Thursday, 20 June 2013

There are wild bears roaming right next to Sofia: A visit to Bulgaria's Ministry of Environment & Water

One of the good things about being an EVS volunteer is the ability to network and learn something new on a daily basis.

European brown bear. Source: Wikipedia.

Today we visited the Bulgarian Ministry of Environment and Water, located just across the pavement from our library.

We had a coffee with the Ministry's representative Elena; then, after discussing the environmental issues, watched a few films.

One of them was the photogenic environmental HOME by the French photographer Yann Arthus-Bertrand. This eye-pleasing documentary summarises what many of us already know about the environment but it's worth seeing nonetheless as there can never be stressed enough on how important it is to be respectful to our planet.

HOME: the film's poster. You can watch the full film on YouTube.

The two others were environmental documentaries about Bulgaria: one about the Vitosha Nature Park; the other one about bears. Why?

Because the pure, lush Bulgarian nature remains one of the few places on our continent where European brown bears are still able to roam around, without facing too much danger from humans. It is estimated that in Central Balkan National Park alone there are around 200 wild bears living.

Amazingly, some bears are also present in Vitosha Nature Park, right next to the Bulgarian capital Sofia, a city of 1.2 million people - the 15th largest of Europe.

So be excited next time you go hiking in the favourite mountain of many Sofians: you might experience a noteworthy encounter.

With the Ministry's representative Elena (second from the right).

The Ministry's Information Centre, located at 67 William Gladstone Street, round the corner from Sofia City Library, is accessible to the public. There are books, videos and other environmental resources available, as well as the information about the Ministry's work.

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

'Handmade Nation', Arts & Crafts in Sofia Design Week

'Handmade Nation', a great poster too

From June 21st to 30th we can enjoy the Sofia Design Week. But already before these dates there have been a lot of activities and events connected with the topic. For example, on June 17 there was a free screening of the documentary Handmade Nation at the National Polytechnic Museum. I'm a very curious girl, so I went to see  it.

Don't think that I'm a very enthusiastic about arts and crafts. Nope. On the contrary, my ability to do things with my hands (and I'm talking about beautiful things) it's not so remarkable. It's like I'll have two left hands so the arts & crafts universe is to me more like the magic land of Oz than  reality.

But I told you I'm a very curious girl and I always wonder how other people are able to do those precious things with their hands without losing their patience. Wonder and magic, for me. Hobbies and a fun way of earn money, for others.

'Handmade Nation' is a documentary about the rise of a lot of arts & crafts communities in the USA in the last years. A bit retro, a bit punk, a bit feminist, a bit funny... You can see a lot of projects from people who do it not only in their free time, it has become a way of living. From flea markets to online stores, from big spaces to a sofa and a blanket, this documentary show us how the DIY is now a very important part of the popular culture in the USA (and worldwide, of course).

This is the first film by Faythe Levine, author, artist and curator, who wants  to show this particular world to people like me, who only tried to knit something when they were kids and with forgettable results. Through interviews with artists, gallery owners, crafters and curators, we can peek to this wonderful nation and (in my case) feel a bit embarrased about my awful capability of doing nothing spectacular. Sigh. 

Here you can see a video about the film, it's only a few minutes.

 At last, if you are crying and burning in desire  to start your own arts and crafts project, GO ON! You can visit Etsy or Pinterest, for catching some ideas and take a look  at a few blogs like Dare to DIY (in spanish, very beautiful) or How About Orange (in english, pretty, too), among others. 

For me, it's time to die with envy. Pray for me, people. Or, better, send me beautiful things done by you ;) 

Saturday, 15 June 2013

Playing chess in the park: Bulgaria's open air tournaments

Sofia City Garden, one of the busiest parks of the Bulgarian capital, is known as the place where informal open air chess tournaments take place.  
Strolling there on a nice summer day you will witness gangs of (mostly) elderly men engaged – or sitting and waiting to be engaged – in chess matches. 

