Friday, August 10, 2007

Armenian Hospitality

I ate lunch alone today for the first time since arriving. It was deliciously solitary and thanks to some fabulous reading from a friend (a few choice articles from Third Wave Agenda: Being Feminist, Doing Feminism), I sat head-in-a-book-in-the-corner happy. I was indulging in a wealth of favorite things: crepe salé with chicken and crème fraiche, academic criticism, filtered coffee and a very quiet lunch hour. My meal carouseled on in gastronomic and literary bliss. And then I got a piece of chicken stuck between my teeth. My attempts to gracefully remove it with the corner of my pinky nail and then my thumbnail produced no successful results. I could not be the picture of post-college ennui and intellect with a piece of chicken between my incisors. The lone lunchtime diner, I kept at it as I read on about how academic feminists can best serve contemporary causes. Then, the waiter, who had been standing by the bar throughout the meal, breezed by my table, dropped a container of toothpicks and slid off into the back room.

Now, every travel guide I’ve ever read about Armenia mentions the “unrivaled hospitality and kindness of the indigenous people.” I share the sentiment- these people are gems. But there is a subtlety to Armenian hospitality that is oftentimes overlooked. That is to say, in Armenia, not only do they service you with toothpicks to tidy your teeth but they let you do it in privacy as well. All without a single word to mar the whole affair.

Proud granddaughter to the dentist at the ATDA office,


Monday, August 6, 2007

No Need to Retract: A Summer Flanked by Fisk and Schultz

You know you’re having one shad lav (very good) summer when you get the opportunity to hear two fabulously inspiring journalists speak. Not just those big writers who use big words and drive in big cars with tinted windows. I’m talking about the field mice of journalism: the people who scuttle about, sniff around and see the story first hand. It was a mouse, after all, got that thorn out of the lion’s paw.

I started off my post-college career with a rousing graduation speech courtesy of Connie Schultz (The Plain Dealer). I am happy to say that I’ve been asking the wait staff at all establishments if they keep their tips ever since. Baristas in Starbuck’s smile more, believe me.

Flash forward to next inspiring journalistic talk: A group of us cabbed over to the American University in Yerevan to seize the unparalleled honor of seeing Robert Fisk (The Independence) speak last Thursday. Mr. Fisk did a great job of telling things in the nitty gritty style for which he is so esteemed. And he’s honest, to boot. In the air during the 9/11 attacks, he admits that even his racist stripes slithered out into the open as he identified 14 sketchy characters on the plane on which he was flying. There they were, he says, “looking suspiciously at Bob, because Bob was looking suspiciously at them.” Sometimes people stare because you stare back. Haskatsa (Understood), Mr. Fisk.

Now, forgive my nostalgic indulgence as I depart in just over a week. What was it that Neville Chamberlain once called Czechoslovakia, RF? Oh yes, “a faraway country of which we know little.” Armenia, for most of us, is just this. For me, the distance has shrunk like saran wrap in the microwave- rapidly and accompanied by the smell of burning plastic (thank you, Yerevan Sanitation Department). Here’s hoping that some of my words brought Hayastan a little closer to home for you, too.

Just in passing, I’d also like to mention that we saw an Armenian dance troupe perform on the side of a mountain beside a castle this Saturday as the sun shone down in buckets. That was shad lav too.

Drenched with Light (and Sun) in August,


Monday, July 30, 2007

Woke Up, Chiaroscuro Morning

This morning deserves a few words. It's 11:22 and I've already been up for 6 hours and counting. I can't say it was the smartest idea to catclaw out of bed at 4:45 am, but it certainly was beautiful. As I blindly pulled on shorts, wearily weasled my perma-dirt covered feet into dustier and dirtier sneakers, I sat on the living room floor tempting my eyes to stay open with early morning CNN. There was no light in the sky- just glow of the city. It's a glow not at all like NY, there's nothing "bright lights" about it, no "tripping the light fantastic" in Yerevan. The night light of Yerevan is more akin to the smoky, faded puffs of yellow that slither through the small crack under the door. Running up to the Cascade, face flush to the floor, trying to peer under the door, I can't see much. In the lowlight, the potential for imagination to carry aaway and kidnap reason in great. I was glad to be joined by fellow nightriders at the base of the monument.

We climbed. We arrived. We sat at the top of the monument, lying around waiting for the elusive sunrise. While we spend all day at internet-equipped internships, a few clicks away from finding out the exact minute the sun surges up past Mama Armenia, none of us knew exactly when that beast would rise. We didn't want to risk missing it. A miscalculation of an hour or so had us sprawled on the ledge waiting for the sky to warm. We spit out words in spurts like popping gum or tapping pens. For the most part, it was silent.

And finally, on her schedule, certainly not ours, the sky hit an apex of beauty. We turned around and saw the moon on our right, our Ararat to the left. A sky that grew in gradation from pale yellow to pink to blue. The sun pushing the color palate deeper.

I'm a little tired now. But hey, did you know that a young, robust supreme court judge was hospitalized in Maine last night and a robbery gone wrong left three dead? Not only was this morning beautiful, but thanks to the CNN newsbrief that repeats on the half hour, decidedly informative.

