Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Arshille Gorky

I just finished reading Nouritza Mattossian's biography of Arshille Gorky. When she didn't get lost in descriptions of peripheral characters unrelated to Gorky's experience, Mattossian did a great job of telling Gorky's tragic story. It inspired me to write this poem:

"To Manoug, To Vosdanig, To Arshille"

I understand
I know why you did it
If I had been in your position
Would there have been any other choice?

But the tragedy
Is that the one who took your love
Never deserved it
And the ones who truly loved you
Could not show you in time
To mitigate your despair.

You were forced into a world
Of shadows
To which you brought light
Worlds, existences, boundaries
Straddled, smeared, transcended, lost;
Eyes unable to comprehend your ebullience
Preferring to vex you with stubbornness
Rather than embrace the simple joys you pined to share.

Circumstantial shadows eclipsed the sun.

We love you.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Short Story

Here's a short story about fear and crime in Baltimore written for Humanity in Action last year. It's the story of a single crime told from a number of perspectives.

"Murder Coin"
by Raffi Wartanian

I had joined a spinning class to train for a triathlon in July that was a fundraiser for cancer research. The weather was just about to warm, but not warm enough for me to do training rides outside.
My housemates Dani and Yanji had left earlier that day to visit Los Angeles. Yanji was a chemical engineer looking for work out west in alternative fuel research. He spent most research hours toying with algae and observing ways to maximize their potential energy. Dani was headed to medical school in the fall which I never understood because all the guy could think about was theoretical physics. He had a severely disturbing attachment complex to Yanji that nobody else seemed to notice except for me, which made me wonder if I sometimes looked to deep into things or if others didn’t look deep enough. They were like a married couple, my housemates, and they had left earlier that day to spend a week in sunny California.
I walked up the steps of to our row house, good old 324 on east 33rd, sandwiched between Guilford and Abell. I unlocked the front door and caught a whiff of the eggshell white I had painted onto the walls last weekend. The original vomit brown color had taken a psychological toll on me and I knew I wouldn’t make it to the end of our lease period in May with that color sucking me of my life force every time I sat in that room. Yanji fussed over the change because he’s the kind of scientist who doesn’t readily accept deviations from the status quo, even on the walls of our living room.
The alarm went off when I walked in. It always did. Alarm might be a misnomer. We had a security systems sticker on the front door, and a small sensor in the hallway would beep three times whenever the door opened, but there was never an actual alarm that could be set to signal an intrusion. I walked in and parked my bike by the record player. It was hardly an alarm. More of a sensor synchronized to the opening of a door to feign the warning sounds of a security system. I locked the door and raised my neck to unclip the helmet’s fasteners. The straps had been pressing up against my neck a little too tight, but I expected as much since my hair had ballooned after eight months of growth. That was a good helmet. Lasted some 15,000 miles of riding. Tossed my earmuffs and gloves in there. I snooped around the fridge for a bit to consider what I’d throw together for dinner after a hot shower.
I took the steps two at a time as usual. I undressed and put on my green, hooded bathrobe that always reminded me of home when I heard a shattering sound in Dani’s room. I had told him not to balance so many shot glasses on his windowsill, but, as mentioned, if you weren’t a chemical engineer or a theoretical physicist, the chances of him listening to you were slim.
Dani? I called for him. No answer.
Then I heard a thud.
I grabbed one of the empty wine bottles in the corner of my room I would fill up with different amounts of water to blow into with friends to create harmonies and walked over to his room. I quickly turned the knob and pushed it open.
I walked through the threshold and saw the shot glasses shattered on the ground. I turned back to get the broom.
There was a man standing at the threshold with a gun pointed at my face.
“What do you want?”
“On the ground.”
I obeyed. He fixed the gun on the back of my head.
“Give me one good reason why I shouldn’t kill you,” he said.
“I’ve done nothing to hurt you.”
“You already have. You just don't know it.”
“You’ll shatter the lives of the people who love me.”
“I won't see their faces.”
He fired.

People been fuckin’ wit me all my life. Ain’t got no respect. Call me pigeon legs. Push me around and shit. Pull my hair when I’m not lookin’, spit at my feet, call me a pussy.
My papa been dead since I was born. Mama’s out on the street most of the day. She run a corner.
I didn’t think I’d have to pull the trigger on my first robbery. The guy was askin’ for it. Rolled up in the room wielding a wine bottle and shit. Gonna crack that over my head? Fuck no.
The pawnshop on Lombard been buyin’ lately. They lookin’ for merchandise. Figure I find me a computer, camera, Nintendo – something nice. Sell it off, make some cash. The university’s up a few blocks. Papa fillin’daddy’s little angel’s pockets with greens and goods. How ‘bout he fill my pockets instead? Shit - ain’t nobody helpin’ me. Everyone hollerin’ in the streets when Barack became president cuz they think things gonna be different. Ain’t nothin’ changed. Just the same old shit.
I need money too. I wanna to go to college. I wanna buy paint and be the next Van Gogh. Ain’t nobody givin’it to me cuz I ain’t worth shit to them, so I gotta go out and get it. They don’t know what I’m worth.
Gettin’ up to that window was a bitch. Climbed this rackety ass ladder, paint peelin’, rat’s brains all over the gutter. Wise ass left his window unlocked. Small glasses on the windowsill. Didn’t see ‘em when I swung my legs in. Looked around and didn’t see nothin’ worth nothin’, just a bunch of books on a shelf, a bed on a carpet. Smelled strange in there. Like inside of dread locks. Like a smoking tree or something. Like church a little bit.
Then I hear a voice callin’.
I hide behind the door and wait. Lil’ bitch walks in holding a wine bottle. Pull the glock out the holster and wait for him to turn ‘round. He talks some shit and I shoot him. Go over to his room. Computer, cameras, DVD’s.
“Oh, dear.”
“Huh? Speak louder. I can’t hear you.”
“I said ‘Oh, dear’, Ted. Another murder. Said he raised thousands for cancer research.”
“Oh. Dear, could you pass the applesauce?”
“This is not how I imagined my future.”
“This applesauce is delicious.”
“People go to Florida when they retire, or California. They go somewhere pleasant where the weather is nice and the people are warm. They don’t go to Baltimore.”
“This is where I grew up. This is where my brother and sister live. They’re all I have left.”
“What about the money you worked your entire life to save? Couldn’t you have bought something nicer?”
“Dear, we got the thirty-two inch plasma screen. It doesn’t get much nicer than that.”
“I meant this house in this crumbling, crime-ridden city. I didn’t imagine my golden years would be spent looking over my shoulder, constantly checking to make sure the doors are locked and the window bars are still screwed to the frame. I bet the murderer on the news just unscrewed the window bars that were in his way.”
“I don’t think they had window bars.”
“You’re just saying that to make yourself feel safer.”
“I don’t think there’s a ‘why’ behind these things. They just happen.”
“Yes, Ted. This is a city that makes you shrug your shoulders and hope for the best.”
“Don’t let the fear get to your head, dear. There’s nothing wrong with Baltimore. Every city has news programs that obsess over tragic crimes. Fear sells. They do it to scare the people like us who are dumb enough to watch their programs.”
“It’s not like they’re pulling it out of thin air. This stuff is real. Baltimore is one of America’s most dangerous cities.”
“Baltimore is one of America’s most underrated cities. And the medical care we can get hear can’t be beat.”
“That doesn’t make it any better.”
“What do you want?”
“Something different.”
“So throw away the television set. It’s driving you mad.”
“I meant that I want to move away.”
“This is the best we could afford.”
“I’d rather live in a bungalow at the lip of the Indian Ocean than a row house in Canton.”
“Dear, you need to stop watching the news.”
I was playing with my train set that mommy and daddy got me for Christmas when I heard the big sound. It sounded like a big bang, like an anvil fell out of the sky or an elephant falling over or a moose running into the wall or fireworks exploding or fifty rotten watermelons rolling down the stairs or a sack of potatoes thrown up against the wall or a giant hammer smashing a grand piano into a million pieces or two giant hammers banging into each other just once or a singing cave with a raspy voice or ninety-nine pigeons flying into the wall all at once. It was just a big bang.
Mommy ran to me and lowered herself and gave me a hug. She said don’t be scared but I wasn’t scared until she said don’t be scared. I was happy and having fun. She held me in her arms and cradled me like a little baby. I asked her if she wanted to play with me and she started to cry. Then we played with the train.

