Monday, January 31, 2011


My friend Joan is always chiding me for my habit of cooking in large amounts -- I cook for at least 10, every time I cook, even though we are only 2, sometimes 3. She just doesn't understand it. I love to share not only what I cook, but how I cook it; the only problem is that I typically don't follow recipes, or if I do, I change at least one or two amounts/ingredients/cooking time/cooking temperature/cooking pans. (Yes, did you know that the shape of the pan, the material of the pan & the weight of the pan effects the flavor and texture of what we cook?)

So to continue telling tales out of school, my friend Joan is often frustrated with me because when I take her a pot of soup and she wants the recipe, I can never give it to her. Usually because I make soup the way they did in the old days -- with whatever I happen to have at hand -- some of this and some of that and some of the other. All that goes into the soup must be delicious or it won't work. But none the less, cooking in such a way makes it very hard to share a recipe. So last week, when I made a soup that came out absolutely superb (and it's very hard for me to praise my own cooking), I promised to remember the recipe to share, and maybe this way I can get my friend Joan to read at least one of my blogs.

I'll call this soup chicken/asparagus/eggplant soup. (Perhaps you would suggest a better name for the soup in your comments because in no way does that name convey the delicious flavor and scrumptious texture of this winter wonder.)

So what goes into this soup?

1) Homemade chicken broth or turkey broth made from the bones, skin, pan drippings of a roasted chicken or turkey ((after you've finished eating all of the roasted chicken that you care to) boiled with water and a splash of white vinegar for about an hour. Strain off the broth and let cool in the refrigerator.

2) Babaghanoush -- not store bought babaghanoush but my own special preparation for babaghanoush:
Prick 2 ripe eggplant all over (to prevent them from exploding in the oven or, worse yet, in your face!) and cook either in oven (while you're roasting a chicken), on your grill while your grilling shish-kebab, or for lack of anything better, time included, in your microwave. When soft and gushy, peel and put only the pulp of the eggplant in the Cuisinart and blend until smooth. Set aside. Now place in Cuisinart 2 lemons or 2 limes, thrown into the Cuisinart after they've been peeled and seeded, 1 clove or more fresh garlic, salt, a bit of cumin, and Aintab red pepper. Blend. Add 1/2 cup tahini (well stirred), 1/4 c. or less olive oil, and the pulp of the eggplant. Blend until smooth. Absolutely delicious, especially using baby carrots to dip! But back to the work at hand . . . When you get bored with eating the babaghanoush, you have a new use for it . . . read on!

3) Remember those tough asparagus ends that everyone leaves on their plate? Here's a trick that makes life so much more fun! Snap the tough asparagus ends off of the ends of fresh asparagus. Place them in the bottom of a deep 'frying' pan. Place the asparagus over the ends, some water in the bottom of the pan, and cook until asparagus is ready to eat. Eat the asparagus BUT save those asparagus ends and put them in the Cuisinart with whatever asparagus liquid is left, blend and save for the soup we are about to make.

Now you are ready to make the soup in three easy steps: Put the strained chicken broth in a heavy pot (I use LeCreuset); bring to a boil; add the blended asparagus and stir with wire whip; add the babaghanoush and stir with the same wire whip, season to taste, and voila -- probably one of the most delicious soups you've ever eaten awaits you!

Sunday, January 30, 2011


My first run-in with poison ivy and brown soap was on Auntie Nectar's farm. Auntie Nectar and Uncle Karekin (both survivors of the Armenian genocide) owned a a summer place that was once a working farm in Hopkinton, Massachusetts, where they would invite the Marashtzis to picnic at least once every summer. I loved going to that farm and wandering about barefoot while the adults got to chatter about the goings on of their friends and relatives from Marash. It was a wonderful time with hay fields and woods all around. On a summer's Sunday, wandering, dreaming, my bare feet enjoying the earth's massage, shouts of warning interrupted my reverie. 'You're walking through poison ivy!' Alarmed, I turned around. 'Don't worry,' (someone said in Turkish); 'come here and we'll wash your feet with brown soap and you'll never know the difference.' (Well, I was worried because my father, a blueberry picker in his youth, had once contracted a terrible case of poison ivy when his body had been covered from head to foot with the rash and he had had to lay on a bed of ice for days to relieve his suffering -- the ice, he said, that later caused him to have really bad arthritis!) But the brown soap protected me forever . . . I never felt an itch! Nor, to this day, have I ever contracted poison ivy. But now, in this 21st century, there is no brown soap at that farmhouse in Hopkinton. . . then again, no one has to worry about poison ivy on that acreage where there is no longer a farmhouse or a farm. Just another megamansion with no poison ivy.

Saturday, January 29, 2011


My father tells another story (recorded in the 1970's in Newton, Massachusetts,) a story about Aleksanin Delisi (Alexander's Crazy One). The exact transcription follows.

"This is Bethel's Daddy speaking. When I was a little boy in Marash, there was a man that was called Aleksanin Delisi -- and this man used to go to different homes and recite poetry so they would give him a piece of bread or some food to eat. He used to ride on a stick making believe that it was a little horse as he came through the streets -- and then as he came in [to the house], he would recite poetry to the women so they would give him something to eat. And one of the poems I remember is this, in Turkish:
Birini evi geldim; o birini alajak dedim; öldüm iki avratin elinden. Translated it means:
I bought a pair of shoes for one of my wives; and I promised to buy (for) the other; I am dying from the hands of the two women that I have.

Aleksanin Delisi was Armenian, about 50 years old. I don't believe he was crazy, but he used to make himself crazy so that [long pause] . . . the Turks would never touch a crazy person. . .

