Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Surva Festival of Masquerade Games 2015

It is no secret that I love festivals, and ethnic festivals are definitely among my favorites. This is the fourth time I've gone to the Surva Festival of Masquerade Games, and it was probably the best one yet. The costumes, the folk music, the crowds - it's all incredibly fun and intricately beautiful. This year I got a reporter's badge and I could once again be in with the performers, having the wonderful opportunity to photograph them up close and personal. But that wasn't what made this year the best. Maybe it was the longer festival route, starting at the church "St. Ivan Rilski" and moving to the main stage, then passing through the Survakari village with the food court and finishing at the stage next to the Palace of Culture. Or maybe it was just that I let myself wander around more and photograph a little less, immersing myself in the joyous spirit, the loud noise and vibrant colors. I had a marvelous time among the scary monsters, the men masked as Baba Yaga, the clang of the cow bells and the embroidered skirts of the Bulgarian national costumes. Even the fires are welcoming.

The Tradition 

For those of your who don't know, or have not read my previous posts here and here, I should explain that the kukeri, mummers dressed in scary masks and costumes made of animal furs, horns, feathers and adorned with bells, gather at the beginning of every year to honor an ancient Thracian ritual of scaring the evil spirits away. This festival in Pernik is one of the biggest in Bulgaria - hundreds of kukeri of any age flock here to become a part of this long-lasting tradition. In fact, the little kids are my favorite, so every year I try to photograph at least a couple of these smallest participants in the craziness. 

Animal Kingdom 

This year there was also an abundance of animals, both real and fake - from donkeys and mules to this stork guy with red tights and a rope-controlled beak that snaps when pulled. The stork even carries a martenitsa! The masks were also great, as usual, horned, toothed, hairy and even with nests on their heads (my favorite), and some were ridiculously tall and made of a variety of game (crazy). 

The only downside to the costumes, besides the fact that the bells and masks usually weigh a ton, is that they kind of smell like a sheep / goat / cow / bird. Not everyone had that problem, though. The group from Kazanluk, the town that is famous for its rose oil production, was the best smelling group of the whole festival. They had dabbed all their costumes in rose oil, so the luscious scent was around them like a flowery cloud. Maybe this is why they were mostly girls :)

The Food Court - Bulgarian Style

In the West it's McDonald's or fish and chips; in Bulgaria it is roast pork or lamb on a spit, sausages hanging from a rail, kebapcheta and kiofteta sizzling on the grill and special festival wine in every glass. If I have to say one thing that Bulgarians will always do on a holiday, it's enjoy their food. Eating is a long and rich social affair, accompanied by generous amounts of liquor. This festival did not disappoint in that regard, either. I'm pretty sure that at least half of the participants and the audience were indulging in more than a little wine or grape rakia. By the way, notice how the pig is being turned on the spit...yes, that's a steering wheel :)

And what is the other usual staple at festivals in Bulgaria? The street stalls with Turkish Delight, traditional pottery, and souvenirs. You could definitely find some treasures among the usual junk this year, and the painted pots always remind of delicious home-cooked meals. All in all, it was a good day!

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