Friday, 31 January 2014

What's your Top 5? Must-read lists of the Library's English Conversation Group

Every Wednesday the employees of the library have a closed English discussion group for practice and our little EVS team has been part of it ever since we arrived here. We set a topic for the following week which we rarely follow - usually we talk about random things, and each Wednesday afternoon we have a great cozy time. Last week we decided that this week we should bring lists of our favourite books, or rather our personal list of Top 5 must-read books, to share with the rest of the group and discuss. I have included them to share them with you, but also for our own reference. Some fantastic-looking titles in there...

I have also included Goodreads links (wherever possible) for ease of use.


1. Khaled Hosseini ~ "The Kite Runner"
2. Isabel Allende ~ "Paula"
3. Seneca ~ "Epistulae morales ad Lucilium"
4. Oscar Wilde ~ "The Happy Prince and Other Tales"
5. Albert Camus ~ "The Myth of Sisyphus"


1. Fyodor Dostoyevsky ~ "Crime and Punishment"
2. Ernest Hemmingway ~ "A Farewell to Arms"
3. Erich Maria Remarque ~ "Arch of Triumph"
4. Dimiter Dimov ~ "Doomed Days"
5. Yordan Yovkov ~ "Short Stories"


1. Khaled Hosseini ~ "The Kite Runner"
2. Anna Gavalda ~ "Hunting and Gathering"
3. Elif Safak ~ "The Forty Rules of Love"
4. Gabriel Garcí­a Márquez ~ "Love in the Time of Cholera"
5. Dimiter Dimov ~ "Doomed Days"

Boryana (she chose to list authors instead of separate books)

1. Fyodor Dostoevsky
2. Mikhail Bulgakov
3. Truman Capote
4. Franz Kafka
5. Viktor Paskov


1. H.C. Andersen ~ "The Little Mermaid"
2. Ludvig Holberg ~ "Mascarade"
3. Cecelia Ahern ~ "If You Could See Me Now"
4. Stephenie Meyer ~ "Twilight" / "The Host"
5. William Shakespeare ~ "A Midsummernight's Dream"


1. Jonathan Safran Foer ~ "Eating Animals"
2. Bill Bryson ~ "A Short History of Nearly Everything"
3. Ursula Le Guin ~ "The Dispossessed"
4. Aldous Huxley ~ "Brave New World"
5. Jose Saramago ~ "Death With Interruptions"


1. Inga Žolude ~ "Sarkanie bērni"
2. Sofi Oksanen ~ "Stalin's cows" / "Purge"
3. Erlend Loe  ~"Doppler" "muleum"
4. Hallgrimur Helgason ~ "101 reykjavik"
5. Svetlana Alexievich ~ "Voices from chernobyl "


1. Vasily Grossman ~ "Life and Fate"
2. Marguerite Yourcenar ~ "Memoirs of Hadrian"

Monday, 27 January 2014


Snyag; snow in Bulgarian!

Exactly one week ago we were eating ice cream in Vitosha Blvd and didn't believe it when Boryana told us that it would be snowing soon. All for the better: the surprise was bigger!

Vicente and I thought that Maria and Zanda would have had enough snow for a lifetime, them being from northern countries and all, but then we realised that that would be like saying that we Mediterranean types have grown bored of our beautiful beaches, after so many summers of enjoying the sea and lying in the sun!

One of the things I like the best about snow is how everything is equalised under its blanket; the paths in the park disappear and the roads have to be cleaned if civilization is to keep doing its thing.Walking in the streets next to our apartment before the snow bulldozers -or whatever their names are- had really gone to work was quite a feeling; this whiteness that literally freezes reality visible, overwhelming, in all directions, including above and below.

I almost didn't go out for my usual run because of the snow but my sense of duty prevailed in the end and it was a good decision (Vicente remarked that I was very disciplined!) The biggest park near our flat where I usually go to when I don't want to go too far - Sveta Troitsa - gave me an opportunity to witness how, indeed, regardless of how many times you see snow in your life, every time is almost like the first.

"Gay" some things never change, no matter
in which part of the world you are!

Sofians went to Sveta Troitsa Park to enjoy
the snow with their children.

I miss my sled...

Is an invisible path still a path?

