Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Frank Schaeffer, Uncle Vartan, and Jennie Vartanian

After reading Frank Schaeffer's books tracing the history of the Religious Right, Marash Girl felt fortunate to have been brought up in a church led by her Uncle Vartan (Rev. Vartan Bilezikian).  (See his book, long out of print, now available online ( Apraham Hodja of Aintab, a biographical history of the early Evangelical movement in Eastern Anatolia.) 

Thanks to Frank Schaeffer, Marash Girl began to think about her own experiences in the evangelical church (earlier than Frank's) and how fortunate she was to have  had her very own Great Uncle Vartan who led the church and kept out the crazies, and her father, Peter Bilezikian, who moderated any craziness that may have snuck through.

One story of particular import was of Marash Girl's mother, Lucille Mae (Jennie) Vartanian (brought up in the more moderate Armenian Protestant Church -- the Armenian Memorial Church in Watertown, or what we called the Cilician Church, -- known to be more "liberal" than the Watertown Armenian Brethren Evangelical Church), Peter Bilezikian's newly engaged to be married love, who came to the Brethren Church (before Marash Girl was born, of course) to sing a hymn in duet with her sister Lydia Vartanian.  When the young women got up on the pulpit to sing, a man in the congregation stood up and shouted, "Before they can sing, they must give their testimony!"  Marash Girl's Great Uncle Vartan stood up to his full height of almost six feet (rare in those days for an Armenian),  glared at the originator of the intrusive remark, pointed at him, and said in his heavily accented English, "YOU SIT DOWVUN."  The man who had insisted on hearing Jennie's testimony sat down at Uncle Vartan's command, and Jennie and her sister Lydia sang.

Marash Girl's father loved to tell the story, and Marash Girl's mother loved to hear it told.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Frank Schaeffer: Sex, Mom and God

Having read Portofino years ago, and laughed her way all the way through it (knowing the humor from the inside!), Marash Girl recognized the author of Sex, Mom & God , and thought, "Oh, good! Another romp!"  But this romp, though it kept her laughing, was far more serious and among many other journeys, takes the Religious Right and the home school movement, and traces it  back to Christian Reconstructionism begun by no other than the Armenian-American (Frank's words) Rousas John Rushdoony.  Who would have guessed.  In a very frank (no pun intended) exposee of his life with sex, mom, and God, and not necessarily in that order, Schaeffer keeps the reader alternatively laughing and in anguish as he reveals the history of himself, his family and his faith.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Frank Schaeffer, Crazy for God, and Brother Zeoli!

Frank Schaeffer, Crazy for God: How I Grew up as One fo the Elect, Helped Found the Religious Right, and Lived to Take All (Or Almost All) of it Back. New York, Carroll & Graf Publishers, 2007.
An interesting read, to say the least, for Marash Girl, who was raised in the sweetest of sweet United Armenian Bretheren Evangelical Church of Watertown. . . But what a surprise.  In CRAZY FOR GOD, on pages 237-38, Frank Schaeffer, in describing his entry into Hollywood film production, makes reference to Anthony Zeoli.  Wait a minute . . . Could this be the very Zeoli that told Stengaard that he liked his egg "with another one"?  Could this be the very Zeoli that Marash Girl had heard her father joke about all her life (see  Frank Schaeffer describes "a first generation Italian American old-time evangelist who had happened to be holding a tent revival in Philadelphia half a century before Billy (Zeoli) came to L'Abri.  Dad (Francis Schaeffer) had walked into Zeoli senior's tent revival when he was seventeen.  He heard Anthony Zeoli preach and discovered that there were other people out there also convinced that the Bible was the answer . . . so there was an unlikely yet special connection between Dad (Francis Schaeffer), the self-effacing hippie guru, and Billy Zeoli, the leisure-suited, luxury-car-renting big spender from  Gospel Films. . . "

The book is worth reading, especially for anyone who was brought up in an evangelical church and is concerned about the coming together of politics and religion in the United States. 

