Tuesday, May 31, 2011

People were so hungry, they ate sparrows: The Armenian Genocide, 1915-1922

Photo Courtesy of treknature.com 
Sparrow photo taken 82.4 kilometers south of Marash, Turkey

"People were so hungry, they ate sparrows," my father, a survivor of the Armenian genocide, told me one day.  "I used to watch folks set traps with twigs and string. Poor little sparrows.  Can you imagine what effort it must take to capture, defeather, cook, and finally eat the tiny amount of meat that would be on a sparrow?  I felt sorry for the sparrow and the people who had to eat them." He stopped.  He never admitted to eating a sparrow, though I imagine he may have, as he was hiding in the city of his birth, Marash (Մարաշ, Maraš) between 1915 and 1922, a little boy with his family, desperately trying to survive.

Yesterday, reading the blogpost on Armenian Kitchen, (click the link to read the post), I was reminded of my father's story (see above), and struck by the fact that sparrows which became food for some Armenians out of necessity, during deportation and genocide, should be served in an elegant Lebanese restaurant today, and touted on a TV cooking show with no reference to the circumstances under which the dish originated... Ironic that today's delicacy was borne of yesterday's misery.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Nasreddin Hodja Heads for the Cemetery!

Image courtesy of  http://www.banet.free-online.co.uk
One day, Nasreddin Hodja arrives home to find his neighbors all upset.

Hodja, your house has been robbed, and the robber went that way!

Hodja starts running in the opposite direction.

Hodja, we told you that the robber went that way.  Why are you running in the opposite direction?

Hodja answers, I'm running to the cemetery.  I know for certain that the robber will end up there some day!

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Instant Brownies & Yester Bosnian Vartanian: From Aintab, Ottoman Empire, to Newtonville, Massachusetts

Yes, sometime in the mid-forties my mother's mother scolded my mother for baking everything from scratch.  Now it should be known that my mother was an incredible cook, both for good nutritious meals as well as delicious fattening desserts.  And she always prepared everything from the freshest of ingredients (except for the artificially colored and flavored Jello and Kool-Aid which make me cringe when I think of them now!)

In the summer of 1950, my grandmother (an Armenian woman born in 19th Century Aintab, Ottoman Empire, who immigrated to the United States in 1905), came to visit us in Newtonville, and all I remember from her visit is her scolding my mother, who now had three children and very little extra time. Yes, she was scolding my mother for baking with the freshest of ingredients.  After all, she admonished, cake mixes are for the modern housewife; if she, my grandmother, could use them, certainly my mother should.  Well, thank the Lord, my mother never heeded her mother's advice and continued to bake the most delicious banana cakes, apple pies, chocolate cakes with chocolate icing, lemon meringue pies, sponge cakes, marble cakes, jelly rolls, hermits, brownies  . . .

Fast forward many years: 

It was Monika's birthday and no time to bake a birthday cake.  Then I remembered -- I had picked up that gourmet all natural brownie mix that was on sale last week, just in case I ever had a last minute emergency (and yes, I did so furtively, ashamed, but remembering my grandmother's words). My excuse: Monika LOVES chocolate.  Pure chocolate. Unadulterated with orange flavoring!  This mix was just the ticket.  Oh, would my Grandmother Yester Bosnian Vartanian be proud of me!  But don't tell Monika.  She loved the birthday brownies; she thinks I made them from scratch.

N.B. By the way, the secret for baking delicious chewy brownies, either from scratch or from a mix, is UNDERBAKING them!  Counterintuitive as it may seem, taking the brownies out of the oven before they seem cooked is the sure way to perfectly baked brownies!  My mother made the best. And yes, always from scratch.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Tired of Making Hummus? Try Marash Girl's Chick Pea Salad!

A good friend emailed Marash Girl at 2:30 this morning (yes, 2:30 AM) to ask for Marash Girl's recipe for chick pea salad, a salad Marash Girl had made for an event at the Armenian Dramatic Arts Alliance Boston Film Festival two years ago.  Now you, too, can make this delicious, nutritious Middle Eastern (Armenian) bean salad!

Chick Pea Salad, a la Marash Girl:

Gallon can chick peas (from Costco). Rinse beans well with cold water before using. Marinate overnight in olive oil, kosher salt, Aintab red pepper, freshly squeezed lemon juice and good wine vinegar that has had a garlic clove sitting in it from day one. Before serving, chop fresh Italian parsley, scallions or chives, and green bell peppers (optional).  Add to chick peas, stir and serve! This is a recipe that Marash Girl and her daughters have developed over the years and always serve at their large gatherings, both in Wilbraham and in Newton!  This salad is even more delicious the next day!

Friday, May 27, 2011

Oral history and the Playwright: DEPORTED: A DREAM PLAY BY JOYCE VAN DYKE

I first became aware of the playwright Joyce Van Dyke in 2001 at Boston Playwrights’ Theatre when her play  A Girl's War: An Armenian-Azeri Love Story, was first  produced  and was named one of the “top ten” plays of the year by the Boston Globe, a play about the impact of war on family life, a production I remember to this day.

When Joyce Van Dyke and I were talking several years later, she voiced the possibility of writing a play somehow responding to the effort made in the 1970's by the Armenian Library and Museum of America to record the oral histories of survivors of the Armenian Genocide.  We talked about the unforgettable stories, so difficult to remember, so difficult to forget, so difficult to relate, and the problems of actually recording such stories, of entering the home and heart of the survivor and asking that survivor to relive the experience long enough to record his/her story on tape.

Based on the lives of her own grandmother and the mother of Martin Deranian, playwright Van Dyke has grappled with just this problem in her new play DEPORTED, which was presented at the Stanford Calderwood Pavilion in Boston this past Saturday night. It was a free staged reading that was minimally publicized, only 100 people would fit into the room (although I think in fact there were many more than 100 in the audience), and most of them non-Armenian.  And why do I mention ethnicity here?  Because the play was about memory and survival, the Armenian Genocide and the deportation of millions of Armenians from their homeland in Turkey 1915-1923, resulting in the death of 1.5 million Armenians at the hands of the Ottoman Turkish government.  The playwright's grandmother lived to tell the tale.

