A Mother’s Love (for futbol)

Photo: steemit

My mother’s love for futbol and the World Cup was boundless, timeless, and shameless. It crossed continents and generations; it brought us all together in enthusiasm and sometimes in disappointment; it created a kind of goofy, wild joy that was my mother’s trademark until the very end of her life.

Anahid Oshagan Voskeritchian began to play the beautiful game as a young girl of 14, in Jerusalem, at the urging of her father, the writer Hagop Oshagan, who was very liberal in matters of girls’ education, both intellectual and physical. (She also swam and played tennis.) She played in the boys’ team with her brother Vahe. She claimed, until the very end, that she was a better player than he. “He was a poet, a dreamer,” she would say. “I was the real player!” But she would always add this little jab of a line: “I was defense player. Those boys did not want a girl to be playing attack!”

In Jordan, we lived on a second floor apartment that overlooked the athletic field of the Bishop’s School. Whenever there was an intra- or inter-school game, my mother was on the balcony commenting, cheering, sometimes clapping—often to my adolescent embarrassment. At that time, no one in the family had her zeal for the game, but she persisted in making us all watch the boys play, explaining the rules to us, praising this player and trashing that one.

But the glory days of my mother’s love for the game came with television and extended into scores of games from all over the world. (In time, my own family and I had become lovers of the game. ) She watched every single World Cup game, wherever she was—in Amman, in Boston, in Los Angeles and any other points I may have missed. It was always the same: We were always on the floor, in a well-aerated and large room, fully prepared and excited way ahead of time. And always, always, my mother would make lokma beforehand and we would dip the sweet, greasy stuff in the syrup and eat away as we watched. But that did not stop her from commenting on each player, each move, each little infraction. One year, part of the family was in Amman and part of it in Boston. We had to compare notes, so the phone was ringing for the entire second half of the game.

Anahid knew the game, the rules, the players like the back of her hand. She was partisan and biased. She liked the French and the Argentines, but more the French . She was a Zidanista, until the end, but she liked some of the South American players. She did not like the Italians. “Պարապ տակար են,” she would say.

In later years, she lived alone in Amman, but her house was always full of friends when the World Cup semi-finals and finals were on. On other less auspicious occasions, she watched the game by herself long into the night. In fact, the night she died, she had watched futball until one in the morning. Then she went to sleep, happy.




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If you were not the rain…

“If you were not the rain, my love, then be the tree
Saturated and bountiful, be the tree.
And if you were not the tree, my love, then be the stone
Saturated and moist,  be the stone.
And if you were not the stone, my love, then be the moon
In the dream of the loved one, be the moon.
This is what a woman said to her son at his funeral.” 

Mahmood Darwish

[Translated from the Arabic by Taline Voskeritchian and Christopher Millis]

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The awe of Ararat…

~~It rained all day yesterday in Yerevan, a light drizzle but raw to the bone. At night, the weather turned beautiful, foretelling, I hoped, of the day to come, sunny and crisp and alive. This morning, Ararat is a shimmer of light and shade, stasis and movement. (The photo does no justice to the morning awe. Photos never do; words are better. I wish you were here. )

Michael Arlen: “And the other part of my mind felt a deep shiver, perhaps what an archeologist might feel at uncovering some such towering ancient monument, some “god”, and realizing (even within his modern soul) that it was a god, and that men in distant times had surely prayed to it, had looked with joy and terror on its blank face, had lived beneath it, doubtless feeling a deeper shiver, creating legends and demigods around it.”

There are those rare mornings in Yerevan when the world seems immersed in light and lightness.  It’s as if you’re in a different universe, a new city; that you yourself are new (and foreign) to yourself, star-struck on the balcony or from the seat of your plane, looking at Ararat as though for the first time, in that first encounter.  Surely, that is what Arlen had in mind when he wrote these words. ~~

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An evening of 4 Peleshian films, November 15, in Yerevan

Four films by Ardavazd Peleshian will be screened on November  15, 2017 at Silk Road Hotel, hosted by Folk Arts HUB Foundation.  The films are Mountain Patrol, InhabitantsSeasons of the Year, and two very-shorts from the early 1990s, Life and End.