This man was the type of a man that would not accept bread from any person unless it was given to him after he performed; he would tell stories in Turkish, in poetry form. And after he got through, he would then accept the piece of bread that you would give him. In the back of my mind I have a feeling that he always talked in poetry, in Turkish. Here's one of the songs that he sang. [Peter first hums, then sings the following in a beautiful minor key.] öldün anan helal ola sütünü! Cahil oldum dinlemedim sözünü." ["Mother, you died, blessed be your milk. I was ignorant (young and innocent) and did not listen to your words."]

N.B. 1) Peter translates the first poem he recites to the meaning generally understood in Marash rather than an exact word for word translation. The reader should know that Peter was fluent in Turkish, his native language.
2) Marash Girl thanks Varteni for the English translation of the second poem/song.

Friday, January 28, 2011


Just returned from a public hearing on off leash doggie parks in our city of 84,000 people, and learned some of the statistics -- there are over 10,000 dogs owned by the citizens of this fair city . . . although there's a leash law here, there's only one animal control officer. If you're going to have dogs in the city and there's a leash law, then you need some place for the dogs to run, right? (Unless, of course, the dog owners are fleeter of foot than the dogs)! Where to run free? and so the outcry for off leash doggie parks.

It was simpler in Marash, I learned upon uncovering an old audiotape that I had recorded with my father. Thanks to Koko Kassabian at the Armenian Library and Museum of America who transferred the audiotape onto a CD for me, I can now listen to my father tell the story himself.

"In Marash when I was a little boy, people had all they could do to feed themselves and their (extended) families. Dogs were considered 'mundar', unclean, and would never be allowed to enter a house. Where were the dogs? The dogs hung out, usually in two or three packs, in the marketplace in front of the butcher shops, watching the butchers cut meat, longing for the piece of rejected meat or the bone that the butchers would occasionally throw to them. You'd never see these dogs everywhere. You'd always see them in the marketplace, never anywhere else; and you'd hear them howling at night.

There was a saying in Turkish: If one could learn by watching, then the street dogs would be butchers. Bakmakla öğrenilseydi, itlar kasap olurdu. [Were you afraid of the dogs, I interrupted.] The dogs would never hurt human beings; they were afraid of human beings. The Turks never hurt dogs."

And there ended Daddy's comments about the dogs of Marash.

N.B. Interesting, however, that the Young Turks Triumvirate did in fact clean up Istanbul of its dogs early in the 20th century. The Armenian Dramatic Arts Alliance third film festival at the ICA in Boston featured BARKING ISLAND (Winner: Palme d'Or, Cannes, 2010) A film by Serge Avedikian (15 min. Animation, French with English Subtitles)

Thursday, January 27, 2011


I awoke with a start to hear the avalanche of snow plummeting from the slate roof of our neighbor's house. Ahhhhh -- the storm had, in fact, arrived. I could go back to sleep . . . After all, I had already prepared my post for today. . . and here it is.

Every day, I climb to the third floor of our old Victorian house and I see it hanging above the garret window . . . . the small framed picture drawn with red, green and brown crayon by my then three year old daughter Lorig -- an apple tree, brown for the trunk, green for the apples -- or rather, green for some of the apples; the rest of the apples on Lorig's tree are hastily drawn small red circles. The picture is a constant reminder in winter that spring is on its way, but there is something more, or I wouldn't have hung the picture above the window at the top of the stairs and kept it there for 32 years.

Lorig was in nursery school when she drew that picture. She had grown up with apple trees all around her, in our back yard, in the back yard of her Grandma Jennie and Grandpa Peter Bilezikian and in Wilbraham, the mountain retreat of her Medzmama Azniv and her Medzpapa Nishan Charkoudian. Lorig knew that our apples were green, often when they were ripe and always when they were not. She drew what she knew.

But her nursery school teacher, as sweet as she was, corrected Lorig. կարմիր են խնձոր, (Garmir en khntsor -- apples are red) chided the teacher as she went ahead and put as many red apples on the tree as would fit. Lorig came home, clearly concerned, and showed me the picture -- Mama, look! The teacher said that my apples had to be red!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011


There's a certain excitement within and without, in the air, you might say, with every impending snow storm; the air is different, the skies are different. Does the excitement stem from our child's eyes watching the snowflakes fall from the sky, watching the landscape change by the moment? The excitement of possibly being able to build a snowman (can we find that old pipe somewhere)? Of going sledding? Does it stem from the knowledge that we will not have to go to school? That the air will be cleaner than it has been for months? That we will be snowbound, home bound, to read, to think, to bake cookies with our mom, to be free of the daily responsibilities outside of the home that hassle us as adults?

Not only does the landscapes change, but people change. The world seems smaller, quieter, the people friendlier. I wonder what it must be like in lands where it never snows. Do folks ever have that same sense of excitement, anticipation that comes with waiting for the snows? And do they ever have the peace that comes with the silence of the world when the snows finally fall?

I should have asked my father. He grew up in a land far away where there was never snow, a land to which, once he left, he never returned.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011


Thinking about yesterday's blog, sharing the recipe for Spanaklu Yumurta with my cousin, a dish she (and I) had eaten as a child, I was thinking about how the very freshest of ingredients make a difference. For example, in the recipe I shared, using frozen spinach rather than fresh would make the product soggy, using adult spinach rather than baby spinach would leave a furry taste on the palate, using dried bottled parmesan rather than freshly grated would create a slightly chemical taste, using pre-ground bottled nutmeg rather than freshly ground (yes, you must buy a nutmeg grater and grind that nut!) would make the eggs taste musty; using heavily refined salt out of a salt shaker rather than coarse or kosher or sea salt would make the dish taste, yes, salty but not tasty. What does all that have to do with us today?

