Dealing With Doggie

It’s turned into an unfortunate habit.  The diminutive dog, struggling to secure its position of importance in the household, occasionally decides to soil the Persian carpet that runs the length of the ten-foot long corridor of our apartment.  The hardwood floor beneath it is not dried out yet, although its varnish has worn away some time ago and its lackluster surface begs for protection from infrequent onslaughts of urine.

Two black circles have formed in the corner she prefers.  I noticed them when I was about to roll up the carpet and take it to the cleaner. Embarrassed, I laid the carpet down again so my landlord wouldn’t see them during an unexpected visit.  I know from experience that urine spots on wood floors can only be removed by sanding them out.  We had a wired-haired dachshund back home while I was growing up that was about fifty or so pounds heavier than normal and was never housebroken — she did her businesses wherever she pleased, and whether indoors or out made no difference to her.  She had a mildly villainous streak, but this one, this neurotic Chihuahua, is not as bad.  So long as I keep her under control.

My wife is lackadaisical at best when it comes to training Chi Chi.  She praises her for urinating in a small pan filled with high-tech super absorbent kitty litter made in Germany. Though when she pees on the linoleum floor near the front door, she is never admonished.  We simply sop up the urine as quickly as we can before one of our guests arrives, my wife using a wet rag soaked in a weak bleach-water mixture or me, with old-fashioned paper towels to get the job done pronto.  I keep insisting that my way is more practical and less of a headache, but my wife is more stubborn than the dog. No matter how many times I preach to her about the virtues of training a dog to go outside, she resists in hearing my gospel.  Doggie is great, she says, what a beautiful little puppy, mommy loves the baby, mommy wants to eat the baby (in a playful way, not the voracious, although a Chihuahua if prepared properly with ample seasoning would unquestionably be tasty, I imagine).  I’ve told her countless times that I can’t do everything — work all day then come home and train the dog by night.  Although thanks to me Chi Chi understands a fair share of commands, a few of them being to jump, to go inside if she’s in the bedroom, to come, to go “walkies” and to get down, in other words off the furniture, not to mention the all important “no.”  My wife hasn’t yet taught her one word, she’s still thinking of something she wants her dog to do on demand.

Training a puppy is a demanding task that is not for the feeble.  It requires willpower and patience, both of which my wife regrettably lacks.  As a result the puppy, nearly a year old now, is blatantly asserting her dominance.  She barks at my wife when she’s seated at the dinner table or even when she’s walking about.  Then I am exposed to the abhorrent site of my wife’s calf being made love to by this feisty, pint-sized bisexual canine.  At first I thought the dog was enduring some kind of hormone imbalance that was related to her first heat cycle that is just about winding down.  But an Internet search using omnipotent Google confirmed that she was demonstrating she had the dominant role in their relationship.

The crucial thing with dog training, which is essentially rearing, is to make the dog understand from the beginning who is the “alpha,” or in layman’s terms the boss of the pack.  In our household there are three of us.  The dog understands, thankfully, that I am indeed the alpha and what I say is the rule of law.  She, in her mind, is next in line of command, leaving my wife at the rear of the pack.  The situation I now find myself in is needless to say delicate.  I need my wife to regain her position, or even better, to surpass me and take the helm.  I don’t mind being the beta, and she understands this as I tell her on a daily basis that she definitely needs to be the boss of at least the dog (I let her think she already is mine). If only her sentimentality caved in somewhat to show her the way…

I read somewhere that the most effective household products for getting rid of urine odor and most importantly, confounding the doggie in locating her spot to pee are white vinegar and baking soda. Although the latter is rather cheap, white vinegar can be a bit pricey but the stuff I found is certainly potent and seems to do the job nicely. She absolutely abhors the smell of it, as does probably any non-human creature on earth.  My technique is to soak up the urine from the carpet using paper towels, which takes a few minutes since I apply two sheets at a time for maximum absorption. Once that is done, using a spray bottle I dampen the area with white vinegar, then let that sit for some time before coating the spot with baking soda. That stays on for a minimum of 15 minutes, although yesterday I left it overnight before I finally vacuumed it off.  The problem is that she can either find another spot for peeing on the same carpet or else use the linoleum floor, and she urinates regardless of whether someone is looking. But she is tricky. Chi Chi placates us when our attention towards her is beaming by peeing in her “litter box” as a way to receive an award, usually a slice of apple, a spoonful of her homemade mock harissa  or some vitamin-fortified treats that my wife found in a pet store.

Chi Chi is not hard to please, which is obviously a good thing.  But getting her to pee where she should on a consistent, regular basis is extremely challenging. I suppose the challenge is part of the fun in having a dog to begin with.

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Insomnia in Meghri

I single-tapped this note below into my trusty Nokia flip phone early Sunday morning, September 27 during my visit to Meghri, Armenia.

