Mothers’ Day for all seasons…

Passages Home Blog

images-1At my local grocery this morning, the flower scene was in full bloom, so to speak. Flowers everywhere–tossed on the check out counter, held by shoppers, pinned on chests.   So many flowers, in fact, that if I don’t see a flower till I die, it won’t make a difference.

Don’t get me wrong, I am crazy about flowers, all colors, all varieties particularly wild ones, all shapes, all species, especially when they come into my sphere of vision out of nowhere, by surprise. But this orgy of flowers on Mothers’ Day weekend verges on parody, a macabre display of desire and conformity and excess.  And parody is melodrama in another guise,  the fuel of our shopping mania, the tools for holding emotions hostage, for not allowing them to blossom and then fade away, as everything must.  “Intimacy passes,” writes Richard Rodriguez.  So does everything else. But parody  and melodrama…

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In the Balkans 2: Montenegro

Passages Home Blog

Montenegro–from Asbed Kotchikian’s photos of his travels through the Balkans.

Kotor

Budva

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In the Balkans: Sarejevo, Dubrovnik, Ljubljana

From May, 2012.

Passages Home Blog

Old Sarajevo

Occasionally, I post photographs from friends who are traveling in distant lands or who have evocative images close to home.  This May, my friend Asbed Kotchikian was driving through the Balkans, all of the republics, towns and cities, and beyond to Trieste, Thessaloniki. These photographs are self-expalanatory really in the mesh they reveal of land and sea, town and city, violence and beauty, religious faith and its perversion.

Asbed was kind enough to share his photogrpahs with me and the readers of Passages Home. In a few days, I will post photos from Montenegro.

Thanks, Asbed.  Safe travels, fair winds!

Begov Mosque

Orthodox Church

Dubrovnik

Ljubljana

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Promises, promises: preliminary notes on “The Promise.”

~PROMISES, PROMISES~

I, too, saw The Promise.  Here are my comments in response to the rhetoric and sloganeering that has surrounded this movie since its release:

1. Our story… Is this “our story”? An ambitious man from the villages goes to Istanbul in 1915, falls in love with an Armenian woman who is living with her American boyfriend in a hotel and who seems to have no pangs of guilt about sleeping with two men. That’s a fairy tale not our story.

2. must be told…A fairy tale set against the background of a calamity rendered in an epic style. Can “our story” be told within this mixed frame of reference? Is this the best genre(s) and content — sweeping scenes of carnage peppered with closeups, beautiful sunsets, and tantalizing Istanbul high life a la Masterpiece Theatre?

3. So that the world will know…The world will know what after having seen this movie? That a genocide was perpetrated on the Armenians. Ok. But why? That is not answered, unless one reads the Armenians’ Christian religiosity and goodness in the film as the old, hackneyed and lazy notion that we were Christian and they were Muslim. Not a shred of historical context is available for the non-Armenian viewer.

And for the Armenian viewers who “know” something about our story: That is the most problematic part of the PR-driven comments. Why is it that we want to see the blood and gore over and over–on large and small screens, on book and CD covers? What psychological force pushes us to that, what jouissance do we extract from it?

4. For closure… If a Hollywood production is our path to closure, then our “cause” is in real, real trouble. And what closure? That silly psychological term which has lost all meaning through over-use and over-extension. Couple that with the trivialization of the word trauma, and you have a perfect PR line which rings more hollow with each passing attempt at proving to ourselves that it happened to us.

5. For recognition: We have convinced ourselves that in the cultural realm, the more frequently we show the images, the more explicitly we do that, and the more we talk about it in gruesome ways, the more we increase the chances of the recognition. There is a word for this mode of visual and verbal representation, for this kind of thinking; it shall remain unsaid here.

6. Well, at least it’s done; it’s out there: It’s done, yes–and I have not yet said anything about the movie as a movie, which is the fate of even a second-rate production: to be out there in the world and become a subject of analysis. Not in our case. Our national obsession does not allow for that kind of debate not for this movie, not for all the “genocide art” and “genocide literature” that we have produced over the years. They are there only as parts of the arsenal of cultural productions proving that it happened, as instruments.

End of story.