Certain that a cup of MacCoffee and Anderson Cooper can eradicate exhaustion,


Sunday, July 29, 2007

Everywhere in Armena, the Crowd Cheers On

Last Wednesday, as previously mentioned, I attended a soccer match between Hayastan’s Pyunik (translation: phoenix, how poetic) and Derry. What I failed to mention was the unbelievable number of men at the event. I mean, I get it. Boys like sports; this is a general assumption similar to many others such as: housewives like vacuuming and fathers like leaning back in a chair after dinner and undoing a few links from their belt. If I were to continue, I’d say all Irish have perfected the car bomb (I’m talking in the bar, not on the streets) and all Greeks have whole lambs marinating in their basement fridges (I confess, this last one may be closer than not to the truth.) Suffice it to say, I was still surprised when I got to the stadium and looked around to find myself one of only a handful of women at the event. I cheered louder to compensate.

Last Friday, we snuck out of our Havak on “Economic Development and The Diasporan Factor,” to attend a reading hosted by Setta’s Women’s Center. As we shuffled, shucked and slid our way into the crowded back room at The Club, we noticed nothing particularly unique about the setting. A bunch of people crowded into one room, chattering away. Add a little haygagan surjch (Armenian coffee) and it’d look like any other restaurant and café around. Ah, but here’s the rub: the room was filled with women reading their literary creations out loud, en haut-voix, bartsiats-tsyn. In Armenian, in English, in French. The women formed a vortex of words as they passed a talking wand around the room. What a feminine space-dominating with words- how contrary to my every day assumptions. The applause at the end rattled the room, cornered the few men observing on the periphery.

This is what it’s been like here, lately. Lot’s of surprises. Most of them pleasant. We are sneaking away, in mouse steps and pirouettes, from the tourist reality. Cab rides are getting cheaper as our Armenian improves. Haggling makes more sense. Yesterday, a Shark’s Tale was on T.V. in English- that was pleasant, too.

Placing cornerstones from the ATDA office,


Wednesday, July 25, 2007

I'll End with Etimology

Last night I had the long awaited meeting with a representative from the field hockey league here in Armenia. There are 11 teams, two of which play in Yerevan. There is a girl's league and a men's league. This meeting was a triumphant moment. So triumphant, in fact, that few things bothered me at all. I didn't care that the grass in Republic Square was being watered by a level 5 rapid-strength stream of water (so Armenians have the tendency to use as much water as they can during the six hours of flowing water a day, so they choose to water he grass in the blazing sun). I didn't care at all that the air stood still last night as I lay in my twin sized bed with Looney Tunes sheets, a big plastic yellow moon glowing eerily above my head. I had found field hockey in Armenia- the attainment of a month long goal. Triumphant.

Other triumphs: Hayastan beat Derry in a Champion's league soccer match last night. Armenians love when their team wins. I understood my landlady when she called to ask what time I would be coming home from work yesterday evening (i told her five because i couldn't figure out how to say 5:30 on demand).

Now, the words: In Armenian, Khoti Hoki is the transliterated translation for grass (or field) hockey.

I don't know about your ears, but every time I hear someone say Khoti Hoki, my mind begins to make connections. For example, doesn't Khoti Hoki sound an awful lot like hottie hockey. Do a little switcharoo and you've got a hockey hottie!

The subtitlies of languages here are constantly tricking me into thinking that I'm hearing english when someone's speaking armenian, french when someone's speaking russian. I go bonkers. But this is one slippery language slope i'm happy to slide right down.

To all the hockey hotties playing khoti hoki in Armenia. I can't wait.


Sunday, July 22, 2007

photos from the weekend

Dear Friends,

Here are some of the shots from this weekend's jaunt. There are many faces, fewer places than before. Shushi and all of Karabakh was about the people. I don't think that it has ever been any other way.


(copy & paste action required)

All my love,


For Friday's Sake- what didn't get said.

Looking out the window last night, totally kusht (full) from a dinner made by friends, I saw homogenous Armenia at its finest. Windows open to let in the damp air of after-rain, my eyes scanned the apartment building parallel to our friends' flat. I looked over and saw a few good men, one watching t.v., another tidying a bookshelf. They looked like fair and fine Armenians. And, if there was any chance of my questioning their heritage, it flew out that open window the moment I noticed that they were dressed in identical shirts. Same black and gray vertical stripes paired with a polyester collar and elastic arm bands. Classic and classy Armenia.

Armenia is diverse in similarities. There are stone monasteries carved out of cliffs peppering the countryside by the dozen, there are more white and boxy Soviet Ladas than I can count driving by our office every hour. I have eaten more khatchapuri than I care to count and my hair is getting redder from all these tomatoes. There is comfort in consistency, yes. However, tedium drives many to extremes. Currently, I am living on the extreme end of sensory consumption. I am constantly looking around like an infant ogling at his first flash of green, a toddler who just discovered the alluring incline of stairs.

More on this later.

Best regards from 12 Amiryan Apt.54,