I’m in meghri, staying in misha’s house, it’s extremly clean and the family hospitable. The purpose of my trip was to bring sergey here as he has never been. It’s 2.23 am and i can’t sleep at all, although i am tired. Might have something to do with the homemade apricot vodka. There’s lots of ground to cover tomorrow, sunday. It’s nearly 400 km to yerevan, about 8 hours driving time with short breaks. Flying to boston from europe takes less time. Tomorrow we will see the town and its environs. We’ll arrange to take some persimmons and pomegranates back with us. This is pomegranate country, the fountain of pomegranates. There are trees everywhere, growing like weeds. Seems like they spread on their own, a natural divide and conquer mechanism. Unchecked and the trees will devour the whole south of syunik. May take some time though, years or centuries. Who planted the first pomagranate tree here anyway and for what reason? For his own amusement perhaps? Maybe he wanted to conquer the world with pomegranates one millenium at a time. What a disturbed, depraved mind . Hard to imagine death by pomegranate. And i love them, since i was a little boy, eating the kernels plucked from the crannies that my mother filled into a glass bowl for me to devour with a teaspoon. My mom taught me proper table etiqutte at an early age. I can only recall eating chicken wings broiled with a garlic and lemon dressing with my fingers. That and popcorn. I remember each time a kernel exploded in the pot i would leap in sync in place. When will i finally sleep?

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An Expectant Father

My wife’s six months pregnant. I am still striving to comprehend that I am about to be a father in the not-too-distant future. My days of insouciant roaming and oblivious fantasies are about to come to an undesired end. Actually, the fantasies will continue unabated, there’s no stopping imagination and the creative processes that grasp on to your spirit, jerking you forward at an insecure moment when you lament that you have nothing else to express, to produce. If anything, I will probably crank out a lot more literature than I do at present. For one thing I will always have incentive–after all, I will be responsible for feeding and clothing the kid. My mother told me when I sprung the good news that Anush was pregnant that “it had to have happened sometime.” Right, time to grow up, at 37 years of age.

Perhaps it was a wise decision to postpone having a child for so long. It was not an easy feat to find a woman who would endure putting up with my eccentricities while deciding that it would be quite fun to have a baby with me. That took quite a while, but it was worth the trouble getting it right the second time. My wife is so wonderful that at times I wonder how possible it is to be such a fervent, fantastic person. I can’t find anything to complain about her, even when she’s acting up she still makes me swoon. You can’t be angry with her, it is not possible, she’s never guilty of wrongdoing, she doesn’t lie, she doesn’t bitch and moan like most of the other women I have known do. She is an angel, but a pregnant one at that making her not all so innocent.

They tell us the baby is going to be a boy. People take one look at her abdomen and immediately declare it. They are somehow able to deduce from the shape and position what the sex of the child will be, or else they have a strong instinct for such things. The sonographer made it official about six weeks ago. We’ve been trying to choose a name but have run into some stumbling blocks. I insist that the baby have two names, one of them being my father’s and the other of her own choosing, naturally influenced by my advice of course.

It is a strange thought that I will finally have to take on the responsibilities of fatherhood, not because I am not enthusiastic about the new phase I am about to enter in my life. It’s just that I didn’t actually believe that my paternal instincts would actually be applied so late into adulthood. I figured there would always be something to impede my desires to be a parent–namely my still developing career and my wife’s own professional interests. But she also had a strong desire to be a mother, and we were indeed trying in earnest to conceive a child.

Now that the baby is expected I am coming to grips with the reality that awaits me, and the prospect of being a father is less daunting by the day. We are already making preparations, like trying to locate my wife’s baby crib that has changed hands at least three times within her extended family since she grew out of it. My mother has already ordered several garment racks worth of baby clothing of various sizes from online shopping stores that will hopefully last us for a couple of years. I am already studying the aesthetic and hardwearing properties of baby carriers, a mundane, time-consuming task. Seems to obtain something sturdy yet comfortable for the child you need to spend at least a hundred dollars. Then there are all the quality baby toys to find, another chore I don’t especially savor.

The most important part of fatherhood, namely the processes involved in raising my child, will have to be improvised it seems according to the long-experienced parents I have spoke with. I can only sow seeds of basic, fundamental principles that one should foster at an early age– favoring right over wrong, understanding what it means to be good and well-behaved, and teaching the child not to lie. Music education is something I can manage without any real effort–I figure between classical, traditional folk and jazz music he will be fine until he figures out what he really likes later on in his development as a pre-teen and thereafter. I don’t want to dwell too much on silly baby songs other than what the old school Sesame Street programs offered when I was young (who after all can express distain for “C Is For Cookie?”), which are fortunately available on disc for his viewing and hopefully educational pleasure. I think my wife and I will manage quite well. For one thing she is incapable of shouting, even when she get a bit steamed with me it’s never long-lasting. So I can’t imagine her being hard on the child at all to instill discipline, which I suppose is a good thing. I on the other hand have a tendency to go through mood swings. Sometimes if flustered enough I can be quite unreasonable, so that’s something I am afraid of the child seeing or even hearing while in another room. Maybe fatherhood will calm me down so I will be less apt to be moody, I can’t say. But I know that I can do this. I will hopefully make a substantially decent father whom my child will understand, revere and love.


