May 26, 2008

Plovdiv, Bulgaria

I could possibly be at an unexpected loss of words for the unforgettable experience Renee and I had in Plovdiv after a dreamy five hour bus ride through the countryside in the rain. We arrived at a clean but unfriendly hostel and managed an early evening walk through wet, dusk soaked streets and shared a delicious Mediterranean dinner at a restaurant in the old part of town in which we were staying and whose history outdates Rome, then winded our way back on the wobbly stone sidewalks in time for a good night’s rest in a dorm room with some testy Croatian and Finnish divas. The next morning greeted us with the crisp sun streaming through the oversized double pane windows and a breakfast of inaudible thoughts and conversation as we were crowded into the eating nook with a deafening, hormonal group of face-painting, Hungarian karate championship hopefuls mostly under the age of 17. We fought the acoustic onslaught with caffeine and were soon ready to explore another Bulgarian town that packs charm, beauty and history within it’s borders; an observation which prompted Renee and I to comment on how different and individually interesting each place we have visited has been from each other.
Without many pressing things to see other than a few churches and some end-of-the-year graduation ceremonies in the schoolyards, we decided to spend our time trying to immerse ourselves in local human culture and grabbed front and center seating at a cafe on the main boulevard in Old town to further study the Eastern European Fashion Phenomenon (EEFP). Once we felt that we had truly started to understand the full range of fluorescent color combinations and finite degrees of metallic, we took a break and darted off to the beauty salon where we pampered ourselves with a haircut and celebrated the successful finesse of the shears on our locks with a beer. It was here, among the girls primping for prom, that I realized no piece of gossip was out of my range and with the burning desire to decipher the meaning of the Mariah Carey photo on the cover of the Bulgarian editions of OK and Star magazine, I started to successfully teach myself how to read the Cyrillic alphabet- all in the name of knowledge of course. After the salon, the mood between Renee and I felt overwhelmingly ninth grade and we threw maturity to the wind and galloped up and down the shopping promenade in and out of dressing rooms trying on and photographing ourselves in the shiniest most garish green and yellow clothing combinations we had no problem finding. Nearly pee staining my yellow peddle pushers from stomach aching laughter I commented to Renee that this whole experience would really come together if we could somehow witness the impending prom night which hung in the atmosphere like glitter. The Orthodox Gods must have heard our call of prayer because when we followed the honking, whistles and cheers from down the street in the waning light of day, we were confronted with none other than (drumroll, please…..) Bulgarian Prom Night!
From what we could see, the adolescent rite of passage seemed to draw more attention than the Academy Awards and the event seemed to be just as important for the status-hungry parents as it was for the kids; expensive adult driven cars would parade teenagers popping out of side windows and sun roofs screaming at the top of their lungs like crazed sports fans. Renee and I made our way to the center of this high voltage crowd and kicked ourselves for not buying a dress and posing as sixteen year olds to gain entrance to the party but we satisfied our excitement at witnessing such an event by snapping our cameras at the masses like proud parents.
Our perfect night was topped off with a visit to a bar blaring Egyptian music that hosted a group of kids whose prom must have been the year before and the vision of one of them pretty much summed up our experience in Plovdiv; a young, thin, blond nineteen year old girl wearing an oversized, BLING-ed out Orthodox cross over a leopard tank top and tight black jeans supported by a Playboy Bunny belt over which she tied a jingly Middle Eastern scarf and was stiffly shaking her non-existent butt to the music while her glowing gin and tonic waited at a table nearby. If people watching could be an Olympic Spectator Sport, Renee and I definitely won Gold.

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