Sunday, March 11, 2012

Birthdays, Women, Wine, and Valentines

Last year, I wrote about some of the differences between how Bulgarians and Americans celebrate birthdays. What I didn't mention is that my birthday falls on a very important day in Bulgaria (and many other places around the world) – International Women's Day. Largely an afterthought in the U.S.A., International Women's Day is a big deal here: combine Mother's Day and Valentine's Day and you pretty much have International Women's Day. As such, it's not a great day to have a birthday.

Bulgarians also celebrate Valentine's Day, but February 14th is equally well known in Bulgaria for another celebration – Трифон Зарезан (St. Trifon's Day). On Трифон Зарезан, grape growers theoretically go out and prune the vines in their vineyards, pour some wine over the vines for good luck, and then proceed to celebrate by drinking lots and lots of wine. The folks who I know who celebrate Трифон Зарезан generally skip all but the last step. Since I didn't have a valentine and wasn't up for a night of heavy drinking, I didn't celebrate anything on February 14th.

Last fall, however, I did return to Крайници (Krainitsi) to help some friends pick their crop of grapes. Between eight of us, we picked approximately 700 kilograms (1,500 pounds) of grapes. Those grapes were subsequently used to produce a winter's supply of red wine and 150 liters of Bulgaria's national drink, rakia. At some point, I'll provide step by step instructions on how to make rakia. In the meantime, here are some photos from our weekend of grape picking. Let's hope 2012 is equally productive.

The process was fairly simple. From 8:30 a.m. to 3:15 p.m., we picked grapes. We picked big purple grapes, pink grapes, white grapes, green grapes, tiny purple grapes ... at least seven varieties in all.

The grapes went from the vines to buckets ...

and from buckets to crates ...

then the barrels were prepared ...

and the grapes were mashed ...

and then transferred to the barrels.

By 7:15 p.m., all the grapes had been mashed and dumped into the barrels, all the buckets and crates had been cleaned, and we were sitting down enjoying a sampling of the previous year's efforts. It would be a couple months before this year's hard work would pay off.

There were lots of bees and wasps enjoying the nectar from the grapes. I got stung a couple times, but it wasn't a big deal.

There were also a few harmless butterflies enjoying the nectar.

This is Rexy, the family pitbull.

Far more menacing was this mouse murdering hen.

A few other shots from around the village.

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