With no stage props and 7 uncostumed actors in front of a curtain, this play, in all its starkness, came alive with Victoria's opening lines. . . and with those opening lines, the audience remained transfixed.

DEPORTED, comes very close to  home for any family who has survived a genocide.  And as I sat in the audience, I wondered how a non-Armenian, watching this play, would be affected. I scanned the audience. It was clear that Armenian and non-Armenian alike, the play had grabbed them and held them to the very last line.

I asked my daughter Nisha about her reaction to the play, she who knows the story all too well from her grandfather and her grandmother.  What she chose to share with me was the following statement made by the Turk involved in the futuristic Turkish Armenian reconciliation movement (Act Three set in 2015), who stated something akin to the following: "I thought you Americans would be able to understand how the Turks feel about this, because who would want to believe that your country would ever want to do anything so terrible, even if it wasn't you or your relatives doing the unspeakable."

Successful it was, so successful that I  am having much difficulty writing this post, as the subject of Van Dyke's new play comes too close to my heart.
Judy Braha directed the reading of Joyce Van Dyke's DEPORTED at the Calderwood Pavillion on May 21, 2011, presented by Boston Center for the Arts and The Publick Theater of Boston.  Bobbie Steinbach (4th from right)  performed powerfully as Victoria, as did Paula Langton as Varter, and Ken Baltin as Harry, with supporting actors Marya Lowry, Elise Manning, Danny Bryck, and Mark Cohen. The play is being prepared for performance at Suffollk University's new Modern Theatre in Boston's Theatre District,  March/April of 2012. Don't miss it.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Za'atar & Eggs, California style!

Another lesson from my Armenian cousins in California!

Won't you try some? It's delicious!  No thank you!
In fact, my California cousin prepared Za'atar & Eggs for me every morning for breakfast,  and every morning I refused to even try them, until the last morning.

Do you want a taste? No, I really don't, thank you.  But she persisted, and now I'm a believer.  Here's how you prepare this delicious, quick and easy, spicy taste treat -- great for hors d'oeuvres, though I'm still not so sure how much I like it for breakfast!

This is a dish that looks awful but tastes delicious, so perhaps the first time you serve it, you would want to serve the "za'atarized" eggs disguised as a sandwich.  I took some pictures of the dish when I prepared it, but it did NOT look appetizing! One of the reasons it looks so bad is that I decided to be lazy and mash the eggs and za'atar in the Cuisinart.  MISTAKE!  All the white of the eggs disappeared and made the dish look like this (more like liverwurst than eggs).
If you want to try this recipe, start with still warm, freshly hardboiled eggs, peeled and mashed with a fork, or better yet, chopped with a knife so that the whites of the eggs do not disappear, add olive oil, a tablespoon of za'atar, and stir.  Serve on bread or as a tasty side treat.

N.B. Za'atar is a spice usually made out of thyme, sesame seeds, sumac, and salt, although if you go to a Middle Eastern store, you'll find 3 different bags, one from Lebanon, one from Syria (more sour) and one from Jordan.  There was discussion as to which was the best, but I finally decided to buy the bag of za'tar from Lebanon and to add toasted sesame seeds as it seemed to have fewer sesame seeds as compared to the za'atar from Syria or Jordan.  You can make your own za'atar by combining 1/4 cup sumac with thyme, roasted sesame seeds, marjoram, oregano, and sea salt or kosher salt, but I recommend you try the already prepared variety in order to decide which combination of tastes you want to achieve.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011


These last two weeks of rain remind me of a joke my father used to love to tell.

A young man is talking on the telephone to his girlfriend.  He tells her, 
"I love you so much, I'd climb the highest mountain for you, cross the widest desert, swim the deepest ocean."
He pauses.
"Oh, by the way, I won't be coming over tonight. It's raining."

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Bourbon or Scotch?

I hadn't seen Ronnie in years and the young whippersnapper (his words) was now back in Boston to attend his 50th College Reunion, but first a stop in his old home town to visit his high school friend.  Me!

Hey, Ronnie!  Come on in!  Are you hungry?  Would you like some coffee and cakes, or a late lunch?

Well, said Ronnie, actually, it's time for drinks!

I cook, but I don't serve drinks, so I was a bit at loss as to what to offer.

What do you drink, Ronnie?  (He wasn't drinking in high school when I knew him; just stepping on white bucks! (Click this link to read 'TURN THE OTHER BUCK'.)

Scotch will be fine, he answered.

Okay, said I, a teetotaler; let's look in the liquor cabinet.  And look we did, but there was no scotch in sight. I offered him Knob Creek Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey aged 9 years (I didn't know the difference), bourbon that I use to make Bourbon Apple Cake, but that would not do, he said.  So I decided to run up to my husband's office and ask him where the scotch was.  My husband was a bit in shock, as I've never asked him for a glass of wine, much less a bottle of scotch.  Oh, it's down the cellar, he answered, at the end of the shelves on the bottom shelf.  So down the rickety old wooden cellar stairs we went, Ronnie and I, trying to find that unopened bottle of scotch -- no light in that corner except from the distant & dirty cellar windows, the accumulation of years of living and years of dying and still no scotch.  But find it we finally did, in the deepest darkest corner, still in its original box, priced at $29.95 (10 years ago?)  Here's a photo of the bottle, just to prove it!

Monday, May 23, 2011

Trouble in Paradise

My mother had always bemoaned the fact that my husband and I had moved into the poor section of Newton -- actually the oldest section of Newton originally known as Nonantum, now Newton Corner -- but the poor side of Newton Corner, at the base of the hill.  But I was delighted.  The magnificent homes were on the other side of Centre Street, so no need to worry about break ins.  If folks wanted to steal, they would steal from the wealthy.  We were on a little dead end street peopled by the workers of the world.  Never a break in, but then that was 40 years ago.  I wonder what she would say today if she were to read this post.

Last week I woke up to an email containing the following message:

"On Thursday morning, D.... went to add some items to our trash barrel (on the street), and discovered a wallet on top.  I took it to the police station - it belonged to a woman living up the street, whose car had been broken into.

So:  just a warning to lock your car and don't leave tempting items in sight."

Being a bit skeptical, I wondered about that.  Why would anyone leave a wallet on top of a trash barrel? Or for that matter, in plain view in their car?