~~
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“…this city, half fairy tale, half tourist trap.” Thomas Mann

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From the Archives–travel: Spain 2

~~ This essay was originally on June 4, 2011, shortly after we had visited Sacromonte inAndalusia.  It was later published on the blog of the radio program “On Being.”  ~~ The Trail to …

Source: From the Archives–travel: Spain 2

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From the Archives–travel: Spain 2

~~ This essay was originally on June 4, 2011, shortly after we had visited Sacromonte inAndalusia.  It was later published on the blog of the radio program “On Being.”  ~~

The Trail to Sacromonte

The road may be—and almost always is—made of our footsteps, but there are places in the world, sacred sites, where arrival is at least equal to the effort of getting there, where our beginnings and our ends do actually know each other.  The Camino Sacromonte which we climbed yesterday all the way to the Abbaye du Sacromonte at the very top of the trail, the rain and mist our only companions, is such a place.

We had begun rather unambitiously, meandering up and down through the alleyways of Albaicin, until we suddenly found ourselves on the Sacromonte trail.  On one side was the lush landscape atop which sat the Alhambra, on the other side, and at a sharp elevation we could make out the Abbaye du Sacromonte.  It was a grey afternoon.  We walked slowly and quietly, for there was not a much sound around us save for a few tourists and locals, and the dogs of which there are an unusually large number in Albaicin. We stopped here and there, the landscape taking our breath away–literally.  And then on a little bit more, and then another stop.

Then, it began to rain—first softly for a while, the droplets of whispers.  The rain stayed with us all the way to the top, sometimes a mere hint, at other times a downpour.  We continued walking for a long, long time, and then the rain became more ferocious as we made our way up the arch of the abbey.  The path became more treacherous, but we persisted, stopping to catch our breath and then start again.  For more than ten minutes, we ascended, our feet muddied, our hearts beating fast, our ears alert to the tiniest movement.  But most of all, we were sustained by the smell of the absorbent landscape—the earth saturated with that moist fragrance, the vegetation holding the water on its surface, glistening.

It was not fear that seized me for that instant though I may have expressed it in those terms. We’re alone, there’s no one around, just these two little women from Boston, speaking a foreign language, huddling against each other.  It was awe, and awe is always mixed with an undercurrent of terror as though at any moment invisible figures—the ghosts of the gypsies for whose “education” the abbey was originally constructed in the seventeenth century—would suddenly jump out in an ambush.  But it passed, that terror, leaving in its trail an unfamiliar but sweet sense of being gathered together, of being held, by the invisible hands and secret thread of the gods and their shadows, propelled by something aptly transcendent.

We made it to the top and into the abbey, which was completely devoid of sound and sight.  We sat in the foyer, looking out at the landscape ahead of us through the small iron gate.  In the distance the Alhambra extended across the entire top of the mountains, and here, in this spot, the Christian abbey built on the grottos of the gypsies—the quintessential moment of faiths in a violent embrace.

We sat for quite a while, looking ahead and inward, waiting for the rain to subside, which it did not. No sense of triumph, no sense of victory, but something else, like pure contentment at being here, in this place, at this moment.  Then, we decided to go down to the main road and find a way to get home.  We did not have the foggiest idea, except that we had heard that bus #35 passed from the main trail.

There are places in the world where you can go down on your knees—even if you are a card-carrying secularist—and rail and curse and bless and thank your gods.  Such places are removed from the push and pull of everyday life, from the noise and verbiage of human chatter.  You can go down on your knees and when you come up again, you are less vulnerable, more resilient, at least for a little while—and a bit less wet.

Camino du Sacromonte is such a place.  We made it back to the main trail, and within five minutes, bus #35 came speeding through the narrow street.  It was going in the opposite direction, up to the abbey, but the driver motioned to us to jump in.  Inside the bus, was a rowdy, laughing bunch of passengers whose noise turned wilder with each jolt and turn of the bus.  They all seemed to know each other, or acted that way which is more likely.  Before we made it to the top, the self-appointed “leader” of the gang asked if anyone was going to the abbey.  No one did, and so with a rather wild turn of the steering wheel our driver took a right downhill turn, which I thought would land the little bus at the base of theravine, on its side and throw us into an accident from which we would be delivered to the community of ghosts which inhabit these mountains.  But nothing of the sort happened though the swerve was pretty wild.

We made it back to the main trail and to the Albaicin.  No doubt the gods and the ghosts were on our side, all of them that roam these lands—the Christians, the Muslims, the Jews, the gypsies, the heathens, the believers.  Those who were burned at the stake, those who were expelled, and those conquerors who built their monuments on top of the destruction.

[All photos by Tamar Salibian]

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