Sunday, December 14, 2008

If you're my naughty child

Folks, I have given up on posting pictures for the time being because the internet here is just too slow and unruly.

Today I went with my cousin Viken to Zmar, an Armenian Catholic monastery in the middle of one of Lebanon's countless mountain chains.  It's exquisitely beautiful.  

I sneaked into a building.  It was a Sunday night.  And I found a classroom of pre-pubescent boys with scraggly forebodings of facial hair sitting quietly and studying.  

They lived at the monastery, enduring the (rigorous?) education future priests must endure.  Their tameness struck me, the sense of discipline, of withdrawal from the outside world; insularity.  

Then it hit me.  I discovered the perfect ultimatum to put before my future child (should he/she exist) if he/she's behavior drives me bonkers.  "If you can't get your act together," I'll say, "then you're off to Zmar."

Swish.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Images from Beirut

This will be the first part in a series of interesting photos I gathered in Beirut.

This home belonged to my great grandfather, Mardiros Baloumian.  My grandmother and her seven siblings grew up here.  Today, it is in an unfortunate state of disrepair and is for rent or sale (let me know if you're interested).  It is located in Gemmayze, very close to one of the main night life districts.



This plague is located at the entrance of Haigazian University's library.  To me it represents the American government's efforts to insert its monetary influence into as many aspects of Middle East society as possible.  The library looks good - very different from another USAID funded academic institution I worked at: a school in the Armenian village of Ptghni in total shambles - shattered windows, no heaters, cracked steps, broken blackboards, unsanitary bathrooms, etc etc - and atop it all, a USAID plague adorned over one of the classrooms in which new desks and a new computer was found.



This is Akaar, where the American University of Beirut's Nature Conservation Center for Sustainable Forestry helped fund a group I joined to plant trees near the northern city of Tripoli.  I imagine we would enter lush cedar forests in a sweet mountain shade, but as you can see, the experience itself was quite different.  We mostly planted on the side of a road which most citizens consider viable territory for depositing trash.  Often we found discarded shoes, parts of sweaters, beer bottles, candy wrappers, banana peels, plastic bags, and anything else you might see in the picture filling the holes we planted trees in.  



This is the Bechtel Engineering Building on the campus of the American University of Beirut.  That's right.  Bechtel.  To fully appreciate the significance of this, I would highly recommend reading "Confessions of an Economic Hitman".  To summarize, Bechtel is one of several elite American engineering companies that turns immense profits every time the US government scores contracts to develop infrastructure and telecommunications networks in developing countries.  These developing countries take on tremendous debts to afford the work of these American engineering companies whose extremely influential CEO's blur the line between the public and private sector, like Dick Cheney.  I found the toleration of Bechtel's predatory lending philosophy on a university campus in the Middle East highly disturbing.  



This photo is taken in my grandmother's apartment building in the Geitoui district of Beirut in Achrafieh.  It shows one of the old doorbells that used to belong to a former resident of the building, last name Tankian.  You might recognize the last name, and it is not a coincidence.  Serj Tankian, lead singer of System of a Down, was born in this building, in the garden of the home that was later passed on to my uncle after the Tankians left Beirut.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Artsy photos of Beirut's Mohamed Al-Amin Mosque

Here are two artsy photos I took of Beirut's largest mosque, smack dab in the middle of the city.  Funded and financed by Rafiq Hariri in 2002, the former Prime Minister of Lebanon assassinated in 2005, the mosque was inaugurated in 2008 by his son and heir, Saad.  The former PM is buried beside it.  There is also a very interesting billboard near Hamra, the mixed Christian-Muslim section of the city where Hariri's Lebanese American University and the American University of Beirut are located, that counts the day since Hariri's '05 assassination in bold, red, digital numbers.  I think the count is somewhere near 1357 now.  I feel a bit uncertain of taking a photo of it.  I'm sure I'll muster the courage sooner or later.

I took these photos below on an obscenely-early morning walk with my aunt Aline and cousin Melik.  I like the tree.  It's very tree-like.  Specifically, I like the contrast between the minarets and the branches.  I can't decide if the branches flow into the minarets, or the minarets flow into the branches.  Either way, the mosque is absolutely gorgeous, and the domes are of the purest blues I have ever seen.  The minarets are like rockets poised for takeoff, and the domes seem to link the blue of the sky and the Mediterranean.  

It also took me an obscenely long time to load these pics because internet here is silly.  Anyways, enjoy.  More to come.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

When planting trees in Lebanon

Yesterday I left the city for the first time since November 24th!!  I was feeling suffocated, dizzy, just utterly overurbanized.  

Thanks to ISBAR, an environmental group based out of AUB (American University of Beirut), I got to leave the city for the first time with environmentalist-types and plant trees in Akaar, a region in the north near the city of Tripoli.

I anticipated mountainous terrain, goat herds, dogs hooting at their flocks, and working in a forest.  No, we worked on the side of a road in a fairly developed, quasi-urbanized area.  

