Graffiti Art Graces Sofia’s Classic Trams

06.06.2014 § 2 Comments

 

trams7As a resident of Toronto, I have been closely following the ordering, testing and politics surrounding the fleet of new low-floor, double-capacity TTC streetcars. Across the Atlantic, where full-fledged streetcar networks are far more common, the Bulgarian capital Sofia is in the process of replacing some of its classic (i.e., aging) streetcars (also known as trams or трамваи/tramvai in Bulgarian) with Polish-built articulated units. Back in January, the first one was symbolically put into exploitation to mark the 114-year anniversary of the opening of the first Sofia tram line.

A new tram next to a classic Sofia tram. Photo Credit: Yuliana Nikolova / Sofia Photo Agency

A new tram next to a classic Sofia tram. Photo Credit: Yuliana Nikolova / Sofia Photo Agency

However, as exciting as the new trams are, I was delighted to discover another interesting development. In tune with its bid for European Capital of Culture (for which it competes with three other Bulgarian cities: Veliko Tarnovo, Plovdiv and Varna), Sofia has initiated a brilliant public art project. On June 1, 2014, as part of the city’s youth art festival ZONA CULTURA, a dozen of the current system’s yellow-and-white trams were painted by various graffiti artists before returning to circulation. This is a welcome change of pace, as it gives graffiti artists a very daring showcase, instead of whitewashing their works on sight. It also reserves for art visual space that is all too often (khm-khm, Toronto) used for advertising decals.

actualno.bg had some details on the artists:

The graffiti artists earmarked for this project are JRMN & Yeto (140 Ideas), XPOME, Jasir, Sten, Arsek & Erase (4+). The works of 140 Ideas are laden with surrealist imagery and elements from nature, often in commentary on various social or humanistic issues. XPOME is one of the most technically adept and creative artists in Bulgaria, with a very particular outlook on graffiti art. Jasir is a classic graffiti artist, who effortlessly manipulates forms and colours in his tags. Sten is a 3D veteran, defying the notion of flatness in his works. 4+’s style is more illustrative, and their works demonstrate creativity and novelty.

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The photos here are exerts from Mihail Mihailov’s photo set. Click here to see the full gallery, and check out his work here.

Celebrating Cyrillic

24.05.2014 § 5 Comments

Cyril and MethodiusMay 24th is celebrated in Bulgaria as the day of two saints: St. Cyril and St. Methodius, of Bulgarian education and culture and Slavonic literature. It is a widely observed holiday in the country, on par with Liberation Day (March 3) and Christmas. It is a day largely devoted to celebrating the creation and the existence of the Cyrillic alphabet, which Bulgarian is written in.

Bulgaria may not be the largest user of Cyrillic today, but it is the first. The Cyrillic alphabet was the official script of Bulgaria before it was spread to Russia, Croatia, Serbia, etc. and it was Bulgaria’s Boris I who commissioned the two literary schools where thousands of monks would be educated and the first thousands of books in the new alphabet would be hand-copied and spread across the land.

It may be strange to see such importance placed on a set of symbols that we take for granted, but there is a great reason for our fascination with our letters, and a great accompanying story: the story with the greatest cultural significance in Bulgaria’s history.

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Plovdiv: A Promotional Video

11.02.2014 § Leave a comment

Created by the Operational Program “Regional Development”, this video is a perfect companion to my posts about Plovdiv, Bulgaria’s second largest (and oldest) city. As a bonus, you get to hear some narration in Bulgarian, with English subtitles.

Bulgaria on the map?

30.11.2013 § Leave a comment

thumbSo this is a thing that happened. Americans were asked to label the countries on a map of Europe. As could be expected, most were able to identify large tourist destinations like the UK, France and Spain, but very few knew anything about Central or Eastern Europe.

Now, this is not necessarily surprising. Central and Eastern Europe have long been plagued by stereotypes and few Americans have ever gone there. They see no reason to, since they can get all their vacationing done in places familiar from popular culture and ones they perceive as safer, not to mention closer to the States.

What I found unusual and quite disturbing is the amount of knowledge people had about Bulgaria specifically.

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The Face of the Protest

13.11.2013 § 4 Comments

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This photo was taken by Facebook user Stefan Stefanov. It shows Bulgarian protester Desi Nikolova interacting with a police officer on the barricades outside what appears to be the Bulgarian National Bank building (someone please correct me on the exact location). It depicts the frustration and high tensions of the protests in Bulgaria, which have continued (mostly) peacefully for over 150 days, but the story behind it adds a few telling and heartening details. To quote Desi, the protester:

Some of the police officers were well-intentioned. The one whose shoulders I’m holding had a little blood on his nose, I think he’d scraped it somehow. I saw how he was protecting the people and trying to prevent other police officers from beating us. I began to cry and I told him to be safe. He replied “Hold on. Everything will be okay.” There were tears in his eyes…

Please share this photo by linking to its original link or through my translation here and spread the word. There are sensible police officers, many of whom are walking the fine line of maintaining peace without harming anyone, and there is no stopping human decency, civic action and the demands for change.

Communism in a Song

16.10.2013 § Leave a comment

I have written a bit about the Socialist period in Bulgaria, and there is no doubt that it is the defining political stage in the history of modern Bulgaria. Twenty-five years after its 45-year span ended, we are still divided into “reds” and others, and we are still struggling to “transition” to a free-market economy. While my opinions on the subject will be nothing new to either side, I would like to take a look at the immediate implications of the onset of Communism in Bulgaria through an unlikely source of data.

Emil Dimitrov, whom I have mentioned in the Music section of this blog, wrote a beautiful song called “A Letter to Mom” (“Писмо до мама”) in 1974. In listening to it a few days ago, I realized that it encapsulated so much of the sweeping changes brought forth by Bulgaria’s Communist decades. This song, while being entirely non-political and written as a sentimental ballad honouring one’s mother, offers glimpses at the themes that were current in Bulgarian society in the 1970′s. Here are the lyrics, each stanza followed by my commentary.

A Letter to Mom

O what a bride you must have been, dear mommy
So clean, so sparkling was your father’s yard
When they led you out onto the threshing floor
To link hands with your groom in bridal dance

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Protest Poetry #6: “The fight is hard and pitiless”

04.08.2013 § Leave a comment

Bilingual poetry in support of the protests in Bulgaria. English version from Anthology of Bulgarian Poetry (translated by Peter Tempest)

The fight is hard and pitiless

The fight is hard and pitiless.
The fight is epic, as they say.
I fell. Another takes my place -
Why single out a name?

After the firing squad – the worms.
Thus does the simple logic go.
But in the storm we’ll be with you,
My people, for we loved you so.

2 p.m. – 23.VII.1942

Nikola Vaptsarov

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