Well, do we want to be soggy, or musty? I woke up thinking about a favorite Sunday School hymn -- It goes like this, and I think if we follow the suggestion of the chorus, we will never be accused of being soggy or musty or boring or dusty! Here goes with the Sunday School chorus (and the lesson) I learned before I was five years old:

This little light of mine. I'm gonna let it shine . . .
This little light of mine. I'm gonna let it shine, let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.

Hide it under a bushel? NO! (and here we would vigorously stomp our right foot) I'm gonna let it shine.
Hide it under a bushel? NO! I'm gonna let it shine, let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.

Don't let Satan (or your friends or neighbors or parents or life itself) blow it out! [and here we would hold up our pointing finger and blow as hard as we could),
I'm gonna let it shine, let it shine, let it shine, let it shine!

Not to preach here, but are you letting your light shine?

Monday, January 24, 2011


Recently, thanks to the blogging bug, I've reconnected with my cousin, THE MOM CHEF, whose blog,, is more than worth checking out. She has invited me to be a guest blogger on her site today, and, as I had the pleasure of preparing Spanaklu Yumurta (my husband Levon's favorite) for breakfast on Saturday morning, I decided to share that not so well-known recipe with you, dear reader, and with her. I thought for sure this recipe would be in my mother's (and my) favorite cookbook, Rose Baboian's Armenian-American Cook Book, available, by the way, at my online bookstore,, but I just checked and the recipe's not there. In order to prepare Spanaklu Yumurta and to find out what it is, you'll have to go to the Mom Chef's blog, Taking On Recipes One At a Time. Just click this link to read how simple it is to create one of Aintab's quick, delicious, and nutritious Armenian dishes. By the way, The Mom Chef is daughter of one of my all-time favorite cousins who could spin a tale as well as the Mom Chef. Shall I tell you about him? Later perhaps. For now, I'll see you at where I'll share some memories and the simple preparation of the ancient dish known as Spanaklu Yumurta.

Sunday, January 23, 2011


Peeturrr, if you dye yorr herr, you veel look tventy yirrs youngurr . . . But Mari, I don't want to look 20 years younger! my father would answer laughingly, on every Sunday that he attended church.
Mari Kricorian was a short cheery woman, a survivor of the Armenian genocide, a member of our church -- the United Armenian Brethren Evangelical Church on Arlington Street in Watertown, Massachusetts. She was the wife of Mr. Kricorian (I don't remember his first name), the man who owned the Armenian meat market in Watertown, and she had 4 children, all of whom attended our church. (Leo was my age and I remember him the best -- dressed in the robes which were saved especially for the pageant, we played Mary and Joseph at Christmas on the church stage for many a year.) Mari always wore a hat (as did all of the women in our church) but her hat, although it was black, had beautiful flowers on it. . . I always thought, even as a child, that the flowers reflected her joyous spirit!
Mari's granddaughter, Nancy Kricorian, is a writer in New York City who wrote the novel ZABELLE, a novel based loosely on her grandmother's life in the old country and here in Watertown, Massachusetts. A few years ago, Nancy was on a book tour, and was to appear at the Brookline Booksmith. I invited my father to join me at the author event. There we were, sitting in the front row, looking at the beautiful, tall, brilliant granddaughter of Mari Kricorian. Hard to believe. Nancy began her presentation by explaining that she had wanted to write a novel about her grandmother, an ordinary woman. . . she paused . . . 'YOUR GRANDMOTHER WAS NO ORDINARY WOMAN,' shouted my father from his first row seat -- and he didn't have to shout very loudly. Nancy heard him. And remembered. In March of this year, when my father died, Nancy sent us the following message: Your father was no ordinary man!

Saturday, January 22, 2011


Peter returns home to relate to his mother and father the happenings at 47 Vassal Lane. Movses and Yepros are taken aback. 'Jennie is a good girl,' his parents state in unison, as they have for many a day. (They are talking in Turkish now, though Movses knows English well and speaks with a Swedish accent.) Movses offers: Let me go to Jennie's house and ask for her hand, the old country way. [Don't know exactly what my grandpa said though, because the treatment of his son was not what one would expect in an Armenian household and I can imagine Movses may have added a few well chosen Turkish epithets as part of his offer to intercede.] Peter explains further: Yester was planning to marry Jennie off to an Ainteptsi doctor, but Jennie loves me as much as I love her. I will go tomorrow, Movses answers.

Tomorrow arrives. Peter drives (with his father this time) to 47 Vassal Lane in Cambridge, parks his old Chevie in front of the Vartanian's three decker house. Movses and Peter walk the short distance from the sidewalk to the green wooden front door, and stomp up the three flights of stairs, Movses in the lead. Movses knocks. Yester answers his knock. (They are all speaking Turkish now.) Yester shows Peter and Movses the way to the living room and motions for them to sit down. Movses does not stand on ceremony, but he does not sit either. Movses: I'm here to ask for the hand of your daughter in marriage for my son Peter. Yester: I have already promised Jennie to Dr. P. . . .. Movses: Peter will marry Jennie. We want your consent. Yester: No, I told you she's already promised. Movses: If you say no, I will allow them to elope. If you want to see your daughter marry, you must consent. Yester: No. I told you she is already promised to a doctor. . . I won't have her marry your son. Movses: Ask your daughter who she will marry. Yester (calling from the living room): Jennie, bouria gel! Jennie walks into the living room, confident. Yester (also confident; she knows Jennie will do her bidding): Jennie, you don't want to marry this man! Jennie: Mama, I will never marry anyone else! And there ends Dad's telling of the story.