The Absurd:
1. Trees planted in holes that have more roadside trash in them than soil.  Examples of trash include shoes, sweater sleeves, and KitKat wrappers.
2. Child skinning a cow's head.
3. Child skinning sheep in front of butcher's shop.
4. Sheep tied to a pole, standing under fellow flock member's carcasses waiting for its turn under the knife.
5. Riding up and down mountain roads standing on the bumper of an early 80's pick up.  And surviving, somehow.

For some reason, our group of tree planters had a lot of overlap with capoeira kids.  What is that?  Are trees somehow involved in the global capoeira conspiracy?  Or are the capoeira maestres of the world scheming to evolve humans into trees?  Time will tell.
   

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Back in Beirut

Dear Blog,
I'm sorry I haven't given you the attention you deserve as of late.  You have been a truly wonderful friend for the past several months, and you don't deserve the neglect you've received lately.  I have arrived in Beirut safe and sound after the shortest and most turbulent flight of my life - 25 minutes from Larnaca to Beirut.  They served us orange juice boxes that I squeezed the hell out of as our plane blipped up and down, left and right.  Also, I chewed the pin stripes out of the juice box straw.   

Now I am living with my grandmother in Beirut, trying to keep my energy high despite her occasionally morose attitude.  A balancing act between celebrating life, and lamenting the passage of time.  And I'm caught somewhere in between.


People here think I look like an Israeli.  That can be a problem.  A big problem.  They say it because I have a lot of hair, wear a straw hat from Portugal, puffy side burns, a goatee, look Middle Eastern, and cannot speak proper Arabic.  Being different can be fun - I always get stares of curiosity and interest from women, and squints of suspicion and exclusion from most men.  Even my hairy friend Jaques says I look suspicious in my hat.  I would say that I look rather innocent - wouldn't you say??


In case you were wondering: yes, I now exist in four, multi-colored dimensions.  

I've found that one appreciates people and places far more if they know they cannot easily access them.  We quickly take for granted the things that grow in significance as time passes.  If we increase the distance discrepancy between one's self and places & people of importance, the same effect can be achieved.  










Saturday, November 22, 2008

Writer's Dilemma

Talk too much about your writing, and your harvest will wither.
Keep your mouth shut and your pen moving: your harvest will be bountiful.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Barcelona's Storefront Graffiti

Barcelona is a visually and artistically captivating city.  To me, it is an "alternative" city, a place where mainstream ideas of beauty and expression are brushed aside for less conventional methods of expression.  This can be found in the myriad street performances that take place every day.  Despite strict government regulations on how, when, and where these performances take place, they still find a way to stun. 

One form of "alternative art" I found particularly inspiring was the ubiquitous graffiti painted onto the garage doors that get slid down once the stores close.  But I wouldn't necessarily call it graffiti.  To me graffiti implies making one's name or one's group's name the centerpiece of the work.  The "alternative graffiti" I found on these garage doors throughout the city, however, depicted all sorts of odd scenes from other-universes.  Just walk through Barcelona at night and look at the garage doors.  You'll feel like you're walking in a museum of modern art.  So below I am including a collection of photographs I took of these pieces scattered throughout the city.




















Monday, November 10, 2008

i have mono


This is a new level of pain.  Shallow breaths.  Daggers digging into my throat.  Every time I swallow I grunt like a schoolboy getting pummeled by the bully.  Then my body jerks to deal with the pain.  To try to distribute it more evenly.  But there is no even here.  There is no fare.  There is a micro man with a machete standing right behind my uvula.  He is the most ill-tempered tyrant you’ll know.  Whatever necessity I must pass his way – water, soup, yogurt, halls, saliva, life force – he lashes out against them all.  He swings his weapon against my tonsil, where there’s now a white cist just sitting there, just throbbing, just consuming me with pain.  The size of a crumb, the force of an anvil. 
I can’t even sleep.  When I lie down, the mucus builds up.  If I swallow, it hurts like hell, but it lubricates my throat and makes it hurt just a bit less for the next swallow.  But there is so much my inclination is just to spit it out.  And once I spit, the flood ensues.  First me, then the deluge.  It just keeps building and building, and I can’t swallow fast enough to keep up with my salivary glands.  And if I tried, I am sure I would be on the ground jerking and contorting everywhichway, yelping gnarled, obscured obscenities not said for the effect, but to try and capture the sheer misery of it.  Then my throat would melt down into my stomach and I would be finished.
If I do manage to lay down and shut my eyes, then the strangest thoughts dribble around my mind.  Lately it’s been all politics.  Last night, in my sorry state, the predominant thought on the forefront of my mind was: Who will Obama select for his cabinet?  It is a moderately interesting question, but not one I want to deal with in bed whilst I’m trying to sleep.  Considering all of the different possibilities genuinely generates this anxiety inside of me that keeps me from truly relaxing.  Then I put on some music and that helps momentarily, but then I start spitting again and all is lost.  When I do get some bits of sleep, it is by pure accident, always unanticipated.  Usually, they are about 30 minute chunks of bliss, of escape.  I’ve recently taken to reading a Psychology text book to induce exhaustion.  This doesn't work too well though b/c the book is very interesting.  
In the mornings the pain is the worst because my throat is at its least lubricated state.  Every swallow is death by throat-stab.  I have to swallow saliva so I can eat food.  I have to swallow food so I can take medicine.  I have to swallow medicine so the pain subsides temporarily.  Then repeat.  



