Tuesday, March 31, 2009

On Vacation

That's right, From Another Angle, is, again, going on vacation. It's what we do. Brett and I are off to Italy and Morocco for spring break, so check back soon for pictures and stories!

If you find yourself wondering what we might be doing, browse the following sites:




Atlas Mountains:

March Madness

Every year, the 8th graders participate in a themed month of dressing up, including "crazy hat day" and "stuffed animal day." The culmination of March Madness is a parade in which each 8th grade section dresses up to a theme they create and then march around the school, much to the delight of the upperclassmen. My section chose a Hawaiian theme, hijacked a plant from the lobby, and hula-ed around campus:

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Markets and Magic

Sozopol, Bulgaria

Paris, France

Oxford, England

Thessaloniki, Greece 

Prague, Czech Republic

Barcelona, Spain

Budapest, Hungary

Sofia, Bulgaria (Halite)

Buying food abroad is fundamentally different than buying it in your hometown. Most obviously and least importantly, things have different names. Most importantly, things are in different places. 

Lisa, Max, Brett and I discovered one such place last weekend while poking around downtown Sofia. En route to the far side of the downtown, we ran up against a huge red and white stone building. Could this be, I wondered, the mythical "Halite"? I had often heard of the Halite marketplace, where, virtual tourist and actual tourist alike claimed, you could find just about anything. As we walked through the huge front doors all my Halite dreams came true. There they all were, the fruit stands, the bakery stalls, the ice cream store, the little cafes. There was even an open air art gallery and a candle stand. Max bought an espresso, and I made a mental note of future possibilities. 

Such discoveries are fun, and I've enjoyed making them throughout our travels. There is something mesmerizing about walking into a marketplace or square stuffed with new kinds of food. Even more magical however, has been the process of discovering the things I actually need at my own grocery store. 

Imagine yourself with your shopping list at your favorite grocery store. Now imagine that an angry two-year-old had wreaked havoc on your store, throwing the chocolate milk next to the bacon, the pasta sauce behind the candy, the frozen blueberries next to the cookies. In a final fit of rage, he tore off all the labels. The store now has 55,000 items, no order that you know, and no labels. Good luck finding all the ingredients for your famous chili! 

For the first few months in Bulgaria, this was how I felt when I went out attempting to purchase certain sorely-needed items. Then, suddenly, I began to discover areas, aisles, special sections. Rosemary caught my attention in a wall of refrigerated anonymity. Chicken bullion cubes drew my eye from a little nook near the floor on Aisle 3. An entire half row of Thai products magically appeared to Brett as if in a dream. 

Wandering the foreign markets of the world is a joy. Camera snapping memories, I taste a pastry here, hold my nose against the smell of fish there. But the true triumph, as usual with ex-pat life, lies in small steps of everyday adjustment. I have finally earned my Bulgarian supermarket navigation badge, and you won't catch a prouder shopper at the awards ceremony.

Friday, March 27, 2009

What to do when you can't buy....

Pizza crusts and cookie cake. Make your own! The successful recreation of Chipotle last week inspired my two latest cooking projects - homemade pizza with rosemary crust and a St. Patrick's Day cookie cake for the latest school party. Both big hits!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009


What should Brett do? For our (newly granted by the Bulgarian government) six day vacation in May, I am headed for the little cliffside town of Oia on Santorini, to soak up the sun, dabble in ocean swimming, and read Shakespeare in whitewashed cafes while watching the sun set over the caldera. Brett, with his love of adventure, would prefer a more active vacation. 

Where do you think he should go? He's interested in mountains, but not if they are snow-covered. He's interested in hiking, but not in a place where he and I will eventually want to go together. Maybe Egypt? South Africa? Ireland? If you have any inspirations, friendly reader, please leave a comment with a trip idea for Brett. 

Bulgarian Road Trip Proverb

When on a road trip in Bulgaria, always turn off for lonely mountain monasteries. When you finish climbing the dirt road, it will just be you, the wind, and candlelight flickering off colorful religious murals. 

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Koprivshtitsa, the off season tourist campaign

In an effort to show Max and Lisa the dual sides of Bulgarian culture and lifestyle - urban and rural - we spent yesterday driving to the mountain town of Koprivshtitsa, walking around Koprivshtitsa in the driving wind and snow (and admiring its beautiful restoration architecture), wishing that the shops and museums of Koprivshtitsa weren't all mysteriously closed for "Monday", eating a lengthy lunch so as to admire Koprivshtitsa from indoors, and then driving home from Koprivshtitsa. (If you haven't learned to pronounce "Koprivshtitsa" after reading that paragraph, you never will.) 

After this day of research, I've decided to nominate myself as chairwoman of the off-season Koprivshtitsa tourism campaign. I'll start by brainstorming slogans...

Koprivshtitsa, it's not for Mondays!