Friday, January 21, 2011


Let's take a break and, for a moment, get off the tack of Peter's courting of Jennie. Or perhaps provide an insight into Peter's courting of Jennie.

Jennie was cinnamon and sugar. Yes, she was. And reading today's entry at reminded me of the cinnamon and sugar that my mom introduced into my life. Mummy used to love to tell me this story, laughing and crying a bit as she told it. She had made apple pie for company (cinnamony and sugary) and placed it in the dining room on the window sill which overlooked the white birches to the left of our house at 476 Lowell Avenue in Newtonville. Even as a one year old, I loved looking out of that window. I had just learned to walk so that I could toddle over, and on my tiptoes, look out, but there was the pie and whoops . . . there it went crust first onto the floor. My mom, laughing and crying, cleaned up the mess as I looked on, nonplussed. Guests were about to arrive, the aroma of cinnamon and sugar filled the air, but there would be no freshly baked apple pie (my mom's signature piece) to serve the company.

Way before I appreciated my mom's apple pies, I loved the cookies she would make after the pies were complete. Simple cookies; simple, that is, if you could make as wonderful a crust as she! Now I am two years old, watching my mom roll out her homemade dough for apple pie. She places the dough over the fluted edged clear glass Pyrex pie plate, gently presses down the dough, then fills the plate with freshly peeled and sliced apples from our apple tree in the back yard. She sprinkles the apples profusely with white sugar and cinnamon, and then, after rolling out another circle, covers the apples in the pie plate and . . . here comes the best part for me . . . trims the raggedy edges of the dough around the outside of the pie plate, leaving a mound of dough trimmings to make . . . yay! cinnamon and sugar cookies, Mummy style! She gathers the renegade pieces of pie dough into a ball, and rolls out the dough again. She sprinkles this with cinnamon and sugar, and dots the dough with tiny pieces of butter. She cuts the soon to be cookies into randomly diamond shapes, places the cinnamoned and sugared pieces onto a cookie tray (which we used to call a tepsi), and places the tepsi in the oven of her Westinghouse Electric stove. 5 minutes later, yum -- treats better than apple pie! And that was my mother. . . cinnamon and sugar . . . a treat better than apple pie.

Thursday, January 20, 2011


After many months, Peter decides to visit Jennie at her home; enough of this sneaking around!

So one evening, he drives to 47 Vassal Lane in Cambridge, parks his old Chevie in front of the Vartanian's three decker house, walks the short distance from the sidewalk to the green wooden front door, runs up the three flights of stairs, and knocks. But Yester answers his knock. Is Jennie at home? (I think he's speaking in Turkish now.) Yester shows him the way to the living room and motions for him to sit down. Peter waits for about 10 minutes, and soon Lydia, Jennie's older sister, joins him. They converse for a while, but Jennie never appears. Peter is nonplussed. Lydia continues to chatter.

'Man sitting on tack better off.' He may think of this favorite joke of his as he sits in the living room for an hour with Lydia sans Jennie (a polite visit). So,in order to be 'better off', he stands up and, without a word, walks out of the living room and through the front door, leaving behind the tack in the chair.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011


It isn't planned; it just happens that on the day Peter makes a date to take Jennie to the movies, his mother asks to visit the favorite cousins Nalchajian in Medford.

Taking Jennie home (she would meet his parents for the first time), Peter doesn't know how Jennie will react when she greets his blind mother. Jennie reacts the way she does to all people. She loves Yepros because Yepros is Peter's mother, because Yepros has survived against all odds and brought her children through the worst possible circumstances to a new world and a new life, because despite all she has been through, Yepros, Peter's mother, exudes love and peace. Peter doesn't know what will happen when his blind mother 'feels' Jennie all over in order to 'see' her. Other girls had flinched. Jennie simply smiles and hugs Yepros, helps her on with her coat, helps her down the 12 stairs to the first floor of the house, then down the long flight of outside stairs (22 or 23 stairs, still haven't figured it out -- see earlier post ON SHOVELING SNOW) while Peter goes on ahead to warm up the car. Jennie helps Yepros into the back seat of the old Chevie, and instead of sitting next to Peter in the front seat, Jennie sits right next to Yepros in the back seat and begins to chat in Turkish, Yepros' native tongue.

That's it for Peter. Now he knows without a doubt. . .

Tuesday, January 18, 2011


And so it was that more often than anyone realized, Peter met Jennie after work and spirited her off to the Waldorf, or a movie, or a walk along the Charles. Soon the two had developed their secret signal . . . one ring and hang up, Peter, and I'll know it's you. When you call back I'll take the phone and you can tell me where to meet you . . . and so it went. [Yes, they had telephones in 1939!] I imagine Daddy sang to Mommy in those days. . . He loved to sing, 'I dream of Jennie with the light brown hair, Borne like a vapor on the sweet summer air. . .' and my mother would smile her quiet smile.

Back to Cambridge, 1939. Peter and Jennie knew that my grandmother Yester Vartanian was planning a very different future for my mother. . . my grandmother had grown up in Aintab with the popular Armenian song, 'Doktor Pastapan g'ouzem . . .' ('I want a doctor, a lawyer') and was determined to marry her pretty young daughter to an Aintabtsi doctor friend who lived in Winchester, so she could live happily ever after!

Monday, January 17, 2011


Daddy often talked about that first date. How he took Mommy to the Waldorf in Central Square and they had apple pie with ice cream and a cup of coffee, all for 15 cents. My mother was beaming, said my father. She was so pleased, so happy. He dropped her off that day at her home on Vassal Lane and never did she mention to her mother, her father, her brother or her sister that she had been on a date with Peter, at least not for many months.

