Gerganara

This is my photographic blog. It started as a diary of my sabbatical, but is now evolving to be my visual web space. Enjoy.

Landry&Stephanie: My First Pregnant Couple Shoot

I was a bit nervous for this shoot, because it’s the first time I had to pose two people at the same time, and manage the energy, and connection not only between them and myself, but also between the two of them. Plus, women have a very specific patience when it comes to these kind of processes, and men are simply more impatient. I guess it’s because we’re used to spending hours in make-up putting, dressing and changing clothes, hair salons, doing our nails, and all kinds of similar lengthy, but necessary procedures. Only challenges make us learn though, and I think I did well, as they are happy with the result and I delivered a product they are happy to share with their families.

And at the end, it’s the big picture – this is a love story – and one chapter of it is becoming parents, and I am proud I was able to stop time and give them memories of that specific moment – when you’re expecting, the thrill, the fears, the excitement, the responsibility, I can only imagine what a milestone that is in their lives.
These are just some of the best shots, and I hope you enjoy looking at them as much as I enjoyed shooting them! (click on the gallery in the beginning of the post to see them in proper size)

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Photo Recipe: How to Make Pumpkin Banitsa

IMG_0089I am back home for a couple of days, and enjoying family life, including cooking with grandma, looking at South African art with my dad (because since he’s a pensioner he has more time on his hands to be creative), going to the movies with sis, and picking up mom from work. And today, I got my granny to show me how to make her signature “banitsa” – typical Bulgarian deliciousness made of thin pastry leafs and all kinds of stuffing. I took pictures, so I remember better what steps to take, and decided to share here, please send me a piece if you make one!

Step 1: Find a cute cute granny to help you – the cuter the better (no, it’s really simple, I just had to show her off, coz she’s the cuteness):IMG_0080

Step 2: Gather your ingredients – pastry leafs, 1/4 grated pumpkin, cinnamon, a cup of walnuts, sugar, and sunflower oil IMG_0029

Step 3: Take one pastry leaf, brush a very light layer of oil on top of it, and attach a second leaf on top, again covering with couple of brushes of oil with a pastry brush IMG_0068

Step 4: Crush the walnuts with a chopper or roll over them with a beer bottle.IMG_0037

Mix the sugar, some cinnamon and the crushed walnuts in a bowl.IMG_0046

Take some of the mixture and sprinkle it on the top leaf IMG_0051

Step 5: Sprinkle grated pumpkin around, precision is not important. Leave 2-3 cm un-sprinkled in one end – this will serve as a “glue stripe” once you roll the pastry leaf IMG_0058

Step 6: Roll the pastry leaf from one side to the other – make the roll relatively tight, leave the “seam” in the bottom IMG_0083

Step 7: Continue the process above till the pastry leafs have been rolled. Then butter the bottom of a round baking pan, and start building a spiral from the center out, till pan is full IMG_0087

Step 8: Sprinkle the top with the rest of sugar mixture, to create a caramelized crust, and bake in the over for 30-40 min at 170 degrees. Done and delicious. IMG_0091

Tatio Gaysers – Atacama

I have not been writing for a while, being so busy with finalizing the project with the kids, organizing the Global village event we did, planning my trip and travelling. During some of the flights, I was able to prepare a few of the many pictures I want to show you here, so today it’s the Tatio gaysers day. I will follow with many more amazing places to see, as meanwhile I have taken great pics around Valparaiso, traveled to Argentina, and spent more time in Chile, this time Patagonia, and now I am in Lima.

Tatio means “old crying man” in the language of one of the native tribes that live in the Andes in the Atacama region. They called this place like it because one of the mountain hills just above the gaysers looks like the face of an old man, and when the ice is melting, the water runs down exactly the site of his “eyes”.

Tatio was actually my favorite experience in Atacama – had to get up at 4 in the morning, ride up the mountain in a micro bus, to catch the sunrise above the gaysers, freezing my butt off (you’ll see  the blanket I am coccooning in). They are actually strongest at sunrise, and as the sun warms up the ground, their strenght diminishes.

There were baby gaysers (you’ll see me warming my hands above one of these), which will mature and become large; there’re the kind that erupts evey once in a while, so if you don’t know and are not careful it might surprise you, there are the huge ones, which are now not accessible (you cannot get too close to them) because a japanese tourist slipped, fell and boiled himself to death in them.

Absolutely beautiful, it was a first in my life. Njoy!

San Pedro De Atacama

Chile is a small country, but very thinly stretched, and to go from Santiago (middle of the country) to San Pedro (up north) takes 28 hours by bus – more or less the distance between Bulgaria and Belgium. Two weeks ago, before the school project start, I had 10 free days and decided to go up north – close to the border with Bolivia and Peru to the desert of Atacama – the dryest place on Earth, with parts of it not seen rain in 400 years.

I compared the bus and airline prices, and it was worth taking a plane for 2 hrs, landing in Calama – a very ugly city, with a majority of men only living there (single ladies’ or prostitutes’ paradise?) only because of the huge copper mines around which also get you a good salary. Chile produces 1/3 of the world’s copper, and here you can see a a pic of the mine and a little map. I only stayed in Calama for two hours – waiting for my bus to San Pedro de Atacama – my actual destination – a really small, really touristic pueblo (village) – a gateway and starting point to all the beautiful nature reserves and wonders in the area.

Atacama is the dryest desert on earth, and some places in the Atacama Desert have not had rainfall for over 400 years, however, around this area, you can also find salty lagunas where flamingos live, lakes, volcanos (some active), geysers and beautiful salt flats. The Atacama desert extends up into the Andes mountains and is very high in elevation. Unlike more familiar deserts, like the Sahara desert in Africa and the Mojave in California, the Atacama is actually a pretty cold place, with average daily temperatures ranging between 0°C and 25°C.