I’m re-posting an old article of mine from  1991 on Peleshian’s art.  Some of the material is dated, true.  But Peleshian’s vision is as new and groundbreaking today as it was  decades ago, when US audiences first watched his films in San Francisco, Boston, and New York.

After the publication of this article, in Armenian International Magazine in 1991, Peleshian made two new films, which will be screened on Wednesday night. But Peleshian’s small output (a total of three hours) is no measure to the originality of his “documentaries”;  the depth of their theoretical foundations; and the sharpness of his camera’s gaze and angle. Those of us who love Peleshian’s work would have wanted more, but what he has given is for the generations and for many, many viewings and re-viewings.~~




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To Andalusia..

Madrid, Barrio of Trafalgar, May 2011

It was Mahmoud Darwish, by his own personal and poetic admission a lover of Andalusia, who said about love—that love is either the longing for its arrival or the mourning of its loss.  In the poem ‘Intadzerha (Wait for her), the poet advises—even commands– the waiting lover to be slow, patient, disciplined; the poem itself is a kind of ritual of waiting, whose edges are illuminated by the image of her arrival though we and the poet know that she may not come.  As for the sorrow of love’s loss, all of Darwish’s poetry is a mourning–across historical epochs, through the political upheavals of the Middle East, and in and out of the private tribulations of love.

On the five-hour bus ride from Madrid to Andalusia, I think of Darwish again, and of the deep paradox embedded in his work—that to be one of the world’s great poets of love means to be in receptive of its illusiveness, to know that our expression often falls short of the fullness of the experience, our anticipation short of the fullness of the outcome. In the words of Kirshnamurti: “Not quite, not quite.”

And here I am, on yet another transport, this time a bus, moving toward a destination I have dreamed about since our high school days, when we studied Andalusian history as one of the golden ages of Arab and Islamic culture.  I am in anticipation of what is to reveal itself to me as we enter the city of Granada, the heft and flutter of approach laced by the inevitable coming of loss, of departure.  And so, caught in this trajectory, the only certainty is the passage itself: the swift sliding of the bus across a changing landscape, the loop of pop videos on the screen above the driver, the murmur of conversations mostly in Spanish.

The discontented. Madrid.

Nothing new in all this, nor in Darwish’s admission, really.  For all the talk about purpose and intent and plans and destinations, passage is what we do most, at least most of us.  And perhaps that is why passage, for all its shifts and slides, has a comforting edge, has a lulling quality which allows for the heart and mind to do their work in relative quiet and peace, to open themselves to moments of revelation, moments of clarity.

But passage is also a kind of protection, a redress against the two extremes of which Darwish speaks—the anticipation, which often leaves us a bit disappointed, and the mourning which spawns the empty sorrow at the heart of all departures.  In a way, we know these two ends, though we may surround our knowledge with so much talk that we end up believing (and living) our verbiage; we want to become what we say, to paraphrase Blake.  What we don’t know, what we don’t a clue about is the passage itself once it is liberated from the push and tug of departure and arrival. The passage itself, for all its pleasures and twists and shadows, for all its slowing of time.

The road to Granada

And here we are in the bus station of Granada, which is no different than any other bus station around the world.  Here we are in a taxi to Albaicin—the driver has a nicotine cough, and most of his molars are gone.  And here we are, with our backpacks and carry-ons, at the entrance of our street.  It is a beautiful sight, which automatically brings into focus other such places in the world—Venice, Jerusalem, Aleppo–old cities which have somehow withstood the ravages of time, the invasions, the occupations, the traffic, have withstood all this and been made less cocky, less arrogant. But not quite, not quite.

The end of the cobblestone alley is frayed and a bit unclear; the road is all rubble of reconstruction.  We begin walking, at first slowly, then a bit more quickly.  But not too quick, not too quick, for who knows what awaits us at the end of the stairs, now that the anticipation has found its destination?


