Saturday, January 24, 2009

Masks and Mayhem in the Suburbs

Bulgaria sunset
Pernik Mask Festival
Pernik Mask Festival

Pernik Mask Festival

Pernik is just over a half hour from Sofia, but if you arrive during the Annual Masquerade Festival, you might think you've come by space flight instead of Volkswagen Golf.

Dance troupes from around Bulgaria descend upon Pernik for a weekend each January to ring out the old (literally, with cowbells in every shape and size), scare away the bad (literally - did I mention the cowbells?), and welcome the new. Each multi-generational group parade-dances through town to the jangle of their own costumes to perform a short show in a roped-off central arena for the festival judges.

Meanwhile, spectators munch cotton candy and crinkled sausages, sporting glow-in-the-dark horns or streaky spiky fluorescent wigs. The crowds fill every pore of the town plaza, balancing on piles of snow-ice, climbing giant rocks, and melting together along the edges of the street. Just when you think you are as close to your neighbor as two complete strangers can be, a child somehow manages to slip through all the "empty" space between you for a better view. But it's OK, because everyone is enjoying the festival. I've seen the same phenomenon in the lines at Disneyland - inconveniences that would normally make everyone mad just don't have an affect.

Whether viewed from the precarious top of a pile of snow-ice or the edge of a melted-together crowd over a child's fluffy pink winter hat, the festival is quite a spectacle for the senses. It's like a combination of a Halloween carnival, a fraternity party, a circus, and a bell choir concert. Can you get that image in your mind? Start with a little child in costume, then add five clinking cowbells. Now picture a small crowd of cheerful eating drinking spectators, add white and blue Christmas lights floating against a stormy sky, and finally half a dozen furry feathery masks as big as family-size tents. Now multiply by forty. Stay with it. It's a great picture once you get there.

Perhaps the most surprising thing about the festival was how easy it was to park. Until you were almost nose to nose with a giant ringing dancing masquerader, you could hardly tell there was anything going on in Pernik. What a secret to discover!


Bas - Serial Expat said...

Damn it! I missed it. Ah well. Maybe next year.

Anonymous said...

I'd like a customized piece of the ornamental bread in the right column, right now! (It's lunch time in MN....)

Noticed the flashy new membership "badge" declaring your admission to the Expat Blog-dom. I'll take a look, there, too.

Finally, Thanks for mastering videos for us fans. It's a very fun new way to be engaged with you on your ventures. Love, mom