Fixing A Hole in Nicosia

Hi Everybody.

I have mononucleosis and feel miserable, but am happy to report that I finished and uploaded another song to www.purevolume.com/raffiwartanian

I have recorded all parts of these songs using Garageband and my dinky backpacker's guitar.  

Cough,
Raffi

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Election Night Coverage



Part of me wished that I was back in America on election night 2008 to join the celebrations and have a closer encounter with the sense of a new era dawning. Call me a nerd, but I was nevertheless quite content with the situation I found myself in – comparing election night coverage between three major broadcasters: CNN, BBC, and Al Jazeera.

I have a friend who works as a journalist, and when I asked him his opinion about Al Jazeera, he was rather harsh and upset about the supposed anti-American slant they bring to their news. I noticed nothing of the sort as I watched their brilliant, yes brilliant, coverage. By the end of the election, my objections with CNN’s approach to media was affirmed. Here is a list of things that struck me about Al Jazeera and CNN’s coverage:

1. Did anyone notice that CNN aired at the Obama rally in Grant Park? I first noticed it when I saw beer ads running on the enormous screens at the rally. Then the unmistakable CNN = Politics slogan flashed on the screen, and I was sure. What is the connection there? And why did CNN political correspondent Candy Crowley get to be among the selected few reporters to ask Barack a question at his first press conference as President Elect?

2. Al Jazeera interviewed Robert Fisk. Fisk’s hallmark is honest and critical dialogue on controversial issues I have never seen Fisk interviewed on any news network. Then they interviewed Jesse Jackson AND JJ Jr. at Obama’s rally. The round table discussion were equally fascinating – notably one with a rapper called “Son of a Nun” from Baltimore, and other interesting roundtables in Kabul and Tehran.

3. No commercials aired during Al Jazeera’s coverage of election night. Absolutely incredible.

4. Al Jazeera stationed reporters throughout the world on election night to capture in real time the world’s reaction to the unfolding election. Correspondents reported from Kabul, Moscow, Kenya, Albania, Germany, Iran, Brazil, China, Zimbabwe, Canada, and many other nations. CNN followed its strict formula of studio, rally, and various city shots. CNN has a tendency to overanalyze the little things and does not strive to capture a global reaction to how events, especially the election, unfold. Al Jazeera did brilliant work in this respect, really capturing honest footage on how regular people around the world were reacting. My favorite piece of info was from the village of Obama’s father in Kenya, where two cows were slaughtered in honor of their native son’s historic victory.

5. What’s up with CNN’s slogan? CNN = Politics?  Are we really such a short-tempered and mathematically inept viewership that we need an A = B formula to tell us why we watch CNN?  I think it has something to do with the increasing impatience we are seeing in our media-frenzied universe, where it is becoming more apparent that if you can’t hook a viewer with a sexy slogan, then you lose them. Quality dissolves as a result, but it’s not CNN’s fault. They just perpetuate the system.  Al Jazeera's election night coverage sans commercial at least indicates to me that it enjoys a reasonable amount of journalistic integrity.

What a silly thing to write about.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

One More Day!

I cannot believe that after almost two years of campaigning, the US presidential election of 2008 will finally end tomorrow. I am about 95% sure that Obama will be our 44th president. It is an exciting moment in history. We’ll either have the oldest president, or the first black president. We are finally sensing the end of GW Bush’s reign of tyranny, hatred, and international crime. I am shocked that he was reelected, and it is a grim indication that in general, Americans are easily duped into believing that questionable individuals can carry out the dramatic reform they seem to promise. Whoever wins, it will be hard for anybody to do worse than Bush, so in that sense, the next president won’t have a hard time winning the heart of Americans who are eager for a new man in the White House. Nevertheless, a mountain of issues awaits the next commander-in-chief.

Recession, rampant corporate and political corruption, bitter bipartisan warfare, a broken healthcare system, a narrow political discourse, a shattered international image abroad, a war we must leave, failing energy policies, a backwards election system, and an obsessive “rock star politics” fueled by a media-frenzied society have eroded the quality, reliability, and straightforwardness of American politics. Yes, we need change. But neither of the two major candidates have proposed truly creative reforms that would turn this country around. They have stuck to the stump, reading the scripts that we have heard many times before from candidates of the past. This round, it’s the same story with different faces.