(Frank Schaeffer is the author many books, among them the humorous novel, Portofino, based on his experiences with his missionary family in Italy.)

Sunday, February 26, 2012


Nisha recently told Marash Girl of a conflicted automobile with the following two bumper stickers on the same rear bumper:

On the left:                                                    On the right:
National Rifle Association                                 WWJD? (What Would Jesus Do?)

The tale brought to mind Marash Girl's encounter with a sticker on the rear bumper of an automobile that read, "Honk if you Love Jesus!"  "What fun," Marash Girl thought at the time as she honked, only to be met by the angry glare of the driver of the car sporting that bumper sticker!

Saturday, February 25, 2012

A Visit to the Commonwealth Museum

The Commonwealth before it was the Commonwealth
On the deck of the Arbella
Although Marash Girl was unable to photograph the rare original documents on exhibit in darkened rooms at the Commonwealth Museum, she was able to capture a feel for the museum with these photographs.  Very special, however, is the following announcement:  "In partnership with the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, the Friends of the Commonwealth Museum is selling a beautiful portfolio trio of restrikes from the original copper plates of Paul Revere."  And for the elementary school kids, the interactive exhibits are designed to intrigue.
Listen to the story of Moshup and the Aquinnah Wampanoag
The Arrival of the Irish
 Massachusetts & Rhode Island Antiquarian Booksellers are particularly intrigued by the interactive exhibit of historic documents.

Friday, February 24, 2012

A broken record. . .

Overheard at TJMax.  Mother to daughter:  "You sound like a broken record."

Marash Girl thought it was Grandma Jennie talking . . . until she realized where she was, and where her mom was. . .

And anyway, who today knows what listening to a broken record sounds like?

Thursday, February 23, 2012

And speaking of bumper stickers

The folks that are complaining about too much government are the same folks (politically speaking) that sponsored the bumper sticker in the late 1960's, early 1970's -  "America: Love it or Leave it!"

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Knitting: Another Scarf for Peace

Knitting itself is a peaceful endeavor; knitting scarves the  Marash Girl way creates the image of peace; wearing those scarves becomes a statement for peace.
Tom Ashbrook and a WBUR volunteer each model "Another Scarf for Peace" in the halls of WBUR.  Photo Credit: Doreen Nicastro
When Marash Girl takes two completely disparate yarns, conflicting in color, texture, weight and fiber, and knits them together into a harmonious whole, she makes real the beauty of conflict resolution.   Folks who buy the scarves support Community Mediation Maryland.  Folks who wear the scarves proudly exhibit their belief in the beauty of peace.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Occupy Walnut Street

Saturday mornings, Newton citizens occupy Walnut Street, (Newtonville Square, Massachusetts,) carrying signs reading "Tax Wall Street, Invest In Jobs",  "People Before Profits", "End the Wars, Cut the Military Budget", "Invest in Walnut Street, not Wall Street:  Use Local Banks", and, you guessed it, "We Are the 99%".

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Mayor Setti Warren Welcomes Newton Open Studios to Newton City Hall

On Friday, February 17th, 2012, a reception was held at Newton City Hall for Monochrome and Minimalism, a juried art show sponsored by Newton Open Studios and the first juried art show exhibited in Newton Mayor Setti Warren's offices.  The show includes works by artists Marcy Stuart, Coleman Rogers, Vicki McKenna, Anthony Lobosco, Alla Lazebnik, Amy Kaufman, Sarah Kahn, Zeina Kahhale, Howard Fineman, James Cain.

Aaron Goldman,  Assistant to Newton's Mayor Setti Warren, views an imposing work of art on the walls of the Mayor's Offices on Friday night.

Three works of art exhibited by Newton Open Studios on Friday in front of the Mayor's Office at Newton City Hall, Newton, Massachusetts

Newton, Massachusetts, Mayor Setti Warren (left) poses with a member of the Newton Parks and Recreation Commission in front of the Mayor's offices at a reception for the current Newton Open Studios Art Exhibit.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Tahn - Marash Girl's Favorite Drink!