The next day, walking to my book warehouse through the back alleyway and up to the 'hills', I met a policeman on detail on Newtonville Avenue and talked to him about the incident.

Oh, yes, he said. Very common.  People think they can leave anything in their cars in full view -- wallets, pocketbooks, computers, cell phones, GPS units -- and they're surprised when they return to their cars to find the . . . wallets, pocketbooks, computers, cellphones, GPS units . . . no longer there!  2 o'clock in the morning.  That's when the burglars hit.  They come and go in 2 minutes.  If you happen to see them, they'll be gone by the time you throw on your robe and get out the door, not that I would recommend doing that!

Sunday, May 22, 2011


Writing about Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream, my father, and Baby Kerrigan this past Friday reminded Marash Girl of a Little Lulu comic strip she read many years ago. 
Little Lulu was standing in front of an ice cream store with her cute little dog, longing for an ice cream cone, when a wealthy woman approached them and started admiring Little Lulu's dog.  Little Lulu responded, "My dog Rover just loves ice cream cones!"  "Oh, really?" said the elegant woman.  'Well, little girl, here's a nickel -- go and buy Rover some ice cream!" With a grin, Little Lulu ran into the store with the nickel and came out licking an ice cream cone.  "Oh!" said the elegant woman, affronted.  "I thought you said your dog loves ice cream cones!  That's why I gave you the nickel!"  "Yes,"  answered Little Lulu.  "My dog loves the cones; I love the ice cream!"

N.B.  "Ha Baby Kerrigan, Ha Little Lulu." (For you Marashtis out there!) Or we in the United States might say, "Like Baby Kerrigan, so Little Lulu."

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Emily - The Haunted Bridge: Gold Brook Covered Bridge, Stowe, Vermont

Emily's Covered Bridge -  Gold Brook Bridge in Stowe Hollow, Vermont, better known as the haunted bridge or Emily's Bridge . . . we wouldn't have thought to look for it if it hadn't rained for 5 days and we weren't looking for something--anything-- to take our minds off the rain. Even with a map, we had difficulty finding Emily's covered bridge.  The street signs were missing (the only streets we saw in all of Stowe that were missing signs, or so we thought) and the turn off to the bridge was significantly unmarked.  (Was this Emily at work?)
Gold Brook
The only way we found the bridge was by following Gold Brook up the mountain (granted the brook after all this rain was more like a river rushing down the mountain!)

Emily -- Emily, where are you, I called as I walked through the covered bridge,
snapping photos and bravely holding my camera in front of my face. 
But Emily must have mistaken my camera . . .
She must have mistaken my camera for a cross,
because I never did see or hear any sign of Emily.
Can you see Emily anywhere in these photos?
Let me know if you see her!
Safe at last! Although I did have to go back through the bridge to get to our car, believe me, I kept the camera in front of my face and kept shooting photos; just wanted to be on the safe side, as it were! Let me know if you'd like to check out the set of photos I took on the return through the bridge for a possible sighting of Emily!

As Emily is known to come out at night, I asked my husband if he'd like to return at night,  just to see if we could meet up with her.  "Oh, no!" he answered. "I'd be too scared!"

By the way, bridges were covered in New England in order to keep them free of snow and ice and to keep the horse-drawn carriages from slipping off into the freezing waters below. In Massachusetts, we call these bridges Kissing Bridges, as the bridges would keep sweethearts in Puritan New England hidden just long enough to steal a kiss without being seen!

For more information on Emily's Bridge, go to http://www.coveredbridgesite.com/vt/emilys.html

Friday, May 20, 2011

5 Cent Ice Cream Cones, Ben & Jerry's, Baby Kerrigan & the Death Penalty

This photo from the Ben & Jerry historical collection reminded Marash Girl of a tale that her father often told of his childhood.  He was living in Brighton, Massachusetts, living on the fourth floor of a four floor walk-up, laid up with a broken leg. (A hit and run driver left him in the street with a broken leg soon after he had arrived in the US -- was he 10 years old?)  One hot summer's day, before his mother Yepros left for work at the silk mills, she gave him a nickel for an ice cream cone. (The ice cream store was down the street.)  As it happened, his friend, Baby Kerrigan, was visiting and said he'd be glad to walk to the corner store to purchase the ice cream for Peter, as Peter was as yet unable to manage the 3 flights of stairs.  Peter was so excited as he gave his only nickel to Baby Kerrigan and watched at the window as Baby ran to the corner store, anxiously awaiting Baby's return.  And Peter watched as Baby  ambled slowly down the street toward the Four Castles on Lincoln  Street,  licking the ice cream as it melted.  When Baby finally arrived at the third floor walkup, he handed Peter the cone, but there was no ice cream left in it.  "Why did you eat all the ice cream, Baby?"  "Well, the ice cream was melting, and I didn't want it to go to waste," answered Baby!

This story was one of the first of many stories that Peter told to Marash Boy when Marash Boy first came courting Marash Girl.  Marash Boy could not believe his ears.  Was Marash Girl's family really connected to the famous murderer, last to be executed in Massachusetts in the electric chair?  The possibility gave him pause.  And he asked Peter, was the Baby Kerrigan of his story The Baby Kerrigan of Cop Killer fame, the last to be killed in the electric chair in Massachusetts?

Yes, Peter answered; one and the same!  But his brothers and sisters were all good kids. He just got in with the wrong gang.

From the internet:
John Joseph Kerrigan had been sentenced to death September 24, 1961 for the fatal shooting of Cambridge patrolman Lawrence W. Gorman. According to testimony at trial, Kerrigan and an accomplice, Edgar Cook, were trying to break into a Kendall Square restaurant in the early morning of September 3, 1960, when Officer Gorman surprised them. As they ran from the scene, Kerrigan fired three shots, one of which struck Gorman in the back. After deliberating just eighty minutes, a jury found Kerrigan guilty of murder in the first degree. Judge Fairhurst sentenced Kerrigan to die in the electric chair, but stayed the sentence pending appeal. When the clerk asked Kerrigan if he had anything to say, he stood silent for a moment and then said, “I wasn’t on Kendall Square that day.”

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream, Stowe, Vermont & Marash Dondurmasu

 Even rain can't dim the joy of the graphics used by 
Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream!  Or so it seemed.

