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Old 13.07.2004, 20:43   #1
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Default Outside Eye: A non-Armenian's view of life in his adopted home

By John Hughes

Just when I was about to understand my life in Armenia . . . Well, help me out here.

My goddaughter gave birth to twins this week. And while I'm as happy as a pig in mud about that, I'm confused. To begin with, I'm not even sure calling her “goddaughter” is the correct application of the word. Here's the deal:

Three years ago I became kavor – godfather – at the wedding of my friends Hayk and Tatevik. Prior to arriving at her family's house to introduce his family, I did not even know the word “kavor” – a degree of ignorance multiply less than the considerable unawareness that by being “kavor”, I was the one responsible for asking Tatevik's father's permission for Hayk to marry her. None of the process was made any easier by the lack of a common language between me and the father and, well, brokering an engagement is not something that should be trusted to pantomime. (Once, however, I was able to buy eggs in a market by mimicking a chicken.)

I fear that I have done little over the past three years to live up to the honor of being godfather. So far about all I've learned about the role is that the title brings the privilege of being served first at family dinners. I'm told, though, that kavor is the one the couple should turn to in case of family difficulties. Considering my ineffectiveness at managing a family of my own, it is with a measured degree of trepidation that I await the day when (godfather forbid) I should be called upon for second-party mediation.

With little time to study for the kavor role brought about by the marriage, over the past nine months I've tried to better prepare myself for godfathering of the baby variety. Specifically, I've repeatedly watched all three “Godfather” movies, implementing slow motion, pause and bookmark functions at the places where Al Pacino or Marlon Brando interact with children.

And in anticipation of this week's blessed news, I've been watching DVDs of the American mafia series “The Sopranos”.

What I can tell about the Italian version of the lifestyle as it compares to the Armenian one is this: Trade Italy's pasta for Armenia's barbecue and you've pretty much got “The Sopranyans”, i.e., guys with big guts straining polyester shirts, who would rather be feared than respected. (I've started working on the gut part, but the latter is going to take some time. And, a la Tony Soprano, I'm learning how to say: “Inch es anelu?”, which is Armenian for “Whadda ya gonna do?”)

I got a cell phone for the godchildren and put them on speed dial and on my recent trip to the States I shopped for double-decker baby carriages. For the first time in my life, I bought baby clothes, tickled to learn that there's such a thing as a size zero.

I'm all hyped up for this, and so into the whole schtick of godfathering I realized that, two days after their births, I didn't even know if the babies had names or how much they weighed. I've since learned that those are crucial pieces of information when announcing the news to acquaintances. However well intentioned, godfathering comes slowly to the ill equipped, not to mention the monolingual in a bilingual world.

So anyway, I'm taking my own self-help course in godfathering. I'm preparing to bribe doctors and lie to priests about my religious orientation, but then I learn that I may not be the babies' kavor at all. It isn't enough that I need a translator in this world, now I need a full-time ethnographer to explain Armenia 's cultural rules.

Seems that being kavor for the nuptials is a whole different matter than being kavor for the procreative portion of the union. It is possible, if not likely, that some one else, presumably one specializing in pediatric kavoring, will take over the child-rearing duties that I'd assumed would fall to the marriage kavor. I don't mean to split traditional hairs, but I'd welcome clarification of my duties in this matter.

The closest I've ever come to parenting did not have such an outcome as to favor my kavor resume. In an attempt at family bonding, I was carrying my toddler niece to see the “moo cows” in my father's pasture. Significant to this tale, it was a pasture enclosed by electric fencing. I'd stepped over the wires a million times without incident. But on this day, the wire caught my pants leg. It sent a 12-volt jolt up my torso and turned my arms into a catapult from which I flung head-first and cow-ward the baby to whom I was trying to endear myself. She's a healthy adult with a baby of her own now, but is that a man you'd want hauling twins?

With any luck the young couple will see the need for a professional in this matter and it won't come to that. But at this very moment I'm practicing how to rub my chin like Brando(yan), just in case.

http://www.armenianow.com/2004/march...eeye/index.asp
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Old 14.07.2004, 06:17   #2
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I love that John Hughes column! He had a marvelous piece on how he started to believe in typically Armenian superstitions I think one day he should publish all this
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Old 14.07.2004, 07:31   #3
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august, uh-huh
any luck you remember the data of the article coz the site doesn't have search engine
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Old 14.07.2004, 07:33   #4
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of course i don't but if I have time, I'll look up their archive...
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Old 14.07.2004, 07:45   #5
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thank you meanwhile i'm going to test my luck randomly choosing an article after an article from the list cursing myself for being too impatient to go through all of them by order
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Old 27.07.2004, 13:33   #6
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Default Another article by John Hughes

The stranger in the street looked at the stranger stranger in the street, screwed his face into that shape one takes when he is distressed, then fulfilled a fantasy of mine: An Armenian asked me for directions.