Whoops.  Yesterday, Marash Girl told you all about Tanabour (Tahnabour) and never mentioned a word about Than (tan, pronounced ton)!  Tahnabour (in Armenian) means soup made from Tahn.  What is Tahn, you ask?  Only Marash Girl's favorite drink in the world!  Bottled in the Middle East, tahn is tangy yogurt with water, or tangy yogurt with sparkling water as in soda pop and available at all the border crossings!  Every time Marash Girl goes to a Middle Eastern restaurant here in New England, she asks for tahn, and if the waiter looks blankly in response, she'll say, "You know . . . I-rrahn (the Turkish word for Tahn, spelled in Turkish, Iran.)  If s/he still doesn't understand, Marash Girl simply asks for a glass of iced water and some yogurt.  Of course, this doesn't always work, because the yogurt may be too sweet (too fresh), and she'll probably need to add salt . . . And often she does.  But made at home, especially on a hot summer's day, a pitcher full of cold Tahn  (tart madzoon mixed with water, approximately a 1 to 3 ratio) poured over ice . . . So refreshing, so delicious!  շատ համով է!

Friday, February 17, 2012

Tahnabour, Mint, and Memories

Here's Grandma Jennie's recipe for Tahnabour, an Armenian soup much praised in Albert Apelian's novel, THE ANTIOCHIANS:

4 cups home made chicken broth, or broth made from boiling lamb bones
1/2 cup dried wheat (dzedzadz) or dried barley, soaked overnight
3 cups madzoon (yogurt)
1/2 cup onion, peeled and chopped, sauteed in butter
1/4 cup chopped mint and parsley
Salt and pepper

Soak wheat or barley over-night in fresh water.   The next morning, strain and rinse the dzedzadz (wheat) or barley in clear water, and put the grain in a large, heavy pot.  Add broth and cook the grain until tender. Meanwhile, stir the madzoon (yogurt) in a separate bowl until smooth.  In a frypan, melt butter and saute the chopped onions. While onions are sauteeing, chop the mint and add to the onions, sauteeing briefly.  Chop the parsley.   Add the sauteed onions, sauteed mint and fresh parsley (not sauteed) to the soup and serve immediately.

Marash Girl's mother, Grandma Jennie, often made this wonderful soup -- one of Marash Girl's favorites.  Grandma Jennie would always use her own home-made madzoon (yogurt) after it had become a bit sour, which happens after about a week. Although this soup is much tastier when the madzoon (yogurt) is sour, the soup can be made with fresh sweet yogurt as well.

Note: During the summer, Grandma Jennie always used mint and parsley freshly picked from her back yard, from Grandpa Peter's garden.  In the fall, one of Grandpa Peter's and Grandma Jennie's favorite activities was drying their harvest of mint.  They would spread brown paper bags torn open over a bed in the guest room and carefully lay out that fall's mint, mint still on the stems that had been rinsed in cool water and swung dry in a clean pillow case.  (On the day that Grandpa Peter passed away, Marash Girl found mint spread out on a bed in the guest room and more mint stored in a drawer of the high boy in that room.)

Further Note:  Grandpa Peter's favorite drink was mint tea (anoukh, as Armenians know it), which Grandma Jennie made for him daily with their home grown mint.  Perhaps that's what kept him alive and well until he was 97 1/2!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Out of the mouths of "babes" . . . .