A young man was shot last night in East Baltimore and died a
short time later at Union Memorial Hospital, police said. Northeastern District police responding to a report of gun shots in the 300 block of East 33rd Street at 8:30pm found a man shot in the face. Police knew of no motives and no arrests have been made. Resulting from the investigation, trooper vehicles are present at the intersection of Abbel Avenue and 33rd. A source familiar with the investigation said the victim may have provoked the murderer with a baseball bat. “We are still unsure as to whether or not he knew the intruder,” said Mose Donnelson with the Baltimore City Police, “but we are not ruling that out as a possibility.”

The October 2009 murder of Hamo Sarkisian in Baltimore City was just one in a string of hundreds of murders that year reminding residents that their city boasted a murder rate seven times the national average. Crime in early twenty-first century Baltimore was fuelled by poverty, drug abuse, and relatively easy access to arms. Since the 1970’s, the city experienced a consistent population decline from nearly 1,000,000 residents in the mid-twentieth century to 600,000 by the beginning of the twenty-first century.
Once a hub for the steel industry, Baltimore enjoyed one of America’s strongest economies and standards of living. Over subsequent decades, as the city transitioned to a service-based economy, much of the city fell behind trends towards modernization. Concurrently, the expansion of hospital services immensely developed areas associated with medical care while unassociated sections of the city fell behind.
Despite focused efforts to reduce the murder rate, city officials failed to address the rampant poverty affecting mostly African Americans living in less commercialized sections of the city.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thanksgiving with the Ghahremani's

This year I enjoyed Thanksgiving in Castro Valley outside of SF with the Ghahremani's. I enjoyed many beautiful experiences.

Nosrat ("Victory") Ghahremani, 91 years old, read my coffee cup. If you're unfamiliar with this tradition, then check out this link http://www.psychicsahar.com/artman/publish/article_361.shtml. I wrote her words down. Her insight and intuition were astounding, sagely.

I also learned that when a volume of the great Persian poet Hafez comes out onto a table, one must hold it, ask it a question, then open to a random page. Then the text will speak to you.

Vida Ghahremani (Mayreeg) is writing her memoirs. The first part has been published in Farsi with English translations on the way. Meanwhile she's working on the next segments of her life, a significant historical perspective for artists negatively impacted by the Islamic Revolution. Go, Vida!!

San Francisco Bay Guardian review of the theatrical showcase I'm in :)

San Francisco Bay Guardian

Posted using ShareThis

Friday, November 20, 2009

The Stunning Words of Hafiz

During rehearsal, the director Hafiz Karmali said to his cast, "Words are music on the page."

He is named after the celebrated Persian mystic and poet, Hafiz. It wasn't until I got a book of his that I understand his genius.
A few verses worth sharing:

"When your truth forsakes its shyness,
When your fears surrender to your strengths,
You will begin to experience
That all existence
Is a teeming sea of infinite life."

"The only problem with not castrating
A gigantic ego is
That it will surely become amorous
And father
A hundred screaming ideas and kids
Who will then all quickly grow up
And skillfully proceed
To run up every imaginable debt
And complication of which your brain
Can conceive.
All those worries and bills could turn to
Wailing ghosts and you won't have much desire to sing In this sweet

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Who Needs TV?

Taken at Black Rock City; September, 2009.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Stumbled Upon A Publication

I stumbled upon an article I had written for the Armenian Weekly. I didn't know they published this. Thought I'd share.
Link - http://www.hairenik.com/armenianweekly/cty07050804p.htm


By Raffi Wartanian
"The Armenian Weekly", Volume 74, No. 26, July 5, 2007

Just a week ago I had the opportunity to visit the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM) under special circumstances in our nation’s capitol for the very first time. Through an organization called Humanity in Action (HIA), I received a fellowship to research and report on minority rights issues in France with a team of 10 fellows. The start of the program took place in Washington, D.C., where we devoted two afternoons to visiting the USHMM.

As for the special circumstance: Each day’s visit was followed by a question and answer session with three individuals who played an instrumental role in designing the museum—from the mise en scène to the selection of relevant historical information. These individuals included Dr. Joan Ringelheim, the museum’s former director of oral history and curatorial affairs; Dr. Severin Hochberg, historian at the Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies at the USHMM; and Sarah Ogilvie, director of the Institute for Holocaust Education.