Koprivshtitsa, just a two hour drive away  - and don't try to pass anyone on the bridge even though there are two lanes because it's illegal and the police will pull you over. 

Koprivshtitsa, a pretty cute town if you can keep your eyes open in the wind.

Koprivshtitsa, your sleet capital.

Koprivshtitsa, a good excuse to buy a new sweater. 

Koprivshtitsa, spring is for the weak.

Koprivshtitsa, it builds character. 

OK, I've had my fun. The truth is, we liked Koprivshtitsa. It was a cool town perched in the middle of gorgeous countryside. It was just so darn cold! In March! With snow! Deep snow! And I optimistically (read: stupidly) left my coat at home...

Monday, March 23, 2009

Sagehen Reunion 2009 (The European Outliers)

As Lisa and I are a 30 hour plane ride away from our 5th year Pomona reunion in May, we decided to have our own version here in Sofia, Bulgaria. The program was perhaps unusual for a college reunion, but we enjoyed it....

Day One:
  • Airport Pickup
  • Introduction to the Bulgarian "Shopska Salad" at The Spaghetti Company, with a short walk through a local art exhibition scattered within the rapidly failing City Center Mall
  • General Discussion of Nuclear war, the policies of the Pope, French cooking school, and other intriguing topics in Mladost Apartment 25
Day Two:
  • Exciting visit to local Supermarket "Billa" and tour through unusual outdoor mini-malls
  • Downtown Wander, taking in sites such as Nevski Cathedral, the Russian Orthodox Church, Halite Marketplace, the Women's Market, and a variety of Communist antiques and Italian fine food products
  • Dinner out at Pod Lipite ("Under the Linden Trees"), with continued education on the merits of the Shopska salad, and a short but tasty introduction to food cooked in little clay pots and Pitka bread
  • Movie Showing: Definitely, Maybe (very academic, definitely the kind of thing a Pomona reunion would promote...)
Day Three (wear Pomona Sweatshirt):
  • Depart for Koprivshtitsa.
  • Get pulled over by the police. Make "Special Negotiations."  
  • Continue to Koprivshtitsa. 
  • Arrive in Koprivshtitsa. 
  • Freeze tuchuses. Gather scarves about faces in attempt to see beautifully painted restoration architecture while preventing frostbite, gazing squintingly through gap between scarves and hat brims. 
  • Wander adorable, quaint, bucolic, sweet (ad infinitum) streets. See passing horses pulling carts. Buy pottery for three dollars. 
  • Eat at "Bulgaria" restaurant. Continue to appreciate Shopska. Enjoy talking about Bulgaria generally and converse about the possible merits of holding next reunion in Kyoto, Japan. Try first sample of Bulgarian "rakia" (highly distilled grapes). 
  • Drive back to Sofia, stopping at impossibly beautifully lonely hilltop monastery to light candles. 
  • Airport delivery. Hugs. General delight in the experience of Sagehen Reunion 2009 with possible Part II in Paris to come late next September. 

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Once Upon a Time

Over the last few weeks, my students have been writing Fairy Tales, which they bring to a local elementary school and share with the students there.  It's an elaborate project, and has brought out the best in many of the kids.  This past week, I took a few pictures of students as they shared their work with the 2nd graders.  In many ways, our Monday afternoons at 81st school are the highlight of the week, for both 2nd graders and 8th graders.


 Lora and Rumi reveling in the lollipops they brought for their 2nd graders.  Each pair of 8th graders has a pair of 2nd graders for whom they especially write the fairy tale.

The whole project has prompted some of the most creative, inspired work I've seen this year.  Just to whet your appetite, here are some of the titles of their stories:  "Pinnie the Rumple Woo and the Big Small Mystery," "The Hot Chocolate Miracle," "Happily Never After," and "An Unpredictable Friendship, an Unpredictable Fairy Tale, and One Really Predictable Love." 

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Monday, March 16, 2009

When Chipotle is 4,000 miles away-

Make your own! 

It turns out that I can make lime-cilantro rice, mango salsa, pico-de-gallo, lime sea salt chips and chunky guacamole here in Bulgaria, now that our grocery store is selling cilantro plants. 

The trick is that cilantro is called coriander here, and of course coriander is written in Cyrilic, so you can understand why it took me some time to locate it. 

We bought the tortillas in Ireland and now we are in business! 

It used to be that Chipotle was just a 15 minute drive away. Now eating "Chipotle" represents my furthered understanding of European herbs, my ability to read the Cyrilic alphabet, Brett's ability to grill chicken on a tiny fourth floor balcony in the cold night air, the discovery of three salsa recipes from three different locations, a quick trip to Ireland, and an inch by inch perusal of the local Italian supermarket's produce section. 

Throw in a few months of yearning for the taste of Chipotle, and you can almost see why it means a bit more to eat it now...