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Diarrhea of the Mouth

I am not a big fan of fancy words, long-winded compliments and absurd verbal conflicts. Nevertheless I’ve found myself arguing away in the land of all Armenians for trivial reasons like water dripping out of a flower pot perched on a balcony onto the hood of a car parked below, or paying a parking assistant less than I should have (or what he expected) although there is no official posted rate per hour anywhere in the city on public streets. The amount of tragic dismay I’ve had to endure with bureaucracy and blatant bullshit surpasses my own comprehension of logic, namely that conceived by the modern western world. Armenians endorse their own system of logic, which is laden with paradoxical loopholes and grandiose explanations for refraining from taking personal responsibility. Found to be faulty to the outsider or not, you better be playing along or else you be duped.

Unfortunately bullshitting is not my specialty. It’s unfortunate because I have no defenses against being dealt condescending or else haughty rhetoric. My response is often a perverted combination of outrage, scorn and black humor. I can never take people blabbering away very seriously, no matter if they’re on stage for five minutes introducing a local rock band to a crowd of oblivious teenagers in an excruciatingly annoying manner or making a long-winded toast that lasts 10 minutes longer than the 30 seconds it really should at the most.

I’m getting married again in less than two weeks, an event I am looking forward to since I love good parties and reveling. A few people have encouraged me to hire a “tamada” for the reception, who is reminiscent of a late-night talk show host or perhaps one from the 1970s, like Mike Douglas or someone similar who could tell jokes, sing some silly songs, jovially interview guests, and so forth. The tamada praises a bride and groom with such graceful eloquence as if he had known both of them since the day they emerged from their respective mother’s womb. He is an astute expert in the art of bullshitting. He can do it all—tell lame jokes, recite depressing poetry, make some sugary toasts to parenthood and the vital importance of the family, all with a wide Cheshire cat grin on his face with an obtuse outlook on life that he pawns off as having merit and importance. I reject the idea of having a complete stranger take the reins of the celebration of marriage. Instead I will leave the speechmaking, toasting and joking to relatives and loved ones, since I know it’s coming from the heart instead of the asshole.

I live in a society where men, all with a machismo complex, even the homosexual ones, call each other “brother” and “dude,” regardless if whether they are addressing friends or total strangers. They refer to each other in these terms while drinking beers or arguing over a parking space. You’re a dude in instances when you are showing contempt for someone close to you or are passing a few moments of hilarity with your buddy. And you’re a brother when you’re approached by someone lost looking for directions or preparing for a futile argument with the hidden agenda of who has bigger balls.

Similarly, you can take away the pain. Armenians use this term literally, when they are showing sympathy for someone’s woe, but more often than not, someone uses the expression in the context of “give me a break” or “I’m giving you a break.” You could be buying a kilo of tomatoes and hear this from the vendor. You can even start a conversation this way, right after saying hello. Both cases are totally acceptable. But they are not terms of endearment, rather perfect examples of bullshitting by distorting words meant to be sincere that instead can be interpreted as demonstrating condescension, depending on the context.

The entire society is founded on the premise of bullshit and pulling the wool over someone’s eyes by lying and cheating. Bullshit’s the name of the game, but I’m not a player. I want them to shovel and bury it.

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Elements Of Eternity–The Film

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Elements Of Eternity–The Text

In the end, there is and will only be fire and water. As our world was created from the cataclysms of inferno, so too will our world crumble by the raging kisses of fire. Fire, the everlasting spirit, the uncompromising entity from which all essence of being has been born. Then water, in which life forms squirm from within, in utero, anticipating birth into eternity.

The eternity we seek is universal. In our anticipation of the end of our physical being, we equally shudder in fear of our spiritual destiny as well as embrace it, our souls expanding in melancholic bliss. The juggler of fate, our savior in obtaining enlightenment, exchanges fire and water through a haphazard, yet controlled continuum, the same which balances the tides of evil and good, bitterness and benevolence, rage and serenity. The flames feed the elements of malice, in turn quenched by the forgiving rains to neutralize, then manifest into the solace we seek with all our determination to obtain, finally sustained in harmony by the two opposing, yet codependent life elements.

Fire and water… the essentials of life, the forces perpetuating eternity. To be is dependent on fire and water—the fire to enable being, the water to sustain being. Sacred are the fire and water which reign supreme in the everlasting cosmos.

In fire, man looks to obtain enlightenment. He perceives it as being a miracle, a fabulous deity, which serves all purposes for the creation and sustentation of life, even in its most primitive forms. The illumination of fire is the sole vessel for transporting man towards enlightenment and inspiration.

Fire represents the essence of what man is and will continue to be.