San Pedro is already located at 2400 meters above sea level, and a lot of the sights are above 4000! I had heard of altitude sickness, but never experienced it. Till now. At the time you arrive and start dragging your suitcase through the dusty unpaved roads looking for the hostel, your lungs are already struggling to send enough oxygen to your brain and muscles. Which results in: getting short of breath within 2 minutes brisk walking, constant headache, and if you have a more severe case of it – throwing up. I had it for the first two days, and since it didn’t go away as fast as I wanted, even with drinking tea made of coca leaves and chewing them directly (an ancient method used by the local people to naturally help altitude sickness; coca, i learnt, helps supply oxigen to the brain).

In the gallery of this post you can see some pictures of the atacameno style village, the church which was built without a single nail used – the local used cactus thorns instead, one of the ranchos and couple of cowboys, a cute boy dressed in national costume and a glimpse of the “Fiestas Patria” – I happened to be there during there biggest national holiday, when they do open-air bbqs, and dance “cueca” in large tents called “fondas” filled with flags, a lot of alcohol, cowboys with their hats, and people dancing with white napkins to live-band music (see more about the dance and the fondas here, and here).

Sugar

Here’s a photosession I did with Cveta a while ago, but never had time to process. It’s a follow-up on my “Milk” session with Allison, continuing the idea of using natural products for beauty purposes. Brown sugar, mixed with a bit of honey, is great home-made exfoliant. Enjoy the pics!

A Portrait of Chris

Chris is dificult to describe – fun, a little naughty, total extrovert, but also slightly geeky, and one of the two or three most intelligent people I know and am able to call my friends.

Crazy engaging too – there’s always a surprising new hobby (kite-surfing being the latest), life theory, funky sexual encounter story or with the fact that he’s got an MBA from a top 10 US university but believes in zodiac signs. Chris (Bulgarian name = Hristo) uses both logic and emotion to explain anything super difficult in a simple way (and that, damn it, takes loads of brain matter).

One of my best, and long-standing friends, with him I’ve had some of the best conversations and Nutella-and-icecream-smothered pancakes in my life. We’re connected by going together to our first salsa class, ordering the same pizza like 20 times and him carefully cutting it in the smallest byte-sized pieces (because I hate cutting pizza and he’s a total gentleman), being part of the same NGO, his brother working together with me for a while, one of my good friends becoming his girfriend, countless movie nights, and talks about business, personal finance, sales and marketing.

We manage to meet only once every year or so, but had a great couple of days together in Boston this summer, when we went for a shopping spree, and with his new jacket and watch, I made a little portrait session, which I love, because amongst all else, he’s a great model too – and he gave me all his “typical” faces. See him naughty and nice, angelic and diabolic, streamlined and broken, working and playing. And though I belive he’ll soon be the CEO of a very lucky company, what I most love about him is that he’s the CEO of his life.

My First Day With The Kids

I am so excited – today was the first class with the children, and it was as fun as expected, but damn mucho mas tiring than expected – i can hardly speak right now, I didn’t know that it’d require so much of my voice!

I am working with children of 6th, 7th and 8th grades, in two different public Chilean schools – one is with girls only, and the other one is mixed, but with more children in social risk. Today I was with class 7-A of Colegio de las Ninas – and they were cute as nothing else. I had a girl from Aiesec with me, and also a teacher that needs to be present in all the classess, and still it was noisy and hard to organize but also great – the girls had never known anyone from another continent, and had NO idea where Bulgaria was. They laughed a lot when I told them that in Bulgaria the head shake from left to right means yes, opposite to the rest of the world, they also asked me to write my name in my language, so they see it, and I also drew a map, so they knew where in Europe we were, and they asked to try Bulgarian food too.

This week’s topic was Globalisation. They loved the videos I showed them, and said they had never known any of the facts we saw, and hadn’t really thought about them. At the end of the second video, they started clapping – just like this, naturally, not prompted, and it was great to see that it influenced their emotions and gratitude. Of course, some of them also really insisted on putting make-up during classes, which I was able to stop only by telling them that if noone does their makeup in our workshops, at then end of it I will teach them something.

I have a workshop tomorrow as well, and two each on Thu and Fri – I think I won’t be able to talk by the end of the week, for sure. I also asked them to fill out a questionnaire, so I know a bit about them and their current thoughts. Here’s a quick preview of one class of girls aged 13: 15 out of the 32 want to study in university, 4 have visited other countries than Chile, 18 are studying another language, 4 say that Facebook is their main hobby, one thinks she’s not at all creative, one likes to paint with her feet, two study Asian languages because they love manga, and one says that she studies English because her “papi (read “my guy”) will come and look for me one day”.

Tomorrow I have the 8th grade, let’s see how it’ll be there. Check some pictures of the school sports competition I did 2 weeks ago to see some of the girls I’ll work with. And wish me luck.

A Dedication

A good friend’s mom passed away. Scratch that. A great friend’s mom passed away. I just got the news, and it made me so sad, and scared, at the same time. Sad, because I wish her well so much, we’ve been through a lot, working and dancing and laughing together, and I don’t want her to suffer from the loss of the priceless thing of having a mom, in my view the most precious thing we have after having a child. And scared, because I never want to be in her position, and to hear such news. I’ve already had the moms of three of my best friends pass away. Two of cancer. And I just try to chase away the creepy thoughts I get in my head of the possibility of losing my own. Don’t we all avoid thinking and accepting inevitable losses, because the pain of just thinking, is unbearable?

So here I am, in my hostel room in San Pedro, the Chilean girl on the cot right above my head trying to sleep, while I am typing forcefully, and sobbing at the same time. But I can’t stop, it’s the right time to write. I have been following the fight with cancer of my friend’s mom closely, even from far away, though I just didn’t expect the news. I did, however, feel extremely bad on the 11th and 12th. Do you get this feeling sometimes that something bad is about to happen? I had this feeling, very strongly, couple of days before my flight, and I was almost certain my plane will crash somewhere in the Chilean mountains, and I’ll eventually survive by eating the leftovers of my fellow passengers (this actually happened in the 70s in Chile, read more here). I even considered cancelling my trip, as when I get this feeling, it’s usually correct. Now I know – I have felt her pain somehow.

