Sunday, December 8, 2013

Madiba

December 6th, 2013

Today as I walked through a foggy Sakura Park where Louis CK filmed a scene for his television show, I held Carolyn Forché's landmark poetry anthology "Against Forgetting" and read a quote by Nelson Mandela on the back cover.  It said:

 "Poetry cannot block a bullet or still a sjambok, but it can bear witness to brutality - thereby cultivating a flower in a graveyard.  Carolyn Forché's "Against Forgetting" is itself a blow against tyranny, against prejudice, against injustice.  It bears witness to the evil we would prefer to forget, but never can - and never should."

Seven hours later, I learned Madiba had "gone home".  

Monday, December 17, 2012

Snowpocolypistan: Yerevan Style



Some thoughts as I pack to visit home for the next nine days...

Is there anything more poetic, more enlivening than Yerevan under a thick blanket of snow? That makes you feel warm as you plod through the piercing cold? That opens your senses and makes every step an exhilarating victory?

Today is my last day in Armenia...for the moment. I return after a brief visit home for nine days. I'm excited to see my family, but can't help feel that departing now in this momentous changing of the seasonal guard leaves a bitter sweet texture in my heart.

Where do I live, I wondered, sliding through the snowy streets en route to the conservatory with a freshly strung flamenco guitar in hand? Today my lessons with the local flamenco master Hagop Chaghatzbanian took place at the Yerevan Conservatory of Music, fourth floor, room 435. I got there before Hagop. They gave me the key to the room. Operatic belting and tetrachords floating down the hall. The passion and relentless practice to maintain this immense artistic pride I'm lucky enough to have a slice of. I hit the lights and look out the window. I watch snow coat the brilliant-grey opera house as winterized citizens amble on. Hagop is on his way. But wait. Where's my foot stool? You need a foot stool to play flamenco guitar, whether you're in Yerevan, Sevilla, or Baltimore. Aha - it's tucked behind the heater. I'm still getting the hang of this flamenco thing - it's a technical juggernaut that demands only the most focused levels of practice and attention to detail, to sound, to the gorgeous strokes, attacks, arpeggios, rasgueos, trills, ad infinitum of flamenco guitar - but you sit in that room and you flip that foot stool open and strum one of those tragic open chords that fills the room with an emotion you can't describe in this snow blanketed post-Soviet urban mystery and what you get is simple: the spirit of existence.

Walking back home I think of the musicians who have come through this conservatory for decades and the artists who have walked these streets for centuries and the spirits of those children in Connecticut that will haunt us for the rest of our lives consciously and subconsciously and the call to action to stand up against the ignorance and vitriol that keeps gun's circulating in America's market of the unnecessary.

Adieu, Yerevan. For now.







Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The Mute Barber



Today I got my second haircut since arriving in Armenia three months ago to the day. My first haircut cost 8,000 Armenian dram (AMD); that's about $20 for those of you keeping track at home. I won't disclose where, but rest assured, it was fancy and beyond my budget. The cut was great, but the price left me feeling robbed and ever-aware of the absurd income gap in Armenia.

So today I searched and found something more reasonably priced - 2,000 AMD, or, $5. I thought it would be another routine haircut as I ascended the steps and entered the brightly lit room with scents of chemical fruit and sounds of squirting water afloat in the air. There was one male barber in a sea of stern/vivacious women and he approached me. Puts a metal device up to his throat and begins to talk. His voice sounds robotic as it comes through the small machine a few words at a time, but his expressions are of course human. He tells me to wait. I look him in the eye and try to pretend everything is normal. That I wouldn't dare ask him how this happened though its the first thing I want to know. That regardless of how it happened, I would know it was simply not right, not fair that this man had to hold a machine up to his throat every time he wanted to ask, and that I could just stand there and sing a song or whistle a melody should I choose. Is there justice in this world, I wanted to ask him. I wanted to know. I wanted to ask my friends. Earlier today I saw images of children's bloody corpses in the Gaza Strip. A few days ago it was another family shot dead in Aleppo. At a breakfast under the oppressive, mind-numbing thud of techno trash in yet another smoke-filled Yerevan café I watched soldiers stampede through the DRC and another endless stream of refugees fleeing for "safety". Is there justice in the world? I don't want to know the answer for I already know the deepest truths can shock, stifle man.

I'm told to wait and when it's my turn, I'm treated to a damn fine haircut. The mute barber, Jack, was simply a master. I have been the VICTIM of many horrible haircuts. I'm sure there are many reasons these occur: barber/barbress is having a lousy day/week/month/year/..., has grown sloppy over time, is thinking about something else, or simply believes the job at hand does not deserve the fullest attention.