The technological and intellectual advancement of man has come from the ability to create and sustain fire. Man’s modern devices are powered by controlled and contained, highly concentrated forms of fire. Man has proven to be entirely reliant on fire to deliver comfort and kindle the hearth. Mankind wages wars against itself with fire it invents in order to access and possess the sources of fire it does not already have.

We are unwillingly captivated by the force of fire, its destructive radiating tentacles, and its caressing cruelty. Yet we are obliged to worship fire, as slaves to its nourishing properties. Fire is our salvation, perpetuating our endurance as living, breathing organisms.

We are the sons of daughters of Ahura Mazda, living by the doctrine of the Avesta. It outlines the fundamental principles of the Zoroastrian tradition, the same that has helped to bind the roots of mankind’s modern celebrated faiths.

It is said that water comprises 90 percent of our bodies, for without the element mankind would shrivel and die, just as a leaf from the mighty oak that is no longer able to sustain itself by photosynthesis. Our bodies must be continually replenished by fluids so that the regenerative process of our cells continues. Water ensures the hydration of our skin, ridding it of toxins that we absorb in our everyday environs or from the foods we consume. Its oxygen and minerals help to protect the body’s organs from disease and premature decay.

Water is the guarantor of our persistence, as it enriches the soil to produce crops and hydrates our livestock to provide us our sustenance. And the integral component of water, namely oxygen, is the same that nourishes its sister life force, fire. Yet uncontrolled, water can also lead to man’s peril—just as it ensures life, it can also just as easily suffocate life.

So that animal life continues to exist, fire and water must remain eternal. In infinity the world will continue to change seasons as it spins on is axis, revolving around the fiery sun, the water continually nourishing our planet through precipitation and in tide with the gravity of the orbiting moon. Earth’s life forms will continue to evolve, forever adapting to the changing environs and Earth’s transient nature, forever dependent on fire and water, the elements of eternity… the elements of our destiny.

–Christian Garbis

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Carriage Of Dreams Restored

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A Short Story

Hagop was from Baku. He moved to Yerevan at the age of 17 to honor his father’s dying wish so that he could study architecture there. It was the right career path for his son, he believed, and being a structural engineer by profession he thought it best that his son realize what he could never possibly accomplish in his lifetime. In Yerevan, Hagop encountered scorn and jest from people he came into contact with, including classmates and some professors, for being a Russian speaker, as his Armenian was poor.  At the end of the semester he left Yerevan and returned to Baku to continue his education there. After a short stint in the military, which was obligatory, he went to Moscow to complete his studies. Then his mother called him back to Yerevan to be with her and find a wife. He quickly found a job and soon settled down to have a family. Unexpectedly, the Soviet Union began to crumble and he found himself out of work along with millions of others shortly after Armenia declared its independence.

It was January, 1994 and the war in Karabagh was raging. Due to the brutal cold, there was no ability to heat the home properly with the absence of natural gas and unpredictable allocation of electricity. Hagop’s family wore several layers of clothing to safeguard them from the numbing chill. By chance of luck he was able to land his hands on a wood-burning stove though a personal connection, but since there wasn’t a consistent supply of wood to be had they also burned old newspapers, cardboard boxes and books he deemed to be of little personal value. Special padding prepared from old clothes and odd pieces of fabric was used to completely close the gaps in door and window jambs. They all huddled around the stove in the living room where it was installed and only left that room to go to the toilet or outside the apartment.

Hagop had thought about going to fight as a volunteer soldier but he thought it best to stay put and care for his three young children as best as he could manage. Work was virtually non-existent as the state architectural firms had closed three years prior. Joining the army was not an option for him, whether or not it meant defending his own people, as his ancestors were from Karabagh. He could never muster the courage to kill a man. His conscience would never have allowed it, and he thought he would probably go insane if he did not heed its demands. He still had Azeri friends in Baku. What would he do if he encountered an old pal on the battlefield, he thought? Would he be able to kill him? He deduced he could not, that it would not be possible for him to even wound another man. Besides, he had never handled a rifle in his life. When he served in the military during the Soviet area he was part of a special intelligence unit and was not required to wear fatigues or train for war. He practiced shooting a pistol—that was his only experience with a gun. Perhaps, he pondered, he could manage to donate some of the money he made from selling dollars on the street, which was his only source of income. It was a long shot, but nevertheless it was the only thing he believed he could do to participate in the war effort.

With the little profit he made from the currency exchange trade he was able to buy a kilo of cheese, a kilo of sugar, a box of tea, some bread, assuming it could be found, cigarettes for himself and other essentials on which his family could survive for an entire month. If there were more foodstuffs to be had in the markets or stores lined with empty shelves for most of the week, he bought them. Given the situation the country was in, in the midst of a bitter war with a trade and energy blockade imposed by its nemesis to the west, he was bestowed good fortune to place that much on the table. 

