to put their current situation in the mildest possible terms. In the US dominant culture, the Roma are alternately ignored or kitsch-ified into obscurity.

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a Roma girl who was cataloged for the Nazi’s “Racial Hygiene Research Unit,” photo from National Geographic

I don’t intend for this post to be a comprehensive or authoritative summary of the Porajmos, as the Roma Holocaust is often called. I am by no means an expert on this event, and most of this information I pieced together from sources on the Internet. Rather, I’m reaching out to my small audience, to make a simple acknowledgement that the Porajmos happened.

It wasn’t just one religion or community who was decimated in the Holocaust, it was many. For some groups, particularly the Roma, persecution and denial of existence have remained the status quo.

Patches of many shapes and colors have been sewn onto the breasts of the damned.

Today is the 70th Anniversary commemoration of the Roma Genocide. For more information about how to participate, take a look at this site

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

 

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