Whoever wins, let’s not forget some of America’s consistent policies and objectives that won’t be forgotten by either of the two candidates. While both candidates guarantee their own unique brand of “change” that they insist differs from their opponent’s, the media, the candidates, their parties, and the people seem to overlook what won’t change about America, regardless of who enters the White House. 1) America is a hegemony. Puerto Rico is an annexed territory. So is Midway Island, and Guam, to name a few. Throw Hawaii in there while we are at it. Who profits from the tariffs collected from the elephantine traffic sailing through the Panama Canal? Uncle Sam. Regardless of who wins the election, there is an unspoken understanding that this individual is responsible for maintaining America’s role as the world’s great empire. But we are seeing America’s power gradually slip, as powers like Brazil, China, Iran, and Russia rise. Military conflict with one of these three might be in our future. And why does America chastise Iran? On the surface level we are told, as we were about Iraq, that they could develop nuclear weapons to attack America, or our ally Israel. Recently, someone asked me why Iran does not like Israel. I meandered about the question before discovering what I think is the answer. Well, there seems to very little that Iran could objectively dislike about Israel. I have never heard Iran use narrow-minded, bigoted explanations that they abhor Israel because of their cuisine, music, or the way they look. No, Iran’s anti-Israeli slant promotes, I believe, Iran’s regional power in the Middle East. In the Middle East, there is a strong divide among nations with Shii and Sunni majorities. Sunnis are the majority, while the only nations with Shii majorities (and correct me if I am wrong) are Syria and Iran. This religious and ideological divide has prevented overwhelming unity for a very powerful region. But in this sea of Islam, there is one issue that transcends the Shii/Sunni split. It is Israel. In spearheading an aggressive anti-Israeli campaign, Iran indicates a strong bid for regional power through anti-Semitism. Iran realizes that opposing Israel has little to do with which sect of Islam one comes from. Leading this anti-Israeli campaign seems to be less about tangible action against Israel and more about rallying support across the Middle East. Then why does America speak out so vehemently against Iran and so strongly in favor of Israel? (Disclaimer to my response: what I am about to write is not anti-Semitic or racist as many of my best friends are Israeli and Jewish. The reason I put this disclaimer is that I believe there are pockets of Jewish communities across the world who have brainwashed their followers into believing that politically speaking out against Israel is tantamount to racism. And I wouldn’t believe this if I hadn’t come face to face with such perspectives. I have been accused of being racist and anti-Semitic for making the following suggestions, which clearly do not fit the definition of racism or anti-Semitism.) Might it have something to do with the power of the Jewish vote in America? America’s Jewish population is extremely well-organized, well-financed, and influential. A few months ago, both John and Barack spoke at the center for America’s Israel Lobby, pledging to always stand by Israel. Further, American foreign policy still maintains, after nearly two decades, that Russia is still poses a grave threat to American interests. America still holds a strong anti-Russian bent. Again, we must ask why? While we are showered with tales of police brutality, KGB’s, and limits on expression (all of which America is also guilty of), we are not told how Russia’s economic and diplomatic strength can pose a direct (non-military) threat to America’s position as the world superpower. Russia is still very much on America’s radar screen though not so much in its newspapers.

Popularity contest. It’s interesting to notice how the media, which, thanks to networks like facebook, now belongs both to the big companies and us small individuals with blogs and facbeook accounts, has launched a massive hagiography campaign to associate Obama with all things beautiful, righteous, and fair. Obama probably doesn’t buy half the coverage swirled up about him in the media, but he would never speak out against such exaggerated sentiments since they are the ones that have propelled him to this position. Obama seems to have become more of a symbol rather than a politician. It is a typical (American) attribute to focus more on what an individual represents rather than what he/she actually is. These representations get adapted by people into their personalities, and because of the unhealthy focus media shines on a single individual so that we have a system where millions of individuals focus on one (as opposed to a more, truly democratized form of “media” where all individuals focus on one another), people start living vicariously through these media stars. Of course, political parties, corporations, and clever entrepreneurs who pick up on these trends, profit off this media frenzy, and use their resources to promote this lop-sided system to sustain their own wealth.

Regardless of what happens, I believe that we are seeing the gradual decline of America’s role as the word superpower. All empires of the world have risen and fallen. They follow the natural cycles of the earth, surging and receding like a wave. The Roman Empire, Ottoman Empire, French Empire, British Empire, the Soviet Union, etc etc., they have all surged, soared, receded, and fell back into mediocrity, waiting for the next opportunity to rise again. I just don’t understand this underlying obsession with power that everybody is after. Power is temporary, ephemeral. It might last the course of one’s lifetime, but it is not sustainable because the effectiveness of power relies on the weakness of others. And when others are weak, they become destabilized, marginalized, and disenfranchised of a standard living afforded those who live in the power sphere. These tensions generate wars, genocides, mass starvation and disease, and extreme poverty and inequality. Simultaneously, superpowers typically claim to promote ideals of just humanity, equality, and righteousness, but rarely practice such ideals themselves.

