In the late 1980s I was still living in my native city of Sofia, blissfully unaware of the impending end of Zhivkov’s regime under which my life had evolved up until then and of the subsequent cosmopolitan émigré life that was in store for me. One day, friends came to talk about a text that was exposing Bulgaria’s “economy of jars.” There was some element of embarrassment in this -- we had been “found out” about a practice that was far too common and that we did not give much thought of. The author was a Western woman who had written about the habit of Bulgarians who would visit with her to bring along jars of self-preserved food and leave them as gifts. This was so persistent that over time she had built up surplus and had started taking jars to other friends herself. Thus, she had become part of Bulgaria’s “economy of jars,” one of us.
I never read the text at the time, so rudimentary was my English, so all I knew about it probably came from conversations. Today I can confirm that this was a study by Canadian anthropologist Eleanor Smollett, whose 1989 text “Economy of Jars” was published in Ethnologia Europea and is now available online. Smollett was wondering “what could be learned about contemporary Bulgarian society by tracing the movements of the thousands, nay millions, of jars of food that criss-cross the country? Who gives what kind and how many to whom on what kinds of occasions? What statements about relationships are built into these gifts? How much importance do these jars (and other gifts of food) have in the quantity and quality of a family's food consumption?” (1989: 127). ... More
The documentary Palikari: Louis Tikas and the Ludlow Massacre (2014, Nickos Ventouras) narrates one of the “bleakest and blackest” chapters in American labor history, the Ludlow Massacre.1 A hundred years earlier, on April 20, 1914, in Ludlow, Colorado, a strike for basic labor rights by exploited miners and their families, mostly immigrants, was violently ended by state militia. In the fight, the strikers’ tent colony was machine-gunned and burned to the ground, leaving over twenty people dead, including women and children. Louis Tikas (1886-1914), a Cretan immigrant and union organizer born Ilias Anastasios Spantidakis, was shot in the back in cold blood, as were two other strikers. Still considered a politically volatile event, in fact a dangerous past for the nation laying open the synergy of state and capital to brutally put down labor, Ludlow does not commonly find a place in celebratory official memory. Historians take note of its absence in public history textbooks. However, when Colorado inaugurated the Ludlow Centennial Commemoration in September 2013, a yearlong, statewide remembering of Ludlow, it marked a significant departure, adding an official seal so to speak to remembering what functions as an enduring symbol of working class struggle in the United States.2 ... More
I had the chance to see the Greek documentary KISMET (Nina Maria Paschalidou, 2013) courtesy of the professional platform FestivalScope.com, and found it of great interest for a wider community, so I thought to say a few things about it here.
On visits to my native country of Bulgaria in recent years I could not help noticing that a new cultural import, Turkish soap operas, has been changing the pattern of female viewing. My mother, an intellectual in her 80s, has made a series called FATMAGUL (Fatmagül'ün Suçu Ne?, 2010/2011) a staple in her daily routines — for a woman who would normally only watch concert performances of classical music, this was quite a change of habit. Then, going to visit friends in their village houses I observed that at certain times the streets go completely empty, and life comes to a standstill — the schedule of meals is adjusted around the schedule of the networks showing the Turkish soaps. When women get together the developments of the most recent episodes are a major topic for conversation. Last summer, in 2013, I crossed into neighbouring Serbia to learn during the visit to Novi Sad that the wife of my friend is also irretrievably addicted to a Turkish soap, THE MAGNIFICENT CENTURY in this instance. I can only compare this situation to the airing of the British TV series FORSYTE SAGA (1967) during my childhood — back then the streets would also go empty and mealtimes would be rearranged to fit the TV schedule. ... More