So I would like to dedicate these photos I made today to her, and to her mom. And to all of us, to live life, experience beauty, majesty and love, and not get bogged down by small everyday things. And let’s be kind to our moms, we never know for how long they’ll be with us.

My Purple Suitcase

Shhhhhh – I have a secret to tell – I am a luggage-packing freak. I spend hours in planning, and even more in packing, making sure all the pieces of the puzzle fit together. And although I am a seasoned traveler, the only time I broke in tears during a trip was connected to my luggage – a rude US customs officer decided that it’s too suspicious for a young girl to be coming back from Costa Rica alone, opened my luggage, frantically taking all my items apart, basically ruining the hours I had spent in careful planning and packing (not to mention he punched holes through my bags, in search of cocaine-filled seams).

Have been thinking today – the worse thing about maturing (I am officially 30 now) is … you start to be ok with yourself. So I was totally ok to spend my last two days in NY packing, essentially wasting time, allowing my inner OCD-ridden person to unleash – who says perfection is perfect? From what kind of weight I can afford or carry, through types of activities I’ll do, to matching outfits and bags – deciding what to take takes time. But on top of that, I am also anal about everything to be ordered perfectly in my suitcase – and by perfectly I mean efficiently, no waste of space, no movement inside due to handling, everything brakable to be protected, no spills, and least amount of wrinkled clothes.

I make lists for ultimate effieciency, I separate carry-on from check-in items (main criterion being what can I live without if my luggage gets lost), I email myself pictures in case of insurance claim need, and I make sure I have everything in with me to travel in ultimate comfort – puffy travel warm slippers, warm blanket (I am always cold on inter-continental flights), sleeping mask, ear plugs, inflatable pillow, mp3 player, Kindle, laptop pre-charged with photographic blogs, earphones and a book, plus refresh items – cosmetics, wet wipes, one change of clothes (in case), and stuff i cannot lose – camera, essential medicines, and jewellry.

My purple suitcase is now officially full – as I am taking off to Vina del Mar, Chile to do a two-month education project, taking with me loads of Bulgarian food to prepare for the Global Village event we’ll have with the Chilean children – and share part of my culture. Wish him (and me) luck!

 

Cveta

Cveta is as multifaceted as they come. Artist, enterpreneur, dancer, actor, player, shaman, joker, smoker, friend. Cveta can talk about crying in an actors’ class because the dog she had to describe “was too ugly” or about the deeper levels of psychology of self-preservation, or about farting monkeys or whatever sillycity (i know, i just made it up) will make us both laugh loudly. With the ease that comes with life experience, the confidence from knowing what you’re worth and the humour that comes from not taking yourself too seriously, she is great to take pictures of (ok, her beauty helps too). She insisted we take pictures of her eating because “mom will be happy to see I am”, but also played dead and a dog and a panda while we were shooting. I love how her hair turns from red to midnight black, her asian features and her ring too. I still have one more shoot planned with her, and I think it’ll turn out nice, but that I leave for another time.

I am so blessed we ended up at the same time in the same place and with similar mindsets – a sunny summer in New York, just as I started missing a girlfriend to confide in. As someone said – summer is where the girls go barefoot, and their hearts are just as free as their toes. This is where me and her were those couple of months, and I hope you can feel it through my lens.

10 Weeks Of Photographic Summer

My last photography class was yesterday. I got pretty reminescent after it finished and stayed quiet and thinking for the whole evening.

Today Mladen asked me “So, did you learn anything?”. Hmmm, did I? Not only I learnt about how to use my dslr camera, but my teacher also managed to get me inspired, thinking, critical about my own work, and seeing different points of view of what’s valuable in the photographers’ point of view.

My teacher was Matthew Baum (check his work here) with Carly Gaebe as teaching assistant (work here) and I was spending 5 hours each Tuesday afternoon with both of them and 9 other people at the School of Visual Arts building on 23rd. Matt himself has trained as architect – which transfers in what he likes about art – clean, finished lines, geometry and patterns, multiple layers of meaning (and why he was scorching me for cutting off a foot or two off my photographs).

I have rarely seen someone that teaches total newbees and still treats their work with total respect and takes them and his work seriously. And he has chosen to be a teacher, so he can do his photography without compromise – rarely having to work on commercial projects.
Here’s what got me thinking this summer, one for each week of photo training, do you agree/disagree?

“Art makes questions, design makes solutions.” – John Maeda

“Actually, I’m not all that interested in the subject of photography. Once the picture is in the box, I’m not all that interested in what happens next. Hunters, after all, aren’t cooks.” – Henri Cartier-Bresson

“The most difficult thing for me is a portrait. You have to try and put your camera between the skin of a person and his shirt.” – Henri Cartier-Bresson

“Collecting pictures of objects is different than making photographs” – Matthew Baum

“What is the low-tech version of social media? The coffee table” – Ethan Marcotte

“The most interesting to shoot is the moment after the movement, the silence after the speech” – Joseph Koudelka

“Shoot a place in a way that tells you what it feels like to be there, not what it looks like” – Matthew Baum

“A portrait is also a picture between the relationship between the photographer and the subject” – Matthew Baum

“Art is a lie that tells a greater truth” – Picasso

“A great photo only happens when you the eye, mind and heart are all in one line” – Henri Cartier-Bresson

 

 

Are You a Bride-To-Be?