Of politics and muffins...

We had a lovely brunch on Sunday with new friends, made through a connection in Duluth, who work at the embassy.

I was able to recreate the taste of Perkins almond-poppyseed muffins - recreating U.S. tastes may be a bit of a theme next week, as a soon -to-come post will show - and make my first ever quiche. Add in fruit skewers, and the buffet got pretty colorful. Whoo hoo!  Brett had just run 20 miles so it seemed like a good time for good food, and as you know, I am diving headfirst into the culinary world.

We enjoyed hearing about the state of the foreign service world in our conversation. Did you know that about 1/3 of foreign ambassadors are political appointees, people who have done nice things for presidents and get paid back by being made ambassadors? Kind of ridiculous, considering that all other ambassadors are wonderful foreign service agents who have served in many countries and learned the ropes from the bottom up. 

Turns out a recent ambassador in Estonia did a beautiful job fundraising for Bush and wound up with the odd concept that she was "running" Estonia. Please, do yourself a favor and click on the following link to watch Estonia's version of Jon Stewart make fun of her. Bear with the Estonian if you don't speak it, everything will become very clear to you in the second half of the clip. They say laughing is good for your health...


Sunday, March 15, 2009

Pansies, Light and Snow

"The days then rapidly grew thick into all darkness with only small spaces of light (that is autumn) and then remained solidly all darkness with only small patches of light (that is winter), and then the darkness slowly thinned out (that is spring), but the light was never as overwhelmingly in its way as the darkness was overwhelmingly dark in its way (that is summer)."
-Jamaica Kincaid, "Those Words that Echo..."

It may have been -3 degrees this morning, and there may be a thick blanket of snow on Mount Vitosha, and it may not be Daylight Savings time yet, and I may have just sent an e-mail starting with "today was another day in the lengthy series entitled 'not spring yet'", but the darkness is starting to thin. Pansies - the toughest of the flower family - have been blooming all over Europe since January, and snowdrops have begun to spring up in Sofia.  We can feel it coming, spring. Or at least we want to feel it coming. 

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The Post-Travel Experience

"All I could think of on my last day in Lamartine was that Sunday evening in Rome - opening our suitcases, putting everything back in its dull place in an apartment from whose shuttered windows indelible sounds would make it impossible to imagine we were still in Paris, even though our suitcases would still smell of Paris and the sound of Bach would remind me of Paris, as would the cheap pens with the sliding Eiffel Tower I was planning to buy before leaving or the punched metro ticket and the residual pack of vichy candies stuffed inadvertently into my coat pocket and recovered weeks into our humdrum Roman lives. I thought of Square Lamartine and of the fountain that was right in front of me, but already no longer so. What in Egypt had seemed only a dream had come to life, only to become a dream again." 
-Andre Aciman, "The Last Time I saw Paris"

Now and then when I read a line of writing, I think yep, that's true. It always stuns me, to read my own experience on someone else's page. Usually it's one of Anne Lamott's pages (if you've never read Traveling Mercies, I really couldn't recommend it more), but this time it was a page from the high-falutingly titled The Best American Essays 2000. Though unlike Aciman, I don't dread the post-travel return to my own home - rather I look forward to it - but he has nailed the way moments abroad come to be mixed up with things: postcards, recipes, songs, bits of paper in my pocket. 

As I walked through the streets of Dublin, hands shoved in my raincoat pockets for warmth, I pulled out a bit of tile from the Barcelona beach. As I flipped through my wallet this week to pay the doctor, I found an airline ticket stub from our flight to Prague. As I look at the wall above my desk, I see postcards from Belgrade, Paris, and Oxford.

When I make dinner, I page through a cookbook filled with business cards from a Belgian bakery and a Spanish Tapas bar, a Hungarian restaurant and a Bulgarian bagel place. On our table sit bowls of beach bits, some from Barcelona, some from Dublin. The fridge sports the marathon route in Vienna, night train tickets to Serbia, and Cirque de Soleil passes from Brussels. 

Watching Vicky Christina Barcelona, J'etaime Paris, L'auberge Espanol, listening to "Eres un Canalla" and U2  - these experiences mean something new to me. They now call up memories of the past, to mix with the visions the artists present. 

As Andre Aciman so aptly expresses, there is something about the way these little bits and pieces of travel mix into life that is beautiful. My days seem to integrate my memories of travel, inviting me to engage in visions of all that I have seen, heard, smelled, and tasted. As I fall asleep, I sometimes choose a place to visit in my imagination - walking down the streets of the Quartier in Paris, enjoying the view from the Charles Bridge in Prague, feeling the heat sitting heavily on me as I lay in bed listening to the call to prayer in Istanbul. That way, I don't mind if I can't fall asleep. There is so much to do in my imagination. 

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