The fun was in the colorful imagery that greeted us and there it ended.
 The tour began with two rather "tasteless" cow jokes:
1)Why does a milking stool have only 3 legs? 
The cow has the udder!  
2)What do you call a cow who has just had a baby calf? Decaffeinated! 

Of the most interest was the pre-tour exhibit in the foyer containing photos and objects related to the history of ice cream making, and the history of Ben and Jerry's efforts (pictured above & below).

 The history of ice cream making, however, was limited to ice cream making in the United States.
We were continually reminded that we should be eagerly awaiting free samples of the new ice cream flavor Americone Dream. . . as if that would keep us focused on the speaker, who regularly referred to his favorite flavor (Chubby Hubby) and the fact that his wife didn't want him walking into the house with yet another free pint of Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream!
The view of the actual mechanical assembly line (where we were not allowed to take photos), watching ice cream mass produced in albeit sterile stainless steel, left me cold, as it were. But worse was watching the flushing of the system into overflowing barrels with sticky ice cream infused water ending up all over the floor washing into big drains. Marash Girl left the facility never wanting to purchase another pint of Ben and Jerry's Ice Cream. Or any prepackaged ice cream, for that matter. . . And the promised sample of Americone Dream? We could eat as much as we wanted, that is, if we wanted . . . .

It was no wonder that Marash Girl left Ben & Jerry's wanting to purchase an ice cream maker (rather than Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream) in order to make Marash Girl's very own ice cream. [Or frozen yogurt from Marash Girl's very own home made madzoon (yogurt)!]

And why not?  After all, ice cream from Marash (Maraş dondurması) is the most famous in all of the Middle East!

Does anyone have the recipe?

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Longfellow House in Vermont? Can't get away from Cambridge, Massachusetts!

From the internet: "In 1893 Vermont Governor Carroll S. Page built this house for his family on the bluff in Hyde Park, Vermont, not far from his boyhood home. A copy of the 1759 Georgian house in Cambridge, Massachusetts, known as the Longfellow House, it also had the latest gas lighting fixtures, a drinking fountain of Vermont marble, and made-to-order mirrored mantlepieces." Photo (taken in the rain) by Marash Girl

We had travelled for hours to stay at the Trapp Family Lodge in the north of Vermont. After two days of non-stop rain, we decided it was time to venture out, if only in an automobile.  And so we travelled further north, only to be greeted by the haunting image of our past.  Cambridge in Vermont?  It couldn't be!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Timing is Everything: Moon Over Buffalo, Lamoille County Players, Hyde Park Opera House, Hyde Park, Vermont

Timing is everything in life and theatre.

Two days of rain in Stowe, Vermont, with a promise of 5 more days of rain and we were ready for a change, an afternoon of laughter and fun, which is exactly what we found on Sunday afternoon watching the Lamoille County Players final performance of MOON OVER BUFFALO! 

Hyde Park Opera House, Hyde Park, Vermont
home of the Lamoille County Players
Rain can dampen even the most ebullient of spirits!

 Luckily the powers that be allowed photos;
just no flash!
The theatre curtain for the Hyde Park Opera House (still in use today) was the subject of coversation as the audience awaited the performance.  Painted by Vermont artist Charles Hardin Andrus (1851-1924), the curtain exhibited the Natural Bridge in West Virginia with Vermont's Killington Mountain in the background -- the artist's reasoning?  'The Natural Bridge is one of the 7 Wonders of the World and this Opera House is the 8th'.
Their timing perfect, the actors never paused in bringing to life this "side-splitting" comedy; the audience never stopped grinning, guffawing, chuckling, cheering.  Laughter ruled on Sunday afternoon in the old Hyde Park Opera House, Hyde Park, Vermont, rain or no rain!
If you ever find yourself in the north of Vermont, 
be sure to catch a performance by the
Lamoille County Players at the  
Hyde Park Opera House, Hyde Park, Vermont
You'll be happy you did!

Monday, May 16, 2011

Sharon Trading Post, Sharon, Vermont

Fuel, Lodging, no food?

We in Massachusetts are so spoiled (or jaded, perhaps, would be a better word) at seeing the chain restaurants available all along any highway we choose to travel; never have to pack a sandwich or worry about thirst.

Not so on our trip to Vermont.  We had travelled two hours and were ready for a break. Having just passed White River Junction, and a sign saying Bear Crossing (though we saw no bear), a dead deer on the side of the road, and a wild turkey ambling along the side of the highway, we were ready for a break. Deciding to take the next exit (Route 14 off of Interstate 89), the interstate sign read Fuel, Phone and an earlier sign had read Vermont Law School. We figured since the Vermont Law School was located near there, there must be somewhere for the students to eat! We were wrong, the sign was right. There were no restaurants!   As we turned off onto Vermont Route 14, we learned that we had just missed a farmer's market that sold pies as well as vegetables (unfortunately only from 11 to 1 -- just think! I could have bought more spinach, this time really fresh!).  But there was a gas station that had certainly tripled in size since the interstate went through; an old New England white wooden spired church, the original one room school house (now a shuttered historical museum), a soccer field alongside a huge tarred parking lot belonging to the now large brick elementary school.
Sharon Trading Post, Sharon, VT
Judging from the above photo on the internet (which I just checked out this morning), we would never have guessed what was (literally) in store for us.  Luckily, we had NOT checked the internet, because turning the corner, this is what we found:

The Sharon Trading Post, established 1815 (but probably not originally housed in the Greek Revival building it now occupies), stands opposite a Greek Revival building that is still a home!  We ventured into the Trading Post, tentatively walking on the heavily worn creaking floorboards, surrounded by every kind of thing one could hope to purchase.  Ahhh -- we were finally in Vermont! Walking through the narrow aisles to the back of the store, we found a deli where I bought a pound of thinly sliced provolone cheese and freshly baked bread (the cheese was delicious, the bread only okay); my husband bought a roast beef sandwich from the deli and made use of the (very clean) rest room.  We didn't buy, but readily available were Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream (made in Vermont), Vermont Maple Syrup (made in Vermont), Cabot Cheddar Cheese (made in Vermont), and a fair amount of groceries/soft drinks/deli/hardware/clothing/liquor. This Greek Revival building, with a (seemingly out of place) ATM machine to its left shares a parking lot with the huge Exxon gas station to its right.