The spot where he chose to work was on the stairway at the foot of Gassian Street leading into the underground circular passageway at Paregamutiun Square. He stood on the steps about 20 feet below the initial decline downward to stay out of sight from policemen walking the beat.  There were others doing the same a few steps below him as well as in the adjacent stairways. Once in a while he would be detained by the police or even the KGB as the national security service was still commonly known, but he was always released within a few hours after they determined he posed no threat and persuaded him to be back with a carton of cigarettes. It was a routine procedure. But the streets were practically devoid of men as they feared being suddenly whisked away while out and about and sent directly to the front lines. It was not a rare occurrence. There was always the need of fresh soldiers. Men who knew how to actually hold a rifle properly and shoot were few in number. Save for some specially trained regiments of volunteer soldiers, many of whom made the long trek to the front from abroad, the men were generally unprepared for combat. Their courage and determination led them to battle. Their legs simply put motion to the purpose of their convictions, gun in hand, motherland to protect. One way or another they would eventually learn to fire straight. They had to. It was a struggle for self-determination.

Hagop arrived at his spot every morning at eleven, then he would wait. There were days when he didn’t sell a single dollar. He waited in the scorching heat or in the bitter chill of late afternoon. The climate meant nothing to him, he became impervious to temperature fluctuations. He was able to tune out discomfort because it didn’t matter. The family needed to survive. He channeled his energies to the task, lingering in the moment.

But he didn’t want very much from life. In a perfect world, he would sit and draw, that’s all he cared about. Just sit and draft architectural plans, with the hopes of being able to support his family in the process.  To him it didn’t seem to be an unmanageable demand, but given the circumstances before him at the time, he would have a while to wait before he could turn his fortune round.

One winter morning as he walked up Kievyan Street towards Paregamutiun Square, managing as best as he could with his tread-less rubber-soled shoes to stay erect along the ice-coated sidewalks, he saw from a distance a primer gray school bus with its windows painted. He suspected what was waiting for him but he was not about to run back home. He had a job to do.  The bus had parked in the middle of the square. It was silent, no motor running, and it seemed that there was no one about or even on board it.  He stopped on the curb and studied it, listening carefully for the slightest proof of life, but there was nothing, no sound.  He stepped off the curb and began to walk across the street, which was void of any other vehicles. There was something not right, he was sure of it, but he went along with his business as if nothing was unusual.  Three officers emerged from his stairway as he approached it and grabbed his arms, the third held onto the back of his wool coat and inadvertently tore a portion of the center seam that ran down the middle. They forced him towards the bus and when they approached the doors folded open. He was pushed up into the bus and landed in a seat at the front. About 20 men were seated in the rear, completely motionless and mute, gripped in terror.

“Where are your papers?” one of them asked him.

“In my coat glove pocket.”

“Give them it to me.”

He reached for his passport in which was inserted other bits of identification papers with seals stamped on them. One was an invalid driver’s license, another was his architects union card.

“Let’s see here… Mkrdichian, Hagop of Vartkes. All right then, Mkrdichian of Vartkes, what are you doing out here, anyway?” the officer asked.

“Going to work.”

“To sell dollars, right brother? We know all about that, we’ve been watching you for some time without you having a clue. Well, we’re here to officially inform you that those days are over. You’re off to Stepanakert.”

A vision of Hagop’s children shimmered before his eyes. He began to panic. “I hold a PhD,” he blurted.


“I do. I swear it.”

“Prove it. I don’t see anything in your papers that indicates you have a higher education.”

“I can show you my diplomas.”

“Then give them to me. Why didn’t you show them to me before?”

“I don’t carry them around, they’re at home.”

“At home? That’s useless to me. We’re here together, now,” the officer smiled. “In another 10 minutes I think we’re going to be great friends. We’ll probably figure out that we’re related somehow. I bet you’re from Mush. And I bet your grandfather was born there, and kept chickens in the garden, planted vegetables there and made a nice little home for himself and the family. Am I right? My grandfather was from Mush, too.  In fact, his wife’s maiden name was Mkrdichian. You see, I told you we’re cousins, if not by relation then through association at least.”

“Too bad my grandfather was really born in Martuni.”

The officer’s tone suddenly changed and his brow tightened. “Now I’m going to tell you like I would my dear brother—sit down and shut your mouth. I don’t care about your motherfucked diplomas, sisters or whatever else.”

“Look, I only live a short distance away, on Kievyan Street. I can call my sister, she can bring them here to show you.”

“How are you going to call her, pal? You see any telephones around here? Or do you have one up your ass?”

Hagop pointed out the bus doors, which were still open. “Listen, that grandpa over there… you see him? In front of that green kiosk, selling cigarettes. He has a phone, I can pay him to call my sister, and she’ll bring the diplomas. It’ll take five minutes for her to come here. I swear it.”

The officer gazed at him for several moments and frowned. His voice relaxed and the arrogance faded.  “Alright, Mkrdichian, let’s call your sister. Come on.”

They made their way to the kiosk.  The old man stared blankly at Hagop and the officer, wondering what they wanted from him.

“Is your phone in order?” Hagop asked him.