We need to reconsider how we run our world. What I’m talking about is a complete overhaul of a broken global system where wealth and power are not the primary objectives. I feel we are so entrenched in the way things are that we may never see the sun of a new way. What if we redrew the maps of the world and required that every country had to be the same exact size? Then, we took away all the weapons of this world, and stored them underground in one of these countries, and had guards to make sure nobody tried to sneak in and take them away. We could have a world governing council that ensured an equal distribution of resources for all countries. This would include supplies necessary to maintain quality health, education, transportation, sustainable energy alternatives (solar and wind first and foremost), and a high standard of quality housing. Dilapidated residences would be rebuilt, and overall, we would build this new model atop already existing structures.

Will it every happen? No. But is it dangerous to stop imagining the possibilities? Very.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Found Poetry


The infinite number of tourists milling around Florence inspired me to experiment with a new form of poetry where I simply sit down in a crowded area, and write down all the snippets of conversation I here. Nothing is filtered. Everything is included. I call this "found poetry". It is beautiful to see the interconnections between the words of strangers that can only dance together on the found poet's page.

The process is long and requires a lot of patience, but I think there is a lot of great potential for this idea. I would say it would take about a month of dedicated work, sitting in the field and recording all snippets meticulously, to really produce a truthful collection of found poetry. Here is my first one.

Found Poetry # 1, 10/14/2008. Florence, Italy

Yea, because that's the wrong bus stop
An aquarium down here?
All around the windows and above the windows
This is scary.
Where? Oh. Up ahead.
Totally.
Anne, your shoe's untied.
I love it
See that?
Where we going from here?
Fourteen euro; could spend a couple hours there
With the - ah - tombs
Let's go back this way.
Broncos! Hahaha - Kansas City Chiefs.
Your things
Ahhhh - I'll never get up.
Did you see the one? That nazionale?
They scorned her
Oh my god. Oh my god.
Do you want to go to the museum and see if we can get in before 4?
Wait. What are we doing?
There's a little Italian band
Oh my god
There's where I want to go.
Bless you.
Smile.
We'll stop on the way back
Something - um - maybe a music teacher.
Alright, Harvey. Let's go.
You know what we should do?
How long you been there?
Five minutes.
Aw, sorry.
It's ok. It's ok.







© All rights reserved. Raffi Wartanian and his discovery of found poetry.
Do these copyright symbols really do anything anyway? I highly doubt it.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Michelle


I bet I can make your heart melt with my voice and fingers. Well, that depends on your taste. Anyways, here is a song I recorded last night of one of my favorite Beatles songs, "Michelle". I recorded all the parts on my computer over the course of two hours. It's no Debussy, but it's close...if you're really confused.

Here's the link to access my recording!

http://www.purevolume.com/raffiwartanian

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Sound of Seals

My last day in Barcelona I caught Werner Herzog's new documentary "Encounters at the End of the World". He goes to the South Pole and investigates the people who live in this part of the world and the work they do. One of the most fascinating moments comes when he joins a small group of seal researchers who share with him one of the most incredible sounds I've ever heard: seal calls UNDERWATER.

Thank you, technology. Your magnificent capacity has made it possible for the feeble human ear to hear the glorious imperceptibilies beyond human cognition.

So here is the link. It doesn't sound like an animal. Herzog points out accurately that is sounds more like Pink Floyd jamming. It definitely sounds like electronic music.

http://www.antarctica2000.net/sounds/seals.html

The fourth blue button begins a series of the seals various underwater calls. Enjoy!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Poems written in Florence

Here is a collection of free form poetry I wrote in Florence. They sketch my impressions from the odd situation I found myself in at my sister’s wedding. Odd because I was surrounded by so many people I have not seen in a very long time (months, years). I felt like I was back home, and reconnected with some old internal feelings that yielded what seems to me some morose writing.


I
Brain floating
The sound of stammering madness
Bursting into a troubled vessel.

East coast professional
West coast freak.
Take me to a concert where the
World has let go of itself, and little
Red-horned beasts charge into eachother.

II
All that matters is nothing.
All that is has gone.
The empty cup is drowning with water
And a thousand tiny rocks kiss my souls.

III
Crooked back can’t hear nothing
Hiding in a cracked shell – red, white, blot
Plummeting down the fogged stratosphere
And pulls a strap to float so soft
Until the wind rips holes into the parachute.

IV
Don’t believe in it but I’ll take it
Crying inside but I’ll smile
Need to turn away but I face-to-face it
Want to hate it but I love it.

Its sparkle takes mine away
Forced smiles etch pain into my wrinkles.
Time to find my mind hiding in my back pocket with the hard tissue that dissolves in my hand if I take too much of it.

Where is the grain of sand in this desolate pasture?
Where is the brain of man in this charred metropolis?