As we were leaving the Sharon Trading Post, a woman came out from behind the counter to ask if she could help me find anything I was looking for . . . I told her that actually I was looking for my husband . . . she responded, Oh, he was just here looking for you, and here he is now!  So you see, true to their promise, you really can find just about anything you need in this wonderful, old-timey Vermont general store!  The Sharon Trading Post. Check it out.

Sunday, May 15, 2011


So you went ahead and cooked up the 2.5 pounds of baby spinach that Marash Girl recommended on Mother's Day.  (See post for Mother's Day.) And now you want to know what to do with it all, other than freeze the stuff!  Well, here are some ideas.

1) Breakfast with Armenian eggs & spinach; 2) add spinach & onions to chicken soup; 3) top pizza dough with spinach and feta cheese; 4) add to cold yogurt (your own home made madzoon if you have any left) with garlic and mint; (5) poach eggs on a bed of spinach (3 - 4 minutes in the microwave). 

If you come up with any other ideas, please describe in the comments below!

Saturday, May 14, 2011


Overheard on the 57 bus going in to Kenmore Square, Boston.
"He doesn't love me any more!" 

"How do you know?" 

"I texted him and he didn't text me back for 45 minutes!"

Friday, May 13, 2011


Marash Girl grew up in an Armenian household. Whenever her father, an electrician, (among many other talents), found lights on in a room empty of people, he would ask in a voice loud enough to be heard all over the house: What is this? The Edison Centennial?  

Reprimanded by her father whenever Marash Girl neglected to shut the light in a room that she had just left, she chose to marry Marash Boy who was taught that all lights must be left on in all rooms until all members of the family had retired.  And here Marash Girl thought she had married someone with similar values: Armenian, intellectually curious, always questioning, Protestant, parents survivors of the Armenian genocide from Marash.

Thus the struggle to this day -- Marash Girl goes around the house (hers or anyone else's) closing lights in rooms that are not in use, and Marash Boy goes around opening them.  Or should I say, Marash Girl goes around turning lights off, while Marash Boy goes around turning them on! (See 5/9/11 post: Open the light!)

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Heavenly Mushrooms

Mushrooms on sale?  Here's a quick and easy mushroom side dish that wins praises every time.

Thinly slice one large yellow onion and saute in olive oil at low heat.

While onion is simmering in olive oil, wash (I know, you're supposed to wipe, but I wash) 2 - 3 pounds mushrooms and slice off any browned ends.  If the mushrooms are large, slice them; if the mushrooms are small, cut them in half. 

Add the mushrooms to the onions and saute for two minutes on almost high heat, stirring often.

Turn off heat.  Add one tablespoon butter.

Squeeze one large ripe lemon and add the lemon juice to the mushroom and onions; add kosher salt to taste.

The compliments will never stop, I promise you!

Thomas Merton, Dorothy Day, Henry Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson

Listening to a talk given by Jim Forest on the friendship between Thomas Merton and Dorothy Day (Jim Forest is the author of the new book, ALL IS GRACE: A BIOGRAPHY OF DOROTHY DAY,) I was reminded of a story that my father often told about Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau. 

The story goes like this.

When Emerson went to visit Thoreau in prison (Thoreau, a conscientious objector, was in prison for non-payment of taxes), Emerson asked Thoreau, "What are you doing in there?"  Thoreau answered, without a pause, "What are you doing out there?"

Portrait by Benjamin D. Maxham (daguerreotype) of Henry David Thoreau in June 1856 Courtesy of Wikipedia
N.B.  In 1846, Thoreau was asked to pay six years of delinquent poll taxes. Thoreau refused because of his opposition to the Mexican-American War and slavery, and he spent a night in jail because of this refusal, until, over Thoreau's objection, his aunt paid the delinquent poll taxes the next day, and Thoreau was released from prison.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011


If your attempts at making yogurt were successful (see Marash Girl Makes Madzoon (Yogurt)), you may be ready to try your hand at brewing your own beer.  Check out PubCrawlBrooklyn for the latest instructions on how to do it!

Monday, May 9, 2011

OPEN THE LIGHT! լույսը բաց!

In Marash Girl's Marashtsi extended family household, the folks used to say in Armenian, looysu patz լույսը բաց (open the light), or looysu kotseh, լույսը գոցէ (shut the light), an expression, one would assume, left from the days of yore when the light source came from the opening and closing of the shutters, the shutters that shuttered the light!  Marash Girl never spoke Armenian as a child, but in her household many folks did, and throughout her whole life, when speaking in English (her first language?), she could be heard to say, when the occasion called for it, of course, "Open the light!" and  "Close the light!"

Her friends always tease her and try to correct her:  No, Marash Girl! You must say, "Turn on the light" or "Turn off the light"! 

Now she double corrects herself and always ends up saying, "Open the light!" or "Close the light!"

I guess it's hardwired, so to speak!

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Popeye should try this! Spinach, Armenian Style

You don't like spinach, you say? Just so you know . . . you don't have to be Popeye to love spinach!
Image courtesy of cartoongraphics.blogspot.com
Whenever I'm grocery shopping at Costco, I purchase the 2.5 pound cellophane bag of pre-washed fresh baby spinach -- (located in the cold room for veggies) -- granted not fresh from our local farmer, but still fresh.  (The Farmers' Markets in New England haven't started offering spinach yet -- we still have a couple of months to wait for that treat!)

As soon as I get home, I get out my two largest stainless steel bowls (and I mean large), I empty the bag of spinach into one bowl, and fill the bowl with water.  Slosh it around a bit, lift the spinach out of the first bowl and place it into the second bowl, empty the first bowl of all its water (and any sand that may have accumulated on the bottom of the bowl), and repeat the process twice more.  Now I am relatively sure of having clean spinach.  I set the spinach aside in a large over the sink strainer to drain, while I chop up one very large yellow onion (also from Costco), saute the onion in olive oil, and when nicely golden, transfer the sauteed onion (with the olive oil) into the largest soup pot that I own.  Bringing the onions to a sizzle in that pot, I add the drained spinach.  NOTE: DO NOT ADD WATER!  Turn down the flame under the pot and constantly turn the spinach, bringing the spinach that's on the bottom to the top so that the spinach cooks in its own juices.  After about 10 minutes of this, the spinach will have all cooked down to approximately 1/10th of its original mass.  REMOVE THE POT WITH THE SPINACH IMMEDIATELY from the stove, (i.e., do not over cook) and take the spinach out of the pot with a slotted spoon, placing it in a bowl for seasoning and serving.  We season our spinach with kosher salt, freshly ground black pepper, and Armenian red pepper.  Save the broth at the bottom to add to your next soup. 