A good friend of mine wrote me to ask for advice on bridal make-up artists. She’s getting married soon and living in a country where people rarely wear make-up, and therefore a tough market to find a good MUA (make-up artist) for your event. I wrote to her the following advice, which could be useful if you’re in a similar situation:

Rule N1: Do not look for make-up artists in beauty salons – there are exceptions, however, it’s more a matter of luck to get a good one there. To be honest, usually the salon “multitask” – every hairdresser says they can do make-up, and the results might make you want to claw out your own face. Your best bet is to ask photographers or other brides for freelance make-up artists. Because they have worked with photographers, these guys also know what looks good – face angles, light specifics – daylight/flash etc.
Rule N2: Prepare your vision – it’ll be better if you give your MUA couple of pictures of bridal looks/make-up you like – that way you’re helping them understand your vision. You can look on bridal blogs (there are many), or pinterest -> find 5-6 photos you like (not too many), show them to your MUA and tell her WHY you like them. Do not expect your makeup to look the same – it wouldnt make sense because you have specific face, skin and features.
Rule N3: All brides want natural-looking make-up, and they wonder what products will give them the desired result. Well, the truth is – the products don’t matter that much – the technique does – I can do very heavy or very light makeup with one and the same set of products. However, what you should really care about is how long-lasting your make-up will be. This is the most important thing when it comes to bridal (and your MUA’s skills) – you need to use products which help your look to stay fresh all day and night long. Of course you can retouch and freshen-up during the day, but you should count it having to last at least from 9 a.m. till 4 p.m. -> and all that through sweat and tears (potentially). If you have a good MUA they will advise you or decide what products to use. But here are some pointers:
– VIP (very important product): Primers – You need two types – one for skin/face, and one for eyes/eyeshadow. Good face primer hides pores and wrinkles, and can make your skin more illuminating or more matt if you have an oily skin. The eyeshadow primer makes eyeshadow last much longer, prevents creasing and allows better color show-through.
– good foundation – as a rule – you can go slightly heavier in the morning of the marriage – the make-up will “melt” a little bit during the day, and start sitting more naturally. You can add translusent powder to mattify (it looks better on pics), and keep foundation longer. I do not like using colored pouders – in my view they are too heavy, but that’s a personal preference.
– use a pencil to color your lips, and lipstick or gloss on top – that way the color will last longer, butyour lips still look juicy.
– do not skip the blush – there’s nothing looking more happy and healthy than a bit of rosy tint on your cheeks. If you need to put bronzer, there’s a different role for it – it can help sculpt your face, and add a healthy glow.
Rule N4: Make a test session, and ask her to offer two looks – not just one – and always always take pictures with the make-up in different light – go out on the balcony for day light, and use flash inside to see how it looks, also take shots front and side. Do your hair in a similar way as it’ll be suring the wedding (up/asymetrical/down). For example, you can ask for two color schemes, or a lighter and heavier version (still within your acceptable range)
Rule N5: Have some products with you to refresh your make-up during the wedding. Most important to have in your bag – mirror, powder and brush, lipstick and/or lip gloss, maybe eyeshadow quadro to make your look more intensive in the evening. You can also ask your bridesmades to carry these for you and help you with your make-up, just give the products to the one that will stay with you all the time.
 
If you need to find a good MUA:
1. Ask friends who have been to weddings recently, or had thair own – let them reco someone.
2. Google search photographers and write them emails if they could recommend a make-up artist contact (in case your own photographer doesn’t have one already).
3. Do you have any friends who do arts – actors, singers, models? If yes – ask them.
I hope this helps, if you’re thinking of your special day, and if you need more advice – write me, I’ll work with you in more detail and reco more specific products. And don’t ask me what I’ll do when I get married – most probably I’ll ship a MUA friend from Bulgaria, as I find it hard to trust random people, just as you do probably.
G.
P.S. Yes, that’s me being so excited about the bouquet in the pic – I didn’t get it, but that’s probably a good thing, since in Bulgaria “to hug the bouquet” means to pass away :-)

My Top 10 Make-Up Discoveries

You know it or not, but on the side, I am also a semi-pro make-up artist. I have worked as MUA in a beauty studio, given classes, and done the make-up for 4 brides, and a website photoshoot.

I love make-up, shopping for it, testing new stuff; I have tons of it, love the effect it has on people, and mostly – the self-expression it allows me to do. Romantic wide-eyed look for a date, funky look for a music festival, or all-black-eyed, heavy make-up when I am in a shitty mood (even if I am alone at home) – it’s my artistry, my way to transfer my emotions, and also to influence the perceptions of people.

The US is great for make-up – the prices are great, there is a much much wider choice of brands and products, and the high level of customer service here means you can get free samples of almost everything, try out things and return them if you didn’t like them, and get extras when you purchase.

Sephora is my candy store – my Wonderland, my playground and my go-to place when I want anything make-up. Each of the tens of stores in NYC carries slightly different range – good for white-, but best for color cosmetics. Here are some of my fav newbies, mostly from there, but a lot of the products are from big brands, and can also be found in Europe. Ask if you have a specific question or you need a reco:

1. Anastasia Highlighter/Blush Duo – a little pot, with a creamy blush and a liquid highlighter. Both super-sparkly, pleasant and sheer. Sexy stuff.

2.  Lancome Teint Idole 24hr Foundation – lightweight, just the right balance between matt and radiant effect, it really lasts very long, without discomfort to the skin. J’adore.

3. Urban Decay Naked2 Eyeshadow Palette – great combo of sparkly and matt shades; if you only have one eye shadow set, I would recommend this one. Good quality, and goes well with any skin/eye color.

4. Nars Blush in Orgasm – Nars is one of my fav brand – it has a bunch of iconic products, but is totally unknown in Europe. Their shade of blush called “Orgasm” is worth the trip to the US alone. The sexy name was chosen as it supposedly mimics the pretty glow girls get after experiencing the big O, and it is so successful, and universally flattering, that it has expanded into a full line of products. Also see this dissassembled version of the cult shade: Nars Foreplay

5. Lancome Eye Shadow Palette in Mint Jolie – mmh, delicious. I am still fighting with myself – should I splurge for it or not? The mint/teal greens are THE make-up trend this A/W.