Run away, sleepy brain.
Keep your eyes shut and don’t even blink.
Think like it’s the first thought you’ve ever bought from a three-handed crumb peddler.

V
I’m here for a quickie
Got a camera in one hand
And a guidebook in the other

Walking like my first steps
Lookin’ for a good time
Within my price range

I’m just; me just
Here for a quickie
Then I gotta get back

To the real world,
Meal face laced with grace
Swirling about my inner outer space,
So make it quick and sweet
With a side of meat
And I’ll size up the world.

VI
Have a look at this bridge
We need to see everything.

Giacometti statuettes for a few pennies.
We can argue for the price if you really want to,
If it really makes you feel that much stronger.

VII
Systematic, aristocratic, dogmatic.
Cyclical blindness imbedded
In relentless internal pain;
The hallowist fellowship -

A rotting green apple
Has fallen from the barbie child's decorated hand.
Ceaseless insomniacs never stop
The self-imposed sufering.
Conflict trip masked in
Miles of smiles.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Chekhov on Armenians

I was reading a collection of Anton Chekhov short stories in a publication called The Fiancée and Other Stories when I came across a story called Beauties. In the first paragraph, Chekhov unleashes quite a vicious description of what seems to be a prototypical Armenian:

“Never in my life have I seen anything more grotesque than that Armenian. Imagine a small, close-cropped head with thick, beetling eyebrows, a bird-like nose, long grey whiskers and a wide mouth with a long, cherrywood chibouk sticking out of it. This small head was clumsily stuck on to a scraggy, hunchbacked torso garbed in fantastic costume: a short red jacket with sky-blue, baggy trousers. This person walked around with legs wide apart, shuffling his slippers, speaking with the pipe still in his mouth – but at the same time bearing himself with typical Armenian dignity, never smiling, goggling his eyes and trying his hardest to ignore his visitors.”

Wow. Very flattering, Anton. Actually, I don’t take it personally. Why would I? In hindsight, I tend to agree with Anton: while Armenian men are not the most aesthetically pleasing, the women are the polar opposite (for the most part…when you can get beyond all that makeup). Chekhov did not miss a beat on this. A few pages later, the short’s protagonist encounters the old Armenian man’s daughter, Masha:

“An artist would have termed the Armenian girl’s beauty classical and severe. The contemplation of just this type of beauty, God knows why, thoroughly convinces you that the features before you are regular, that hair, eyes, nose, mouth, neck, bosom and all the movements of this young body have been fused by nature into perfect harmony and she had not erred, not even in the most minute detail. Somehow you imagine that the ideally beautiful woman should have a nose just like Masha’s, straight but slightly aquiline, the same large, dark eyes, the same long lashes and the same languid glance. Her curly black hair and eyebrows are the perfect match for the delicate whit color of her forehead and cheeks, just as green reeds suit a quiet stream. Masha’s white neck and young bosom are not fully developed, but feel that only a great artist could sculpt them. Looking at her you are gradually filled with the desire to tell the girl something particularly pleasant, sincere and beautiful, something as beautiful as herself.”

22nd Birthday Reflection...

My birthday is on October 10th. Something about birthdays. Deep down, the very idea of them makes me so uncomfortable. Why?

Is it acknowledging my mortality? Partly. Is it an objection to elevating the importance of a single day in the year above all the others? More so. Is it that feeling of pressure to make this single day super special, the way many go about hyper-exaggerating new year’s celebrations? Definitely more so.

Why do some say that the birthday is more important than other days of the year? Well, because it is the day one was born X number of years ago. As a result, the logic goes, this is the day that we step back and celebrate your life. This is a day to celebrate your life.
I’m sorry, but why just one day? I prefer making each and every day a celebration of my life. No, I don’t mean walking around everyday with the pointy-happy-birthday-hat, or having birthday cake after each and every dinner. But honestly, every day is a celebration of life. Each breath is an opportunity. There is a whole market of retailers who profit off the mentality that specific days must be designated for specific purposes, and thus justify extra expenditures to display a reverence to this perspective. Holidays and birthdays are, of course, fun. But have you ever stopped to think that industries make profits off of those of us who use the line, “That’s ok, it’s a holiday!” to justify buying party streamers with Turkeys on them, balloons that say “Happy Valentine’s Day”, or Would Chuck E Cheese, or Party Time Pizza, exist if this attitude did not exist?

I am afraid that I sound like a bitter and scrupulous old man. My old friends Karin and Marie told me that I have an old soul. I tend to agree, but take it one step further. I think I was born very mature, and as I “age”, I become less mature. A two-dimensional graphic demonstration, if you will. If maturity is represented by the Y-axis (is it usually done that way? I was never the best science student, but for this example, it really does not matter) and the X-axis represented time, here is what it would look like

As you can see, I was born an elightened sage (as we all are), and by my 149th birthday on October 10th, 2135, I will be eating bananas on tree branches singing the melodies of Britney Spear’s great great great grandchildren. I can’t wait.