My hands were trembling too much in the cold outside
of the warmth of the gloves for this picture to be any good.
Snow never stays around as much as I'd like it to, however, and today the white stuff of happiness started melting under the winter sun, although it was still the coldest day we've been here by far! By this morning all of the roads were already full of the dirty slush that the snow leaves behind and makes it unpopular to those who see a lot of it every winter. In light of this, our mentor Boris told us of a Bulgarian poet, Smirnenski was his name if I recall correctly, who made the parallel in one of his works between the urbanisation of Bulgaria -the rural families moving to the city to find work- and how the pure, innocent snow quickly becomes dirty in the city streets... I would love to find this poem and post it here actually.

Fortunately we heard that there's going to be more snow coming in just a few days; the circle of rural innocence which turns to dirty urbanisation will not stop turning! What would the macroscopic, social equivalent of the dirty slush finally evaporating and returning to the sky be, though?

Friday, 24 January 2014

A January day in Sofia

January 20th was another winter day in Sofia.

You would have been excused, however, if you had been here and had thought that, instead of Sofia, it was a winter day in Athens or the south of Spain: wunderground says it was the warmest January 20th in the recorded history of January 20ths, with the thermometer reaching a max of 18°C. Every Sofian we've talked to has expressed his or her surpise at this unusual weather. I did not sign up for this, Bulgaria! The first days we were here, thick fog and all, were much closer to what I imagined you to be like. If I wanted a warm winter I'd have stayed in Athens! I'm only joking of course but I have to make sure it's clear because of Poe's Law.

Vicente: "I would have never expected I'd be eating ice cream in January. In Bulgaria."
After our Bulgarian class for the day and checking in at the library, we had a free afternoon and decided to take advantage of it by visiting the art galleries in the city centre. It was a Monday, so I'll let you guess what happened... All was far from lost, however. For a start, the ArtHall of Telefonna Palata was open and luckily there was an exhibition of famous photographer Harry Benson.

The exhibition had officially ended but the Balkan tradition of having a relaxed attitude
towards deadlines turned out well for us - this time!

Jack Nicholson portraits
Pop glamour
Since we couldn't actually get in the galleries, we fooled around the pieces they had outside. Here we are outside the Gradska Galeriya.

The nice afternoon at the galleries became a nice afternoon on Vitosha Blvd where we took the picture at the top of this post. We bought the ice-cream there (you should definitely try the zachar flavour with the chocolate cake and jam - not sure about the name, must check!) and went down it to reach the plaza of the NDK, the National Palace of Culture. We didn't expect such a large complex to be there and were certainly taken by surprise by the monuments and the open space. This monument in particular, pictured below, made a distinct impression on us, but we have no idea what it is yet or why (and whether?) construction on it was halted.

Boryana has told us that we can expect snow the following days but after all these sunny ones I find that rather hard to believe. Still, even if they are unnatural and de facto prove that climate change is already a reality, such sunny and warm days are the perfect opportunity to explore this city that keeps piling up the surprises.

Introducing! Second batch of fresh volunteers in Sofia

Dimitris from Greece; Maria from Denmark; Vicente from Spain and Zanda from Latvia. The four of us are the fresh batch of EVSers for the Sofia City Library. Our project started in the second week of January 2014 and will end in October of the same year. That's right: we'll be living in Sofia together for a full nine months - in fact it's already been two weeks we've lived together. This blog will serve as our medium of communication with the world, our platform for sharing all that we do here in Bulgaria, our work at the library, our experiences as EVS volunteers and lots more. We're picking it up from where the previous volunteers left it off. Thank you Jose Manuel, Agne, Sarah and Ricardo; we promise we'll make you guys proud.

Left to right: Ricardo (the veteran), Zanda, Maria, Vicente, Dimitris.
Picture by Valentina.
And for those of you just dying to know a little more about us, fear not: we wrote little texts for introducing ourselves, exclusively for this post - for your eyes only!


This is a very special place I want to tell you about. A place where the cows are blue and skys are orange. In this place lives a grandmother with white hair who is called Baltic Sea. If you listen carefully you can hear how she whispers old stories about Baltic countries. This place is made from grass, rivers, forests, trees and flowers. In this place live people, who don't talk, but they are singing. Their flesh is the earth and their blood is the water. This place is LATVIA.

In Lavia there is a girl with messy hair and mind full of birds. She loves books, music, dancing, colors and she also likes meeting people from different cultures. This girl is me - ZANDA PILATE.


