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The Kalaidzhis an ancient community have recently caught media attention for their traditional beliefs and customs. If one visits the town of Stara Zagora in Bulgaria on the first Saturday of Orthodox Christian Lent, one would be amazed to see the whole town busy with merry making. People gather there to dance, have drinks and foods and chat with each other.

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Gold flashed on necks, fingers, ears and teeth.

Meet the tinkers of Thrace, semi-nomadic Roma who in the early 21st century are among the few in Europe hewing to ancient ways. A woman may govern Germany and men in Sweden may care for infants.

But in this corner of southeastern Europe, that thinking is quite foreign, with — so far — limited impact. Technically, the young women at this traditional St. But it is at this fair, held each year on the first Saturday of Orthodox Christian Lent, that the Kalaidzhi as the estimated 18, Thracian tinkers are known conduct the complex negotiations on a bride price that traditionally lead to marriage.

The identity of this semi-nomadic Roma group is based on the ancient craft of its menfolk: producing and repairing pots, pans and caldrons. For centuries, these smiths have scattered in ones or twos in Bulgarian villages to practice this craft, and they get together rarely for events like the St. This is therefore one of the few opportunities for teenagers to meet other Kalaidzhi — and potential spouses.

Dating is not really an option when teenage boys and girls are forbidden to meet without an adult. Marriage outside the group is equally taboo.

In bulgaria, a tradition meets new realities

Leaning against his car, surveying the scene, Hristos Georgiev, 18, was pleased to be wrapping up negotiations with the father of Donka Dimitrova, an year-old he expected to marry weeks later. He said he saved the money working construction in Cyprus.

Good looks nevertheless command a price. Georgiev said, within easy earshot of his prospective bride.

Others said a great beauty might fetch 40, levs. Dimitrova, who unlike less educated Bulgarian Roma girls recently completed a landscaping course.

Her cousin Todorka was blunt. They can still find another better one 10 days later. How often true bride theft occurs is not clear.

Young people said it is often a face-saving family story when a daughter elopes. They are wives, mothers and assistant tinsmiths.

Education has not been a priority: the Open Society found in that one in five Bulgarian Roma women are illiterate — almost double the share among men. Only 10 percent of Bulgarian Roma women have secondary education, according to the World Bank, compared with 16 percent for the men.

However, support for marriage traditions is waning. A study by Amalipe, a nongovernmental organization in Bulgaria, found that 52 percent of Roma opposed parents' choosing the spouse of their children, with 35 percent in favor.

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Only 18 percent of Roma supported the bride price; 69 percent rejected it. Kalaidzhi are among the most tradition-bound of Roma.

But even they are changing — to the distaste of elders like Ivan Kolev, Now they go around like Bulgarians. Indeed, Vlado Drinkov, a rare ethnic Bulgarian at the fair, selling grilled meat and beer, scoffed at the Roma traditions.

Subtle shift at the gypsy bride market

It is modern economics, not ethics, that are bringing change. With cheap pots and pans from China widely available, smithing is a dying craft. The strongest remaining custom is for copper stills for brewing rakia, strong grape brandy that villagers make at home to avoid the E.

In the village of Prohorovo, the parents of Todorka Dimitrova, 18, divide the labor of life: her father, Vasil, 52, does the tinsmithing and cares for the animals. Her mother, Petrana, 50, cooks and tends the house and vegetable garden. In Bulgarian houses, they can go wherever they want. Here they sleep at home.

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Still, Ms. Dimitrova, an impish tomboy with an intelligence beyond her fifth-grade education, has already influenced her options. He was cold and childish. He and Ms. Dimitrova spoke by phone for eight months before meeting last year at St. Dimitrova said. Out of earshot of her parents, she confided a more radical option.