Maybe there is an evolutionary function behind this idea. Ancestral man, working ever-so-hard to secure the fundamental components of survival (roof, food, mate), must have taken time at regular intervals to stop and celebrate a life that their rigorous work pace made them forget. These regular intervals might have originally occurred within periods of one week. For example, once every seven days, the Neanderthals would stare at the skies, go for swims, massage each other, and eat kitkats. Over time, perhaps specific emotions became significant on given days (of course with great diversity taking into account cultural variations and the celebrations that made more sense for a given people). This theory is running out of steam, so I invite you to expand on it.

I think we should do away with all birthdays and holidays altogether. Rather, let’s have fireworks every morning. Then we can go to an amusement park in the afternoons. And to top off the day, we can eat greasy pepperoni pizza at Party Time Pizza and watch mechanical rats and bears rock out to pre-recorded pop hits.

Mosquito Bite Vision

Is it me, or does it sometimes seem like the world is completely unraveling? Failures in honest and prudent diplomacy have lead to quagmire wars, corporate corruption and predatory lending have robbed honest workers of their buying abilities and plunged the world markets towards destruction, and human rights violations continue to abound.

In Milan, in a hotel room I shared with my aunt Karine Koroukian, I woke up at 4am with a devastating itch. Karine had cracked our windows open to let in some fresh air seventeen stories above the city’s centrale stazzione. She had inadvertently let in a few mosquitoes that had a feast on my blood. I could not stop scratching myself, trying to ignore the pain, trying to fall asleep. Sleep escaped as the itch spots seemed to take over my body and my hands felt useless in alleviating the burning need to fix it. Then, images of the global economic crisis and cyclical war flashed in front of my eyes, and I had this inexplicable urge to sit and write. I did not want to turn on the light and disturb Karine’s sleep, so I went by the window and let the lighting of a nearby skyscraper illuminate the paper as I frantically scribbled these ideas pouring out of my mind, trying my best to make my arm move as fast as my mind was. Here is what I was able to capture from this “vision”. You may disagree with what I say as these sometimes represent some of my more extreme views, but I hope you do recognize that our world is reeling. Let’s go:

Our world is falling apart because we can’t take it anymore. Many of the rich are feeding off the misery of the poor. We’ve got a global distribution of wealth so unbalanced it makes my head spin. While consultants of various sorts and the aristocratic wealthy feast day after day, and Americans continue getting fatter (a sign of wealth, after all), the millions of poor across the world remain poor beyond repair – hungry, marginalized, desperate, sick, malnourished, deceived.

In last night’s debate, Obama said something to the effect of, “If Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda are hiding out in Pakistan and the Pakistani government does not do anything to rout them out, then America must act, even if it means bypassing UN permission (the logic being that Russia and China would block the passage of any such resolution).” Obviously! That’s what any nation desperate to consolidate and preserve its power would say – and its become this double standard where other nations that use this kind of “f u world” rhetoric are perceived as dangerous threats who do as they please, and when we use it, it is no big deal. Every nation acts to promote its interest. Russia invaded Georgia to promote its interest without UN permission, but because America remains antagonistic towards Russia (on the surface because they do not promote “democracy” which supposedly America does…give me a break…but in reality because Russia’s wealth threatens America’s stability as the world’s strongest nation), the invasion enters the political discourse, thanks in part to the shallow debates and its narrow-minded “luminaries”, as a negative one because it is becoming clearer and clearer that that which is good for Russia, is bad for America. Unfortunately the political arithmetic is sadly simple.

Cyclical poverty drives humans to desperation as it generates greed, excess of consumption, and resource exclusivity. Those who benefit from this cycle do what they can to maintain it, believing in a system so delusional that it cannot see the world for what it truly is. It is as if man’s inherent goodness just stepped out of a shower, and looks into the mirror and sees only a faint silhouette of itself mired in a hazy fog. This figure reaches to wipe away the fog, but a man emerges from the mirror and slices off any and all extremities that attempt to remove the fog and reveal the reflection’s true nature. Indeed, the perpetuators of this system go so far as to mask it as fairness, right, and goodness, calling it “democracy, freedom, and capitalism”, and banding together with allies to promote these superficial ideals that mask what is really behind all of the world’s poverty, violence, and disillusionment -> the filthy, intoxicating pursuit of power.

For example, why does America insist that that Israel is its strongest world ally? Might it have something to do with how America’s Jewish vote and financiers are some of America’s most influential? Some might accuse me of anti-Semitism for suggesting such a thing, and those who do 1) know nothing about my love for my Israeli and Jewish friends and their cultural heritage, and 2) might react in such a way because they depend on this cycle as it forms part of their fundamental personal credo.