Sunday, January 16, 2011


Yesterday was Martin Luther King's birthday and, in celebration, we attended a concert of the Harlem Gospel Singers at Sanders Theatre in Harvard Square. While waiting for the show to begin, I mentioned to my long time friend Ann Louise Salvucci Rossi that January 15 was my parents' wedding anniversary.
So how did your father meet your mother? asked Ann-Louise.

A long story, said I as I launched into a (not so) shortened version. She insisted I record it in my blog for the sake of my children and grandchildren, if no one else. So here goes.

Even though they were both Armenian, my mother and father came from very different circles. My father, a genocide survivor, came from Marash, and so was a Marashtzi. My mother's family came from Aintab, having fled Turkey before the genocide of 1915, and therefore were Aintabtsi, although my mother was born in Cambridge, so you might say she was a Cambridgetsi! My father's family attended the Armenian Brethren Church (in fact, Dad's Uncle Vartan Bilezikian was the founding minister of that church), and my mother's family attended what was known then as the Cilician Church, a more moderate Congregational Armenian Protestant church. (Interestingly enough, the buildings of these two churches were back to back in Watertown). My father's parents were destitute -- my grandfather being very old and somewhat disabled and my grandmother blind; not so my mother's parents -- my mother's mother was a landlord (she owned and managed a three decker house on Vassal Lane in Cambridge) and my mother's father a shopkeeper (he owned a Ma and Pa shop although in his case it was only a Pa shop or what in those days was called a 'Spa') near the Catholic Church in Harvard Square. My mother was sweet and pretty and loved to dance; my father was tough, fearless (many stories to come on that), outspoken, and hung out in the American community . . . (and perhaps because of that, he was called by many Armenians,'deli', a compliment from his perspective!) Even so, he had promised his mother that he would never dance! Okay. That's the setting for the romance.

Krikor Bilezikian (Dad's first cousin also born in Marash) and Beatrice Kasparian Bilezikian (born in Harpoot) were partners with my father and his brother Paul in the 'homestead' on Lowell Avenue in Newtonville, Massachusetts, -- a home they all bought together in 1934. (For those of you who may not know, Uncle Kay and Aunty Bea were the parents of Nancy and Charlie or Chuck Bilezikian -- Chuck is the originator and former owner of the Christmas Tree Shops on Cape Cod and now all over Massachusetts, and Nancy married Jack Kamborian).

Aunty Bea and Uncle Kay attended the 'Cilician Church' and Aunty Bea knew the perfect girl for my father! With that in mind, Uncle Kay and Aunty Bea invited Peter to a dance that was being sponsored by their (Cilician) church. Aunty Bea had already told Jennie the plan. When the Bilezikians arrived at the dance, they sat on chairs at the side of the room and invited Jennie to join them. Jennie, who was sweet and pretty and a wonderful dancer, was the belle of the ball. She sat next to Aunty Bea with Peter on her other side, but never for long, as she was always being invited by other young men to dance. . . she danced, yes, but she always returned to the only empty seat in the room -- the seat that Aunty Bea was saving for her, the seat right next to Peter! The evening passed with Peter watching beautiful Jennie being whirled across the floor. And Jennie, though she danced with others, had eyes only for Peter. (As she used to tell me, it was love at first sight.) The end of the evening arrived, and Peter asked Jennie where she worked. That was all. Until two months later when Jennie, leaving work at 5 o'clock, saw Peter sitting in his old Chevi outside of the Necco Candy Factory in Cambridge. Jennie ran over to the car, jumped into the front passenger's seat, and that was that! For today, that is. . . the story has many chapters. More tomorrow.

Saturday, January 15, 2011


When you come to a fork in the road . . . . take it!

That was my father's advice.

Yesterday, just at the fork in the road was a 98 year old woman with a shovel and an ice breaker, working away at the snow which had been packed in a corner of her driveway by a heedless snowplow. She was clearing a space for the new high tech trash barrels that the City of Newton had supplied its citizens over the summer.

And watching her were her neighbors, two young men standing strong and tall on the porch in front of their rented house, smoking, relieving their boredom.

Taking the fork in the road, I hurried home to get my own shovel, and returning on foot to help the old lady, shovel in hand, I passed the two on the porch. Come on and help. . . no answer; come on, you're not going to watch an old lady shovel without offering her help. . . no answer. What good are your muscles and your youth? Said the one, I'm going somewhere. . . And I knew exactly where he and his pal would be going, though I didn't tell them. And anyway, I thought with guilty satisfaction, they would be getting there much sooner than they thought. After all, they were smoking.

Friday, January 14, 2011


Okay. More snow. And more shoveling. But I thought I was such a good girl, shoveling all that snow and what do I get as a reward? Pummeled by balls of snow and ice from the heavens . . . wait. . . or was it the squirrel in our maple tree that was pummeling me?

Thursday, January 13, 2011


Andrea Colls-Halpern, born and bred in Manchester, England, tried very hard to make a proper girl of me. Andrea taught me early on that offering a guest a second cup of tea was tantamount to asking the guest to leave. "You might as well tell them, 'Here's your hat. . . What's your hurry,'" she would say, quoting my father!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011


Back in the late 1950's, The Bible Club at Newton High School was an effort on the part of some of us to buck the tide of high school assumptions and live the good life; as a symbol of this, those of us who were members of the club, were 'book' carrying members -- i.e., we placed our Bibles on the top of the pile of textbooks that we carried from class to class. (I think it was at that same time that, having won the right from my parents to wear lipstick when I was in the 8th grade, I chose to give up wearing lipstick -- and for that matter -- any makeup, as a sign that only I decided what I did, and not the cliques around me.)