The opportunity to pick the brains of these experts about their work on the museum since its congressional authorization in 1980 yielded fascinating information that otherwise would not have been evident from a standard visit to the exhibition.

I write this article because I want to share the fascinating things I learned. Genocide remembrance and commemoration are intricate issues that Armenians, Jews, Bosnians, and other victim groups of mass violence alike must confront and thoughtfully consider.

Throughout my life, I had heard the USHMM was not a pleasant place. Could it ever be? The very content of a Holocaust museum will inevitably cause a cringe, even in the most stoic of individuals. I thought that as an Armenian confronted by genocide and denialism my entire life, I might be less effected by the exhibition than the average viewer. It was a near-sighted expectation. Like many, I left the museum with a pit in my stomach—dazed, confused, shocked.

It turned out that Ringelheim, Hochberg, and Ogilvie(whom I will dub “the designers”) anticipated my response. The museum was, in fact, designed to evoke feelings of confinement, speechlessness, and remorse. The museum’s architerual layout was designed to reflect the architecture common to many concentration camps. Red bricks smeared with shades of grey jutted from a cold cement wall. Balconies overhead, naroowing staircases, and modest lamps evoked a powerful sense of confinement. The designers had hoped to set a melancholic tone complimentary to the exhibition’s dark content.

The narrowing staircase leading to the exhibition’s beginning was meant to mimic the train tracks leading to the entrance of the infamous Auschwitz concentration camp. A large engraving of a quotation from the Old Testament’s book of Isaiah situated next to the staircase read, “You are my witnesses.”

“If you’re a witness, you have to speak up, “ Ringelheim insisted. No matter what the scale, bystanders of injustice, she argued, should not sink into complacency. They must do what they can to stand up for the marginalized and disenfranchised, whether it is something as simple as calling a government representative, or something more consuming of our time and resources, like sending a care package to a locale of widespread suffering or housing refugees fleeing persecution.

The texts throughout the exhibition were penned in a way to keep the explanations as objective as possible. Adjectives were intentionally omitted. The attrocities speak for themselves, the designers explained, and the immense repository of historical artifacts (photographs, letters, deportation documents, and even shoes to name a few) depicted the tragedy far greater than any dramatic, adjective-laden text could have.

Historians, journalists, and human rights activists were not considered the target audience for the museum. Rather, it is the average American, « the farmer from Kansas, » Ringelheim noted. The exhibition is neither highly politicized, dramatized, nor manipulative. It is a rather straight forward rendering of a very sensative subject.

One question the designers grappled with was how to define a Jew. Reformist, Orthodox, Hassidic; from Russia, from Yugoslavia, from France, the Jews were not centralized in a single location nor did they manifest a uniform interpretation of their religion. Focusing on specific elements of European Jewry necessarily left out some of its other aspects. The practical limitations of presenting a topic as dense and vast as the Holocaust inevtiably led to the exclusion of important pieces of the narrative. Descriptions of Jews in Western Europe, Yiddish culture, and Jewish women were all topics the designers wished they could have spent more time exploring in the exhibition.

Interestingly, the USHMM’s first director, Jeshajahu Weinberg, had been a theater director in Israel where he had also done work designing the Jewish museums in Berlin and Warsaw before coming to America. Weinberg’s approach emphasized the visual language of the exhibition: the layout of documents, the organization of information level by level, the mise en scène of each room and between multiple rooms. Once in a while, empty rooms interrupt the progression of various sections, intended to allow a pause for the viewer, a space to decompress, to reflect—a tragey’s intermission.

The children’s section of the museum focuses on the story of a single individual, Daniel. We learned that, in fact, Daniel was a fictive character. His narrative was a composite of the experiences of many Jewish children, fused and edited to provide a character with which younger viewers can relate.

I asked the designers a question that has always occured to me whenever I’ve visited a museum, studied a photograph in a history textbook, or pondered the “certainty of history.” To what extent, I asked, have you postulated on the text descriptions accompanying photographs throughout the exhibition? I’ve always wondered how historians and curators assembled stories about photographs that seem suspended in time and place.

A scene of a Nazi guard standing next to a head priest and other monks sitting on the ground in a church courtyard. The caption at the USHMM for this image offered a specific year, a specific country, and explained that the priests were about to be sent to a death camp. The caption was quite specific for a photograph that seemed to me difficult to place.

The designers admitted that, as in most situations, the best a historian can do for a photograph lacking overt contextual indications is to carefully analyze the image. Who are the characters? What are are they wearing? What can we assume about their relationship? What are they doing? Where are they? These are all questions considered when searching for clues to reveal the identity of a historical photograph. Remaining uncertainties, the designers said, must be estimated to the best of our ability.

History is not as clear cut of an issue as many of us would like to believe. Competing interpretations, the manipulation of documents, and the obscuring of signifcant details begs a confrontation and reexamination of perceptions of history as fact.

But as humans, we need history. We need memory. Are the two mutually exclusive, or do they belong to the same cognitive constructs swirling between our synapses? History and memory consolidate identity, justify sentiments of belonging, and contribute to rationalizing our decisions. To throw into doubt such a critical component of our survival is perhaps more than the evolved human can tolerate and accept. But we must ask.

Our experience speaking with some of the USHMM’s designers revealed not just a wealth of fascinating facts about the museum, but penetrated to the depths of questions surrounding histor and memory.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Joe's Blues

This is a Joe Pass tune that took me a year to learn; still working out some kinks. Played on my sweet $60 Dr Pepper.

working on a song - "Brother"

It's called "Brother" played on my $60 Dr Pepper guitar I found through Craigslist :). This is just the music. There are lyrics too :). I took some percussive techniques used by Paul Sprawl and when I record this, I intend to include a doumbek for richer percussive textures, casiotone mt-68 synth, affected prayer bowl, bicycle pump, strings, and so on. This is a rough draft so all suggestions are welcome :).

Monday, October 12, 2009

San Francisco Litquake Festival Lecture

Just heard an awesome lecture at the San Francisco Lit Quake Festivals' "Roundtable Discussion with Publishing Industry Professionals: How To Publish Your First Book" - an important perspective on the reality of a life in the arts.


