The Festive Season

Dear Reader, 

My private festive season, celebrating the advent of Christmas and the New Year is by now officially over. Rather than indulging in self-pity though, I am actually happy, as I spent time with my family away from work, ate great food without overeating, listened to beautiful music and read compelling thoughts.

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Sofia welcomes 2016. No mistake, the picture is from last year but is great. It was taken by chance by a young physics student who was high up the Vitosha Mountain on New Year’s Eve. Source: Gancho Ganchev, bTV Novinite

All this celebration for the soul was augmented by efforts to look (and behave) my best, and was rather beautifully offset by the coldness and darkness of the winter outside. Light, warmth and music within; ice, gloom and bareness without. Physically and by disposition I am a high-contrast person, I adore this.

In addition, religious holidays light up the entire month of January in Bulgaria, so even though work starts again in a couple of days, the holiday spirit will keep burning. 

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December 29, the New Year’s concert at the Bulgaria Concert Hall, the seat of the National Philharmonic Orchestra. A few more minutes and the concert will start…I had a seat right at the first row and the Concertmaster, or the first violin, had not taken her place yet.

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The interior of this concert hall is an excellent specimen of communist-time luxury (and austerity). I do love the chandeliers though.

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Cover of concert programme. 

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Actual programme. All arias were baritone arias, which some people disapproved of. But the baritone, Anton Markov, was so artistic and had excellent pronunciation in all the languages he sang in – German, Italian, Russian and French. I could actually follow the Italian text perfectly. And he sang ape with a proper E at the end, and not apI, as some singers quite irritatingly do, I suspect because it is easier to shape vocally in singing. So bravissimo, Anton Markov, I really enjoyed your singing.

Bulgarians have great affection for Walz N. 2 by Shostakovitch, it was both on this programme on that of the New Year’s Concert of the Opera House, which was on the following evening. At the opera, it is actually the traditional closing piece. 

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Everyone is taking their places after the intermission. 

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Walking to a restaurant after the concert. 

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The salad with greens, peppers, avocado and goat cheese I had at the restaurant. I also had a grilled fish which arrived after almost everyone had done eating. The restaurant, Bankovich, was a disappointment overall.

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December 30, the opera house as I found it before the start of the first part of the New Year’s concert. 

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Part 1, Wagner. Doesn’t that strike you as a bit unusual? Sofia is proudly  hosting a three-day Wagner marathon each summer and I congratulate the director of the Opera House for embarking on this adventure as it is quite complicated logistically and is a performance challenge too. Although thematically appropriate, this scene from Parsifal was rather slow-moving and some people actually left in the middle of the performance. I had had little sleep the previous night and dozed off several times…Embarrassing!

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Part Two was much more lively.

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Free wine during the intermission. Wrong shape of glass…Also, I am always astonished by how much they fill those glasses. This one was full to above the first line of the inscription. I drank it slowly up to where it shows on the picture and put it down, as the intermission is not long enough to drink all of it, and even if it were, I wouldn’t, it is simply too much. Glasses can be taken home as a souvenir and many people were rinsing theirs in the toilet. I have never taken such a glass home – it has an inscription, for God’s sake, who would want to drink out of such a glass at home?!

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At the beginning of the post I said I had made efforts to look my best. The picture above showed me clearly that that particular effort had not been very successful, as I went to the opera with a handbag I could accommodate my chi-hua-hua and laptop in, plus a spare pair of shoes and a change of clothes. I mean, really. I go in exactly the same clothes to work, so I could have at least changed the bag and in fact this picture made me remember I had a suitable smaller and structured bag, or two, I had forgotten about. I’ll do better next time.

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Stage looks different for part two and the orchestra had moved to the orchestra pit. 

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Everyone has taken their places and is getting ready, warming up. I adore these discordant sounds of various instruments and how, when the first violin enters all tune in to A4. It sounds as if a fog had cleared away. 

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Shostakovich’s Walz N. 2 is playing away and people are dancing. Opera House director Plamen Kartaloff, disguised as Santa, is conducting the orchestra. 

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The final applause.

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During the final waltz, colourful strips of paper were falling from the ceiling and I put in my huge bag all that flew past me. That’s one good use I put that bag to for the evening. Now these are on my Christmas tree to the delight of the children. 

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December 31 – eating time again, at my parents’ flat.