6. Dior Hidra Life BB Creme – BB creams, together with primers, are the current star categories in make-up retail – categories growing like crazy, with more and more options, at different price levels, and variants. BB cream stands for Blemish Balm (I think that’s a horrible name, so thank god they acronimed it), and it’s an Asian thing – 13% of the beauty market in countries like Korea and Japan. In Asia women make ritual out of skin care, and are famous for layering multiple products. This concept obviously saved them time, by condensing couple of steps — moisturizer, primer, foundation, and sunblock all-in-one. Some of the cheaper brands I’ve tried have bad formulas – too heavy, but this is a great product, although a bit capricious. Lasts super long, gives the most natural skin finish you’ve ever seen, hydrates and covers, almost waterproof, but it glides on a bit difficult, so you need to blend it well, and it has a yellow tint – so only if you’re a “warm undertone” do try this product.

7. Sephora feat. Pantone Eyeshadow Palette – how could I not fall in love: MacBook-like box design and funky colors, coming from Pantone, a company that everyone in the marketing, photography, design, product packaging etc. worlds use?

8. Dior Skinflash Primer – primers are the new serums – great products that make amazing difference for your skin. Since I have non-problematic skin, this one is great – it gives loads of radiance and shines through the colored product applied on top to stay smoother for longer.

9. Tarte Cheek Stain – hard gel formula, in bright, sophistivated colors. Stays sheer and natural, super easy to blend and very naturally looking. Like summer in a little round box.

10. Make Up For Ever Waterproof Eyebrow Gel – all about great performance – it really lasts long, and doesn’t run.

BONUS: This teeth-whitening device is something I really want to try, but the high price on my low budget is definately a deterrent. Lovely promise of in-home whitening, no sensitivity and lasting results.

My (Very Busy) Agenda

These days I am listening to a great song, and on top that the melody is fun, it also corresponds to my feelings of happiness with … not doing much. If you know spanish you’ll laugh hard, if you don’t – read further, I explain it anyways.

For these three months I am the queen of my time, and in my agenda currently there is no “have to”s, only “want to”s, I feel so blessed to be able to do that. Of course, once I start my volunteering, it’ll be “back to work”, but for now – I am enjoying winding down. I am busy every evening, so I rarely come home before midnight (don’t ask – it’s scary in Bronx), but I am free during my days, and have a choice of what to (and not to) do.

My fixed schedule involves: Mondays – Baila Society partnerwork class of 1.5 hrs + 3.5 hrs to get there and back (North of Bronx to Lower Manhattan). Tuesday – my busiest day – 5 hr photography course + lady styling and partnerwork class (2.5 hrs) @ Yamulee. Wednsday – three hour storytelling class. Thursday – 2.5 hrs shines class with Eddie Torress. Friday – Baila society again, Saturday – 3 hrs of salsa and cha-cha, and sunday – a spinning class with Frankie Martinez.

In the rest of the time – I read, liten to music, watch silly series, shop, walk around, take photos, go to salsa parties, yoga, meditation, or volunteer. I did volunteering at a creative conference (amazing), and now I will volunteer at the biggest art festival in NY – Fringe. Volunteering allows me to go to free (for me) events – dance performances, art, concerts, lectures. It’s a great way to trade your time for inspiration and enrichment on a tight budget.

So why don’t you look for a cool event to help out with and get free attendance in your city? I am sure this is doable also during an evening or two or weekend day. Help your yoga teacher with cleanup and get a free class, or offer to take a shift at the neighbourhood bar, for free cocktails, or teach an italian friend how to take a good picture, and ask for a pasta-making lesson as a payoff, the sky (actually, your imagination) is the limit!

Are you a visual person? Follow me on Pinterest

A profoundly smart guy that I met, after couple of mails exchanges, told me – “You should go on Pinterest, I think you’ll like this site”. And it was love from first sight (with the website, not the guy). Pinterest is a virtual pinning board – like the one you have in the office for notes and memos, only it’s online, personal, and you can pin pics and quotes, and whatever you want. You can have as many boards as you like, in any topic you want, and also see what other people are “pinning”.

One can use this as a personal vision board, or just as a folder to gather thoughts, stimulus and cool pics, all seen at a glance. You can take a picture from any website (except Facebook, they don’t get along well) and pin it to your boards. Fashion, photography, jewellry, make-up, places to visit, workout tips – you can find anything, and the better quality of people you “follow”, the better visual stimulus you’ll encounter every time you load the page.

So enough about it – follow me if you like, or have a look at my boards if you’re curious, you can see my vision for what I find visually appealing, the kind of styles I like, and thoughts that get me inspired.

13 Ways To Not Look As A Tourist In New York

There have been things that I keep noticing since I am here, about what is typical/different about people in NY. So just for fun, I decided to put them in a little list, that can help you to not look like a tourist or just give you a bit of insight of this great city, accompanied with pictures of my second homework – theme is “lights”, so it’s mainly New York by night.

1. Don’t stare. It will happen – there will be people on the subway that are reciting poems to themselves; wearing tiger costumes; shirtless puertorican guys; 55-year-old women who wear head to toe pink; someone wearing leggings with pattern of bare muscles, like in the “Body” exhibition; ultra beautiful individuals, or someone with a navajo blanket and bathing suit – and you cannot stare! Here it’s ok to have personality – from wearing your hair afro or dancing on the street, to wearing crazy make-up, or minimalistic shorts on your fatty bottom – it’s all ok! Seasoned newyorkans are used to it, and always look like they’re neither curious not bothered.

2. Keep your head down and walk fast. Newyorkers don’t stop to look up and enjoy the skyscrapers, they have a place to be at, and they need to get there, fast. If you’re stopping to admire a new architectural miracle or take a picture, go to the side of the sidewalk, where you won’t disturb the flow of passers-by.