Luckily I had just finished preparing this dish when I received a call from my friend's husband:  Come on over! It's Joan's birthday today!  Great, I'll be right over, I replied; what can I add to the table?  A vegetable would be good, he answered.  And there it was, Armenian spinach, ready to go. (Now who but Marash Girl would ever think to bring spinach to a birthday party!) The ultimate compliment came when the birthday girl's son finished every bit of the spinach on his plate, and the birthday girl shrieked, "Hey, I thought you didn't like spinach!"

So happy birthday and Happy Mother's Day, Joan, and Happy Mother's Day to all mothers who will never again have to tell their children, "Now eat your spinach, dear!"

N.B. This post is dedicated to my Aintepsi mom and my Marashtsi mother-in-law, who taught me what food should taste like!

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Me or My Donkey: A call for your favorite Nasreddin Hodja stories!

Image courtesy of http://www.banet.free-online.co.uk

Marash Girl's granddaughter has become enamored with the stories of Nasreddin Hodja.  Hours were spent sharing these stories on the Outer Banks of North Carolina -- certainly a long way from Anatolia . . .  

Her favorite follows.

When Hodja's neighbor asks to borrow Hodja's donkey, Hodja answers, "Sorry, somebody else has already borrowed my donkey." At that very moment the donkey hee-haws and the neighbor hears and says, "Eh, What do you mean? I can even hear the donkey hee-hawing!" "Well," answers Hodja, "who do you believe, me or my donkey?"

Please record your favorite Nasreddin Hodja story in the comments below!

Friday, May 6, 2011


There seems to be a new sport out there: how close can a driver get to a pedestrian in a crosswalk, as the driver swerves around the corner, especially in Newtonville Square at Austin and Walnut Streets?  No matter that at least one person in the last 3 years has been killed (right across from the Newton Senior Citizen Center) while crossing in a crosswalk.  Or that you, the pedestrian, might have taken the time to look both ways before you use the crosswalk to get to the other side of the street.  (You may never make it from the Newtonville Train Station to the Newtonville Starbucks for that morning coffee!) Even when you follow the car that just missed you by a cat's whisker (sorry, I've still got cats on my mind from yesterday's post) and calmly and rationally talk to the driver in an effort to reach some kind of understanding, there is little hope...

Ironically, in Massachusetts, pedestrians have the right of way, but I fear that in Newtonville, Massachusetts, might is right, and if you want to stay alive, never cross in a crosswalk, especially in Newtonville Square.

Thursday, May 5, 2011


In Amherst, Massachusetts, an instructor of engineering was chatting with his friend at a coffee shop when a young woman turned to the two and asked, "What language are you speaking?" "Persian," answered the instructor.  "Isn't Persian a cat?" queried the young woman.  The instructor grinned and answered, "Well,  didn't you hear me meow?"

Wednesday, May 4, 2011


A professor at the University of Georgia walked into a bar.  The locals were chatting and cursing Iran and the Iranians when they turned to the professor and said, hey, you have a foreign accent.  Where're YOU from?
I'm Persian, the professor answered.
Oh, that's okay then, the locals said, leaning against the bar; just so's you're not a damn Iranian!

Tuesday, May 3, 2011


 Turkey's Hidden Armenians - 
Realized by the German TV : DW
Click below to view video.

and another . . .


Monday, May 2, 2011

Remembering Charles Mosesian

The Armenian Starbucks . . . the Starbucks in Watertown Square, where you can go at any time of day or night and see folks who look Armenian, hear Armenian spoken from every corner of the room.  That is where I go to get my Armenian fix. That is where I first met Charlie, although I didn't know it was Charlie.

This is how we met.

I was sitting alone, my back to the window, by myself, at the Armenian Starbucks, thinking good thoughts, when I noticed that to my left sat a very old man who looked so Armenian, he looked as if he may have just arrived in the United States from the old country, especially since I never remembered having seen him before.  He was alone and looking straight ahead, nursing his coffee.  I addressed him, speaking Armenian:  "Pari Looys", and he answered me in fluent, unaccented Armenian.  Thus began our conversation.  After about 5 minutes of my struggling to express myself in Armenian, Charlie turned to me and asked in perfect, unaccented English, 'Do you speak English?'  The joke was on me.  And a wonderful joke it was, as it was the beginning of many long conversations (in English) and a wonderful friendship.
Charlie Mosessian, a survivor of the Armenian Genocide, passed away at age 97 on July 27, 2010.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

PRESS RELEASE: Armenian Genocide Oral History Conference at UCLA

PRESS RELEASE:  Armenian Genocide Oral History Conference at UCLA, APRIL 1 & 2, 2011

First row (l to r), Ara Oshagan, Gerald Papazian, Lorna Touryan Miller, Varoujan Froundjian, Armen Marsoobian
(Standing, l to r): Donald Miller, Arda Melkonian, Ara Sanjian, Carla Garapedian, Hayk Demoyan, Carlos Antaramian, Greg Sarkissian, Reuben Zaramian, Haig Der Manuelian, Marc Mamigonian, Bianca Bagatourian, Taner Akcam, Murat Kurt, Bethel Charkoudian, Richard Hovannisian, George Shirinian, Doris Melkonian

UCLA—Oral Historians of the Armenian Genocide gathered in Los Angeles on April 1-2, 2011, to share information about their collections and consider issues of utilization, digitization, preservation, and archiving. The conference was organized by AEF Chair in Modern Armenian History, Richard Hovannisian, and the UCLA Oral History Research Center, with support from the Near Eastern Center, Bob and Nora Movel Fund, and the Souren and Verkin Papazian Fund.