"Either you can't find the mattress or you can't find the pump." Karoun commenting on Marash Boy's yearly attempts to locate the blow up mattress in order to provide bedding for holiday house guests.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Wisdom, Step by Step

Every day as she climbs up and down the stairs in her Victorian home of three floors and a basement, Marash Girl recalls a refrain repeated by her mother (known as Grandma Jennie to Nisha, Lorig, Deron & Karoun).  Mummy would always call out, as she saw anyone heading upstairs (in her "three-family" home of three floors), "Don't go upstairs empty-handed!" Or when we headed downstairs to the cellar where the pool table abided, "Don't go down empty-handed!"  Thus the habit of always leaving little piles at the tops and bottoms of every staircase, awaiting the chance moment when anyone might be headed in either direction!  (Years ago, Marash Girl noticed that her cousin did the same, even though her house had only two floors and a cellar!  Either her cousin's mother called out to her cousin similarly, or her cousin had heard Auntie Jennie's words of wisdom!) (Marash Girl's mother, by the way, grew up in a three-decker house on Vassal Lane in Cambridge, clearly the source of her daily call of wisdom.)  
Years later, Marash Girl developed the wonderful habit of antiquing, and even later, when she moved to the suburbs, of yard-saling (yard-sailing is how it felt) and lo, and behold, she saw the embodiment of her mother's words! 
The step-basket!   Although Marash Girl did not recognize the basket for what it was (she had to ask), the concept that her mother had taught her all her life was there before her eyes!  It was the wisdom of the ages, the wisdom woven into an antique New England basket, a basket handed down for generations, a wisdom handed down for generations.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Happy Birthday, Lorig!

                 Aravodoun pechets hov,                                                   Lorig, Lorig, ays dari
                 Ardu dzupats,  tartsav dzov,                                             Serdus  tsaner em kari
                 Ardin mechen turav lor,                                                    Oor vor yertas shoud tartsir,
                 Turav ingav tsore tsor.                                                      Ardis mechu munatsir.

                 Gulorig, kulorig, ay Lorig,                                                 Gulorig, kulorig, ay Lorig,
                 Oror--moror, shororig.                                                       Oror--moror, shororig.

This is an Armenian lullaby/love song using the metaphor of the soft, round quail for the loved one.

Monday, February 13, 2012


Early Saturday morning, listening to WBUR, Marash Girl heard the following joke which she herewith shares:

A conservative, a liberal and a moderate walked into a bar.
The bartender said, "Hi, Mitt!"

Sunday, February 12, 2012

A Samuel Clemens diss!

Janet Sterman recently emailed Marash Girl the following:

"If you do not read the local paper, you are not informed.
  If you do read the local paper, you are misinformed."
Samuel Clemens (pen name - Mark Twain)

Not sure, but Ms. Sterman may have wanted to apply the quotation to blogs, and specifically to Marash Girl!  Oh, dear!

Saturday, February 11, 2012

WBUR: Volunteer, Eat, Drink, and be Merry!

So there she was, Marash Girl and her friends, all supporters of WBUR, all volunteering for the WBUR Valentine's Day fundraiser, all eyeing the delicious highly caloric breakfast  rolls that WBUR offers its volunteers, all muttering, "But I'm on a diet," so of course, Marash Girl quipped the well-known (or at least she thought it was well known) quotation, "Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we diet!"   Strange as it seems, or at least, strange as it seemed to Marash Girl, nobody had heard the joke before!  One volunteer admitted to being familiar with the original quotation (Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die) which is a conflation of two Biblical verses  (ecclesiastes 8:15  and isaiah 22:13), but none had ever heard, "Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we diet!"

None of the folks were original New Englanders -- perhaps that's why -- or maybe they were all just too young!

Friday, February 10, 2012

Lucky in games, unlucky in love. Lucky in love, unlucky in games.

Whenever Marash Girl played Backgammon (Tavlu) ardently hoping to win, she would invariably lose.  Because of her loss, a visiting uncle always comforted her with these words:  "Lucky in love, unlucky in games." Or was it,  "Lucky in games, unlucky in love."  (Either way, the poetry of the comforting words sounded a lot better in Armenian.) Whichever way that expression went, here's the wisdom that Marash Girl gleaned from those "comforting" words . . . "Be careful what you wish for!"