“Yes, sure it is,” the old man said.

“Then hand it to me. I want to make a local call.”

He looked at Hagop, then caste his eye on the officer again before passing the Soviet kitschy, blood orange-colored rotary dial phone to him.

“How much for the call?”

“Ten dollars, brother,” he said.

“What? Wait a minute… why so much?”

“Seems you need to make a very important phone call by the looks of things. My service is presently in high demand, so you have to pay more, brother. That’s the way it goes.”

“Man, will you look at this? Capitalism is in full swing in Armenia. How sweet,” Hagop retorted. “Here’s your ten dollars. Now I have a phone call to make. Hand it over.”

 “You tell her she has ten minutes, no more. Then we get moving,” the officer shouted.

Hagop tried the line twice before the connection was made. “Hello, Hasmik? I’m fine, but listen to me carefully. Bring my diplomas to Paregamutiun immediately. Don’t ask questions, just do it.  Be here in five minutes, you understand? That’s right, in five minutes.” He hung up.

“She’ll bring them, she’s coming now. You’ll see, in just a few minutes now,” Hagop confirmed.

“Yeah, alright, I’m sure she will,” the officer said patronizingly. “Might as well smoke while we’re waiting, right? Give me a cigarette, Mkrdichian. You light up too, you like you need one.”

Hagop put a cigarette in his mouth and offered one to the officer from the pack. The officer grabbed it from him, placed one cigarette between his lips and pocketed the rest. Hagop lit a match for the officer before lighting his own cigarette. Then the officer snatched away the matches as well.

“So tell me something Mkrdichian, did you ever serve in the Soviet army?” the officer asked.

“Yes, of course.”

“Where did you serve?”


“What regiment?”

“Special intelligence unit, third department.”

The officer studied Mkrdichian’s eyes. He sensed no fear in them. “You better not be bullshitting me, you understand?”

“Yeah, I know….”

“I’ve never done this for anybody, I want you to know that. For no one! I can’t figure out why I’m even doing it for you. It makes no damn sense at all. If it turns out that you’ve been messing with me you’ll be dead, got that asshole?”

Hagop looked at him, but said nothing. He smoked and looked the officer in the eyes. Zen had taken hold of his senses and thoughts. Every pore in his body was dry, his eyes were vivid, gleaming like diamonds, conveying assurance, in full embrace of his destiny.  There was no indication that he felt anxious or was in distress.  He was in communion with the moment.

“There’s something about you I just can’t place. It’s obvious you’re not like those poor saps on the bus.  I can tell just by talking and looking at you that you sure as hell are different from them. And right now I’m dying to see why. You don’t seem very scared for one thing, which is strange considering that those bastards are shitting their pants.”

The officer looked at his watch. “You don’t have much longer to show me what you need to. You’d better pray that your sister shows up in the next two minutes, let me tell you something.”

The wait was agonizing. He was suspecting that his sister was not able to find all the necessary documents as she erroneously fumbled through the wrong piles of papers. By the time the week was out he would be dead, he thought. It was a morbid moment he found himself in. He imagined his weeping children who went malnourished and lived uncomfortable, wretched early years of their lives. An irrelevant, absurd formality would deliver that horror to them, he guessed.

They were standing close by the bus and the officer was getting agitated. He was fidgeting and looking at his watch at 10-second intervals.

“She hasn’t shown up so we’re out of here. Come on, get on board. We’re late as is it.”

Just then Hasmik began calling out to Hagop from the far side of the square. “Wait Hagop, I’m coming. Wait one minute!”

When she came up to them the officer roughly took the papers from her. “So these are the diplomas? Thank you very much. Now you may leave.”

Hagop looked at her and nodded his head to indicate that she should walk away, fast. She knew he didn’t want her to interfere, and in any case, it may have made more problems for them if she opened her mouth. 

The officer examined the documents carefully, reading each line of text and scrutinizing every seal. A lit cigarette hung from the side of his mouth, and some ashes dropped onto the diploma he had been examining. He did not brush them away. 

“Let’s see here. A PhD in architecture… and a bachelor’s degree in mathematics, some other uninteresting papers….” he said, shuffling through the documents between his hands. 

“Wow, look at this, there’s even an award certificate for a youth piano recital competition. Man, you certainly loved to study, didn’t you? What a smart boy we have in our midst, it’s amazing. Indeed, very impressive.” the officer taunted. His peers looked on, snickered and smoked. 

Hagop remained still and said nothing. His diplomas and identification papers were handed over to him. The officer stared into his eyes again. He saw that the captivating brilliance of them was still there.

“Go home, Mkrdichian.” The officers boarded the bus and it departed the square.


On his way home his conscience became strained and he felt a tightness in his abdomen, the same he endured during times of acute stress. He pondered the incident with the officer, and the circumstances that led to his salvation from ill circumstance. The discomfort persisted for several days while the memories of that fateful day were still fresh in his mind, despite his contentment that he, after all, would not be separated from his family. But by end of the week he was concentrating on his business affairs.