He, a local, was asking me, emphatically not one, for help navigating the capital of his country. And he asked in Armenian. And I knew what he was asking. Things started to break down from there but, well, I take the small things . . .

“Teryan, oozum es?” You want Teryan, I asked.

“Aiyo” he affirmed.

“Ari,” I said. Come. “Ice Tumanyan”. This is Tumanyan (street). (No doubt linguists will tell me that I should have said “Sa” instead of “ice”, but, hey, when you’re begging for directions from an alien you can’t expect to get the King’s Armenian.)

“Ach, heto, dzakh,” I told the man. Right, then left. Genius.

Some famous pioneer of the American west said he knew it was time to move whenever someone else lived close enough that he could see smoke from their fireplace. Maybe this is my version of that.

Recently someone called the newsroom to speak to me. I answered, and after a few words, the caller asked me to identify myself. I did, and the caller said:

“Oh, it’s you. I’m sorry. You sound like an Armenian trying to speak English.”

“You couldn’t possibly be as sorry about that as I am,” I said.

Anyway.

I’m here nearly four years, during which time – until last week – there was some glorious anonymity to my obviousness. You know, that “lost in a crowd” feeling. Except in this case, the crowd is lost, too. But that’s another essay.

Well. For whatever synchronistic reasons, a second person stopped me in the street, this time near the newsroom, to ask directions.

This time, however, I had no idea where the man needed to go. But – and here is the part that troubles me – I couldn’t bring myself to tell him that I didn’t know. And I don’t just mean the language problem.

I know how to say “Chgitem” (I don’t know), I just couldn’t. Like an Armenian.

My time here has taught me two things about these people: They do not apologize; and they do not admit not knowing something.

One might say “knerek” while she pours flour down your shoes pushing past you to the market cashier. But, tellingly, she will continue pushing. For the most part (and maybe a legacy of Soviet collective rudeness), they are not apologetic – especially so in matters of regrettable behavior.

Nor do Armenian men know how to say “I can’t”.

Walk up to a man on a street corner and ask, for example, if he can repair your television. He’ll say that he can. To say otherwise would admit something he is incapable of admitting, and every task is a challenge of machismo. And he’ll come to your house and tear into the television, and upon realizing the inevitable will tell you it’s a manufacturer’s problem. Or, more likely, that the previous repair guy didn’t know what he was doing.

So I, influenced as it now becomes apparent by my surroundings, said to the unfortunate second guy on the street last week:

“Ach, heto dzakh.”

He’s probably still out there walking. Right, left, right . . .

Like I said: I’ve been here too long.

http://www.armenianow.com/2004/june18/outsideeye/
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Old 28.07.2004, 12:12   #7
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"My time here has taught me two things about these people: They do not apologize; and they do not admit not knowing something."

))))))))))
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Old 28.07.2004, 12:43   #8
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PsilocybeLarvae, thanks!
So cute..
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Old 28.07.2004, 20:41   #9
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Gayka, the pleasure is all mine. I cannot not share the things that I like

Greco, straightforward, huh
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Old 28.07.2004, 20:50   #10
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Why are Armenians and Italians so often compared?
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Old 29.07.2004, 10:02   #11
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The both stories made me smile, but I liked the second more ) and so much truth with apologizing, not accepting not knowing or being not able to do smth.
The thing is that the seeming shortcomings are spoken about with so much … tender , that they stop being such, just the opposite...

Yeah…

Do you have more stories, Psi?
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Old 29.07.2004, 10:49   #12
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Butterfly, so many that is hard to chose. Here you go, two more

http://www.armenianow.com/2004/february27/outsideeye/

By John Hughes

In a corner of a modest house impossibly distant from the corner of the world I now call home, I sit with my aged father in the place where I grew up.

Both of us, perhaps, are looking for something that links Alabama to Armenia , though neither of us says that is what we are doing.

“Do they raise livestock in Armenia ,” the old man wants to know.