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In Praise of Bookstores

 ~~This is a re-post from 2013, when Harvard Book Store, Cambridge, MA, was voted best bookstore in Boston in the A-list of Boston.  This morning, by chance, I found out that Harvard Book Store was voted best bookstore for 2017.  Since 2013, I have only grown to love this bookstore even more.  A couple of years ago, I read there from a collection of travel writing. The bookstore had solicited submissions for an anthology of travel writing, which was to be printed at the bookstore’s then-new-and-very-exciting printing machine.  My essay was about Ramallah, Palestine.  It was a great evening of literature and conversation and togetherness, not unlike those better-known readings by more famous writers that the bookstore organizes each month.

The 2017 award may be old news (I did not participate in the survey this year), but anything to do with bookstores is always current, and occasion for celebration. Here is, then, my tribute to Harvard Book Store, a special place for me and thousands from all over the world.~~

harvard-book-storeThis is a post to promote bookstores.  Yes, yes, we’ve done it before, talked about the vanishing bookstore and how it is so difficult nowadays to get up, go to a good bookstore (if you can find one anymore), browse around, buy something and come home.  Yes, we’re all guilty of wanting to do the right thing but ending up buying on-line.  We’ve become lazy, let’s face it.  And we’ve become impatient, of waiting, but also of the mystery of waiting.

But there it was, in black and white, on the receipt which my friend A. handed to me the other day when she returned from Harvard Book Store.  She was visiting from Europe, and one of the first places she went was this wonderful, literate bookstore in Cambridge, still independent, still open until 11:00 at night, still selling books, and of late, delivering orders on bicycle in Cambridge.  Harvard Bookstore has been one of  my favorite bookstores, too, but truth be told, I had slipped, I had succumbed, I had entered the amazonian realm of on-line orderings.

This is what the slip said:  How much money stays in your community when you spend $100?  At a locally owned business: $68. At a chain store:  $43.  At Amazon:$00.

This morning, I was re-reading John Berger, whose work is occasion for solace and renewal.  I needed both.  And then I thought of another book of Berger’s–Bento’s Sketchbook.

My first impulse was to go to the amazonian screen, but I resisted the urge.  The book was available at the Harvard Book Store, but I had decided to order it from them even if they did not have it on their shelves.  The gentleman with whom I spoke had a human voice, spoke cordially, and may know Berger’s work.  This last point is important because the chain bookstores are no alternative to on-line bookstores.  Chain store staff are peopled often by college kids who have very limited experience in books, think of books as things on shelves–like Cola or condoms.  At least that’s been my experience whenever I have gone into one of the chains and asked about a book whose title I was not sure about.  The kids–bless their hearts!–  stare back at me as though I were someone from the age when dinosaurs roamed the earth.


Not so at places like Harvard Book Store.  One winter night, late, I went into the bookstore, looking for a book.  I was in Harvard Square to see a movie, and after that wanted to meander just a little.  It was snowing outside; I had limited time and  the last bus to catch home.  The place was packed with people; the ambient noise was pleasant; the atmosphere alive but restrained.  I found the book I wanted, talked to the gentleman at the counter (he had white hair; had read quite a few books, I suspect), and then walked out into the night.

Bookstore are places of encounter and places of community–with books, with readers, with strangers.  The great bookstores in our lives–mine have been Khayyat’s in Beirut, Chatterton’s in LA, Oshagan Bookstore in Aleppo, and several others in places as diverse as Amman, Paris, Jerusalem–have staying power beyond their warehouse functions.

To this day, I know what I bought at Khayyat’s bookstore, on Bliss Street, yes Bliss, from the founder of the American University of Beirut.  I remember the cover of the book, the sense of excitement I felt, the person I was with when we went in.  I was 17 or 18 at the time, the first time I myself was buying a book. The first time.~



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Rough beauty…

Apples are ordinary; strawberries and figs are explicit; pears are restrained, even hesitant.  Watermelons, cantaloupes, and honeydew possess the self-consciousness of the corpulent.  But the peach is in a class by itself. On an August afternoon, a peach or two can spark a joy like no other—intense and enduring.

The peach is a thing of rough beauty—from the texture of its skin (white peach is an exception), to the curve of its navel, all the way to its recalcitrant seed. Its vernacular joys are tucked between the fuzz of its surface and the toughness of its core, its viscera variations of gold and pink and faint yellow. The taste– not too sweet, not too tart; not too strong, not too feeble. It’s a taste that does not call attention to itself but stays on.