The only thing that Hagop appreciated from Levon Ter-Petrosian as a president was the man’s insistence to prevent any intellectuals from going to war. In that way, Ter-Petrosian, whom Hagop hated passionately for the wartime blunders he believed the man was making, was oddly his and his own family’s savior. Yet for years after that episode he felt an gnawing sense of guilt that started to plague him immediately after he had learned that the other lost souls onboard the bus had all been killed in battle, including the very officer who spared him.  

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Being Creative

I’ve made a New Year’s resolution to be more creative than usual this year. In all earnestness I am going to attempt to make real headway in completing my novel. It’s hard to say where I will get with it, but the important thing is to try. Being creative is a state of being that anyone who has an artistic bone in their body strives to reach. It is an existential plane of being; one reaches nirvana every time a major work in his or her own eyes is finally completed. For me at least, if several weeks pass without being able to really write something meaningful I feel a profound sense of disappointment in myself and I become irritable, frustrated with my incompetence and lacking imagination. But when I write an article or story that I am proud of to some degree the disappointment is replaced by profound gratification. I suppose it’s the same for all writers, musicians, artists or designers. There is the constant need to create, and when you aren’t producing you feel partially dead.

Currently I am working on the restoration of a short film I made in 1999. It was my fifth or sixth project, and the last that I shot using super 8 mm film, which is a wonderful, magical and versatile medium of capturing moving images. Usually you need a considerable amount of light in most instances, but being the experimental maverick that I am I never bothered using a light meter. On this film, called Carriage of Dreams, it waned on the actors’ patience as on one occasion at least the result was complete blackness because the room I shot the scene in wasn’t lit properly. The transfer to VHS was deplorable, although the film was shown at the AFFMA film festival in Hollywood back in 2000. Out of over 3,000 entries my film was one of about 40 that were screened, a major accomplishment in my artistic career. Now the film is being transferred to high-definition video, so a lot more detail will be noticeable and hopefully the images will be significantly brighter than depicted in the VHS version. Once the restoration is complete I will undoubtedly put it up on the Internet on one of these gimmicky, amateur video-on-demand Web sites. Maybe there’s a site that caters to smalltime filmmakers, I’ll have to research that. The thought of putting it on YouTube is not very appealing, but that option may have to do. I will also be posting a short story I am just about finished with here as well very soon. Maybe some fragments of the novel will make their way here, too throughout the year. That way I can get some feedback from friends or random people. Tings….


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Food Can Be Beautiful

I just read an interesting article in the New York Times about how a homesick Mark Twain one lonely day in Italy decided to devise a menu of his favorite foods. I thought I would do the same on this Thanksgiving Day to follow, albeit distantly, in the genius writer’s footsteps. As the writer of the article Andrew Beahrs points out, most of the foods he described are now unavailable or are illegal to consume. However, for the most part all the morsels and meats in the list below should be yours for the savoring, depending on the part of the world you are residing. Without further ado, and in no particular order of preference:

Grilled filet mignon. Served rare, with béarnaise sauce or “au poivre” with toasted green peppercorns (or both).

Slow-roasted aged prime rib. Sliced at the table and served rare, with pureed potatoes, creamed spinach, and buttered popovers accompanied by a vodka martini with extra green olives. I savored this meal at the House of Prime Rib of San Francisco nine years ago with my faithful dining companion, Chrissy. And as I remember I had a peculiar, tingling sensation that numbed my body, which started in the back of my head and gradually made its way down through my chest to my loins, where it blossomed. It was perhaps the most fabulous, memorable dining experience I have had to date.

Barbecued wild boar chops. Seasoned with salt and pepper. It is a specialty of the Syunik region of Armenia, and if done right it’s superb. Tastes like beef, but better.

Roast duck. Preferably with orange glaze. In my university years I cooked up a frozen duck that I purchased from the supermarket, and again Chrissy was present. Unfortunately I didn’t realize at the time that the duck had to be placed on a rack within the roasting pan to let the fatty drippings drip down away from the bird. It was a pleasant, but greasy disaster.

Sautéed frog legs. Dressed with lemon, garlic, and a little oil. I first tried them at the age of 8 at a family New Year’s bash. Another remarkably memorable meal.

Brussel sprouts. Braised and served in a rich cream sauce topped with ground black pepper. A great accompaniment to roast turkey.

Chi kufta (a.k.a., kheyma). Twice-ground (or else pureed in a food processor) lean beef, such as bottom of the round, with very little fat, mixed by hand with fine ground bulgur and spices such as allspice and ground black pepper, then formed into a round or oblong shape about one to two inches high, or optionally bite-sized pieces, topped with chopped parsley and white onions; served uncooked. Optional condiments include sea salt, extra virgin olive oil, ground cumin, black pepper, and a hot pepper paste made from habanero or other sorts. This dish is found in Western Armenian cuisine and I believe Lebanese as well. Chi kufta has been served to me just about my whole life, and thus I’m unable to pinpoint the first time I ate it—I am guessing at my grandmother’s table. I have never had an unpleasant experience with this excellent delicacy.

