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Saturday, 23 October 2010

14. This is a man’s world (but it wouldn’t mean nothing without a good Bulgarian woman)

Socialising in parks, according to gender.

Women’s lib is yet to make its mark in Bulgaria, and I'm mystified by some of the more sexist aspects of Bulgarian society. Men hang out with men. Women hang out with women. Presumably at some point the two kinds meet otherwise there would never be any Bulgarian babies made.

But, for all you see, at bars, cafes, in the park, even by the side of the road, men sit with their buddies for a beer, a smoke, maybe a game of chess and, presumably, the male equivalent of a good old gossip. It is not good form to take your wife down the local pub of an evening. It’s just not cricket.

And young women are seen as sex objects. Advertising is not very PC here. On our first trip to Bulgaria this summer we passed a billboard advertising a musical instrument shop. The advert was just a semi-naked girl with a guitar between her legs, plus the name of the shop. That’s it. Another billboard actually had boobs on it. Boobs. I hate to be a prude but didn’t anyone stop and say ‘hang on chaps, isn’t this a tad sexist?’

So, women are ultra sexual beings. And yet, weirdly, when you finally get to marry one, you leave her at home in favour of sitting outside the local café with your mates. Hmmm.

I suspect, behind closed doors, the matriarchs firmly wear the trousers. Good for them. Now, would it hurt to take the missus out for a hard-earned white wine spritzer every now and then? 

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

13. Food, vkoosno, food (and the importance of cheese)

One morning at the guesthouse, Max’s neighbour, Vassa, brings us up a freshly baked banitsa for breakfast. This is a large round pastry dish - Vassa hand makes her own pastry which is then formed into rolls and wound into a round dish. The rolls are filled with cheese and it is baked in the oven. It is the best, most lovely breakfasty gift ever. Sadly it has goat’s cheese in: Rob doesn’t eat goat’s cheese, so I get to polish off his slice too. Mnogo vkoosno - very delicious - indeed. 

We have fresh homemade bread for breakfast every day and we feast on bread, jam, cheese, honey, tomatoes, muesli, eggs and a traditional cup of PG tips. The occasional homemade smoothie or ‘power juice’ crops up too. A plug for Max’s guesthouse: I highly recommend Little Spring guesthouse (http://www.littlespring.eu/) for the great hospitality. (When he’s not estate-agencing, Max runs mountain biking holidays and has an English bookshop in Yablanitsa).

The best of the food in Bulgaria (delicious pastries aside) is meze style. Main courses tend to be simple – kebabs, meatballs or stews. The meze, salads and soups are more varied and delicious.

Restaurants in Sofia have English menus and English speaking staff. In Yablanitsa, the nearest town to the guesthouse, there are no English facilities. We go to a great place with Max and have a very tasty lunch. He does all the ordering in Bulgarian and we just smile and nod. The food is lovely. The total bill for three meals, two beers and a mineral water comes to less than £6. Another day, Rob and I decide to go back there ourselves, this time alone. We can’t understand the menu and struggle to find words in our pitiful phrasebook. The waiter speaks no English (and why should he). We muddle through and order a couple of salads and a yummy fried cheese dish. We know the word for cheese well! It’s all tasty and we feel some sense of achievement managing to order and pay without speaking English (albeit with a lot of pointing and gesticulating).

Bulgarian beer and wine, by the way, is excellent and we have been taking care to sample many varieties for the purposes of research!

Monday, 18 October 2010

12. Claire dresses native

Clothing in Bulgaria is a funny thing. Something really rather special. For women, there are two main styles of dressing: village style (Crocs, sweats or skirt, jumper, maybe a headscarf) or Russian Footballer’s Wife. The former is simple and makes perfect sense. I certainly won’t be wearing my nicest togs to milk the goat or dig potatoes. It is the latter, the Russian Footballer’s Wife effect that fascinates me.

Mostly found in the big cities, it is the style favoured by any Bulgarian woman worth her shopska. The rules are simple – make it big, make it flashy, make it shiny and, where possible, make it pointy. A typical look would be big hair, ample makeup, clothes which are super-slim fitting, shiny (or with shiny bits on), preferably a few chains or studs, and pointy, very high heels. These are not cheap clothes, nor do they signify a cheap woman. Quite the contrary. We find clothes are expensive here.

On an unseasonably cold day I have to make an emergency clothing purchase – gloves (simple enough) and a fleecy warm top. To be fair, I purchase these from a market stall, not a fine boutique. But I am unimpressed by the choice. There is nothing plain. There is nothing simply. Frankly, to my boring English eyes, there is nothing remotely stylish. Still, when in Rome I think.  Or Yablanitsa as is the case. I settle on a bright yellow zip-up top. Fleece lined and with a fur lined hood. Excellent. Yes, the inside is excellent. The outside, however, has been…embellished.

The hood says ‘BORDER’ in big, black, stitched-on capital letters. The left breast has a black and gold PVC motif stitched on with the words ‘Perfect replet wold’ around it. This is utter nonsense. But the pattern is something else, something very special indeed. It is plastered all over with pictures of various modes of transport. It has cars, bikes, skateboards, even prams and, curiously, shopping trolleys (see picture). I feel very ‘street’ in it. Much to Rob’s horror, I consider purchasing a pair of white PVC sneakers from a neighbouring stall but refrain at the last minute.

I actually wore this out in public.
The cost of this yellow beast? 20 Lev, which is about £10. £10 too much I say. But it is warm and it becomes something of a mascot for our trip. Naturally I will never wear it back home. It will always be a ‘Bulgaria’ top. Nonetheless, I have developed a strange affection for it. Perhaps more items will follow? Rob hopes not.

For now the plan is a twice-yearly pilgrimage to Primark!

11. Our first 'meeting' as company directors

Some cheeky sightseeing.

We are now back in Sofia to set up our business. Boris the lawyer is unfortunately stuck travelling back from Bourgas so we instead deal with his colleague Petya, who looks after us very well.

So we go to their office where a mountain of paperwork has already been prepared. As we suspected, our very silly company name has not already been taken so we get to keep it! It looks just as funny in the Cyrillic alphabet too! There are a number of documents – all written in Bulgarian on one side and English on the other. These include:
- Letter of engagement for the lawyer.
- Power of attorney (scary, but with very restricted terms) for Boris to deal with setting up the company in our absence.
- Affidavits to swear everything is truthful and we are who we say we are.
- (Hilariously) minutes of the first meeting of company directors (i.e. me and Rob). The minutes state that we have agreed the company name, that we are both to be directors and that the total assets of the company at this point are £100.

We then go to the local notary with Petya. Here the notary checks our ID and we sign copies of documents in front of him. Everything gets lots of official stamps on.

Finally, we go to a bank to set up the company bank account – this holds our £100 assets and is necessary to form a company. Petya, thankfully, translates for us the whole time.

The whole process takes about two hours and is fairly straightforward, if a little odd. Afterwards we have a very large beer to celebrate! Boris will now take over and formally register the company with the authorities. This registering process takes about four weeks, after which, the company can become the legal owner of Mush Muli house.