Sunday, October 11, 2009

Birthday Blues

Yesterday was my 23rd birthday. Here are some words I wrote in my notebook:

"It's the next 23 years of my life that will define my work, they will perhaps be the 23 most vibrant, engaged years of my life. How many 23-year cycles am I entitled to? Oh, near-quarter-life-crisis, I feel your hand's grip on my coronary artery, sucking the air from my lungs, forcing me to confront mortality's moonlike presence. 46 + 23 = 69 - maybe I'll make it. 23 after that? 92...umm...I don't know to even imagine that. When I consider my journey over the past year, the prospect of a new year enlivens me, 365 more days to step into a building whose general contour mark the only apparent quality. The insides of that building - the people, the rooms, the aches and joys, the love and hate, its essence, its innards - will be revealed as each second in the new year elapses. Last year this time I was in Milan, Italy. My sister had just married, I was with my parents and grandmother and mokour Karine and digin Janet. There was a job offer - to move to Armenia and overtake directing the Janapar Trail in the Nagorno Karabagh Republic (http://www.janapar.org/wiki/Main_Page), but ultimately that fell through because job funding was lost. On October 10, 2008, the last place I expected to end up was in San Francisco with a different, equally special Karin, and I truly wonder where I will be October 10, 2010. That would be 10/10/2010; the alignment of numbers terrifies me. There's a numerical significance to it that I can't yet wrap my mind around. Dread morphs into excitement when I zoom in to focus on one year increments, morphed back into dread when I zoom out to analyze greater structures of chronology, narrative, life. Some live in the past, some in the present, some in the future. I strive for balance, aware that there are people in my life who cause me to analyze one aspect more than the other, further aware that a special few help me find that balance. I have many goals before reaching 24 - they involve a book I hand wrote in Lebanon that I'm still typing up, a huge pile of poetry I'm still editing, a new screenplay, musical dreams - there is a key to this, a realization Karin made that is alarmingly true. Later is now. No more saying "I'll do it later." This implies a promised future. If there's something I feel I need to do, I do it now. Later is now. If I had to guess where I'll be next year, it's either San Francisco, Los Angeles, or New York. I have some notions of circumstance, but dare not speak them. Not yet.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

New Project: Peace Bullets

Wow, I feel so neglectful for not posting for almost two months. Amot indz.
I live in San Francisco now and have an AWESOME room in the Lower Haight neighborhood. I've never lived somewhere so beautiful and inspiring - a neighborhood brimming with art and ideas and energy - love it.

At Burning Man, which I realize I need to write posts about, I went on a day trip expedition thirty miles away from the festival into the desert where we saw the Black Rock, once an economic center for Indian traders (I wrote a poem called "Artifiction" about this experience). A few miles up were mini-playas which are essentially mini-deserts inside of mountains. In them I found lots and lots of bullets that I collected and later decided to shape them into a PEACE symbol. Below is a photo of the formation. My plan is to put the bullets on a canvas (or maybe pierce it) with a poem about peace/war written in many lanuages on the canvas. Then throw some red paint on it. When it's done I'll have pics, but for now, enjoy a photo of it at its infantile state.

There it is on the corner of the table from a distance. That's my new decoupage table, by the way. More on that later.

Close up. Bullets are soooo dusty and old and different shapes and sizes - the central one was from a shotgun, I don't know about the others.

Friday, August 21, 2009


I'm sure many will disagree with these thoughts, but I just want to say that I am absolutely baffled by the way Americans have demonized socialism. Literally I feel like we're living in 1950's America and the socialism-paranoia is reaching McCarthy-esque levels of absurdity.

How exactly does socialism threaten America? How can providing everyone with health care harm democracy? Or is it capitalism? A public option wouldn't mandate anyone to leave their private insurers behind. If anything, it would improve competition and care (what ardent capitalists value), kind of like the competition between UPS, FedEx, and USPS. Why can't we think of democracy and socialism working together to foster better forms of governance? Must we insist that they remain mutually exclusive?
And how does this tie into a common American fear of Russian strength and civilization?

I feel like this is a lost cause in America. Socialism has been stigmatized to a point of no return, and our national political discourse doesn't examine it enough for the populace to re-examine misconceptions and identify how major media outlets have propagandized our minds and minimized our ability to think creatively about governance, civilization, and how it connects to modern and ancient history, recent trends in geopolitics, and the stifling superiority complex that clouds our ability to connect with unconventional religion & spirituality, politics, and ways of life.

Universal health care for all! Coverage for all! When a dangerously ill individual primarily feels fear when approaching treatment options because they worry over inability to afford care, then we simply need to establish opportunities for the sick to feel confidence, support, and assurance that they will be taken care of. As my dad always says, health is number one. Without it, you have nothing. So why not allow the government to offer the OPTION (not a mandate) to cover those who need it? Even universal coverage wouldn't hurt, but now I flirt with socialism and will ruffle too many feathers.

Is it feasible: a United Socialist States of America? Never in name. But strands of socialism can uphold our capitalist democracy. Look no further than the VA.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Paul Sprawl

I don't make this distinction often, but I have encountered what appears to be the "BEST" guitarist I've ever seen. Paul Sprawl uses open tunings and percussive playing to present an entirely unique style of thought-provoking lyrics whose critique of mass media, irresponsible governance, and the journey of spirit quests demonstrate how a performance should do far more than entertain. Below is a video I took of a private performance he gave to our cycling team in Paonia, Colorado's Methodist Church. The song is called "Sunset Train". Learn more about him at http://www.myspace.com/paulsprawlmusic

A brief note on meeting Paul. A number of riders headed towards "downtown Paonia", ie Main St., to visit bars and the kind of antics you wouldn't necessarily put on your resume. I lagged behind as I wrote postcards and read the Newsweek sent to me by my 4k06 teammate Katie Young. Finally I traversed the two epic blocks to Main St., and on my way to the bar I passed a space called The Blue Sage, a performance art space. Inside was a performance hall with about 80 seats sadly filled with just 5 audience members. But they were all enamored as I gleefully joined them in watching a multi-media show combining war footage with the words blogged by Iraqi women followed by beautiful interpretive dance by Paul's wife, Leera Lee, followed by Paul's hypnotic picking. After the performance ended we conversed with the performers and I had a chance to speak more with Paul and his wife. I told Paul about our trip and invited him to perform for us, and he bestowed upon me his handy-dandy instructional DVD detailing his percussive technique.