The peach is a thing of languorous arrival– the anticipation of the wait and the excitement of seeing them on the fruit stands. The poet said, “We don’t love again; we love anew.” And each August, as the seasons prepare to turn, my love for the peach is made new, as though it were the first time, the first peach.

And each August, as the season of this rough beauty concludes, I am a little sad. The best peaches I’ve eaten are those of Armenia.  Today,  the owner of my neighborhood’s vegetable market in Yerevan, Digin Yelena, said, “The season of the peach is soon ending. I am putting some for you.”  She did not wait for my agreement, but tenderly placed them in the plastic bag.

I ate two; they were still delicious though the taste was a little less intense, the skin a little less bright, but the joy still unbridled, messy and pure. ~~


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The Call of the Adriatic

~~From time to time, I post photographs from friends who are traveling to the world’s remote corners and bringing or sending back photographs.  Today’s wayward photos and words are those of my daughter, Tamar, taken during our trip to Croatia and the ensuing romance with the Adriatic. ~~

Picture it: Dubrovnik, Croatia, June 19, 2017. Away from the tourists, past a boardwalk and Hotel More and the little shops selling beach clothes and water shoes. The walkway is on a cliff, the Adriatic Sea directly below a ragged stretch of rocks and boulders where people sunbathe before jumping directly into the sea. We’re looking for a spot from where maybe, if I’m brave, I’ll climb down into the water. I find a rickety ladder attached to the rocks. My mother rests in the shade on the walkway.

It can’t be too difficult, I think. I slowly make my way down the rocks, past an elderly couple enjoying the sun and three single ladies laughing and spraying themselves with oil. The ladder is sturdy, but takes maneuvering. It’s only four rungs, a little too tall for my body, but I reach the last rung and the cold water snapping at my toes. It isn’t a beach, more a man-made cliff, and because of this, the water hits the rocks like a boxer’s punch seen in slow motion. A wave of panic hits me as I lower myself into the water. I’m further away from the sunbathers than I realize, and when I look up, I can’t see anyone which means they can’t see me.

I could easily slip into this water, close my eyes, and be carried away. I sling my arm through the last rung of the ladder and with one quick move, submerge my body under the freezing water. It is exhilarating and terrifying all at once. In that moment, I welcome my own baptism, still holding on, not afraid of the water, but aware of the ferocity I want to give myself to. I dip under the water repeatedly, taking in that ferocity, holding it, and letting it settle somewhere deep within.

It’s simple, and doesn’t take long, and when I’m done, I’m done. I climb back up to the rocks, then to my mother. My explanation of the event – like the words written here – does it no justice, but it’s a moment I will never forget. A kind of rebirth, not one where I am suddenly free of my scars, or fears, or broken pieces. But I’m aware of them, and in solidarity with all I have experienced, and loved, and lost, the depth of the clear, crisp water revealing the depth of so much more. I will return again.~~


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Awesome Plitvice, Croatia

“Take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints, and use nothing but time.” These are the directives posted by UNESCO at the entrance to the trails and waterfalls that make up the Plitvice Lake Park in northern Croatia. The Park is a UNESCO world heritage site.

We spent yesterday afternoon there, ascending to 5100 meters to the sounds of a chorus of birds, the changing colors of lake waters, the gush of waterfalls, the sudden appearance out of nowhere of yet ano

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In Split, Croatia

~~My friend and colleague A.S. wrote today from Yerevan: “We all live for great food, great stories (to be encountered during our journeys anywhere), and great conversations,” all of which converge when we travel.

The story of the day for us here in Split was as improbable as it was typical, at least for me: We were looking for bubble wrap (try to explain that to a Croatian who does not know one word of English, and many people here don’t know English or French!) to wrap the vishné liquor and take it back to Boston via Paris. Well, we finally decided to make it to the local post to see if they could help us. The office was closed though their website said it was open today. Half an hour later, down the promenade, we looked ahead at the Adriatic and caught this poster. The postal workers were observing an anti-fascist day away from work. Good for them!

We don’t have bubble wrap but something else will do–which is another great gift of travel–how we learn to improvise, make do, cobble and wobble.

That’s a story, dear A.

[Photo: Tamar V. Salibian]

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