One of my best friends and a good friend of our family at that time was Ronnie Isaacs (now known as Skip). He was constantly challenging assumptions and therefore endearing himself to all of us, especially my father. Ronnie was very aware of my faith in Christ and never hesitated to put me to the test. One day, Ronnie walked up to me in the hallway and stomped on my foot -- leaving the imprint of his stomp on the right shoe of my brand new pair of white bucks. Needless to say, I was quick to retort in rather ungentle tones. Uh-uh, said Ronnie. Turn the other buck!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011


Dad began teaching himself to read Armenian while I was studying under Avedis Sanjian at Harvard, but Dad did it the right way; he did not depend on the old fashioned grammar book that I had been using in class (Kevork H. Gulian, Elementary Modern Armenian Grammar,) but he combined Gulian's vocabulary and grammar exercises with his favorite passages from the Holy Bible (most of which he knew by heart), reading or reciting the verses in English and then finding and reading the same passages in Armenian. [In case you were wondering, we had many Bibles in our house -- in Armenian, in Armeno-Turkish, in St. James' English and even in the latest American English translations.] Although Uncle Paul could read and write Armenian, Dad had never learned. Dad never went to school while he was living in Marash -- his mom had paid for him to attend, but daily he and his pals would leave the school steps to run away to the (Taurus) mountains behind the Girl's College where they would do battle with the Turkish boys -- hurling stones at each other using home-made shepherd's slings ('saltan bashu'), struggling against the odds that their Armenian parents would never be able to overcome.

N.B. From the internet: A shepherd's sling is a crude weapon made up simply of two strings with a pocket or pouch in the middle. It almost looks like a child’s toy though in the right hands with a lot of practice, it can be a highly effective and deadly tool. Such is the case with David and Goliath, as with the ancient Roman solders.

Monday, January 10, 2011


One day Ike and Mike go into a bar.
I won me a goat in the raffle! Mike brags to Ike.
Where ya gonna keep you a goat?
In me room.
In y'r room? Where ya gonna keep y'r goat in y'r room?
Under me bed!
But Mike! What about the stink?
Awrr, says Mike after a moment. The goat'll get use t'it.

My dad (who lived on Lincoln Street in Brighton, MA, during his first years in the United States) loved to tell this story . . . And here ends the retelling . . .

Sunday, January 9, 2011


Rev. Stengaard was the preacher at The Tabernacle on Mt. Auburn Street in Watertown, Massachusetts, a small wooden structure within which resided fervor and faith. As well, Rev. Stengaard was our source over the years for beautiful cats and kittens; if our pet cat was hit by a car or died of old age or ran away, Rev. Stengaard was at the ready with yet another kitten. This morning, I'm trying to decide if I should record one of my father's favorite stories about Rev. Stengaard, or if I should write about my father's favorite kitten, Pepsi Cola. As it's Sunday, I think I'll write my father's favorite story about Rev. Stengaard; the story's punchline reverberated over the years throughout our household whenever my mother was preparing eggs for breakfast! Here goes . . .

Rev. Stengaard was a slim and wiry man, an evangelist, whose best friend Rev. Anthony Zioli, a fellow evangelist, was big and burly. One weekend, Brother Zioli came to visit Rev. Stengaard to participate in an evangelistic revival at the Tabernacle; the morning after the revival, Stengaard was preparing breakfast in his kitchen and called up to Zioli who was still getting dressed: How do you like your egg, Zioli? Zioli shouted down without hesitation: With another one!

Saturday, January 8, 2011


One beautiful Saturday afternoon in May, my father and I went fishing. Going fishing for us meant hopping into the old Chevy, back seat and trunk full of magical tools that had and would repair anything that needed repairing, and heading south towards Foxboro on Route 1 (which was then only two lanes, one for us and one for the guys coming towards us.) In those days Route 1 was decorated with huge advertising billboards which were set in the ground (not above our heads) and were great for the state police, who would hide behind them in their motorcycles, just waiting for the heedless motorist to drive faster than the posted speed limit. And so it was that on that very afternoon, as my father was telling me stories peppered with Bible verses and his philosophy (or should I say philosophies) of life, we saw a huge Bryl Creem billboard. You remember, right?

Bryl-creem, a little dab'll do ya,
Bryl-creem, you'll look so debonair.
Bryl-creem, the gals will pursue ya,
Simply put a little in your hair!

Hiding behind that billboard was a Massachusetts State Policeman sitting on a motorcycle, waiting . . . (a policeman who used Bryl Creem, perhaps not on his hair -- I don't remember -- but certainly Bryl Creem's bigger than life billboard on Route One going south!)
On the encouragement of said policeman, my father pulled over to the side of the road and both he and I got out of the car. I can still remember standing next to my father and looking up at the policeman when my father said, 'I was only going 47, officer.' 'You're a liar,' answered the policeman. 'My father is not a liar,' 7 year old me shouted back at the policeman. And that ended that! The officer and my father started laughing, and my father and I both got back into our car and drove away. If there's one thing I knew for sure, it was that my father was not afraid of anything -- not of life, not of death, not of that policeman, and certainly not of the truth!

N.B. Daddy never needed to use Bryl Creem as the barber always gave my father a crew cut!