After some youtube-ing, I dug up a FULL performance of Paul playing what now seems to be my favorite song of his, "Sunset Train".

Colorado Madness

Colorado is by far one of my favorite states to cycle through. There's a reason the sign welcomes visitors and residents to "Colorful Colorado". The Rockies are spectacular. Landscapes cover the gamut - from arid deserts to snow-capped peaks. Towns are just as diverse as the ecosystems - hippy villages on top of mountains (like Ward below), big cities, medium-sized towns filled with Olympians or Coalminers or Tourists. This post shows some of this state's splendor.

The "hippy village" of Ward where Jack Kerouac and his fellow beatpals got snowed in and wrote "mind expanding" verse. To get from Boulder to Estes Park we have to climb a 17-mile mountain on Lefthand Canyon Drive. Ward sits at the top of the climb, population 150. This is a shot of "downtown" taken from the Utica Street Market where you'll find the best cookies you've ever tasted.

Double rainbow! This is our 4k09 group in Wiggins a day before entering the Rockies. If you look closely at the first row you'll notice some of us revisiting poses used to enrapture cameras back in the days of elemntary school.

Sitting in Ward at the Utica Street Market, this is a photo of Officer Anne's shades.

Bike trail out of Glenwood Springs with a colossal mountain perched in the horizon.

In Benkelman, Nebraska (yeah, it's not Colorado, but it's pretty close), I discovered that one of the essential characteristics of manliness is the ability to drive a pick-up truck. This is me in a wife-beater flaunting my manhood.

Those are the Rockies about 20 miles away.

Elk spotting during the descent of Trail Ride Road, America's highest paved rd (about 12,000 ft above sea level) that runs through Rocky Mountain National Park.

Paonia, Colorado is a hidden gem of hippies, coalmiers, and retirees. Several thrift stores boast impressive hat collections. Here, Tom and I model our respective "Baker Boy" and "Toro" hats. We're posing with other great hats, including "Bass Club", "No Sweat! No Sweat! No Sweat! No Sweat! No Sweat! No Sweat!", and "Magnatude". Note the marvelous collection of pre-historic tennis and raquetball rackets hanging above our heads.

Circle-D is a supermarket in Grand Lake, Colorado that donated $371 worth of groceries to our team. These are the two shopping carts we filled beyond capacity.

Abortion causes breast cancer?

We cycled by this sign in Kansas. I must have been to focused on the horizon because I failed to see it and take a photo, so I just took a photo of my friend's photo. Double photo action - whoah! That means if you took a photo of the photo below, that would be triple photo action, and a photo of that would quadruple the fun, and so on... So does anybody care to explain the logic behind the proclamation below?

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Church Sign

Can somebody please explain this sign to me?

Misadventures in Michigan City

These photographs and videos from Michigan City, Indiana should speak volumes about this town and our cycling group's experience there.

We found this placard in a closet at the rectory of the church that hosted us. Please read it. Toss reason out the window for this one.

The church's opulent dining hall.

The sun setting over Lake Michigan, Chicago deep in the distance.

Those are bodies. I'm the green one on the left side of the 4.


This hill is huge. Look at the tiny people at the bottom. Halfway through the video, the great genius Stephanie decides to run as fast as possible down the hill. Chaos ensues.

Shipshewanna & Josephine

Installment 1: Shipshewanna

Somewhere along the road in Indiana. Three states in one day - Ohio, Michigan, Indiana. It sounds more impressive than the reality. Flat terrain. Obnoxious semis. Corn fields.

Around the 15th mile I sat at the front of my group signaling the left turn we had to take when I heard a scream. You might have called it a shriek. A yelp of excitement.

I turned around and saw a semi approaching the three girls behind me. And something behind that. Something small. Something running with all of its fury. Its speed was surprising.

"Oh my god oh my god." The girls screamed for me. I heard the semi breaking, that staccato exhale from the engine loud enough to remind you just how easily it could smother your existence with a single bump.

Me & Shippy

There was a kitty in the road. I biked up to it and it ran towards me, right into my hands. He shook and shook. We just stood there for a while, giving the orphan love. Then we walked it to the nearest home, Dorothy Shepherd's, and handed it off. Diana named it Shipshewanna after the town in Indiana whose name enamored her.

I called Dorothy a few days later to confirm that ol' Shippy now had a happy new home. It's living in a barn, Dorothy told me, with two horses, a mule, and it eats like a hog. "Ol' Shippy's getting fat," Dorothy boasted.

Dorothy & Shippy

Installment 2: Josephine

Mile 78 during our 115 mile day into Jacksonville, Illinois. Saw a lot of road kill that day. Turtle stew. Squashed squirrel. Possum brains. Snake innards. Everyday really, but you remember the road kill on days you nearly kill an animal yourself.

We had just left a water stop and passed three flattened ducklings in the middle of the road when Tom out in front spotted the lone surviving baby running for dear life into a field. I don't know why, but we decided it would be a good idea to catch it, dote over it, and eventually enact a rescue.

Tom & Josephine

The duckling was shaking, like ol' Shippy. The video below shows the epic capturing of the duckling. We put it in the back of Tom's jersey and transported it to our next water stop where Josephine, the feminine version of a Joey (baby Kangaroos inside of their mama's pouch), was placed inside of a box until animal rescue was called and saved that cute ducky.

This video depicts the rescue of Josephine and the unfortunate fate of his brother and sister.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Day 4 Blog Post

Day 4: Bedford, PA to Butler, PA

‘Twas cold. ‘Twas wet. ‘Twas the kind of rain-cold assault that makes one’s teeth chatter, knees buckle, will deflate.

But the day had started like many others in 4k lore. We spent the night at the YMCA of Greensburg, PA, an impressive three story structure complete with a gym, locker rooms, fitness rooms, offices, a childcare center, and an emergency youth shelter. Like many years past, the 4k was given the entire third floor – complete with pool table, Sound of Music VHS, and stunning vistas of downtown Greensburg – to relax and sleep.