Jack cut at my hair like he the finest onion slicer. With precision he sliced face and neck hair like it could be done in his dreams. He had five different kinds of brushes, and used them all; each served a purpose and was deployed with immense precision at just the right moment. My only critique is that too much water wound up in my ears. But that's more of a self-critique. Next time I should man up more.

So if you need a barber in Yerevan who is of the highest caliber and the fairest price, let me know.

Monday, November 12, 2012

At My Doorstep - Dispatch From Armenia #1


I thought I wouldn't blog in Armenia during my Fulbright year as it would deter time from scribing larger works, like a novel, play, second album, etc. Everyday things happen to me that are blogworthy. In contemplating launching these blog entries, I wondered would it be excessive to start a brand new blog URL, or build on this URL, "Single Steps", a blog I started after graduating from college with a one way ticket overseas (yes, I just used "blog" three times in a single sentence). The decision should be apparent (hint: epic entries from walking across Spain, WWOOFing in Portugal, cycling across the US and more can be found in "Single Step" entries past). Well I quickly wanted to write about two encounters that happened to me in my apartment building, which I love. One morning about a month ago I am preparing to leave the apartment when a knock is at the door. I don't usually have unannounced visitors. I peer through the peephole and find an elderly lady. I open the door. She starts yelling. Doesn't have teeth. It's incomprehensible but her desperation and purposes is apparent. She is fragile. Ancient. Lines all over her face. I shut the door and feel like a vagabond for doing so. But what can I do to help her? I think about my grandmother. My father who was educated in this country. All the people who helped me when I needed a hand. Who do I think I am for shutting the door on her? It's easy to pass up on the elderly. They'll be gone soon, right? Yet they seem to constitute the majority of beggars I have seen in this country. One man by the opera who sits at his stoop 8am on the dot, every morning. Another who walks around in the finest suit writing - with incredible braggadocio - your name and insisting on payment. I open the door and she's still there, thinking about which door to knock on next. I give her some change and it feels inadequate. Still would have had I given her a few bills. I can't save this woman whose age compels me to consider her simply as a source of innocence. I shut the door and think - what could I have done more? Another morning I am headed to class. It's super early. Birds are chipping. Streets are empty. I have some trash to take out - there's a big trashcan along my commute route and my bag is small and would fit easily in it. I step out and there's an old man in the classic Armenian sweatsuit. He sees the trash bag in my hand and asks me what I'm up to. Throwing it out, I tell him. Not in the dumpster out back? That's where we're supposed to throw it out. No, I tell him. There's a trashcan on my commute. You shameful little boy, he scowls. How dare you. You should be ashamed. ASHAMED. And I walk off. Who has time for this crap? Maybe there's a reason, maybe there's an art to trash gathering and collecting in Armenia that I'm not privvy to. But at the end of the day, trash is trash, a trashcan is a trashcan, and for two instances, I opened my door here in Armenia and found some interesting characters on the other end.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Collaborating

Happy to be writing another song for a great singer/songwriter in Lebanon, Eileen Khatchadourian - check out some great material at http://www.myspace.com/khatchadourianeileen.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Rekindling the fire



Ever stood at a crossroads? Wondering what sits beyond the horizon? I'm standing at a crossroads now, trying to figure out the next step. Not sure how I got here. Maybe I have some ideas. Not sure where I'll end up. Maybe some ideas for that too. I just feel lucky to be where I am.

It's like a knot, this crossroads. A knot in my belly that grows tighter when I acknowledge its presence. Tonight I have to make a pretty major decision about my future that can affect the next few years of my life. It's tough to think one decision can have so much power. That's life. I'm certainly not the first, nor will I be the last, to observe how lessons we take for granted as simple truths as children - like, "Life is formed from the choices we make" - take on these towering levels of meaning as we age.

Let's see what happens.





Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Next Step Forward

I saw "The Social Network" for a second time today with my brother, and remain in awe of Facebook's expansiveness and the overall trajectory of the Information Age.

Facebook is to our generation what The Beatles were to the 60's and 70's. Yet twenty years ago, when Microsoft was booming, who would have thought that Facebook - or Google or YouTube - would launch these incredible internet revolutions that would transform our lives. I am absolutely fascinated by these incredible organizations and wonder, what's next? Twenty years from today, what will be the next "Facebook"?

