Notes for My Father on Bulgaria

Ideas and Issues

Sofia       I was looking for something, and the big box store we passed as we left the National History Museum was unhelpful.  Next door, we saw a store named JUMBO.  What the heck?  We walked in and were assaulted by pastels of pink, yellow, and blue.  Rows and rows.  Aisle after aisle.  Asking for our item we were sent to the basement down a long, overly bright green hallway to the hella experience of even more.  What’s worse, it was the same items on constant replay it seemed.  Credit where credit was due, I found the item, miraculously, and then almost ran from the store!

JUMBO turns out to be a Greek chain that began as a toys and games store and has now branched out into assorted junk and seasonal specials, while retaining its commitment to color attacks.  They expanded to Bulgaria around 2005 and have a fair number of stores there now, so I really can’t blame Bulgaria for this, but if you visit, this is a warning.

Everywhere on the central plaza running from the park around the National Gallery to the lions guarding the Hall of Justice, there are little pieces of red and white woolen things, mainly small dolls or wrist ties.  This is a big, big thing in Bulgaria which is also shared by Macedonia and a few other parts of the Balkans, perhaps dating back to the Greeks and Thracians.  It was explained to me that one gave these to friends and loved ones on March 1st in order to wish them health.

Wikipedia added more information on Martenitsa, including why people tie the red and white dolls to trees.

In Bulgarian folklore the name Baba Marta (баба Марта, Grandma March) evokes a grumpy old lady whose mood swings very rapidly. The common belief is that by wearing the red and white colors of the Martenitsa, people ask Baba Marta for mercy. They hope that it will make winter pass faster and bring spring. The first returning stork or swallow is taken as a harbinger of spring and as evidence that Baba Marta is in a good mood and is about to retire.

Hey, how could it hurt?

I wasn’t able to completely track this down, but I’m on the trail of unorganized informal workers, especially the Roma city cleaners that are subcontracted to several companies, reimbursed by the municipality, but allegedly paid less than the minimum wage.  Managed to see several of them in the central city.

Of course, in Bulgaria, like Albania, people are regularly paid on two contracts, one shared with the authorities where they pay taxes on the legal minimum wage, and the other that describes their pay as a bonus or gratuity or whatever they think might both transfer money to them and at the same time all them to escape paying taxes.  This is all complicated when it comes to things like full maternity and paternity benefits.  Prospective parents with meticulous plans begin paying one to two years in advance of a birth to be able to get the entire year of full and partial benefits, rather than the bare, legal minimum which is of course about what an American would get, expect worse, since in the US it would be unpaid.

The weather was very good this year compared to last, but snow and ice over the last days revealed another advantage of cobblestones.  There is pedestrian right-of-way in Bulgaria, but it’s the cobblestones that give you more traction.