lucky perro

I'm Laura. I live in DC and blog about real dogs, downward dogs, and my latest eats, reads, and adventures.

Souvenirs from Sofia

Since I’m leaving early tomorrow for Cuba, I’ve got to wrap up the Bulgaria posts!  Guided by Nicole and The New York Times, I found some wonderful souvenirs there.

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Bulgaria is one of the largest producers of Rosa Damascena oil, so I picked up some vials of that.  I also bought some delicious Bulgarian wine, including a couple bottles made from the local Mavrud grapes.  The doll and wooden toy I picked up for Jude, the doll from an amazing shop called Le Petit Salon that only carries items made by Bulgarian artisans.  I got a few other great things there that I’ve already given to others.  It was a beautiful shop and the owner was one of those people who can wear long skirts and art-y things and look really great, not just weird.  I wish I knew how to do that…

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The doll came with a card that the owner helpfully translated for me.  It says his name is Filip and he likes to ride his bicycle and eat bread with lutenitsa (a Bulgarian sort of tomato and onion relish).

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I bought this little nightshirt because it was good quality and pretty cheap, and it reminded me of something.  Later I realized it’s like the one Carla Bruni is wearing on the cover of her No Promises album.  I’m pretty sure if I wear it I will look just like Carla Bruni.  That’s how that works, right?

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I also picked up a few things at Shipka, which stocks organic beauty products in a converted butchery.  I was disappointed that they had nothing from Bulgaria, but it was truly one of the most well-designed shops and spaces (business card included) that I had ever seen, anywhere.  I also had a great conversation with the owner about the Environmental Working Group and its Cosmetic Database, and she ended up giving me a deal on the one product I did buy, because I didn’t have small bills.  (On a side note, what is with Europeans not being able to deal with large denominations of cash?!  You might as well be carrying gold bars if you try to pay with a 50 euro note elsewhere, and in Bulgaria people sometimes freaked when I tried to give them a 20 leva note.  I mean, why do they even have these denominations if no one wants them?)  I still had a great time exploring the city looking for these little shops and talking to the owners.

The Wedding

And now for the main event!  The ceremony was set to begin at 12:40 at the Oborishte Ritual Hall.

I spent the morning having coffee and reading, and then got dressed for the wedding.  It was another nice day, and it seemed like every Bulgarian family was out for a stroll.  It was also Bulgaria’s Liberation Day, and a day when big protests  were scheduled (the Bulgarian government had recently fallen), but the protests were pretty tame.  Fortunately the Ritual Hall was within walking distance, so road closures didn’t affect me, and I recorded on my way to the ceremony.

Nicole said that the hall is a Communist relic used for civil ceremonies, whose name translates to something like, “Hall for the Celebration of Joyous Rituals.”  Here is the exterior.  photo

First I walked right past it.  I guess I was expecting something that looked a little more…I don’t know…celebratory?  Then I saw a different wedding party leaving and asked a man carrying flowers if I was in the right place.  Turns out he was going to Nicole and Nikola’s wedding as well–Bulgarians have a nice custom of bringing flowers to a wedding.  We went inside and awaited the bride and groom.

N&dadDSC02560Nicole looked beautiful and very happy.  wedding

A Bulgarian civil servant (I don’t know what her title was) performed the ceremony very beautifully (the former U.S. Ambassador’s interpreter interpreted).  She was serious but kind of poetic too.

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The ceremony included drinking champagne–a custom I can really get behind.

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Nikola with his bride.IMG_2394

Nikola is a tailor, so who better to do the bustle?

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The view from the hotel where the reception was held.  The protests broke up a couple hours later.

IMG_2405   They worked in a few of the many Bulgarian wedding traditions.  This one involved holding a loaf of bread over their heads and breaking it.  Whoever gets the bigger half will wear the pants in the family.  Nikola proudly shows up his bigger half. IMG_2398

This beautiful (and delicious) cake was made by Nicole’s boss (who I happened to work for years ago).  She and her husband are not professional bakers–but should be!