Let’s talk about me. 29 year old unemployed Spanish male. That sounds like very average. Let’s be more personal. I am a daydreamer who is always making other plans while life happens, like Lennon said. I would like to have time to live in dozens of countries at the same time, and this is the first time I’m living abroad. When I was younger I wanted to be a great journalist, help to save the world working as a war correspondent of the BBC or something like that. Then life happened. I was working in a rutinary job for almost five years. Now is the first time that I am in the place that I want to be in a long period and that makes me very happy.
I come to Sofia, a city called like my Grandma, to live with Dimitrios, who is called like my Grandpa. Feels good to be grounded by cultural junks like me, something that never happened to me even when I studied journalism.
As a Spanish I don’t see myself as a regular countrymen, not the type of “Como España en ningún lao”. Even if it has some good points I feel very disappointed with it, and another thing that makes me happy about staying in Bulgaria is that I’m not working for a shitty payment, not consuming there, not paying taxes to the traitors in the government who put the payment of the debt constitutionally before public healthcare.
My family is very conventional, so for me is always a shock to know other costumes, living with vegetarians, for example. My mother is probably checking my weight when I come back to Spain.
I’m writing this with my fingers burned by a fucking frying pan so I expect that Dimitri appreciates my sacrifice.


Soon I will be celebrating the completion of my 25th revolution around our Host Star, forever travelling together with the Pale Blue Dot, on the Pale Blue Dot, like a flea on a dog chasing its tail. Most of this time I had lived in the region of this Pale Blue Dot called Greece, where I was also born; a place famed by others of my species for its history, culture, good food and fantastic weather, "a cozy little spot", as I imagine Douglas Adams would call it. However, something beckoned me to move a little bit to the North to this neighbouring region called Bulgaria. Putting that "something" into words is very difficult, so I suppose just saying "it felt like the best next step" should do nicely. Would the word "serendipity" sound too pretentious?
I have these second thoughts a lot, you know: one of my typical characteristics is second-guessing and analysing everything I feel, think and do, in order to follow more closely my ethical compass, a weird, imaginary but perfectly mundane object that would look like what you would get if you put together timeless growth, soundless laughter and mindless wonder, and clicked "reconcile" on your 3D printer that somehow ran on yogurt - preferably vegan (yes, there exists such a thing! Crazy, isn't it?!) I'd be a textbook INFP, if such a thing as a typology textbook existed (it does in my secret world, where the above Dimitrian object is a platonic ideal).

In case you hadn't realised by now, I greatly enjoy writing (not talking) about myself. I also tend to unnecessarily convolute things. To spare you with the nonsense, as I'm sure you want to learn more about me and not just read things I somehow believe look clever on a screen, I'm interested in media, the natural world, (alternate) human culture, history and languages, and, even though my writing style obviously doesn't show it, I believe in and value simplicity. I studied Cultural Technology media and culture and I think this project at the Sofia City Library, as well as the whole philosophy of informal education behind EVS and YiA programs, suits my current professional and personal ambitions like a glove. Would it be too cheesy if I put another "serendipity" here?


I'm Maria from Denmark, Mimi the Baby at the Sofia City Library and the glitter loving DustyFairy at tumblr.
I’m the baby of the project because I'm 21 and the youngest, even though I'm the most responsible and Zanda thinks I'm acting like a mother. I'm only doing this as a cover for whom I really am, and I learnt from the very best; Wendy. She was the greatest mother Peter and the boys could ever have wished for even though she made me a bit jealous when she gave Peter the "thimble".
I am a creative, glitter loving, crazy fairy.. Oh! I mean person, of course! A creative but responsible young girl who is a passionate complainer about everything and nothing, and who in the end still hasn't figured out how the thing about being a grown-up is done correctly. I have, for some time been looking for my pot with "adultness" and I have started to wonder if I might have forgotten it at home, next to my fairy dust, when I was visiting princess Tiger Lily, Peter and the Boys in Neverland, the Netherlands I mean, last month before I got here.
Hmm.. Anything I forgot to tell...? Oh yes!
My biggest weakness is my fear towards onions. They are evil! They make you cry for no reason and when they do, they infect you with "The Onion Syndrome", which, for me personally, means that I act even crazier than normal and that I even get a little mean. I'm convinced that some onions deep down in some of their inner most layers are nice onions and that they make us, fairies, ehh humans, cry because they are forced to by Captain Hook and his pirates that threaten them to walk the plank if they should ever consider stopping their cooperation. It is easier for Hook and his pirates to catch and kidnap us when our eyes are too swollen from crying and it also makes us more convince-able under the influence of "The Onion Syndrome" to cooperate.
There is so much to tell!! But I have got to go now.. Mitco is destroying things in the kitchen.. AGAIN!
Have a continued sparkling day!