Yellowfin tuna nigiri. Served with wasabi mustard and lite soy sauce. Accompanied by other types of choice nigiri and select sushi rolls that don’t contain imitation crabmeat, it makes a light, but satisfying meal.

Steamed young asparagus. Cooked full-length, topped with pure butter. This can even be eaten as a standalone dish without meat. Absolutely fantastic. Perhaps the best asparagus I have had grows wild in Armenia’s Lori region—in the spring vendors pick and sell it along the roadside.

Hamburg à la Linda. My mother’s invention. Ground beef, with about 25 percent fat, flattened in a shallow pan and seasoned with salt, pepper, and Worcestershire sauce, topped with sliced tomatoes and green peppers, then broiled for 20 minutes. Served with authentic Lebanese or Syrian pita bread. This simple meal was a childhood favorite, and to this day I swoon when I smell it sizzling in the oven.

Roast leg of lamb. Marinated in dry, red wine overnight with garlic cloves, black pepper and dried rosemary. Served medium rare. Can be accompanied with rice pilaf seasoned with cinnamon, blanched almonds, and white raisins. A hearty, scrumptious meal.

Roast chicken with garlic, lemon and tarragon. Click here to read my recipe.

Dolma. Ground beef mixed with rice, salt and pepper, then stuffed in tomato, green pepper, zucchini, or eggplant shells. The meat mixture can also be rolled in grape or cabbage leaves. They are packed in a pot and pressed down with a heavy plate, then covered and simmered in water with tomato paste. The stuffed grape leaves (or Sarma for some Armenians) should simmer with whole cloves of garlic in the pot and optionally, baby-back lamb ribs, without paste. Served steaming hot with yoghurt (or matzoun as the Armenians call it), optionally mixed with crushed garlic. Many Middle Eastern cultures make this dish but Armenians excel in its preparation. A great meal for frigid, winter evenings to warm the bones.

Sini kufta. Two layers of ground beef mixed with bulgur, with a layer of ground beef sautéed with diced onions, parsley, pine nuts, salt and pepper sandwiched in between, placed in a shallow pan. Several diamond-shaped cuts are made through the layers prior to baking the meat in the oven. Served with yoghurt. This is another Western Armenian delight.

Chicken piccata. Perhaps one of the simplest chicken dishes you can prepare. With a basic rice or potato side dish, you can’t go wrong.

Mante, or more aptly put, Armenian wonton soup. A smidgen of ground beef mixed with diced onions, parsley, salt and pepper, is placed onto a piece of flat dough cut about an inch square. The sides of the dough are pinched to reveal part of the meat mixture on top. The wontons are then assorted on a cookie sheet or in a shallow pan and toasted in the oven. After they are done, the wontons are simmered in chicken broth, but they should maintain their form and not fall apart. Served in a bowl topped with yoghurt mixed with crushed garlic and sumac. Perfect for meat and garlic lovers who enjoy a hearty soup now and then. It’s fun to make, too.

Typical Lebanese mezze. Plates of taboule, hummus, baba ganush, lebane (strained yoghurt dressed with olive oil, crumbled dried mint and paprika), and mahamara (a red pepper, pomegranate and walnut or pine nut paste mixed with finely ground breadcrumbs). Lebanese cuisine is exquisite and most importantly, it’s very healthy food.

Caesar salad. But prepared the way it should be, tossed with a coddled egg and grated Parmesan cheese, then topped with freshly ground pepper. Anchovy fillets packed in Italy are a must. Obviously, you can’t use anything but romaine lettuce.

Crisp, ice-cold wedge of iceberg lettuce, topped with thick, Roquefort dressing. This is a sensational prelude to a fine meal of beefsteak (naturally served rare).

Fresh walnuts in the shell. Wet walnuts, in other words those with kernels that are still moist having just fallen from the tree, are sweeter than dried ones. If the shells are thin enough walnuts can be cracked between the fingers in pairs.

Oysters on the half shell. Served at any restaurant that sells fresh, quality fish. Topped with a bit of lemon, horseradish and Tabasco sauce. It’s best to slurp down this manly mixture right from the shell so as to savor the juices, radish and spicy vinegar that delicately tinge your throat as you swallow.

Beverages to wash it all down:

My favorite beers: Pilsner Urquel, Kilikia, Harpoon IPA, Bass Ale.

My favorite wines: Rioja, Côte du Rhône, Areni (from Maran Winery only).

Tan. A simple yoghurt drink, with water and salt to taste.

A good, clean carbonated mineral water. Especially that bottled in Jermuk, Armenia. San Pellegrino is great, too.

Cold, freshly squeezed orange juice. Classic and unsophisticated, but very refreshing.

If you’re going to eat, might as well eat heartily.


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