Often they are surrounded by agitated spectators. An occasional open-mouthed tourist flashing his/her camera makes the atmosphere even more heated. 

After a few beers our fellow EVS volunteer Ricardo decided to challenge one of the players. Guess who won.

Chess in the park.

Saturday, 8 June 2013

What is EVS?

EVS - the European Voluntary Service - is a project run and funded by the European Commission. It enables young people to do voluntary work abroad for a period of up to 12 months. A volunteer's country of service has to be different than his/her country of residence, and at least one of the countries involved has to be a member of the EU.

Current EVS volunteers of Sofia City Library.

The volunteers get most of their travel costs and all their living expenses covered. Financially they live as modest-to-average people of the host country. Learning the local language is part of the programme, and language courses are provided regularly as part of an EVS project, as are introductions to the local culture.

In return the volunteers do full-time work in an area of their choice. Their work is NOT a substitute for paid employment. This means, a volunteer cannot replace a permanent member of staff at a host organisation but rather contributes with 'extras' such as new ideas, a foreigner's perspective, and helping the permanent staff at whatever needs to be done.

Many volunteers, in addition to the said tasks, start and run their own personal projects. Such projects increase the host organisations' scope of activities and simultaneously give the volunteers valuable skills and experience.

The host organisations typically are NGOs, public bodies, community initiatives. Often they are in remote locations and/or don't have sufficient funds to hire many paid staff. Finally, the movement of people enabled by EVS contributes to a more integral Europe, one in which countries are bound not only by formal law but also by personal relationships of its citizens.

EVS is part of a broader European Commission programme called 'Youth In Action'. The programme is coming to an end this year (2013) - the youth programmes are normally reviewed and modified every seven years.

At the time of writing, the European Commission are still deciding on what the 2014-2020 programme for young Europeans will include. We now know that it is probably going to be called 'YES Europe' and will possibly retain some of the established sub-programmes such as Leonardo da Vinci.

The future of the EVS as we know it is still uncertain but today we have heard some rumours that the EVS will probably remain too. We will keep you updated.

Thursday, 6 June 2013

The Library at the Slaveykov

Slaveykov Square, named after the tandem of great Bulgarian writers Petko (father) and Pencho (son) Slaveykov, is right at the centre of Sofia. The name of the Bulgarian capital means 'wisdom' in Greek - perhaps it is not accidental that the residents of this city are particularly book-loving. The Slaveykov Square is known for its open air book market.

Slaveykov Square, Sofia.

Every day, rain or sun, one can browse through hundreds of printed materials, both second hand and brand new, and/or strike a conversation with the dedicated book dealers. Besides them, the square is a popular meeting place and a crossroads. Tourists love taking photos of themselves sitting at the bench along with the writers' statues.

Father and son.

This square, number four, is where our library is located. The tall, five-storeyed former Communist Party building has hosted Sofia City Library since 1990. The library has two entrances. The main one is on the right; while the left one leads to the Children's Department and the American Corner, and is shared with a medical centre.

Library's main entrance, the one on the right.

Besides being a source for the usual library staples - books, albums, records, videos - Sofia City Library has got its own busy theatre with nightly performances; a gallery - exhibition room; and even a live music bar. Indeed a one truly public institution, as it was intended by its founders 85 years ago.

Booking office of the Library's theatre.

Going back to the books, on the fourth floor of the library (main entrance) there are some foreign language reading rooms: Spanish; English, Chinese and Portuguese; Turkish; German and Scandinavian.

Turkish language reading room.

Spanish reading room.

On the second floor of the same entrance there is the Russian Centre as well as some books in a few other languages. In addition to this, international readers can find more English language books and periodicals at the aforementioned American Corner.

Presentations' room at the American Corner.

Our, the EVS volunteers', activities are centered mainly around the library's foreign resources, events, and the Childrens' Department. Besides doing general work at the library all of us run our own personal projects. However busy - or not - we may be, we are always open to suggestions and invitations from the library's readers. We are here to promote international friendships and to make this nice library even more attactive to the general public. 

At the Children's Department.