Good news in Bulgaria and a christening

Posted by in Dispatches, Personal Travails

I’ve been in Europe for almost two weeks and have yet to find the right time to sit (with wireless) and write a post. Here it finally is (pictured above is me in front of the church I was christened in and me with the priest, my godmother Villy and Svetla’s sister Joanna, who translated the ceremony for me).

First the good news: My SSHRC (Social Science and Humanities Research Council) Doctoral Fellowship has been upgraded to a SSHRC CGS Doctoral Award, which means an increase from $60,000 over three years to $105,000 over three years. When I read the email I could barely contain the tears of total joy. It is an incredible honour to receive this award, one of the top of its kind in Canada (or the top??) and I had no idea that this kind of news could come to me this late in the summer. Woohoo!

In other news, I was christened in a Bulgarian Orthodox church on Monday, July 14th (the news of the SSHRC Award came, divine-like, later the same day). The ceremony was quite intense, with Svetla and her family (mom, dad, sister) as well as my new godmother Villy there to see me through it. Svetla’s sis Yoanna translated the priest’s Bulgarian as I was told to renounce the devil and live a life of faith and devotion. He drew tiny crosses on my forehead hands and feet with holy oils, dipped a green plant in holy water and drenched me in it. I had to step into the holy water three times and say “da” (yes) and afterward my godmom had to dry me off and help me into new socks and a new shirt. The whole thing seemed to last about an hour and took place in the upper most chamber of a beautiful little church in the neighbourhood Svetla grew up in. It was pretty warm despite the nice cool breeze coming in through the window and in the first 15 minutes I sweat off about 15 kilos, which is a non-Orthodox conversion equation I guess. We stood in front a giant mural of jesus standing in a river with disciples around him. In many of the photos Jesus’s iconic halo is directly above my own head. What does it all mean you may ask? It means I believe in family, in customs, in ritual, and in respect. That’s why I was christened in Bulgaria five days before getting married.

Speaking of married, we will be wed in the same beautiful church (pictured above) on July 19, a few days from now. A party is planned in the mountains near Sofia, at an all-natural brewery that doubles as a restaurant lodge. Fun fun! The running around is a little intense, Bulgarian style, but I’m coping. One day we (Svetla, mom, dad, Villy, me) drove all over Sofia searching for the perfect party spot – there were restaurants in parks, an outdoor pool (swimming kind) club, hotel spaces, and more. Thank god for me that every stop along the way I was able to have a nice cold Bulgarian beer in the heat. Beer often becomes my friend over here, when everyone around me is speaking Bulgarian and I become tall mute man from Canada.

But this time I am learning the language. I bought a few books and have been getting up in the morning relatively early and trying to teach myself the basics, and of course getting in lots of practice throughout the day. Whether it’s been a Bar-b-q overnight party at Rico’s summer house on the mountain or dancing to Brooklyn Funk Essentials at a great little jazz bar in Sofia called the Social Club, I have been indulging in destroying this nation’s beautiful language, word by word. But I’ve been making progress, and I’ve discovered the Bulgarians are even more thrilled to hear a foreigner make the tiniest linguistic attempts than the Quebecois. Still, after a late night of libations involving Rakia at Ricos, the only thing I could remember the next day was “dobro kuch-ay,” which due to the presence of a friendly Pit Bull, means “good dog.” You can’t go very far in Bulgarian society with “good dog” so needless to say, I’m trying to do a little more learning without alcohol.

That’s my update for now, but before I go, I’d like to thank Democracy Now and the Guardian for keeping me tethered to anglo-interpretations of the world outside this great city Sofia.