Thursday, February 9, 2012

The Golden Songbook and Old Time Radio

Recently going through a box of old books, Marash Girl came upon this book which dredged up so many wonderful memories.  As very young girls, Marash Girl and her cousin Pauline would listen faithfully to Voltarine Block's radio program, "The Children's Songbag".  One week they decided to send in postcard naming the mystery song for that week.  Their postcard was drawn; the won the above book -- the only thing they ever on -- long enjoyed, but when long forgotten, provided great pleasure for scribbling to the kids who came later.

Back cover reminiscent of Miss Irene Forte, long time violin teacher at the All Newton Music School, Newtonville, Massachusetts

  Inscription reads "To Bethel and Pauline Bilezikian from Voltairine Block with every good wish.  Musical guessing game played on Saturday, July 31, 1948"
Title page reminiscent of daily piano practicing for all the girls at 474/476 Lowell Avenue, Newtonville, Massachusetts

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

New England Patriots, Sunday, February 5, 2012

"We learn more from our losses than from our wins." . . .  Peter Koutoujian, Sheriff, Middlesex County, Massachusetts

Although Sheriff Koutoujian was referring to political campaigns, Marash Girl offers his words as comfort to those of us who were rooting for the New England Patriots in the Superbowl game on Sunday, February 5, 2012.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Nightmares in the New World: Another Tale for Taraf

Interesting about fear and nightmares.  They often occur after the experience  of horror is long past.  (Is the contemporary name for this post-traumetic stress, perhaps?)  

Dad said he never feared for anything during those years filled with horror, the years of the Armenian Genocide, the Genocide he and his mother and brother and sisters had miraculously survived.  It was not until he was safely ensconced in the United States (see Marash Girl, Feb. 1, A Tale for Taraf) that he started having the nightmares, Turks pulling out his teeth, Turks pulling out his fingernails, and more which he dared not mention to his young daughter.  Nightly he woke up in a sweat, screaming in his bedroom in Brighton, Massachusetts.  He dreamed dreams of horror night after night, until one evening, his mother came into his room, and asked him to kneel down by his bedside and ask the Lord to take away those nightmares.  He goes on.  "I knelt down next to my bed and I cried out to God, asking God to save me from those nightmares, to take them away; with every inch of my being I prayed my prayer."  "Did you ever have another nightmare, Dad?"  "Never," was his answer.  "Never."

Monday, February 6, 2012

Walter Reed Hospital's Banning of the Bible in November, 2011

The banning of books, any books, has always been anathema to Marash Girl, akin to the burning of books.  Perhaps, you say, Marash Girl has spent too much of her life living with antiquarian books, saving them from the trash, from the recycle bins, from the bonfires, refurbishing them and selling them to folks who value books as the history of thought, as a source of inspiration, as beautiful objects, as old friends, as comforters.

At the end of November, 2011, Walter Reed Hospital (Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, Washington, DC) issued a memorandum updating caretakers on changes in patient visitation rules: "No religious items (i.e. Bibles, reading material and/or artifacts) are allowed to be given away or used during a visit."  Huh?  Could this have been for real?  Well, thankfully it was only "for real" until December 9, 2011, when the hospital issued the following statement:   "The visitation policy as written was incorrect and should have been more thoroughly reviewed before its release. It has been rescinded."

One can only wonder who slipped that little "rule" into the book of rules at Walter Reed Hospital and why.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Redbird . . . through a glass darkly . . .

                                                                                    Photo by Marash Girl
Redbird on the limb of an evergreen tree 
on a grey winter's day in New England, through a glass darkly.  

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Two ingredients and you're done!

Two ingredients and you're done!  But the first ingredient, a perfectly ripe avocado is easier said than done.  The second ingredient, Newman's Own all natural bottled Medium or Hot Salsa is easier done than said.

Cut a ripe avocado in half. Remove and discard the pit (discard unless you want to grow an avocado tree -- see Marash Girl's blog for August 31, 2011, by clicking this link:  Spoon out avocado from husk.  Mash with fork.  Add 1 or 2 tablespoons of bottled all natural salsa and stir with fork.  Serve with corn chips or use as an interesting addition to your next chicken sandwich!