Friday, January 7, 2011


My young friend from Turkey recently celebrated his birthday on Christmas Eve (how old is he now. . . 38?) for the first time ever! The first time? He said his parents didn't even know when they were born (they live in a small village in Anatolia) and you realize, the calendars were different back then so when would you celebrate your birthday? Just before the harvest? I think, he went on, we couldn't really celebrate anything where the individual was the center of the celebration. . . The evil eye? I asked. . . No, he answered thoughtfully, just not celebrating the self. In fact, he said, I often wonder why Westerners celebrate birthdays . . . (He wasn't asking me, but I told him anyway.) To celebrate life, I said; to celebrate survival, that we're still here, that we made it another year, that we love and value eachother! Happy Birthday, my friend.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Քրիստոս ծնաւ եւ յայտնեցաւ . . . Օրհնեալ է յայտնութիւնը Քրիստոսի

Today Christmas is celebrated in the Armenian Church, the earliest of Christian churches. We never celebrated Armenian Christmas as children, as we were brought up in an Armenian Protestant Church, and for us, Christmas was always December 25. But Uncle Paul would always remind us, on January 6, of the proper greeting and the proper response.

Քրիստոս ծնաւ եւ յայտնեցաւ Krisdos dznav yev haydnetsav (Christ is born and revealed to us)

Օրհնեալ է յայտնութիւնը Քրիստոսի Orhnyal e haydnutyunu Krisdosi (Blessed is the revelation of Christ)

True to children, however, we would confuse the response at Easter (Orhnyal e haroutioun Krisdosi) with the response at Christmas (Orhnyal e haydnutyunu Krisdosi) and end up in gales of laughter when Uncle Paul would gently remind us that we had just blessed the resurrection of Christ (Haroutioun Krisdosi) when Christ had only just been born (Haydnutyun Krisdosi)!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011


Dad always loved to go for a laugh. When an orator or a friend was going on and on and on, exploring a subject to its death (and the imminent death of the listener), and that speaker would threaten to go on for an equally long and boring time by inserting into the solliloquey the transitional phrase, 'on the other hand', my dad, wanting to bring the subject to a close, would comment quietly to me (if he was being polite), or out loud to the speaker (if he could), 'On the other hand? On the other hand he wore a glove!' To this day, when Tatoul and I are chatting and Tatoul wants to lighten up the conversation, he'll laugh at me and quote my father: 'On the other hand? On the other hand, he wore a glove!' And so, dear reader, keeping that in mind, here ends my post for the day.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011


While attending college in Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1958-1962, I met George and Nevdone Pasha Pahlevi for the first time (even though my father and Nevdone Pasha Pahlevi's father and mother had been long time friends). George and Nevdone Pasha Pahlevi introduced the Harvard-Radcliffe Armenian Club (which by 1960 had become unofficially the Harvard-Radcliffe-BU-MIT-Tufts Armenian Club) and our family to a ditty which we never tired of singing, and singing raucously. The first verse and the chorus originated as a part of Leplebou Kapers, a comedy skit at the St. James Armenian Church (Watertown, Massachusetts) in the early 1950's. The ditty soon caught on: my friends (Armenian and American) and my family (including my mother and father) began to sing and laugh their way through the song . . . in fact, not to be outdone, I created a second verse for the ladies (n.b. the Agha Khan was attending Harvard at the time). To this day, when we sing Vaht to Do, if we were not laughing before the song, we are doubled over with giggles by the end. In fact, my sister and I entertained my Dad's 95th birthday party guests in 2007 singing 'Vaht To Do' and, not to be outdone, my dad sang along!

Wondering about the origins of this ditty, I emailed Nevdone Pasha Pahlevi n in December. Nevdone Pasha Pahlevi wrote back, "I don't know where the tune was borrowed from OR who made it up. Most likely Varoujan ("Juicy") Samuelian made up the lyrics. He was very clever with words. He used to write the column 'Juicy Tidbits' in the Armenian Mirror Spectator. He also coined the term, "So-scollay (soskalie means 'terrible' in Armenian) Square", and "Siranoush de Bergerac, she's got a nose like a Cadillac" . We used to roll in the aisles with tears. There's nothing like that anymore. We live in a sardonic world . . .Just watch TV for a few minutes." So ends Nevdone Pasha Pahlevi's email.

If anyone can write the notes for the original tune in the comments below, or any more of the history of this song, or any more verses (have a ball!), I (and my readers) would appreciate your sharing! Here are Juicy's lyrics (the first verse and chorus) and mine (the second verse) for your reading pleasure. If you choose to sing VAHT TO DO, make sure you sing with a heavy Armenian accent in a very loud voice and a very minor key!

Vaht to do
Vaht to do
Vaht in the vorld am I going to do
Vaht to do
Vaht to do
Haf to merry Armenian girl

I took a trip to EEtalia
and dere I met Gina Lolabreegeeda
she started making luf to me
I said, No, No, Gina, No sirree!

Vaht to do
Vaht to do
Vaht in the vorld am I going to do
Vaht to do
Vaht to do
Haf to merry Amenian girl

I took a trip to Teheran
and dere I met de Agha Khan
He said O veel you merry me
I said, No, no, Agha, No sirree!

