Monday, April 12, 2010

This is your brain, this is your brain on Bulgaria......

Back in the 1980's there was a public service announcement called brain on drugs, which made a very powerful statement. Here it is on YouTube:

I am one of those Americans bewitched by Bulgaria, although I have never visited the country. And I am in good company. I wonder, once I go there, will I be so hyped up that I'll be disappointed, or will I be so crazy about the place that I'll never want to leave?

The surprising thing, for me, is the number of Americans who have had a fascination with Bulgaria. Some of them are people I know from folk dancing. What is really strange is that few of them have a familial connection with the country. Some describe how they fell under the bewitching spell of the music the first time they heard it. It certainly had that effect on me.

Lauren Brody, a musician born in New York City, was featured on the Bulgarian National Radio's website about two years ago. Unfortunately, the interview with Ms. Brody, which included some music from her CD, Song of the Crooked Dance, was lost forever in cyberspace when the Bulgarian radio re-did their website several months ago. I did find a bio of her while playing around on Facebook where she included a link to her website, in which she describes her fascination with Bulgarian folklore since early childhood, and how she traveled solo to Bulgaria (during the Communist period). That took a lot of guts and was an enormous leap of faith on her part!

At the age of 20, in 1969, she made her first trip to Bulgaria to study folklore, went on a record buying binge, and even met her husband there! She remarked, in the interview, that her friends often teased her about being Bulgarian in a previous lifetime, which sounds a lot like yours truly. (Fortunately, I managed to take some notes while listening to the interview before it was lost in the limbo of cyberspace).

R.H. Markham was a journalist from the United States who spent a number of years in the Balkans, working for the Christian Science Monitor. He wrote a delightful book, Meet Bulgaria, which was published in 1931. It's available on the internet as a series of essays, which paint a detailed picture about Bulgarian life, customs and folklore in the good old days. He was totally smitten by the country, and his descriptions of it are beautiful, honest and funny. Here are two sample excerpts:

"She is a good friend of mine and it is as though, while walking along the street with her, I should meet you, one of my acquaintances, and say, "Why, hello, Gentle Reader, I'd like to have you meet Bulgaria; I'm sure you'll find her a rather unusual and very charming acquaintance. She is .....".

"Bulgaria means a vast abundance of delicious things to eat. It means health and vigor, hard toil and strenuous amusement. Bulgaria has a clear sky and a bright sun. It has stern, forbidding mountains to master; deep, dark woods to wander through; a tumultuous sea, grumbling on a gentle shore, to bathe in and deep sinuous ravines to entice you along foaming streams up into wild, lonely solitudes."

Interested? Read more at: (don't let "macedonia" in the link fool you!)

Markham was originally from Kansas. His descriptions of Bulgaria read like the land of Oz, and once he had experienced the magic of this place, he may not have wanted to come home!

With the exception of the Communist period (1944-1989) relations, for the most part, between Bulgaria and the United States were amicable. Americans, in general, know very little about Bulgaria, and it's not a popular tourist destination for people from the Western Hemisphere, unlike Greece (Bulgaria's neighbor to the south). The majority of people who visit this country on vacation are European tourists, looking for sun, sand and mild weather, people whose ancestors came from there, and those who are fascinated by its folklore.

Johnny Carson, who died in 2005, was a longtime host on The Tonight Show. He featured a female vocal group "The Mystery of Bulgarian Voices" (also known as the Bulgarian State Radio Vocal Choir). This was in the late 1980's, around the time of the group's world tour. Americans were exposed to the beauty of Bulgarian singing, and all of a sudden developed an interest in Bulgarian folk music. The Mystery of Bulgarian voices gave a slew of concerts throughout the States. The album won a Grammy award.

Unfortunately, the interest in Bulgarian music died down as fast as it began, except for those of us hardcore fans who listen to Radio Bulgaria's folklore broadcasts.

Eric Adams, a member of the heavy metal band Manowar, was born in upstate New York. He became a big hit when his band played a gig in Kavarna, a resort town on the Black Sea. He started the concert with a performance of the Bulgarian national anthem. Here is the video:

The audience went absolutely crazy; how many Americans would have been brave enough to sing the Bulgarian national anthem to a group of heavy metal loving Bulgarians at a beach resort? If he had screwed up, he would have risked having rotten tomatoes (or worse!) thrown at him!

And as for yours truly, she was bewitched by Bulgaria many years ago, while learning Balkan folk dance. In that respect Bulgarian folk music is worse than drugs :)

This is your brain on Bulgaria...any questions?

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