Note: This recipe originated with Marashmallow Fluff of Texas!

Friday, February 3, 2012

Humor that may offend

If politically incorrect humor offends you, read no further.

A Jew, a Greek and an Armenian are in conversation after a friendly round of golf.  They all take out cigars.  

The Jew says, I'm so wealthy that I light my cigars with a five dollar bill.  He pulls out a $5 bill, strikes a match, puts the match  to the $5 bill, and lights his cigar with the flaming $5 bill.

The Greek replies, I'm so wealthy that I light my cigars with a $20 bill.  He pulls out a $20 bill, strikes a match, puts the match to the $20 bill, and lights his cigar with the flaming $20 bill.

The Armenian grins, and says, I'm so wealthy that I use $100 to light my cigars with.   He pulls out his check book, writes a check for $100, strikes a match, puts the match to the check, and lights his cigar with the flaming $100 check.

[Another joke from the archives of Marash Girl's father.]

Thursday, February 2, 2012

A Joke on the Bartender

A minister, a priest, and a rabbi walk into a bar.
The bartender asks, "What is this, a joke?"

This joke has become one of Marash Girl's favorites, a joke which she found while reading the introduction to Jim Holt's STOP ME IF YOU'VE HEARD THIS:  A HISTORY AND PHILOSOPHY OF JOKES. NY, W. W. Norton, 2008.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

A Tale for Taraf

Tervant Dakessian Sanjian, Marash Boy's kermer (his mother's brother's mother, i.e., his maternal grandmother),  was a surivivor of the death march during the Armenian Genocide.  Her mantra:  "Gun bu gun,   zaht, bu zaht."  (Rough translation: Day? The day is Today. Time? The time is now.) She believed in accepting her lot, in living in the present.  And that's no wonder, once we learn of her past.  She was tiny (under 5 feet tall) and fearless, the woman who, during summers on the 20 acres in Wilbraham, Massachusetts, would reach up and grab the ear of the lead cow in a wandering herd, herding it and its family back across the fields to their rightful pasture.  She was a staunch believer in Christ, a woman whose faith had carried her through the worst of times. But she still had nightmares.  Marash Boy, only a young fellow at the time, was sharing a bedroom with his kermer and was asked to calm her during her  nocturnal visits to the past.  His mother, (known in these blogs as Medzmama), also a survivor of the Armenian Genocide,  speaking Armenian, comforted Marash Boy's fears: "Mi vakhnar.  Don't be afraid. When Kermer starts screaming & crying in the night, just hug her and tell her that it's okay, that she's here in the room with you, that she's in Springfield, Massachusetts, not Marash, Turkey, that she's in the United States, not the Ottoman Empire, that the horror is past, that she is safe at home, with her daughter and her grandchildren."

When Marash Girl and Karoun first attended a viewing of MY BIG FAT GREEK WEDDING, they sat in the center front of the West Newton Cinema.  The film should have been named MY BIG FAT ARMENIAN WEDDING, they said to each other. From the overprotective Greek father, the wonderfully enthusiastic Greek aunts, the music played on oud and dumbeg, and yes . . . the plastic covering the couches, the kich and over the top plastic wedding decorations (complete with fiberglass parthenon columns/pillars), the line dancing, the food, the home remedies (if you've seen the film, you must remember the Windex!)  It was all so familiar. . . and so hilarious.  Strangely, THEY were the only ones in the theatre laughing, and they were laughing very loudly!

But part of the film was no laughing matter.  When discussing MY BIG FAT GREEK WEDDING with their American (read here  'Non-Armenian') friends, Marash Girl and Karoun had to listen to said friends critique the character of the Greek grandmother, all dressed in black, hunched over, with a black shesh over her head, crazily running through the neighborhood screaming.  It didn't fit; it didn't make sense to them because they knew nothing of the atrocities and massacres to the Greek and Armenian populations committed by the Young Turks early in the 20th Century.  What that old grandmother had seen and remembered was more than any one of them could have even imagined, much less lived through.