That's what he used to do. And I hated that he did because sometimes it meant that his teenage son had to climb from a warm bed in a dark hour and do things with stinking animals that wouldn't wash off his hands before having to catch the school bus.

I told my father that cows, sheep and hogs are a big part of the Armenian landscape and dinner table.

The big news in my father's world a few years ago was that a super Wal-Mart (a megalopolis discount shopping chain that is an American icon or scourge depending on perspective) was being built here.

“Has Wal-Mart made it to Armenia yet?” he wants to know.

“That's the day I'll have to leave,” I say. I start to try to explain the vernisage open bazaar, but then I realize some things are better left a mystery.

“Now, what's the name of the city you live in?”

“ Yerevan .”

“Derevan?”

“ Yerevan .”

“Oh.”

We talk about food. I tell about a recent morning outing to eat khasch – the cow's feet soup that smells up Armenian kitchens during wintertime. My old man makes a sour face, and I remind that in the very kitchen of this Alabama house, as a youth I ate scrambled eggs mixed with squirrel brains.

I tell about Armenia 's tasty fruits and vegetables. And my dad limps over to the doorway and brings back a shoebox with tiny cups in it holding soil into which he has planted tomato seeds.

“I like to grow things,” he says. And I try to find a meaning that may not exist, in an 85-year old man anticipating the fruit of yet unborn tomato plants.

He wants to know what kind of cars Armenia has.

I tell him there's a little bit of everything, but that Niva and Volga dominate.

“Russian made, huh?” he says.

I say yes, and he asks if everything has to be imported. And he asks if Armenia is landlocked, and if there's a kind of government that has a mayor and so forth.

And my dad's wife wants to know about religion.

“Are there Methodists and Baptists and such as that,” she asks.

“No, just Christians,” I say “and Communists, and some who seem to be waiting for a good offer on what to believe.”

The questions are almost child-like. And the simple answers carry no weight of the complexity of life that led to this moment in this familiar-now-foreign house.

On a shelf in the room where I used to sleep is a black and white photo of 5-year-old me. I look at that face, then into a mirror, and think of the world I've seen in between. And I cannot imagine the world of my father – baby of the First World War, veteran of the Second, father of a Vietnam veteran, grandfather to a First Lieutenant now in Baghdad .

And father of a son who has made a life half a world away among people who this old man would surely love too if he gave them a chance. And I think of how grateful I am for having that chance.

I see him only every few years. And the visits now come with guilt. Armenia has taught me that I am not a good son. Living in my new world, I have learned values of family that I wish I'd applied to the one that grew from this house.

But maybe Armenia is a second chance to get that right. So I use the telephone in my Alabama former home to call Armenia and ask how my pregnant godchild is doing.

Links. Looking for links.

I walk out of the room where I used to sleep when this was my home and Armenia was just something else I might have missed.

On a wall where a cheap painting used to hang, there is now a world map. And over the place in the world that I now know better than this one, there is a map pin stuck on the little purple blotch with squint-worthy letters that say “ Armenia ”.

And it occurs to me that this plastic pinhead represents the boy that grew up in this house to a father that might never have understood his world, but never stopped him from expanding it.

And I find a lot to be glad about.
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Old 29.07.2004, 10:51   #13
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By John Hughes

http://www.armenianow.com/2004/january16/outsideeye/

It is the dead of winter.
Daggers of ice hang from drainage pipes above sidewalks buried under a half-foot of snow. The thermometer on the Opera House begins its display with a minus sign and citizens of Yerevan carry the seasonal slump of cold air's unseen burden.

And inside my apartment in the middle of the capital of Armenia is . . . a scorpion.

Living here is frequently pleasantly dull, but rarely boring. Events like this make it dang lively for the easily amused.

As if this were the Sahara and not Siberia, he perched (or whatever these arachnids do) above my bed like a wall ornament in a cheap desert-themed beer joint. A scorpion, October's astrological sign and a sign in January's Winter Wonderland that something ain't right here.

You should know that I grew up with some pretty unnatural nature. In Mobile, Alabama I lived with cockroaches so big my roommate and I made a pact to never try to kill one unless we had backup. We figured, what with the size of the things, that if we only wounded one and it turned angry on us, the odds might be against a man fighting alone. At night you could actually hear their footsteps.

And in South Florida, I shared a canal-side flat with mosquitoes the size of hairpins and with lizards that changed colors and whose tails popped off when I'd shoot them with a stopper gun.