The history of the Internet is a fascinating one being written every second. We are a part of it.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Good News Bible


Here's a wonderful passage from the Good Book my grandmother shared with me! ...

"Anyone who makes fun of his father or despises his mother in her old age ought to be eaten by vultures or have his eyes picked out by wild ravens." Proverbs 30

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Myspace!

http://www.myspace.com/noseriki

Check it out! My new band, "No Sé, Riki". "Motorqueen" co-written with Zach; I arranged and recorded all the parts you hear in the recording :). Enjoy!

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

"Village Biology"

Well, Mr. Blogo.




Hello.

I feel like since I stopped traveling, I haven't had anything substantive to give you. Nothing worth sharing. You were a medium for bizarre stories and encounters. I went out looking for the unkempt armpits in a world that seemed just too well-kept.

The heart never stops traveling, however. And just because I'm not wandering the world (which I will return to) at the moment, doesn't mean the insights or writings have stopped.

A lot of people have asked me, "What happened to the blog?" It's still here, like me! What changed is how much I told other people about it.

At this point in time, I'm shifting this blog's focus to include more excerpts from the fiction I've been writing - plays, screenplays, short stories, poems, songs etc., in addition to the rest.

So here's the first bit...a short monologue from a character named Joe in a play I wrote called, "Village Biology" submitted to Middle East America's New Plays Initiative contest (check out their WEBSITE!!! http://www.middleeastamerica.org/).

JOE
"Why does life have to be so complex? Why can’t we just gather the people we love, set our grievances straight, leave the city, and start a village in a place where we eat the corn we grew, squeeze the juice from the lemons on our trees, and walk under an open sky unhindered by steel towers, smog, and drooping drifts of exhaust. A place where the horizon’s horizon is a hill or a tree or the convergence of light, land, and mist. Where we create our own economy, our own laws and morals and religions and just start over. Hit the “reset” button. Because shit, this world is so broken that all we can do is pick up the fragments and try to create new, better worlds with whatever pieces we can get our hands on until our own village breaks and leaves behind new and smaller fragments for the next generation. But we’ll be gone by the time that happens. In someone else's world. At least that’s the hope."

Friday, May 7, 2010

Rigging


I'm after a sound. I can hear it, I've always heard it, and I'm slowly extracting it. Here are the tools that are helping me get there - despite the awesome Oud, I am most excited about the pedals: Whammy, Delay DD3, and Holy Grail. Looper soon to be added!

Eye Contact



Much Love to the Armenian Poetry Project for publishing one of my more recent poems, "Eye Contact". CHECK IT OUT:
http://armenian-poetry.blogspot.com/2010/05/raffi-wartanian-eye-contact.html

Saturday, April 3, 2010

The Latin Bourj-Hammoud

In the womb of my kitchen, behind walls of culture and every-square-inch-architecture, I heard snare drums clacking in the street. I ran out, looked out the window, and saw what's captured in the video and photos below. Needless to say, I knew then that it was Good Friday in my portion of Bushwick, The Latin Bourj-Hammoud.





video

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Subway Writings

Here's an observation that morphed into a monologue while I was sitting on the subway today writing.

"A row of people with books and phones. They aren't reading the words in front of their eyes. They're reading the words of the person to their left. All of them except that poor Johnson to the very left who's got nobody next to him. So by pure circumstance, by virtue of where he is in that line, he is excluded from the artificiality that governs the projections we show others. Without choosing, he now sees that we're all desperate to know each other, so desperate that we'd rather wallow in a solitude of stolen glances and what-if's than shake hands and talk about why we bite our nails or why it's so hard to love after a broken heart. We're dying to know each other. We read, we listen to music; somehow we think that words and sounds published and distributed are more cogent to our immediate lives than the person next to us. That's how life goes. You get this spectrum of relational mirrors where some people you know so well they become strangers, and some are so estranged that there is this profound connection you have, and that's, like, 90% of earth's population you're deeply connected to through this necessary, circumstantial estrangement. Question is, do we realize how how close we all are?"

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

French Translation

A very special thank you to Sylvie Miller for translating my poem "Departure" into French. Sylvia, a kind spirit from Monaco I've never met before, found my poem on the Armenian Poetry Project site and liked it so much she decided to translate it. She too has an awesome blog, www.poetrytranslations.blogspot.com , definitely check it out! And thanks to Lola Koundakjian and the Armenian Poetry Project for publishing my work on their site - http://armenian-poetry.blogspot.com/2010/03/raffi-wartanian-departure.html

That's right. MONACO!