Monday, 30 September 2013

Permaculture: respecting your place within the ecosystem

Worm bin, permaculture. (c) Wikimedia Commons.

Life is not just about reading and writing great books. One has to eat too.

As creatures of Mother Nature we may call ourselves animals and be reminded that, initially, we were supposed to - at least before the Industrial Revolution of the 19th century messed everything up* - live as an integral part of an ecosystem and, along with other species, participate in the nature's food chain.
Similar thoughts re-entered my head several days ago at a Sofian community centre 'Adelante' where our fellow EVS volunteers Marko and Dora from other Bulgarian organisations were giving a lecture about permaculture.

Talking about permaculture: (right to left) Marko from Serbia, Dora from Hungary, and the translator. Judging by the amount of people who turned up at the event at the community centre 'Adelante' that day (all the seats were filled, some people had to stay standing), the topic was up-to-date and relevant. 

Permaculture (= permanent agriculture), the movement started in the 1970s by the Australian naturalist Bill Mollison, seems to be promoting an updated version of the lifestyle that our farmer ancestors had practised for thousands of years: staying in harmony with the nature.

Although at times it sounds rather hippie-like and New Agey because of all the love and harmony it promotes, the ideology of permaculture is, actually, quite a rational way to be - if your aim is not to leave any ecological footprint and to be self-sustainable.

You are supposed to look after the earth and the people, and not to take more than you need. You have to arrange your farm's plants and animals in a way that mimics the surroundings and relationships they would be having in the wilderness. The arrangement has to fit nicely into your farm's natural landscape: hills, forests and water sources.

You zone and layer all the living components of your farm around your house according to certain rules that are designed to give the most benefit to you, to the plants and the animals, and to the environment. You create around yourself a balanced ecosystem of which you become a part.

If you like to live close to nature, permaculture seems quite a creative and philosophical way to be. With all the myriad rules and principles to take into account, it is not the easiest craft to learn, and a good way to learn is through practical experience.

Both volunteers have worked at permaculture communities. Marko has been at a few workcamps and farms around Europe, and Dora is currently helping at a small village of Vlahi located in the Bulgarian Rhodopi mountains. 

* Although I am not necessarily saying that we all should go back to the gloomy pre-industrial times.

Friday, 27 September 2013

Do you want to write a novel? Join us!

Is our time, baby...

Have you ever thought about write a novel? Do you have a lot of ideas, but never find the moment? Do you want to write but don't know what?

 Maybe today is the day, my dear. 

 We are preparing a workshop about all the things you ever want to know about how to write a novel. How to find the motivation, how to develop the characters, how to create a world only by yourself. Is a challenge, of course, but it deserves so much fun. 

 Our goal would be to take part in NaNoWriMo and write a complete (or something like that) in November. 50000 words in one month… An entire novel from your heart to the paper in only one month… Are you prepared?

 The workshop starts the Tuesday 1 of October, at 16:00 h. at the American Corner, in the Sofia City Library. Every Tuesday we will meet at the same hour, to talk about our novels, about our fears, about our writing. We’ll share our motivations, our tips and tricks, our ideas. Maybe it wouldn’t easy, but it would be funny.

 So, if you want to write a novel, this a great opportunity!

 Would you miss?

Sunday, 8 September 2013

Blaga Dimitrova's 'Scars': the elegant visions

Scars. Poems by Blaga Dimitrova. Ivy Press Princeton, 2002.

Yet another Bulgarian poetry anthology by Ivy Press Princeton is Blaga Dimitrova's 'Scars'. To me personally Dimitrova's poetry book was more appealing than the previously reviewed selection of Konstantin Pavlov. 

Like Pavlov, during the soviet era Dimitrova was known as a dissident poet (and a socially active person: in 1992 she became the first democratically elected Vice President of Bulgaria). Her poetic style, however, is quite different from Pavlov's.

Lighter in style (although no less serious), more precise, more elegant, very articulate. Dimitrova does not talk abstract; instead she reflects on things around her, including her own body parts (hair, tongue, throat), and uses them to make philosophical statements about life, love, and the universe. Although Dimitrova is very aware of her immediate environment she is not mundane because she puts things into perspective. She notices details but does not get overwhelmed by them.

In this book, Dimitrova never gets drowned in emotion, even though some of the experiences she is talking about are among the strongest (loss; dementia of a loved one; near death experiences). The poet remains quite rational; all her emotions get distilled and rearranged into logical compositions before they land on paper as poems.

Perhaps it is also a better quality translation than the previously reviewed Pavlov's book (the translator of the both is the same: Ludmilla G. Popova-Wightman). The translator was a friend of the poet, and, possibly, because of this reason was able to understand the author's inner workings better.

'Scars' consist of five sections: Ars Poetica (poems about writing poetry); Lullaby for My Mother (mainly about the poet's mother ill with Alzheimer's; although the father is occassionally mentioned too); Love (self-explanatory); Delirium in Green (the author's near death experiences at the hospital); and Sentence (heavyish reflections on the life that has already passed).

'Scars': the poet does not like to bleed in public. She heals her wounds in privacy and all that is presented to us are her remaining scars. Here scars = poems.


I create you out of sadness 
out of loneliness 
nothingness -
to come to me.
And unnaturally,
you arrive,
as you think,
of your own free will,
not doubting it
for a moment. 