The childcare center a floor below invited us for breakfast that morning. Before entering, we dawned our thinking caps knowing that the incisive philosophical ruminations of the toddlers would challenge our assumptions about consciousness. With bananas and cheerios consumed, the discussions began.

4k’er: Why are stickers called stickers?

Philosopher-Child of Greensburg: Because they’re sticky.

4k’er: Why are they sticky?

Philosopher-Child of Greensburg: Because they’re stickers!

Astounding, I thought. They must have some sticker-related super brain powers. Envious, I put a banana sticker on my forehead before the ride in hopes of boosting my intellectual prowess. And soon I would be put to the test.

Tom, our director with hair far longer than necessary, had recently put me in charge of organizing our snack and lunch foods into separate bins. The driver of the day before, Kristine “The First Test Tube Baby In The World” Casey, had scored mountains of ham sandwiches from Wallet’s, an establishment that boasted such customers as Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. Smell inspections revealed that the sandwiches needed to go. I don’t like to toss food out before trying to give it away, so I took to the streets of Greensburg looking for takers. I waved down a taxi and before I could offer him the meat, he asked for the purpose behind all these spandex-laden people clomping around their town. I told him about the 4k, and he told me about the many cycling treks he had undertaken, including a cross-country ride many years back, and a recent tour around ten countries in Europe. He directed me to his blog which I highly recommend, http://cyclingsimmons.blogspot.com/.

The rain began early that morning and would not relent for a moment. Our route took us around Pittsburgh towards Butler, PA where we found a painful lack of back roads. At one point we accidently found ourselves on an interstate going through a narrow two-lane tunnels. Cars zoomed by as we did our best to avoid getting side-swiped or just plain squished.

Then silence. I looked around and noticed all the cars had vanished. Was it some sort of divine sign? A symbol from above? It was. We saw flashing lights and a man in a neon-orange vest stepped out of an oversized pick-up and told us they had shut down the tunnel to traffic because cyclists are not allowed inside. We threw our road hogs on the back of the truck and were dropped off in town where we adjusted our route and pedaled on.

Like I said, the rain was relentless. We were sopping wet by this point and had hit our final 30 mile stretch for the day on a road infested with angst-ridden drivers in a rush to a place that was clearly important enough for them to justify rolling their windows down to show which of their fingers best expressed how they felt about us.

Fifteen miles away from our destination, the elements had overpowered one of our riders. We pulled into the parking lot of the Two-Bit Tavern and waited under an awning for our support van. As cold as we were, getting off the bicycle only made us colder as our muscles stiffened and energy declined.

While we stood shivering, a woman pulled over and rolled down her window. She had an uncanny resemblance to one of the riders on my team that day, Rebecca. “Are you Rebecca’s mom,” I asked.

“No,” she answered. “But it looks like you guys could use some help.”

We would learn her name was Stef Scarlett, that she had Multiple Sclerosis, and that she insisted we sit in her heated car to warm up while we waited for the van to arrive. We learned many things about Stef, that this wasn’t the first time she offered to help cyclists caught on the unpleasant roads just outside of Pittsburgh on a rainy day; that she fought the debilitating symptoms of her condition to help others too weak to access their medications alone; that she had an incredibly positive outlook on life; that her nurturing demeanor immediately comforted us from the traumas of an unpleasant day on the road; that her generosity and attitude inspired us more than she can understand.

Here we are with Stef after the ride.

I stepped out of the car to run into the tavern’s restroom. The looks I got on my way out clearly indicated that these bar-goers rarely saw cyclists run into their establishment. “Where you going,” one man asked.

“San Francisco.”

He asked me why. I told him about our mission. He collected the money he had put out on the counter and handed it to me. “My wife died of lung cancer two years ago. Remember her.”

The woman next to him turned and spoke. “I lost my father to melanoma.”

These were the words that got our team through the next 15 miles into Butler where the rain fell harder and cold blew more than earlier that day. Stef offered to drive behind us for the remainder of the route with her car hazards on to deter impatient motorists from speeding up to us and laying on their horns. Her generosity and patience with us was inexplicable and affirmed to me that there are still great people in this world. I will remember her fondly as the challenges on this ride grow.

There's Stef in her car blocking traffic for us!

Thank you, Stef.

WKYC Coverage of the 4k for Cancer in Cleveland

Riding on the 4k for Cancer a second time was the best possible decision I could have made. A local NBC news affiliate covered our team rolling into Cleveland yesterday. Check out the article below!

College students off and pumping on 4,000-mile bike trip
CLEVELAND -- A group of 27 cyclists rolled into Cleveland Friday night. Four hundred miles down. Only 3,600 miles to go in their trip across America.

The cyclists, ranging in age from 18 to 23 years, will spend the next two months on the road raising money and awareness about cancer.

It's the ninth year for the 4K For Cancer ride which was started by a student at Johns Hopkins University to honor his father who died of cancer.

"It's hard to think of anybody who hasn't been affected (by cancer)," said Raffi Wartanian. "You're constantly meeting people who were affected and they're telling you their story.
"And you put that on your shoulders and use that to get up the mountains and through the rain," said Wartanian, who is partipating in his second 4K For Cancer ride.

Each of the cyclists raised at least $4,000. The group hopes to donate $110,000 dollars to the Hope Lodge in Baltimore and to cancer research.

Two vans carrying sleeping bags, clothes and donated food accompany the cyclists.
The cyclists rely on churches, YMCA's and community centers for food and lodging.
Cyclist Nicole Pangborn, a pre-med student at Johns Hopkins University, has found motivation and inspiration from the people she's met during the trip.

"We rely completely on donations for lunch and lodging and food for dinner," said Pangborn. "It's like we really don't buy anything. And we go across the country.

"A lot of us haven't encountered that type of generosity," said Pangborn. "It's just unbelievable that people give everything to us because we're doing something for the greater good."
© 2009 WKYC-TV
Here's a pic of us getting ready to caravan into the Case campus in Cleveland.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009


I can't sleep.  Five days to go.  Four thousand miles.  Two months.  Aching muscles.  Incredible sensations.  Pedaling and pedaling and pedaling and pedaling and pedaling.  Avoiding road debris and squashed animals, or moving animals - cows, snakes, squirrels, turtles.  External expectations escaped.  A thriving cocoon constantly on the go.  The greatest escape imaginable into the essence of reality.  Impossible to explain, yet so vivid.  I can't wait to go.  I can't wait to sleep.  I can't wait.  

ted talk

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Fundraising Videos

The past 3 months or so have been spent trying to raise $4000 for cancer research, prevention outreach, and patient care.  I did it once before in 2006 with lots of fancy fundraising letters, but this time I decided to only use facebook and ask for small donations.  I'm close to my goal, about $500 shy, but am thrilled by the knowledge that tweaking my method has brought in over 145 contributors from Brazil, Israel, Syria, Denmark, France, Spain, Italy, Canada, and the ol' US of A.  A big part of this process has been making ridiculous fundraising videos...