At the Shoah Foundation

Participants from Canada, Mexico, and various universities and centers in the United States began their weekend with a private tour of the Shoah Foundation Institute’s enormous collection of Holocaust survivor testimony housed at the University of Southern California. The methods of preservation, digitization, indexing, and utilization of the more than 50,000 interviews were explained by Karen Jungblut, Director of Research and Documentation; Sam Gustman, Assistant Dean of USC Libraries; Kim Simon, Managing Director of the Shoah Foundation; and Stephen Smith, the Foundation’s Executive Director. Demonstrations were given of the Institute’s preservation and access systems as well as the digital access platforms. It is of great interest and encouragement that the Foundation is now prepared to expand its focus to the Armenian, Rwandan, and other genocides. The large archive of Dr. J. Michael Hagopian’s Armenian Film Foundation (AFF) is now being prepared for transfer to the Shoah Foundation Institute, according to Smith and AFF President, Gerald Papazian, who participated in all of the weekend activities. Miss Sara Chitjian, daughter of Armenian Genocide survivors, hosted a luncheon at USC for the attendees.

At the UCLA Young Research Library

The afternoon session on April 1 convened in the UCLA Young Research Library, where a team of specialists coordinated by Teresa Barnett, head of the oral history center, discussed matters of digitization and preservation and legal and technical issues relating to the use of the survivor testimonies. In exchanges among the participants, it became obvious that the state of the various collections varies widely. Some are primarily audio cassette interviews, while others are largely videotaped sessions of survivors, who are seen as they speak. It is estimated that there are collectively some 5,000 existing interviews of survivors, when the collections that are known to exist in Europe, the Middle East, and Armenia are taken into account. One or two of the collections remain in their original condition and are therefore at risk, whereas most have backup copies or else have been digitized on the computer. Most of the 800 interviews in the UCLA collection, for example, have not only been digitized but have also been transcribed into Armenian and then, with students in a course in Armenian oral history, have passed through a preliminary translation into English. At the end of the session, it was suggested that as a first step, a grand index of all interviews worldwide be created which would include name and place and date of birth of the interviewee, and, if possible, language and length of the interview.

The Public Conference: The First Session

Some 300 members of the community attended the public conference on the UCLA campus on April 2. The theme of the conference was “Armenian Genocide Oral History Collections in North America: Development, Utilization, Potential.” Professor Hovannisian opened the conference by emphasizing the value of oral history testimony and the critical importance of proper preservation and archiving. The day’s proceedings were divided into four panels. The first panel, titled “The Collections: Their Origins, Scope, and Evidence,” was chaired by Marc Mamigonian, Director of Research of the National Association of Armenian Studies and Research (NAASR).

Varoujan Froundjian of New York described the collection initiated by the late Dr. V.L. Parsegian and now housed at Columbia University. He noted that the collection, like the others, offers much more than descriptions of the horrific events of the genocide. There are also subtle and multidimensional portrayals of life before the calamity and the experiences encountered en route to and after settlement in the United States. They include a great array of subject matter to be explored, including the special role of women, the challenges of living and raising children in a new country, and the psychological aspects that frequently forced the survivors into silence or reluctance to discuss their tribulations.

Bethel Bilezikian Charkoudian, head of the oral history program of the Armenian Library and Museum of America in Watertown, Massachusetts, explained that in 1973, ALMA made it a primary goal to interview and record Armenian genocide survivors. This project culminated in the late 1970s with more than 200 interviews and 800 hours of recordings. The audiotapes have been digitized pro bono by Techfusion and have since been used as original source material by historians, sociologists, videographers, and most recently by dramatists Bianca Bagatourian (Armenian Dramatic Arts Alliance) and Joyce Van Dyke (in her play “Deported”), and videographer Bared Maronian (“Orphans of the Genocide”). Haig Der Manuelian, an ALMA founder and longtime guiding force, also participated in the two-day conference.

Richard Hovannisian outlined the evolution of the Armenian oral history project at UCLA and how it was facilitated by introducing a course for credit on the subject. He projected charts and graphs relating to the composition of 800 interviews and described their strengths and weaknesses. The audio tapes have now been digitized, transcribed, and translated, and the time has arrived to consider the options regarding permanent repositories and access to the collection by students and scholars.
Greg Sarkissian and George Shirinian completed the first session by describing the nearly 800 interviews held by the Zoryan Institute in Toronto, Canada, this being the largest collection of video testimonies worldwide. The interviews were conducted according to a carefully prepared questionnaire in order obtain as much detail as possible about Armenian life before the genocide as well as experiences during and after the deportations and massacres. The interviews were conducted in many cities in the United States and Canada and some were done in Europe and Armenia as well. Efforts were made to have multiple interviews from as many Armenian towns and villages as possible in order to allow for cross-referencing.

                The Second Session

The second panel, titled “Publications, Performances, and the Visual Arts,” was chaired by Gerald Papazian of the Armenian Film Foundation (AFF). Donald and Lorna TouryanMiller spoke on “Time, Trauma, and Place in Survivor Narratives.” As the authors of Survivors, the widely-used volume based on Armenian Genocide survivor testimony, they reflected on the more than 100 interviews they conducted in the process and the similarities and differences in Armenian accounts recorded more than a half century after the genocide in comparison with the fresh memories of witnesses and survivors in Rwanda where the Millers are now focusing their work.

Carla Garapedian of the AFF presented a video showing J. Michael Hagopian’s film archive of genocide survivors, gathered over a period of forty years. She focused on the AFF’s project to digitize this rare collection for the Shoah Foundation, whose extensive holdings are made available to universities and institutions around the world. After the conference, she wrote: “We are continuing to get e-mails and messages regarding the symposium—it really created a new dialogue.”

Ara Oshagan of Los Angeles emphasized the effectiveness of combining photography, art, and testimony. He explained: “Experiencing and witnessing extreme atrocity will leave survivors never feeling completely a part of the world again. The artist can play a role in symbolically restoring their connection to the world by incorporating their testimony with art to bring their story out into the world. The artist acts as a conduit in transforming testimony from merely being an ‘archive’ to one that ‘lives’ again.” He highlighted three projects that combine testimony with art: Furnee’s “Prisoner of War” installation in an English town directly affected by World War II, Heyman’s drawing of victims of Abu Ghraib prison, and his own and Levon Parian’s photographs of Armenian Genocide survivors.