[Conjured, pg. 147]

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

'Literatura finlandesa' de Kai Laitinen

Los libros siempre saben mejor con un poco de té

La verdad es que me sorprendió mucho encontrarme este libro en la Sala Escandinava de la Biblioteca de Sofía. No por la temática, claro. Un título como Literatura finlandesa de Kai Laitinen es justo lo que una espera encontrar en una sala dedicada a la literatura y el idioma de los países del norte de Europa. Hasta ahí correcto. Lo que no me imaginaba es que me iba a encontrar un libro en español, y como ya sabéis que me puede la curiosidad, pues me lo traje a casa.

No sé vosotros, pero yo sé más bien poco de literatura finlandesa. De hecho, aunque Arto Paasilinna es uno de mis autores favoritos, creo que es el único de esta nacionalidad que he leído en mi vida. Tengo en casa, pendiente de lectura, Purga de Sofi Oksanen, autora finlandesa ganadora de numerosos premios europeos, pero hasta ahí llega mi conocimiento que, como podéis comprobar, es bastante limitado.

Animada por las pequeñas dimensiones del libro (formato pequeño y apenas 160 páginas) lo adopté durante un tiempo para echarle un vistazo y aprender algo nuevo, que nunca está de más. Suponía (y no me equivocaba) que el libro me iba a dar una visión bastante somera de la historia literaria de un país que, reconozcamoslo, es casi  desconocido en España.

Desde las primeras canciones populares hasta los autores contemporáneos, de la ilustración a la desgarradora novela de posguerra, del sueco y el latín como lenguas predominantes en la literatura finlandesa hasta el finés como un idioma literario. Y, en medio de todo,  El Kalevala, la gran epopeya finlandesa, la gesta inolvidable de un pueblo,  una compilación de repertorios populares realizada por Elias Lönnrot en el siglo XIX y que se ha convertido en el símbolo de un país, de una cultura y una tradición.

Sin embargo, en más de una ocasión, el libro se convierte en una mera lista de autores, aportando muy poco a la historia de la literatura propiamente dicha. Sí, es demasiado corto, ya me imaginaba que no iba a profundizar demasiado, pero en algunos casos me he quedado con ganas de saber más de la evolución real de su literatura que un nombre tras otro de autores...

Su autor, Kai Laitinen, es catedrático emérito de Literatura Finlandesa en la Universidad de Helsinki, por lo que me imagino que algo sabe del tema. Además, se trata de una figura muy influyente en las letras finlandesas desde los años cincuenta. Ha trabajado como crítico y director en diversas revistas literarias, además de ser jurado en varios premios literarios por toda Europa.

Como primera toma de contacto con la historia de la literatura finlandesa es correcto, aunque ya os digo que en ocasiones se parece más a una lista de la compra de autores que a un ensayo de historia literaria. Es sí, su función la cumple a la perfección, porque lo cierto es que ahora me han entrado ganas de conocer más sobre la peculiar historia de este país, leer más a Arto Paasilinna, empezar 'Purga' de Oksanen de una vez, y sí, conocer a autores de los que nunca había oído hablar y que tienen nombres imposibles de pronunciar. Si a vosotros también os ha entrado curiosidad, lo tenéis disponible en la Sala escandinava de la Biblioteca de Sofía en la plaza Slaveikov. Allí estará, esperándote...

Jos mum tuttuni tulisi
Ennen nähtyni näkyisi.
Sillen suuta suikkajaisin
Olis suu suden veressä.
Sillen kättä käppäjäisin
Jospa kärmä kämmen päässä!.
(Si mi amigo viniera/ si mi amado se dejara ver. /
Le besaría en la boca/ aunque estuviera manchada
por la sangre de un lobo./ Le estrecharía la mano/
aunque contuviera una serpiente.)
 Canción popular finlandesa

ISBN: 951-1-17301-4
Traducción: Úrsula Ojanen y Joaquín Fernández
160 páginas

Sunday, 1 September 2013

'Sofia Breathes' a handmade market in the streets

Sofia Breathes at Pirotska Street

Ah, the summertime. Most of the people expend all the year dreaming about August. Not me, because I’m a bit allergic to summer and a little freak, too. People think about the summer, about travels, about the beach, about long hours al fresco. And then, the naked truth. You have to work in these months, you can’t go abroad, you have to stay at home.

 Ok, it’s not so bad. Don’t kill me, please.

 It’s not so bad, I insist, especially if you see initiatives like Sofia Breathes. This festival took one street every Sunday of August and transformed it in a place of joy and celebration. Music, drinks, exhibitions, workshops, and a really beautiful handmade market. Perfect for expend a few hours in a very special environment.

I never told you? I love cups and mugs!

 This is the 4th year we can enjoy Sofia Breathes, and I’m pretty sure that every year is gaining more and more reputation. Of course, for me was my first time, but when I talked with the people there they told me the same. A place for art, for culture, for think about the environment and the sustainability in a very relaxed way, having fun with friends and, yes, buying things.

 I have told you once, but I’m really fascinated about handmade markets. I’m so bad with hands that really amused me how can they do such a beautiful things. Porcelain cups, earrings, notebooks, toys, soaps… You could find nearly everything there, made with love and patience. And, for a cheap price, you could take one of these treasures and use it at home. Isn’t great?

Steampunk jewels and notebooks! Lovely!

 This year, Sofia Breathes took place in the streets Ivan Shishman, Angel Kanchev, Pirotska and, finally, in boulevard Vitosha, and I can assure you that it was a success. Fun for all ages, in a lazy summer Sunday, who can imagine a better way to expend the evening in Sofia?

 I went two of the days (to Angel Kanchev and Pirotska) and I enjoyed a lot. I drank lemonade, bought a few things, talked with the people and took part of a workshop. I’m very proud to announce that, now, I can make paper flowers. Not perfect, but I’ll try to improve…

 Until the next year, Sofia Breathes!