But this was my first encounter of the stingable kind. He was about this _______________________________________ long and had his tail curled up like one of those breed of dogs with characteristically immodest carriage.

Like much of my life here, the thing was foreign to me. So, being American, I decided to kill it.

Near my bed was the remains of the liquid remedy I'd used for the holiday hangover of a night before. It's called Solpadeine and contains caffeine, codeine and a few other "eines" that I figured ought to be sufficiently exterminatorial for the shrimp of a scorpion.

I raked him off the wall and into the drug remnants and went to sleep, quite purposefully on the floor. I can't remember what I dreamed, but I'll bet it wasn't good.

Next morning Mr. Scorpion was more awake than me, apparently refreshed by the medication. I put him in a jewelry box. He's dry now, and I'm thinking of making a brooch.

You gotta look for a sign in something like this: A what does the madness mean? kind of moment. So I did. And I asked around about general scorpion sightings in the neighborhood.

"It's too warm in your apartment," one neighbor told me. There it was: the sign.

After two seasons of long underwear and earmuffs in bed, I bought a new heater this year, sneaking it in after dark so that my neighbors wouldn't think the American is not only spoiled, but a winter wimp.

Finding a lethal crawly thing ("Normally, a person doesn't die from the sting," a friend told me. As if any of this were "normal"?) a foot from where my head was to go was God's way of reminding that, when in Armenia, do as the Armenians do: suffer.

Sure, you can make your flat so snuggly warm that you only need one layer of clothing instead of three. But if you do, things will crawl from the walls and inject you with poison. Do not fiddle with fate and the history of many millennia of hardship.

So I've turned down the heat at Hotel California and am rethinking plans to buy an air conditioner for the summer. Who knows what form of plague might come out when the weather's actually nice
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Old 16.09.2004, 18:52   #14
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http://www.armenianow.com/eng/?go=pub&id=37
By John Hughes

Since a week ago I've been paying a lot of attention to children.

Yesterday evening, for example, I stood near the cool fountains of Republic Square and watched kids driving those for-rent mini cars that apparently transport them into a fantasy land adults have forgotten about.

You should have seen this one little boy who somehow escaped the attention of the attendant and was freewheeling with unbridled glee, making a 180 turn ever so effectively to avoid spilling down the steps and into real traffic. I had already started moving toward him, sure that no other adult had foreseen his impending catastrophe, then laughed at both of us when he made the curve and gave me a look.

Children's laughter lingers in the ears longer since Beslan. Reports were bad enough last Friday. They got worse on Wednesday with release of videotape of a gymnasium where terrorists used a basketball court to play a game of madness before a captive audience.

Five of the dead children were of Armenian heritage. Not that it matters, really. Except that I look into these faces and see the ones in Beslan.

One drives a toy car and smiles at beaming parents . . . One runs, terrified, from an exploding school toward parents he won't reach . . .

I've made a couple calls this week to check on my infant godchildren, Arpi and Hrant. I can't explain the urge. It just was.

And I think about my new little friends, Lana and Edgar. They started a new school year Monday. Children in Beslan were being buried on that day. Images mix. And the thoughts are as unfathomable as they are unpleasant.

Bars of candy, toys, and, significantly, bottles of water are placed at a makeshift memorial outside the Russian embassy here.

To 156 children who won't laugh near fountains; who won't have the chance to grow too old to stop crying.

Living in this child-centered culture, a person - even one who isn't likely to ever be a parent - comes to learn that children really do belong to the world. How great would it be if the world belonged to them?

There's a kid in my yard, Artur, I think. He has seen me a hundred times. And probably 90 of those times he has shouted "HELLO! WHAT IS YOUR NAME?" Every time I've answered.

But after about three years of this, I have taken to changing my name each time he asks.

For awhile I was "Hovaness". I've been "Andranik", "Armen", "Arsen" and several other A's. "Hayk", "Razmik", "Suren". Once I was "Robert Kocharyan" and once even "Astghik".

Artur has big ears and a crooked mouth, is probably 8 or 9 and he hasn't grown an inch the whole time I've been seeing him. He was in the yard playing football Thursday.

"My name is John," I said to him. "And I'm glad to see you."
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Old 10.09.2005, 16:30   #15
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Guuuuys

What ever happened to John Hughes? He hasn't been writing for a long while and I'm missing those great stories of his so much

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