Political violence is increasing. Genocides are happening. The wealthy nations continue their relative strength against the poorer nations as poorer nations and people have no choice but to turn to desperate measures to destabilize a global economic and political status quo structured to keep them weak. And we have the audacity to characterize some of these desperate individuals as “terrorists” without examining the root of the issue. We are facing a global crisis that is just not financial, but shows how economies respond to these abuses of wealth and power. Rather than overhauling an unjust system in total disrepair, we fight to keep it alive, pumping in billions and billions more into “rescue packages”.

The world needs healing, but we keep investing our intellectual, financial, and moral resources into a smokescreen system that to me is just unsustainable. It will be our fall as a human race if we continue down this road. The more make up you use to mask your true face, the more you erode and ruin the natural beauty you already possess, replacing it with a delusional self-representation masking the true self.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

100,000 Leagues Under the Crack


Last night in Florence I was sitting on the steps of the church in Piazza Santo Spirito when my friend Camille pointed out a powerful sight. A young lad sitting in front of us had not bothered to pull his pants up all the way, which means that from behind him, we had quite the view of his inter-cheek space. I wrote a poem about it.

I just want to dive into that crack
Exploding from those sweet blue jeans.
Why that black belt?
Why bother with pants?
Celebrate your crack, man,
Stop the teasing.
100,000 leagues under the crack,
Infinite hairs, a black hole,
The deepest mystery in our galaxy.
What hideth you inside?
A chicken? A pasture of sunflowers?
The secret of life?
Give me some goggles
And a SCUBA tank:
It's time to dive.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Love Poem for the Girl on the Train

After my parents left Milan for home and I was on my own once again after about two weeks of quality and intensive family time, I took a train to Florence where I would spend my remaining days in Italy. I was in a second class car with two sets of three seats, facing each other. At one point in the middle of the ride, a gorgeous Italian girl sat across from me and one seat to the left. I was compelled to write a poem about her. I don’t know why. Before I share the poem, I will share my written reaction the moment after handing her the poem as she disembarked the train and I, presumably, saw her for the last time.

“I wrote a second copy of this poem and gave it to her. I waited for our packed car to begin disembarking. An old lady stood between us. “Sorry,” I said, loud and abrupt. She didn’t hear. The slicked up, gel-haired guy behind her perked his ears. “Sorry,” I repeated. Louder this time.

She looked at me. Those eyes. “I wrote this for you,” I told her. She was confused for a moment as I extended the folded green paper towards her. “It’s a poem I wrote for you.” She grabbed it, dumbfounded, smiling. “For me?” she asked. “Yea. For you.”

She took it and I returned to my seat by the window to let the many disembarkers waiting behind me get to the door – and to let her go and feel the effect of the gesture, and fire imbedded in this somehow antiquated exchange. I sat and felt the eyes of the other guys in the car searing into my back, likely annoyed by my taking an opportunity that passed through their minds.

I looked into my book (Scott McLellan’s What Happened), then out the window. She was standing there, looking at me. A big smile. I kept my pokerface as our eyes met. Then I returned a softer, subtler, (manlier?) smile. Her’s grew, my heart pounded, but I felt a certain safety caged inside the traincar. The train started, and she walked off.

“Don’t look,” Baron Antoine once said in Tuscany,

“But she’s got a classic beauty.”

I smiled. “Hey,” he warned. “I know what you’re thinking. Stop.”

Her cheeks are feather soft

Under the blanketing fluorescence,

She’s like a mythic statue carved by the alter

Of a grand, 17th century Cathedral.

I want to celebrate her hair,

The way it reveals just enough of her

Incredible features to make my heart flutter;

Like curtains draped half-heartedly

Over a window with the most spectacular landscape you’ve ever seen.

Are the rips in her jeans intentional?

Or just the sign of daily grinds,

Casting a glimpse of her tender skin,

Olive tone streaks too true for the naked eye.

She’s a breathing portrait,

An estuary of life and longevity

Her love is a faint mist

In a scorching inferno.

The waves of the Mediterranean

Streak along her shoulders,

An auburn-chestnut medley

Of chaos.

To be her sweatshirt.

A pillow wrapped in her arms.

To be engulfed in her scent.


At the end of the poem, I wrote, “I saw you and had to write this poem.” And left my name and email. I've realized, however, that it's not about the contact. I could care less if she contacted me. It was about reaching out to her in that moment, and experiencing that connection with her. Her smile. It really was one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen. It is imprinted into my memory.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

How to Comment


I am writing this post because many readers have asked me how they can leave their comments. It's very simple.
1. Go to the bottom of any post and click on the link that says "0 comments", or "1 comment", etc.
2. In the "leave your comment" box, leave your comment.
3. In the "choose an identity" box, you can choose "anonymous" if you do not have an account with gmail, blogspot, wordpress, etc. If you do, then choose the appropriate option.
Could this have been a more boring post? I don't think so. But I promise I've got some goodies in store.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Still and Moving Images from the Camino

Here are some non-landscape non-sunrise/sunset pictures I really liked.


































































The ideal setting for a nap...
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There is something very serene about this...

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Joy of discovery
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