Bianca Bagatourian of the Armenian Dramatic Arts Alliance demonstrated ways in which survivor testimony may be used in the theater by showing excerpts of her dramatic productions based on such narratives from the ALMA collection. After the conference, she attested: “The UCLA conference was a very important moment in the history of Armenian Genocide Oral History. It brought together the various collections in order to contemplate how best to keep alive our ancestral stories. In visiting the Shoah Foundation as part of the conference, I understood from the point of view of a writer the importance of creating a searchable database and texts in order to make the stories much more accessible to artists and scholars alike.”

As documentary film-maker Zareh Tjeknavorian from New York was in the audience, he was called upon to describe his own experiences in oral history and interviewing surviving Armenian victims of the Stalin purges, captured in his outstanding film titled “Enemy of the People.” He also described his most recent project, a documentary relating to the U.S. response to the Armenian Genocide and the important role of the Near East Relief (NER), which rescued and assisted thousands of survivors, especially women and children, after World War I.

The Third Session

The first of the two afternoon panels was titled “Preserving, Indexing, Archiving, Accessing” and included experienced practitioners in the field. Teresa Barnett, head of the UCLA Oral History Research Center, introduced the panel by identifying the challenges and possibilities relating to the Armenian Genocide oral history collections. Stephen Smith related his own involvement with memorializing the Armenian Genocide and offered a highly informative visual piece from the internet regarding the work of the Shoah Foundation Institute in preserving, archiving, and making available its enormous corpus of interviews.

Mark Greenberg, Director of Special and Digital Collections and head of the Holocaust and Genocide Studies Center at the University of South Florida in Tampa, shared how the oral history program at USF has developed several source solutions that are intended to link up with Armenian oral history archives. The OHPi (Oral History Player Interface) offers full-text search capacity and synchronizes audio/video streams with verbatim transcripts. He added that details can be found at the web site  http://ohp.lib.usf.edu

    Stephen Davison, Head of UCLA’s Digital Library Program, explained the process of digitization and how it facilitates preservation and access, but he cautioned that one should not think that digitization is a permanent solution and that the UCLA library, like the Shoah Foundation, is continuously copying its collections. Hayk Demoyan, Director of the Genocide Museum-Institute of the Republic of Armenia, completed the first panel with a description of the Institute’s small but growing collection of oral history testimony and the importance of cooperation and sharing among all the existing programs.

The Fourth Session

The fourth and final panel of the day, chaired by Armen Marsoobian of Southern Connecticut State University, was titled “Potentials for Upcoming Scholars, Writers, and Creative Artists.” Ara Sanjian, Director of the Armenian Research Center at the University of Michigan-Dearborn, reflected on “Experiences in the Classroom with Third- and Fourth-Generation College Students.” He argued that first-hand accounts by Armenian Genocide survivors can broaden our factual and interpretive understanding of the calamity by helping researchers to write academic works on regional histories of the genocidal process, including the few cases of armed resistance. Such micro or local histories can pave the way for scholars to trace the similarities in the deportation process across the Ottoman Empire, but also the local particularities, and then look for explanations to these differences. In education, the first-hand accounts constitute a large reservoir of primary information to equip the youth with the analytical tools to share their knowledge. Guidelines need to be developed relating to teaching about the Armenian Genocide to children, teenagers, and college students at various stages of their intellectual growth.
    Carlos Antaramian of El Colegio de Michoacan introduced his Mexican-Armenian oral history project, which documents the settlement of Armenians in the La Merced neighborhood of Mexico City. After digitizing more than 1,000 photographs for the period of 1900 to 1950, he interviewed a number of elderly Armenians who are the children of survivors and who are able to provide valuable information on the arrival and socioeconomic ascent of the immigrant Armenians and to relate important memories and stories of their parents’ experiences during and after the Armenian Genocide. He showed excerpts from the hour-long documentary he is preparing on the subject.
    Arda Melkonian and Doris Melkonian have utilized the UCLA collection to explore the experiences based on gender during the genocide. Their presentation focused on the unique suffering of women and their strategies for survival. The two graduate students at UCLA are among the first to use its large oral history collection for scholarly research, following earlier studies by Hovannisian on childhood memories and acts of rescue and altruism by non-Armenians which run through many of the oral history narratives.
    Reuben Zaramian, graduate student at the University of Toronto, offered a rather novel perspective with his “Tropes, Memes, and Other Theoretical Stuff: Oral Genocide Studies in a New Way.” He incorporated mnemonic (memory) and semantic (meaning in sentences) theory to identify a clear, replicable pattern of tropes and memes in the oral narratives. His presentation is part of a larger study on the efficacy and structural value of memory-based storytelling and oral transmission. He explained: “My theory is that there exists a minimum set of characteristics to oral information-sharing across cultures and types of literature (history, fiction, epic, etc.), which have been largely overlooked.”
    Taner Akcam, Kaloosdian-Mugar Chair Holder at Clark University, was the final speaker of the day. He used a comparative approach in describing a recent undertaking relating to the 1938 Dersim massacres (Charsanjak region). An estimated 30,000 to 50,000 people were massacred by the Turkish army that year, yet there are no available official documents on the operation. Thus, the Dersim oral history project will be one of the most significant sources relating to this crime against humanity.    

                After the Conference

The participants and attending scholars joined with members and friends of the Armenian Educational Foundation in a post-conference dinner reception hosted by Mr. and Mrs. Hacop and Hilda Baghdassarian (AEF) in their Glendale home. Richard Hovannisian introduced each of the guests and noted their important contributions and expressed his thanks to the AEF and the Baghdassarian family for the special birthday cake on the occasion of the twenty-fifth anniversary of the founding of AEF Chair in Modern Armenian History at UCLA.
    In reflecting on the significance of the two-day Armenian Genocide Oral History conference, Shoah Foundation Executive Director Dr. Stephen Smith stated: “It was heartening to see that we are all struggling with the same issues, but share a common resolve to bring together archives of extreme historical importance for the common good. There was no one better to convene this than Richard Hovannisian. Working with the Armenian community and seeing the care that is being taken to preserve archives in perpetuity is heartening. This conference set the ground work for us all to work together much more closely.”