3. Have a pedicure. Ok, so here’s the thing – I’ve never seen a nation where your toes are equally, if not more- improtant than your fingers. It’s perfectly ok to have clean bare nails, however, if you want to look like a real newyorkan girl, make sure your pedicure is impeccable – your soles are pretty and soft, and toe nails bright and cheerful, peeking from your flats or sandals. I am so happy here – since I always have a pedicure, but never a manicure – I am a nail-biter, so I fit soooo well.

4. Have an iPhone and wear Beats by Dr Dre headphones. Everyone here has iPhone, it comes free with most major companies’ phone plans, so it’s really crazy – you’re different, if your phone is not Apple. And the b-branded headphones are a fashion craze – everyone wears them. I personally don’t like the super bass-boost they produce as sound.

5. Be super kind. I am in love with the patience and kindness of people here. For either asking for directions to a nice cupcake bakery, subway stop or giving money to homeless or beggars – people here are amazing! I’ve had a number of times where a newyorkan will whip up their phone out, and search google directions for a place i need to go to; walk with me to places that I can’t find to make sure I am ok; even giving me their phone numbers to call if I have other questions or get lost. They’ll even ask if u need help if they see u with a map and confused face. Totally awsome!

6. Look like a newyorkan.

If you’re a girl – have great skin, good makeup and messy hair. Girls here look great – they take really good care of their skin, and are really good at putting make up on – even if it’s just smooth hydrated face with a red lip and messy bun – 5 min effortless style, reminds me a bit of girls in Paris, only with better looking skin. Bedhead is totally acceptable. Google “top messy bun” or click here to see a tutorial for the most popular hair style around. I also plan to make a post about my fav make up products you can buy here.

If you’re a regular guy: have a great body, buy Tom’s shoes, and don’t shave your armpits. If you’re a really good-looking guy – be gay. Honestly, guys in the US have pretty good bodies – it’s not ok to be skinny, slouchy or soft – big, toned muscles rule, and I haven’t seen a better slew of sexy shoulders, arms and six-packs anywhere in the world. Wish Bulgarian and Belgian guys were more like this too, though one thing I love about guys in BG is that they shave – goodness, I cannot get over unshaved armpits here, it’s making me nauseous!

7. Do yoga. Yep, yoga is the national sport of New York. Guys and girls – everyone does it, and every third door in Manhattan is a yoga studio.

8. Be cool about roaches and rats. Yesterday I went to do my laundry, on the floor, in the middle of the corridor there was one of the huuge flying ones – around4 cm long and pretty saucy and big. I had to take my clothes, so I tried to run as fast as the wind past it, hoping it won’t jump me. I guess you just get used to it – I still can’t, though. I still mainly eat outside because I cannot bear the thought of cooking where i see cucarachas. Thank god I am not too scared of mice, though rats are disgusting, – my mom almost dropped the phone when I told her it’s kind of common here to see them running around subway stops or have one at home. Horrible.

9. Spill your drama on the bus. Since I am here I witnessed on the public transport: a) a woman and man, in their 40s, fighting about 80 usd that the woman owed to the man. She kept on screaming she doesn’t have the money, and she was trying to throw a 20 at him, he kept saying he needs the full 80; b) a phone conversation between a girl and her boyfriend, where she said to him “I told you not to rob my grandma and grandpa’s house, and you still went ahead”; c) a conversation between teenagers about which of their friends was shot and died and why d) a fight between a man and a woman – the woman was obviously pregnant, and sobbing in tears, and they had a little girl together with them – and the fight was about …. the man not wanting to keep the baby in her belly, and wanting her to abort….

10. Cross on red. New yorkers cross the street even if the light is red and a taxi is quickly approaching a block away. Red or green – doesn’t matter, as long as you can cross more or less alive.

11. Fold your pizza. The usual street snack here is a quick, thin, tomatoe-and-cheese slice of pizza on the go, usually $1. NYers fold their pizza, as it’s thin and the cheese is runny. See a full description here: The fold hold

12. Get the lingo. Call the 1 dollar bills “singles”, not “ones”; order a “slice”, not a “piece” of pizza; the metro is called subway; and the pizza with tomatoe sauce and cheese is called “plain”, not “cheese”.

13. Have a bad rent/landlord-related story. Eveyone here has a shitty “rental” story – either they were evicted from their home; paying an exuberant rent; or had their restaurant closed because of landlord issues. The rent/landlord topic here is like the weather topic in Britain – you can always get people talking with it.

Hope you enjoyed my quick guide. Don’t forget to check the photos, and let me know what you think.

The Faces Of Salsa

My god, what a life! Two weeks – two concerts of live bands that i adore, and two to go. In Belgium, I usually get to go to one per year! Midsummer Night Swing is an event organised for 23 years now, with live open air groove from salsa or swing bands every night for about two weeks. I already got to go to two concerts, which, strangely for latin events, finish just on-time (and I  like  having bis-es).

First was Orquesta Broadway, native NY band,the “oldest charanga in the city” (charanga is a band that adds to the typical latin instruments also violin and flute, which makes the sound distinctive). Amazing musicians, great songs, very dance-able, and highly recomended! Hear the flutes here, the violin in their most popular song here, and my absolute love cha-cha  here.

Yesterday I was at the Johnny Colon & band concert. Lovely again, less oriented towards the dancers, more towards the music and very jazzy. They played a song that lasted around 30 minutes (a version of their most famous Merecumbe). My favorite song of theirs: the lovely Son montuno.

If you know me, you’ll know that when there’s a live band, I don’t actually dance – i just love watching the musicians play. I love matching the sound I hear to the movement of the hands of one guy or another, hearing the base, then the congas, then the piano or trumpets and getting to know which instrument sounds in which way (which is tought when u’re just listening to the music). Doing this, I believe, makes you a better dancer, as you can then “isolate” one instrument and only dance to its rhythm or melody – the effect usually is powerful, as you look like you’re dancing “non-regularly”, but it all fits in well. Great example is this performance, just look at the way he moves each part of his body on different layers of the music!