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Nicole throwing her bouquet.

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I was among the last to leave the reception that night around 10:45.  If you’re doing the math, that’s 10 hours of partying–probably a record for any wedding I’ve ever been to–including my own!  These former FS buddies of mine definitely outdid me.  By the way, it was lovely how many of Nicole’s friends traveled from afar for the wedding–people came from Iraq, Brazil, Nicaragua, Poland, and Mongolia, as well as the U.S.–truly amazing.

A quick word about my outfit.  When Nicole mentioned it was a Bulgarian holiday I decided to dress accordingly–in the colors of the Bulgarian flag.  I knew it would be chilly there, so I also wanted to wear tights with a warm-ish dress.  I had this wool Kate Spade dress and I remembered that it had been styled online in a colorful way.  So, considering my lack of fashion know-how (thus far only the librarians of DC have recognized my style), I decided to straight-up copy the look.  Here’s the original:

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And here’s my version:

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I think it ultimately worked, but my bright tights and shoes definitely got some weird looks on my Sunday afternoon walk to the ritual hall!

Sofia

Saturday I took the Free Sofia Tour, which was a great way to get my bearings and learn more about the city, immediately followed by a private tour Nicole arranged of the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, which was great because we got to go up into the bell tower, which is otherwise not allowed.

Saint SofiaSaint Sofia

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The center of Sofia is paved in distinctive yellow bricks; my guide said the stone is stupidly expensive and they are very slippery.

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I liked this combination of old ad and graffiti.

ruins mosqueThey are still excavating and preserving Roman ruins all over town. What’s interesting about this corner is that the building on the right is the mosque, and a stone’s throw away from it is an important Orthodox church, Sofia’s only Catholic church, and the largest Sephardic synagogue in Europe.
big bath houseAn old, closed mineral springs bath house (but you can still get drinking water at the fountain)

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The interior of the synagogue. synagogue synagoge   comm building

A number of Communist-era government buildings are still imposing government buildings. Below, the Presidential guards.   presidency guards

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Alexander Nevsky Cathedral architecture and details.churchdomes  IMG_2359

Climbing up, we got to see the beautiful interior from above.dome viewbelltowerview

View from the bell tower.  These bells have been rung by the same woman for years.  She’s 84.

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Monday I also did lots of sightseeing and shopping (souvenirs will be covered in another post). I visited Boyana Church, a short taxi ride out of the city, which was amazing.  I couldn’t take pictures, so the shot below is from the New York Times.

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Since Monday was a beautiful day, I enjoyed walking around and seeing things like this street art (love the Orthodox priest bird with the beard).

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Roasted pumpkin–sometimes servednwith yogurt or cream and honey and nuts–is a traditional dessert.

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And I finally found the tea house I was looking for the first day–which was totally worth it.  Best beet salad of my life!

Back from Bulgaria

I got back last week from a fabulous trip to Sofia for my friend Nicole’s wedding to Nikola (yes, you read that right–their names are Nicole and Nikola).  Nicole is serving at the U.S. Embassy in Sofia, where she met Nikola.  It was so fun to be there for their wedding, explore Sofia, and hang out with new and old friends.  I’m dividing my Bulgaria recap into a few parts, because I have so many photos.  Image

March 1 was an auspicious date to arrive in Bulgaria.  This is the day when Bulgarians traditionally celebrate the transition to spring by giving each other martenitsa.  I was given one at the airport in Sofia and this made me inordinately happy, because I have wanted one ever since I spotted them on the wrists of Bulgarian Fulbrighters at a conference in Berlin back in 2002.  Seriously.  I don’t know why I found this little bit of folklore so compelling, but I did.  The first few days of March you can buy martenitsa all over town, so I brought some back for friends and family.  Now I have four, and I can’t take them off until I spot a stork or a flowering tree (but in DC, that should be about two weeks).  You could also spot martenitsa on buildings, cakes and even cookies.