Monday, April 13, 2009

Across America take 5

A church in Michigan City, Indiana explaining five reasons to tithe.  Until seeing this poster, I thought "tithing" strictly belonged to vocabularies prior to the 16th century.  It turns out tithes are in, and my vocabulary needs a serious updating.  

This is the 5th installment in a series of photos taken from a 2006 bicycle trip across America to raise funds, spread awareness, and foster hope in the fight against cancer.  I am riding again this summer.  Each rider has pledged to raise $4000 to donate to the American Cancer Society's Baltimore Hope Lodge, a free residence for patients receiving cancer treatment in the Baltimore area.  We also donate to the outreach and research divisions of the Sydney Kymmel Comprehensive Cancer CEnter at the Johns Hopkins Hospital.

Please consider making a $10 donation.  If you can only afford less, then that is totally cool - EVERY PENNY COUNTS!  You can make a contribution by clicking the "Donate Here" link of my fundraising page at: http://sites.google.com/a/4kforcancer.org/rider-fundraising/riderfundraising/raffi-wartanian

Leave a comment if you have any questions or stories you want to share.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Across America Take 4

Photo above:  Cycling up Pennsylvania's Appalachian mountains, we encountered the following sign.  The Pennsylvania peak is named after the mountainous resting place of Noah's arc after the great flood.  Photo below: Mount Ararat itself - a photo I took the following summer in Armenia.  Mount Ararat is one of the most enduring symbols of the Armenian nation, and, ironically, rests just on the other side of the closed border with Turkey.  It is quite symbolic, actually, of Armenian history as one that has been inextricably tied to surrounding powers.  

This is the 4th installment in a series of photos taken from a 2006 bicycle trip across America to raise funds, awareness, and hope in the fight against cancer.  I am riding again this summer.  Each rider has pledged to raise $4000 donated to the American Cancer Society's Hope Lodge, a free residence for patients receiving cancer treatment in the Baltimore area.  We also donate to the outreach and research divisions of the Sydney Kymmel Comprehensive Cancer Center at the Johns Hopkins Hospital.  

Please consider making a $10 donation.  If you can only afford less, then that is totally cool - EVERY PENNY COUNTS!!  You can make a contribution by clicking the "Donate Here" link on my fundraising page at:


Sunday, March 22, 2009

Across America take 3

Enormous piper.  Music so good you can't even hear it.  

This is the third in a series of photos from a 2006 cross country bicycle trip to raise money, awareness, and hope in the fight against cancer.  I will ride again this summer, and each rider has pledged to raise $4000.  You can learn more about our organization, the 4k for cancer, by visiting the website - www.4kforcancer.org .  To make a donation, please visit my personal fundraising website at:   http://sites.google.com/a/4kforcancer.org/rider-fundraising/riderfundraising/raffi-wartanian .


Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Across America take 2

This is the second installment in a series of photos from a cross country bicycle trip I took in the summer of 2006. 

Is this a subliminal way of saying that Todd Alexander is the head of Ministries International?  Or does it say that Ministries International provides one-on-one advice for financial solutions?

I will ride once again this summer, pledging to raise $4000 in the fight against cancer.  The funds go to the American Cancer Society's Baltimore Hope Lodge, a free residence for patients receiving cancer treatment in the Baltimore area.  We also donate to the outreach and research programs at the Sideny Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center at Johns Hopkins University Hospital.  

If you like what you see and approve of our mission, the consider making an online donation.  You can visit my personal fundraising page and learn more about the trip by copy/pasting the following URL into your browser:  http://sites.google.com/a/4kforcancer.org/rider-fundraising/riderfundraising/raffi-wartanian .

Every penny counts in the fight against cancer.  Thanks for your support!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Across America take 1

This is the first in a series of photos from a cross country bicycle trip I took in the summer of 2006.  I will ride once again this summer, pledging to raise $4000 in the fight against cancer.  I wanted to share this series of photos to give you, dearest potential donor, a sense of the many quirks and surprises we encountered along the way.

Roadside religious philosophy.  It was reported that twenty people lost their lives in the construction of that sign.  I thank them for their sacrifice.  

If you like what you see and approve of our mission, then consider making a small donation to our cause online.  You can visit my personal fundraising page and learn more about the trip by copy/pasting the following URL into your browser: http://sites.google.com/a/4kforcancer.org/rider-fundraising/riderfundraising/raffi-wartanian

Whatever you can give is tremendously appreciated and is tax-deductable.  Thanks for your support!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

I'm riding a bicycle across America and NEED YOUR HELP!

Dear Readers

I am bicycling 4000 miles from Baltimore to San Francisco this summer to raise funds, awareness, and hope in the fight against cancer.  I will be joined by 26 other rides as a part of this year's 4k for Cancer.    

Each rider is responsible for raising $4000 - that's $1 for  every mile we ride.  The funds go to the American Cancer Society's Baltimore Hope Lodge, a free residence for patients receiving cancer treatment in the Baltimore area.  We also donate funds to the research and outreach programs at the Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center at the Johns Hopkins University Hospital.  

Please support my trip and the 4k for Cancer's objectives by making a donation - EVERY PENNY COUNTS!  Seriously, whatever you can give is TREMENDOUSLY appreciated, and all of it is tax-deductible - just ask me for the form.  You can donate online using your credit/debit card by visit my fundraising page and clicking on the "Donate Here" link.  You can copy-paste the URL into your browser to access my fundraising page.  Here's the link:


You can also donate by check.  Please mail your check (payable to "4k for Cancer") to the following address.  And please make sure to put "Raffi Wartanian" in the memo line.  The mailing address:
Raffi Wartanian
4k for Cancer
PO Box 4730
Baltimore, MD 21211
Your donation, no matter the amount, is VERY MUCH APPRECIATED!  