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New Year’s table with the appetizers served on individual plates. My daughter was so impressed by the candles I lit at home on Badni Vecher, that she made her grandma light a candle too. Now we’re lighting candles at every dinner – it is beautiful and fun. Let the children enjoy this, no one had lit candles for me when I was a child, and I know I would have enjoyed it. 

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Look at the chairs…Like at a wedding or what? 🙂

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Meat was similar to what we had at Christmas, so moving straight to dessert. This is a Bulgarian chocolate cake called торта Гараш, or Garaschtorte. Bulgarians generally believe that it must be some sort of a German or Austrian cake, like the Sahertorte, but a book, Soc Gourmet, which I talked about in an earlier blog entry, has actually researched its history and was unable to establish any links to the German/Austrian pastry legacy. It was a cake invented in communism and is amazingly extravagant, given the general lack of everything at the time. Layers are made of egg whites and ground walnuts, and the cream/icing is chocolate ganache, not out of a carton, but handmade by melting natural chocolate au bain-marie and mixing it with full-fat milk whipping cream. Mmm…

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Dessert number two, pictured next to the pickles, is a Creme Diplomat, made of egg yolks and cream and enriched, according to my mother’s whim, with ladyfingers dipped in coffee and topped with blueberries boiled with a bit of sugar and alcohol. If I made that, I’d skip the additions and serve it in tiny ramekins, so I’d perhaps make three servings out of the contents of that glass. 🙂 It was delicious, though.

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January 1, 2017. After the lunch at my parents’, based on leftovers of the previous night’s feast, I and spouse took a walk in the icy old. It was very pleasant to walk in the brisk air, I must say. We went to say our New Year’s Prayers at Alexander Nevsky and then walked to St. Sedmochislenitsi, pictured here. 

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A plaque at the church facade marks the place where a tsar-time general, Konstantin Georgiev, was shot by the communists in 1925, while leaving the church after a Sunday liturgy, accompanied by his wife and grandchild. His funeral, at the St. Nedelya Church, was attended by the entire royal, military and intellectual elite of the country. The occasion, April 16, 1925, was used by the communists to blow up the St. Nedelya’s church in what is the most horrible terrorist attack in Bulgaria’s recent history. Bulgaria lost more generals that day than it all the wars it waged over the entire first half of the 20th century. …Communists! There are things one should never forget. 

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Holy drainpipes, with a cross. 🙂

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Drinking water fountain opposite the church entrance.

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Everything is closed, but the shop windows on Graf Ignatiev Street are a delight to look at. Despite having streets named to him all over Bulgaria, this illustrious Russian count was no friend to Bulgarians and worked actively to make our country weak and dependent on Russia after the liberation. 

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The Hardest Profession – History of Prostitution from the Dawn of Civilisation to the Present Day. A book I’d be interested to flip through. 

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An American in Paris – an audiobook for children. 

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All of the best buildings belong to banks these days. This was built as a bank though, in 1914. Architect was Nikola Lazarov. 

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I am already dying to get in the car as my hands hurt and are freezing. I can still manage a couple of shots though…

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Back home after 05.00 pm. Why not have a cup of coffee to celebrate hygge, the fashionable word for the je-ne-sais-quoi of coziness? 🙂 Quite becomingly, let’s do that with IKEA’s own organic coffee brand. 100% arabica and coarse ground for drip coffee makers, I am actually suprised I like it. I still say it has no body compared with the espresso, but is SO aromatic. It’s a poem in a cup.

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So now I like drip coffee, brewed the espresso way, and accompany it with a Mozart marzipan praline and classical music playing in the background. I must be getting old. 

…So that was that, dear Reader. Tomorrow is January 2 and I must start bracing myself for going back to the office on the day after. 

If all days were holidays, we’d stop appreciating them,
Boryana

PS. A winter walz for you. Known as Skaters’ Walz in English, it was originally named Schlittschuhlaeufer in German. Two more tongue twisters for you – Sveti Sedmochislenitsi – or the seven holy men of letters in Bulgarian – and Leshnikotroshachkata (Лешникотрошачката), the Bulgarian translation of Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker. Trill your Rs and enjoy! 🙂 

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Winter Landscape with Iceskaters, Hendrick Avercamp (1585-1634). Source: Click here.
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A Winter Landscape, by Zlatyu Boyadzhiev (1903-1976). Source: Click here.