World Wide Reading for Armenia 2015

~~On April 21, in scores of cities and towns throughout the world, there will be memorial readings commemorating the centenary of the Ottoman genocide of the Armenians.  The readings are sponsored by the World Wide Reading for Armenia 2015 (Berlin) and Lepsius Haus (Potsdam).

In Boston, at MIT, we will read from Hagop Oshagan, Zabel Yessayan, and Yeghishé Charents, three literary giants  whose lives and literary output are intertwined with the horrific events at the dawn of the twentieth century. We’ll read in the original Armenian (Eastern and Western) and in English translation.  Join us, if you’re in Boston on April 21. ~~

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Descanso Gardens 2, La Cañada, CA

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At Descanso Gardens, La Cañada, California

~~Yes, California is in the grip of a drought, and the world of Descanso Gardens is a little tired and wilted.  Still, even on a day like this, Descanso is one of the most beautiful places around Los Angeles–meandering, un-manicured and a little wild, affordable, but most of all restorative.~~

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Hagop Oshagan:December 9, 1883-February 17, 1948

Oshagan ~~Tomorrow marks the sixty-seventh anniversary of Hagop Oshagan’s death.  He died in Aleppo, Syria, the victim of a massive heart attack, the night before he and a group of writer friends were to set out on a memorial visit to the killing fields of Der Zor.  The annotation of this photograph, in my mother, Anahid Oshagan Voskeritchian’s handwriting indicates that the heart attack began at this desk, while he was writing.

Oshagan was buried in Aleppo.  It is estimated that some 20,000 mourners were in attendance. The large turnout notwithstanding, Oshagan would have found irony, if not the cruel hand of fate, in the choice of his final resting place.  He loved Aleppo deeply, but his preference was elsewhere:   “–In the shade of Ararat: Even without a tombstone, without a sign, without an inscription:  But the hot earth on me, in the depths of my ancestors’ blood.”

The earth, light, on Hagop Oshagan. ~~

 

 

 

 

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Snow: The long, white sleep of Massachusetts…

~~For the past two weeks or so, my colleague and friend Rose Cummings, keen photographer of natural calamities which befall our New England landscape, has been posting images of the storms that have been pounding Massachusetts.  They are terrific photographs, turning the familiar into something utterly strange and otherworldly. In these photographs,  strangeness is suggestive of an eerie beauty, yes, but also of isolation, desolation, and the illusory nature of perspective itself as though the capacity for creating meaning out of such images — and of the snow itself that has brought our city’s public transport system to a standstill — has somehow been arrested.

Arrested, in both senses of the word.  Which, in the end, may be the lasting taste of this chain of storms that, we are told will extend into the weekend.  Not so much the frustrations, the crises, which we will forget.   But the gradual diminution of our pace to a crawl, then a pause, then a long, sleep-like through which the world looks like a mass of unfolding waves, too close, too far, outside our grasp somehow.

Thank you, Rose. Looking forward to your writing, too!~~

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Re-reading Michael Arlen’s “Passage to Ararat,” 2

…The story was true, I knew–a true and moving story, and one so far beyond my own experience.  But I found I wished his arm away from mine, wished away his frail hand, his tears.  “My father had committed no crime–can you believe it?  He had done nothing wrong.”  I could believe it. But I wished to be away, and out in the busy street.

Later, I thought, This cannot be Armenia, this cannot be what it is. Tears. Stories of evil times. Dark interiors and the croon of old men.  “My father had committed no crime.”  But he was killed, wasn’t he, and his brothers were killed, and his sisters were destroyed, and this old man–this boy–had been made to run and hide and to become small in his fear.  What kind of son was that?  What kind of father?

. . .

What had been so hard about it?  At first, I thought that I had been repelled by his tale of misery–that the details of his tragedy, as of a friend’s car accident or operation had been too rich to stomach.  But as soon as I thought this I knew that it was not so. I had never been squeamish about such things, and certainly not as a result of an old man’s lamentations. I realized that, instead, I was still possessed by a kind of fear.

. . .

We drove on awhile.  Saroyan talked about his children–a daughter in New York, a son in San Francisco. Family talk.  He asked me about my wife and children, about my sister, about my work. I felt something surprisingly paternal in his voice. It was a strange, deep feeling , as if we had known each other all along, when in fact I had met Saroyan only once before, briefly, a few years ago in New York, and had called him in Fresno only a week earlier to arrange our meeting.

. . .

…Then he bent down in front of a pile of dusty magazines and pulled one out.  “Did you ever see this?” he said.  It was a copy of an old English-language Armenian magazine. Saroyan opened it to an picture of my father; in fact, it was a reproduction of a photograph that had appeared on a cover of Time in 1927–now with a short not beside it on the “popular Anglo-Armenian novelist, formerly Dikran Kouyoumjian.”  Saroyan held the magazine open for a moment, and then put it down on the table. “It’s a good photo of him, isn’t it?” he said.  “Such confidence.”

“How is it that he never wrote anything serious about Armenians?” I asked.

“”I think he wasn’t that kind of writer,” Saroyan said. “He liked to be entertaining. He made a couple of good jokes about Armenians, as I remember.”

“Yes,” I said. “But how is it that you wrote all the time about Armenians and he never did?”

“I don’t know, ” said Saroyan. “Except that we all go on different journeys.  Just like you. Now you come here. And soon, I think, you must go to Erevan”

. . .

It was now midnight, or a bit later. We got in the car and drove through the silent streets of Fresno.  It was hard to tell in which direction we were going–out toward the country or in toward the downtown.  Darkened houses flicked by in the night.  “It is too bad you don’t know Armenian,” Saroyan said.  “Although you will survive.  But it is a marvelous language–marvelous sounds.  Do you know their songs? I shall sing one for you.”

Saroyan sang, rolling down the window of the car. Outside, it had begun to rain–one of those fine, sprinkling nighttime rains. Saroyan’s voice filled the car, the countryside silent except for the sound of our tires on the wet road.  “It is a song about love and injustice and about pomegranates getting ripe,” said Saroyan.  “In other words, about the important things in life.”

. . .

And so, in due course, I journeyed to Armenia–to Soviet Armenia, or what should be called more precisely the Armenian Soviet Socialist Republic.  Armenia is there, Saroyan had said. All right, I thought, I will go see it…

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January 19, the Christmas of the Jerusalem Armenians

Originally posted on Passages Home Blog:

~~On the occasion of the Christmas of Jerusalem Armenians, here is a re-posting from the archives.  Holy Christmas to all who carry Jerusalem in their hearts. ~~

On the evening of January 5, across the Eastern Mediterranean and beyond, Christians  participate in the re-enactment of the Nativity Story, and  break bread around a simple, mostly vegetarian meal.  All over the world, in churches that belong to the Eastern Christian denomination, the sweet fragrance of incense mixes with the voices of the faithful, the chants of the choirs with the tolling of the bells, the murmur of prayer with rustle of the cymbals and censers.

So, too, in places far away from the locus of the Christian story, here in Boston, for instance, the Orthodox churches are the sites of illumination and chant, prayer and good wishes for the new year. And while the rest of the world has gone back…

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