Vaht to do
Vaht to do
Vaht in the vorld am I going to do
Vaht to do
Vaht to do

Monday, January 3, 2011

On gifting an Armenian tile to James Baldwin - August 1964 - Orly Airport

I was in Paris, awaiting a return flight from Orly Airport to Boston, when I noticed that James Baldwin was standing across from me. I knew James Baldwin from his photo on the back of every (paperback) book I had read and he had ever written! Walking over to greet him, I asked if he was, indeed, James Baldwin. Yes, he said, smiling and shaking my hand. That handshake was the beginning of an hour of chatter about his books, about being black, about being Armenian, and about the bond blacks and Armenians have because of their histories. Baldwin had just returned from Istanbul where he had visited with (small world!) my friend Memet Fuat who owned De Yayinevi, a press which translated world literature into Turkish and published (even the works of William Saroyan) in inexpensive editions for the Turkish people to buy and read. How disappointed I was, however, when boarding time came and my hero James Baldwin said farewell and joined the line for First Class seating (anathema for those of us 1960's folk who believed in equality!) Before he boarded, however, he gave me his phone number and I gave him a hishadagh: an Armenian tile with Armenian writing which I had purchased in Jerusalem from the very Armenian potters whose ancestors had created tiles for the Mosque of the Dome. A week passed (I was now at home in Newtonville) and I finally got around to unpacking my carry on bag, carefully removing the 4 Armenian tiles I had left and placing three of them on the bay window in my bedroom [first having set one aside in my drawer for a wedding present for MJ Githens, the former secretary of the Harvard Radcliffe Armenian Club when I was its President]. The tiles were as beautiful as I remembered them! But I enjoyed them for a moment only, as a gust of wind blew the venetian blinds away from the window, knocking the tiles to the floor and shattering them! Tears later, I was comforted by the thought of James Baldwin treasuring his tile, and I learned many years later, when my daughter Nisha visited MJ in Minnesota in 2007, that MJ's tile was still safe, on the bureau in MJ's guest room where Nisha would sleep for one night.

Sunday, January 2, 2011


My father always felt the cold when he was in our house, even when we had the heat up to 70 degrees Fahrenheit. [Our house is a big old Victorian built in 1870 with no insulation in the walls and, before my father installed new insulated windows, had its original old wood-framed windows that leaked fresh air whether summer or winter!] Dad used to say he felt the cold because he grew up in a warm country and could never get used to New England weather, but then he never even considered moving to Fresno like so many other Armenians; instead, he insulated his house and heated it so that there was no chance of cold or 'drafts', which (I remember) were always a big problem for all the old folks from Marash. Did they believe that drafts brought evil spirits? Or simply that drafts made you sick, or that drafts could give you a stiff neck? Or was it the chill reminder of evil in the world . . . the evil they had survived . . . Whoops . . . At this point, my father would be telling me, "Bethel, you're getting too serious!"

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Շնորհաւոր Նոր Տարի

Shnorhavor Nor Dari - Happy New Year!
A double entry for New Year's Day -- One from my husband Levon as he joyously greeted me this morning with these words: Her sene bu gunlere.
He remembers his parents blessing the future with these words whenever they were having a happy day or a festive occasion. Thus, every New Year's Eve and New Year's Day, Levon's parents would announce, Her sene bu gunlere (May every year have these days) and his grandmother (who, with her daughters, had survived the Armenian Genocide) would add, ana baba ulan, (with mother and father). His grandmother was a master of understatement.

Here's my entry with a nod to Robert Burns:

Should auld acquaintance be forgot, 
And never brought to mind? 
Should auld acquaintance be forgot, 
And auld lang syne!
. . . 
We'll tak a cup o' kindness yet 
For auld lang syne.

As I lay falling asleep last night, I sang Auld Lang Syne (quoted above) and remembered my childhood and beyond by remembering the people who were an integral part of my life and who live no longer: Mommy Jennie Bilezikian (nee Lucille Mae Vartanian); Daddy Peter Bilezikian (nee Bedros Movses Bilezikjian); Uncle Paul Bilezikian (nee Boghos Bilezikjian); Aunty Zabelle Bilezikian (nee Zabelle Apovian) and her parents Levon and Gulenia Apovian; Grandma Epros Kurtguzian Bilezikian; Grandpa Moses Bilezikian; Aunty Rosie Bilezikian Gabonlyan; Aunty Gulenia Bilezikian Sulahian (still living at 104 in California); Uncle Setrak Sulahian; Uncle Arakel Bilezikian; Auntie Mary (Kurtguzian) Pambookian; Uncle Jack Pambookian; Charlie Pambookian; Harry Pambookian (who still lives in West Newton); Grandma Yester Bosnian Vartanian; Grandpa Garabed (Charlie) Vartanian; Auntie Lydia Vartanian Kricorian & Uncle Edward Kricorian; Uncle George Vartanian; Great Grandma Bosnian (whose first name I never knew, but I know she lived in Winchester, MA and was related to Merin Norian); Auntie Mogie and Uncle Joe Bosnian; Auntie Bea Bilezikian (nee Beatrice Kasparian) and her brother Uncle Doctor; Uncle Kay (Krikor) Bilezikian; Uncle (Rev.) Vartan Bilezikian and his wife Auntie Elmast; Auntie Eliz Akashian and her daughter Peggy; Dr. Bill Giles; Zabelle Mississian and her brother Kegham; Mercedes Attarian; Mari Kricorian; Harry Mooseghian; Vahan Topalian; Ian MacDonald; Dick Diran; Auntie Armenouhie Bablouzian (nee Bilezikian); Uncle Levon Bablouzian; Uncle Levon Bilezikian; Auntie Agnes Bilezikian; Auntie Nectar and Uncle Kay der Ohannessian; their daughter Auntie Azad and Uncle Dom Strazzula; Helen Vaznaian; Uncle Manoog Bilezikjian and his wife Auntie Lucia; Auntie Gohar Bilezikjian Koomruian & Richie Koumruian, Garbis Daguermendjian, Nishan Charkoudian, Azniv Charkoudian, Haroutioun Charkoudian, Rose Charkoudian, Carmen Hackett, Dr. George Charkoudian, Charlie Merrick, Katie Atikian, Arppie Charkoudian, Louise Erickson Ulbrich, Charlie Movsesian, Howard Zinn . . .

Let us remember and be thankful for all the folks who made us who we are today.