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(I don’t know what’s going on here.)

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I picked these up at a cute and tasty shop called 100 Grams of Sweets, which had other delicious pastries.

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But, first things first.  I spent the first afternoon I arrived in Sofia wandering around enjoying the beautiful sunny weather.  I was looking for a tea house, actually, but was jetlagged and disoriented and literally walking in circles.  (I did finally find the tea house on Monday.)  But I saw the Russian church and the Ivan Vazov national theater and some musicians playing in the square.

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Then I headed to a delicious and wine-filled traditional Bulgarian dinner with Nicole, Nikola, their families and other out-of-town visitors at Manastirska Magernitsa.  Here is a video of what that was like:

Then, not surprisingly, I slept for a solid 12 hours.  More to come!

A Bulgarian Holiday

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As much as I love traveling, I absolutely hate packing.  I agonize over whether I’m bringing the right things, I always end up overpacking, and it just feels like the worst kind of chore–one you’re going to have to undo in a few days anyway!  So I end up putting it off and then am even more stressed when I’m rushed.  All of which is to say…I have to go pack!  I’m off to Sofia, Bulgaria for a quick trip for a friend’s wedding.  There are currently protests going on, but I’m assured it’s safe.  And the wedding falls on a Bulgarian holiday, so I have a patriotic red-and-green wedding outfit planned.  Stay tuned for pictures!

It goes without saying that I will miss this face, though:

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P.S.  When trying to figure out if I should pack gym clothes, I double-checked whether my hotel has a gym, and found this charmingly translated note: “The fitness club has an artistic atmosphere and state-of-the-art equipment.  Take a sip from refreshing drink, proteins, vitamins and mineral water at the fitness bar, right at the entrance of the fitness club.”  You can’t make this stuff up!

“A complicated affection, sometimes tinged with shame”

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I love when I attend a discussion or reading by an author and it completely changes the way I view his or her work, the craft of writing, and, occasionally, the world.

A few weeks ago I attended a discussion and reading by two authors I haven’t read, but had heard a lot about because they are both young and very successful: Chad Harbach and Karen Russell.  I invited a friend who had read both their books–and whose opinion I trust–and she was not entirely enthusiastic about their work.  So I didn’t plan to read either of them–until I heard them speak!

The discussion was kind of all over the place, because the person leading it seemed unprepared and a little loopy, but it ended up being, as my friend Sarah cleverly summed up, a great illustration of the contrast between a truly inspired artist (Russell) and someone who sets out to write a great book and, through hard work and persistence over a period of ten years, does it (Harbach).

I think Sarah had a little more admiration for Russell, but I still have a ton of respect for someone who goes after a goal like that–perhaps even working against his own nature–and succeeds brilliantly.  As he said, he put in hin 10,000 hours, and he taught himself the craft.  His model is, obviously, the less sustainable one (she has just put out her third book, the wonderfully-titled Vampires in the Lemon Grove, while he probably won’t complete another for quite some time), but it sounds like he’s produced valuable work, and he gives hope to those of us who may not think of ourselves as artists.

Russell easily won us over because she is one of the funniest, most likeable people ever, while Harbach seemed aloof and overly impressed with himself.  An example of one of her charming zingers: since she often revisits her southern Florida roots in her work, she was asked about her relationship to the place: “It’s like how you feel about your family: a complicated affection sometimes tinged with shame.”  I heard her again on NPR a few days later and ended up telling Sarah, “I’m not so sure I want to read her books as much as I just really want to be her friend.”

Harbach did say something interesting at one point, quoting a joking statement by a writer friend of his, about how, in order to write well, “you just have to make yourself into the perfect human being and then write naturally”–the point being that writing is a revelatory process, and your deepest thoughts will out.  This seemed like an obvious idea that, at least to me, wasn’t obvious until he said it.