And while you’re listening to the lovely music, click the link in the beginning of this post to view the array of interesting faces I found amongst the people who came to listen & dance, it’ll almost be like you’ve been with me!

You Salty Pony!

Me and Cveta decided to meetup in the afternoon last Thursday, and figure out what to do from there on. It turned out to be a night to remember.

Cveta is a gorgeous Bulgarian girl, and, funny thing – our lives somehow seem to intertwine, but it wasn’t till NY that we’ve talked a bit more. Both me and her are from Bulgaria, both love salsa – she’s a teacher and performer, back in the days in Sofia, and afterwards in Belgium. We both ended up in Brussels, where she has a school and I was working and also dancing salsa. But. We never spoke longer than couple of minutes, because 1. she’s a teacher and teachers notoriously get tired of dancing every day for work, and they don’t go out at salsa socials and 2. she teaches LA style, while I prefer the NY style, so I never went to her classess. The twist is that we have both decided to spend our summers in New York this year, taking classes amongst other stuff (she’s an actress now), and we’re both queens of our time and relatively free during the day (most my classes are in the evening).

We started off with a walk and a great lunch at the “Vietnamese street” – somewhere around 25th. Lunch was great, relatively cheap, cheerful and with friendly service. Eveyone around us was asian, so I think we got a good place. Then a beauty sample-hunting followed at Macy’s (Macy’s is a huuuuuuge store – it actually takes a whole block of ave/st in the middle of Manhattan). Not much luck there, though, the “beauty advisors” were mostly tired, grumpy and not very knowledgeable (one just stopped talking to me after she figured out I know a lot about the brand she was presenting, instead of taking it to a higher level and convincing me to try out something I hadn’t before). I’ve had better service at Sephora – still my fav beauty spot in the US.

We followed with smoothie and frapuccino (inevitable in NY); and then headed to the People’s Improv Theater, to meet Mladen and go to the RISK! storytelling show, organised by my teacher at the Story studio. Great stuff, they actually have a podcast and videos they record during the show. Some are brilliant!

To top it all up – we decided to have a drink after the show, and stumbled upon the funkiest weirdest bar ever! But before that we helped a dead-drunk thirtysomething yuppie who was side-sleeping on the sidewalk close the 5th ave (in a good suit and a tie) to get up and get a cab. First I tucked his iPhone under him, so noone steals it, and then after a quick consolidation we came back, woke him up, hailed him a cab and ushered him inside. He insisted we took a twenty for “saving him” and threw the money at us, pointing at an invisible danger in the air, to distract our attention. So funny!

Back to the bar: It’s called Nasha Rasha (means Our Russia in Russian), and it turned out to be one of those rare finds of places where you get the atmosphere, the mood, the quirkyness and the bunch of ppl that happen to be there all flowing. We had a great evening, we drank more shots of vodka courtesy of our bartender, than paid by ourselves (I ordered only one, and actually had 5! shots), and met some quirky people. At our arrival, Sasha? insisted we put on some old russian uniforms and hats, to “feel the vibe”, and poured us a welcome shot. He asked if we wanted “Borscht” vodka shot, or ginger-appleshot, or “whatever’s on your mind” shot. So the thing is – that bar homemakes a hundred tastes of vodka – flavored with whatever they can think of. There was cucumber flavor, bacon, honey and mint, beef, chicken and jalapeno flavors, black truffle (which i tried), sour pickle, olive, garlic, mango, mushroom… to name a few.

There were a couple of slutty-looking russian girls, couple of suits from offices nearby, and a couple (real couple) of restaurant owners – a Moroccan guy and Italian woman, whose resto was just closed a month ago for issues with their landlord (it’s a NY thing), and they decided to go to vacations in Istanbul (and I still haven’t visited, damn!). Phrase of the evening? One of the half-drunk yuppies came to chat, and to something slightly naughty I said, he replied with a playful grin: “You, salty pony!”. If that’s not funny, I don’t know what is, you salty ponies, you!

At a certain moment we begged Sasha to stop pouring vodka saying we’ve had enough, to which he just said (with a serious face) “This is a Russian place, it’s never enough!”.

NY To Do List: Find The Perfect Cupcake

One of the things I have always heard raves about, but never really got why, are the cupcakes. People rate, obsess over & make them, buy home kits and cookbooks about them; they go to classes of baking and decorating them, cupcakes really are a fad. There’re thousands of stories about a girl opening a cupcake shop and succeeding – the american dream in a female version. On top, one of my new fav tv series is about two girls in NY trying to raise money to open their own c-cake business – check it out – it’s “Two broke girls” (my girl is the loud-mouth, dirty mind, booby brunette).

I never got the obsession because – what’s soooo special? it’s just mini-cake with some buttery cream on top. I must admit they look adorable, but this summer, i’ll try to “get them” – what’s so special? And on top, I’ll try to find the perfect one – that will make ME rave about them.

My first try was in Harlem today. Harlem is a neighbourhood in northern Manhattan with very interesting history – center of black culture, home of great jazz and places like Cotton club and Apollo theather, it was fun for me to have a walk around, but I felt likeI didn’t see enough of it, so I am planning for a proper visit and taking more shots. I stopped by two places before heading to my storytelling class downtown, and one of them was a cupcakery called Make my cake. Of course, the sign on the wall told one of the dream stories – two girls started making cakes at home, selling them as street vendors on passers-by, got popular and opened a business. They make it sound so easy! The place was retro-charm designed, no frills, the cakes looked bad, but the cupcakes looked good. Of course I got a double chocolate one – it looked darker than it tasted though, almost like they put black in the dough. The cupcake was huuuuge, costed 4 dollars, two ppl can easily share one, I managed to only eat half. They had done well on moisture and freshness, but it was too sweet for me, and the cream – still a bit heavy. Overall 6/10 for me. They also sold good iced coffee, which i took some shots of too (see the gallery from the link on top of the post).