If you have any questions or stories to share, please do!  Leave a comment, or send me an email to rjw303@yahoo.com. 

I did this ride in 2006 and made a small slide show of images from the Rocky Mountains set to John Denver's "Rocky Mountain High".  

Monday, March 2, 2009

Does this guy look like my dad?

My housemate Julian argues that the man I am hugging on the right, ie the big doll in the beetlejuice shirt in the middle of a Barcelona street, resembles my dad.  So I thought I would post this side by side comparison and throw it open to the public.  I think they kind of look alike, but not really.  Some say no resemblance whatsoever, others see a huge resemblance.  Thoughts?  

p.s.  I have a picture of my blog on my blog.  If that isn't a glaring case of blog-narcissism then I don't know what is.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Best Job in the World

I must send a big "thank you" to my friend Ethan who informed me about an amazing opportunity offered by Tourism Queensland.  This is how they describe the job: 

The role of Island Caretaker is a six-month contract, based on luxurious Hamilton Island in the Great Barrier Reef.  It's a live-in position with flexible working hours and key responsibilities that include exploring the Islands of the Great Barrier Reef to discover what the area has to offer.  You'll be required to report back on your adventures to Tourism Queensland headquarters in Brisbane (and the rest of the world) via weekly blog posts, photo diary, video updates, and ongoing media interviews.  Our offer is a unique opportunity to help promote the wondrous Islands of the Great Barrier Reef.  

Since this job description shared an uncanny resemblance to the past eight months of my life - traveling and blogging - I thought I had nothing to lose in applying.  All applicants are required to make a one-minute video explaining why they would make the best Island Caretaker.  So I bit the bullet, got a monkey suit, an Australian flag, and went to town.  HERE'S THE LINK TO MY VIDEO -> www.islandreefjob.com/applicants/watch/FMCXwJPDBHE

It's also really fun to watch one of the thousands of one-minute application videos from across the world.  You can even search by country (the Russians are my personal favorite).  It's neat to see so many random people across the world who would never otherwise make a connection through this process.  You can find their videos at the contest website: www.islandreefjob.com 

Sunday, February 22, 2009


When I was couchsurfing (www.couchsurfing.com) in Florence, I stayed with Elisa and  her flat mate Dave, an Italian graphic designer and freelance psychologist.  The kitchen he had decorated rocked my world - especially the table.  

Close up of the table.  The world's best fitting jeans under my glass of OJ.

The table from afar.  

Kitchen contextualized.  Black panther on the fridge.  

"What's up with that multi-colored elevated circle in the middle of that room?" you might ask yourself.  Well, dear reader, Dave decoupaged his table.  Decoupage.  DEK YOU PAJ.  Scientists claim that the word has a Latin origin and stands for "Decorate Eclectic Kangaroos Yearly On Underbelly Pouchy After Jamming".  

Decoupaging is when you glue colored paper onto objects.  Sound exciting?  Not really.  Look exciting?  You bet!  Dave chose the theme of ridiculous 1950's advertisements for the table, resulting in unendingly interesting sit downs when you could look at the pattern under your cup, plate, spoon, fork, knife, napkin, salt or pepper shaker, ashtray, napkin holder resembling flamingo, pair of dice, slice of watermelon, and never get bored.  

His creation inspired me to do one of my own.  He explained the process, and soon enough I stumbled across a record shop in Philadelphia selling milk crates of old records for one dollar a piece.  After gathering thirty of the most colorful album covers, I went inside the store (yes, these albums were actually displayed outside of the store - shows how much they care!) and the clerk told me to name my own price.  

I left Philly with some funky looking album covers.  I cut them up to fit our living room table, glued them down, and poured varnish over top for protection.  Below is the final product! 

Thank you, Dave!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Life in Lebanon

I hope the photos in this post give a sense of life in Lebanon beyond the cloak of fear and instability many western media outlets use to depict the small Mediterranean country.

Lebanon is a land of harmonized oppositions (or opposing harmonies) - mountain faces towering over the sea, churches and mosques across the street from one another, a one-legged man on the street offering you coffee.  It is a difficult life riddled with neglect and steeped in family values - these photos show Lebanon suspended from its political context (it tries, at least), focusing on its natural beauty, and the way people fit themselves into that beauty.  

The ruins of Anjar village.  
Farayah - This is where we go to ski.

Beirut at sunset from my uncle's apartment.  A mesmerizing sun humming "good night" to the people.  

What used to be the Nahr River.  Countless bullets and rockets were exchanged across this waterway during the civil war that lasted from 1975-1990.  

The rocks of Rowche refusing to sink quietly into the sea.

Memories of a violent past.  

My grandmother's balcony at dawn.  Do you see that big green hill in the middle of everything?  That's a big pile of trash.  Sometimes you can smell it when the wind blows.  

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Government Censorhip in Kuwait

These are photos I took of magazines from a mall in Kuwait.  If you look closely, you'll notice sloppy, black blotches on the pages of these magazine.  The location of those blotches are no coincidence - this is the work of Kuwaiti government officials who apparently flip through these magazines page by page and marker over anything deemed "inappropriate".  

These pictures demonstrate the official's specific sensitivity towards any type of exposure or flaunting of a female's nether-regions, even if it is necessary for them to complete their athletic endeavors.

More blotching of anything that might expose skin near the woman's private areas.  

Clearly the officials did not appreciate the V cut in this dress.  

But they did appreciate the V cut dress of the "Illustrado" lady.

So this is what it means to have religious law overtly enforced over secular trends in society.  On the one hand, I understand how this approach can counter the media's trend of objectifying women into mere sex symbols.  This is part of the reason why so many women wear the hijab (head scarves) - it is a symbol of devotion to God and an upholding of the sanctity of monogamy.  

In the West, we criticize the presence of religious law in secular society and government.  Perhaps we would not object to the notion that women should not be objectified, yet we believe that these decisions come down to the freedom to choose.  The freedom of a model to pose in a bikini for a photoshoot.  The freedom of a curious teenager to buy the magazine displaying that photoshoot.  The freedom of the woman selling that magazine to dress as she pleases.  With freedom we may sacrifice many layers of conservatism, but we preserve that feeling of individualism so dominant here in the West.