This talk didn’t quite change the way I see the world, but the next one I went to did.  Stay tuned for a read-out of an amazing talk by Alexandra Fuller about violence, death, and the loss of innocence (not as depressing as it sounds!).

An Interesting Talk About Modeling

Since I’m short on time, here is an TED Talks from a supermodel that is both unexpected and kind of enlightening.  And a little depressing, in that it makes you wonder about our culture’s odd obsession with models, and looks in general.  Would love to hear your thoughts.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

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So my Valentine had to go out of town, but before he did he presented me with a lovely gift.  There is a wonderful store in Key West called Besame Mucho (their website doesn’t give a sense of their actual inventory), and I had shown him a few things there that I liked.  I received a beautiful necklace and scarf for my birthday and got some amazing earrings this morning before he left for the train station–not the ones below, but those are gorgeous, too, no?  I’m just saying.  They’re by Hortense; check out her shop for more goodies.  small_arrow_earing

Oh, and I gave up booze for Lent, just because, so I’ve had to find a new nightly vice.  Fortunately, four pints of Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream arrived yesterday, because my husband “accidentally” put in an order for someone else twice.  Rather than cancel the second one, he sent it our way, and I’m glad he did, because it is the jam.  I really don’t even care about ice cream all that much (given my choice of desserts, I’d probably pick a brownie), but it is soooo goood and the flavors are insanely creative and vivid.  We got Askinosie Dark Milk Chocolate, Bangkok Peanut (which is coconut-y and spicy), Wildberry Lavender, and Roasted Strawberry Buttermilk.  Hard to say which is my favorite–I think they all are.

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I hope you and your Valentine had a lovely and sweet Valentine’s Day!

HAIM & Mumford and Sons (More music!)

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So my in-laws called me last week and asked if we wanted tickets and backstage passes to see Haim opening for Mumford & Sons.  Um, YES!  My brother-in-law is friends with one of the lovely Haim sisters (performing above), who kindly set us up.  Haim have gotten all kinds of awesome buzz, and I knew their music was great, but they are also amazing performers.  All three sisters are drummers and they did this amazing drum-off at the end of their set.  You can find their music on iTunes, all sorts of great concert video online (I like this one of “Let Me Go”), and see Haim’s Valentine’s Day playlist for The Guardian.

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Who’s that, you ask?  Oh, just Ben Howard eating a grilled cheese and chatting with Baby Haim after he opened as well.

IMG_2235You can get a sense of our vantage point for watching Mumford & Sons, who were obviously fantastic.  I especially loved all the lights they had up.

The only sad part is that we missed them all performing “The Weight” (in tribute to Levon Helm) at the end, because it was late and we had a long drive and a babysitter who had class the next day.  Oh well–trucking out there was a small price to pay for a great night.

(Excuse the crappy photos and super-short video; I only had my iPhone and it was dying.)

New-ish Music and a Dirty Secret

I am really loving this whole album by Madi Diaz.  The very first song on the album We Threw Our Hearts in the Fire reminds me of someone specific but I’m a glass of wine in this evening and I can’t put my finger on exactly who…it’s a little bit Au Revoir Simone, a little bit Lykke Li/El Perro del Mar/Taken by Trees.

Speaking of wine, I got about four hours of sleep last night because someone’s incisors are coming in.  I realize it could be far worse, but we are used to not hearing a peep out of our guy for twelve hours, so we were kind of out of our minds.  I went grocery shopping today and, unusually, I picked up two bottles of wine (we already have a lot of wine, and I rarely buy it at the store unless it’s for an occasion.)  I’m only now making the connection.

I’m going to have to call this an “occasion.”

That was not the dirty secret.  The dirty secret is that I am completely ashamed that I learned of Madi Diaz because this song was featured on Pretty Little Liars.  The show is silly on a number of levels, but it has pretty consistently introduced me to some great new music.  Or maybe I just have the musical taste of a teenage girl?

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