Though this one looked great, I am still in the search of the perfect cupcake.

Allison & Milk – Homework 1 (HW1)

“Shoot any object you want, practice getting good exposure using manual setup for shutter speed and aperture (fixed ISO)” was my teacher’s first homework assignment for us.

I am studying basic digital photography with Matthew Baum at the School of Visual Arts in NY. I had the best model (though my subject was actually milk), and I think the pics tell we’re close friends as she was modelling so well – she felt comfortable to get half naked in a bathtub and get milk poured all over – brave thing her!  Everyone in the class loved the pictures, and though they are provocative I am very proud of them too. Enjoy by clicking the link above!

Camera: Canon EOS 1100 D

Lens: Canon f1.4 50mm

Bela Rechka, Beelaa Reechka

Me and Katrien went to a laid-back art festival while she visited in Bulgaria to a friend’s reco. The idea of the event is awsome – to reconnect the city people with the beauty and majesty of the mountains and the tiny, almost ghosty, nearly deserted villages in the north-west region of Bulgaria. In the program: poetry night readings in an abandoned house, concert in a mine for great acoustics, re-purposing & yoga workshops and grandmas from the village cooking for villagers; totally cool. Here’re some pictures (click on any and you’ll see a slideshow), and the link to the event: Goat Milk Fest

The Master Plan // HVI

I am writing this sitting in my bedroom at a friend’s house in Bronx, NY, on a very hot night. I have already been here for a bit more than two weeks, and things are starting to normalize – I know my way around the grid system of Manhattan;  am not living out of a suitcase (if you know me u’ll know that is stressful for me); i survived the jet lag, and the heatwave that hit the city couple of days ago. I have also stopped screaming at the rats and cockroaches running around. I realised though, that I did not yet write about my plans for this sabbatical – the game plan, or shall I call it “HVI” (at work, we used to call our brand position essence a “high-value idea”)?

I have 7 months in total – 6 months official leave and 1 month of vacations that I took before the 6. I decided to split the time as follows:

1 month in Bulgaria – spending time with family and friends, getting energy from my roots. Had an absolutely amazing time, spend wisely with my closest people. Out of this I spent 5 days in Venice with my mom and granny – read about it in a previous post

3 months in New York – the greatest city of them all, where I am taking intensive salsa lessons (I know, it doesn’t sound serious, but I’ll change your mind in another post), learning to take pictures with a DSLR, and to tell entertaining stories in a cool course I signed up for, amongs other stuff like going to museums, art events, concerts and baseball games, and hunting for fireflies too

3 months in Latin America – I love Latin culture (most of it), love speaking spanish, love the weather and the great nature they’ve got, and also – I’d like to do something to connect me back to the feeling of having a higher purpose and helping – so I will spend couple of months working on a social project there. I have not signed a contract yet, but it’s very likely to go to either Peru or Colombia, where they have a bunch of enterpreneurship/education projects I am interested in

What would you do if you took a sabatical?

My Grandpa’s Grave

Today my grandma asked me to take her to my grandpa’s grave, it was the first time i visited since the funeral in 2005. It might sound strange writing about this here, but doing this kind of things is my main reason to spend a month of my time off in Bulgaria. Reconnecting by doing things I am never here to do as a daughter, grandchild or friend. Recording grandma’s recipes, reordering the bathroom’s shelves to help mum, and helping my nephew with his math exams, that’s the kind of stuff you miss doing when you’re aboroad too, not just eating ur fav foods, or dancing in ur fav club, that‘s the stuff really.

In the Bulgarian tradition, you visit the graves of close people on many special holidays during the year, to pay respects, tell them they are not forgotten, and talk to them.  You light a candle, clean up the area from weeds or trash, you bring them flowers,  food to eat, their favourite drinks to drink, and you leave them spoon, fork and knife, so they can eat the food properly.  Now it’s May, so my grandma specially brought fresh spring cherries, and some of the food we had at home.

I thought going there won’t get me upset, as I never got the chance to get to know my grandpa well, however, I couldn’t not start crying when my granny caressed his picture on the memorial stone, and spoke to him, “my honey, I came to see you“. We cleaned all the area around the grave from grass, because “he hates wild grass around the benches where we sit to rest or eat” and she was upset for forgetting to “bring to him wine”. A life spent together, what a love story! I wonder if we have the same dedication to each other in our own relationships and really, is that good or bad?

 

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What Stalin Said

Stalin said: “Your first blog post should be about your blog name” (before you decide this blog is somewhere between a political statement and halucination, let me say that Stalin is the name of a wonderful guy at work, not the soviet bolshevik.)

He said that because I had asked him and a bunch of other colleagues to brainstorm a name for this blog. //history bite: my team is an amazing bunch of people, who actually purchased this blog for me and gave it to me as a present at my “see u later” party – but more about them – in another post//

Though Stalin is not a tyrant, I decided to follow his word, and to do post about the fun names we thought of.

My team had the best ideas, one of which is the actual name. We had names like:

  • inspired lobster (my last big project at work was a product range called Inspiration, and we had a bunch of fake lobsters lying around from a food sample request);
  • midalidary (it sounds pretty);
  • four lenses (because this is a photographic blog);
  • lingerryng (so romantic);
  • the girl with one pearl earring (i do wear pearl earrings, usually two though);
  • divalavida (which a bit too burlesque-charged, though fun);
  • me, you, camera (one of the finalists, as I love shooting (camera that is) people) and
  • gerrybeams (which sounds like jelly beans);
  • shutter duffel (implying travelling and camera, and well-sounding) and
  • Blue lash suitcase (as one of my side activities is make up artistry).

At the end, I called the blog “gerganara“, because it sounds lovely, all this rolling R’s…, and also it’s stripped out of any meaning, I felt too much of expectation would confine me.

So, there it is, Stalin, gerganara was born!

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