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Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Memories on Back-to-school

I know we still have a few weeks of summer on the calender, but Labor Day says back-to-school.  Here is my memories on Back-to-school: 

This year, Glendale Unified students will return to classrooms on Monday, August 29.  In our neighboring city of Burbank,  classes started even earlier.  Although California schools seem much more appealing to me than my own back in Tehran, I still think it's unfair to send kids back to school in August.  I am glad I'm not a kid that has to say goodbye to summer fun so early.  When my children were kids, they returned to school after Labor Day. In Iran, the school years started on the first day of fall, usually September 23.

When I think about summer vacation, I still feel the joy of being free: there are few better times and seasons in life than childhood during summer vacations.  But the second best thing to summer vacation, at least for me, was buying back-to-school supplies.  I still sense the joy of arriving at home from store with all the new books that smelled so fresh, and the process of covering them with special brown paper.  During my school days in Iran, the government didn't supply our books, so we had to buy them when we received the lists from our teachers on the first day of school.

Tehran did not have huge stores like Office Depots or Staples for school supplies.  Instead, there were independent  stationery stores, which on the first day of school were incredibly crowded.  Imagine: stores with dimensions of about 20 by 15 feet, with about 100 people squeezed inside, each having in their hands lists of supplies and pushing past others to get to the counter.

One of the best stationery stores in Tehran was Erros, it was a store that my uncle had opened it but later when he moved to the United States in 1953 his friend Edik Gozozian became the proprietor.  Erros had special lined notebooks which Armenian elementary schools required.  The notebooks were in pastel colors: pink, blue and green.  On the front side they had a white label where you could put your name. At the side of the label there was an emblem of Cupid with his arrow.  We were very privileged to know the owner of Erros and we got special treatment when we entered from the back door to avoid the crowd and buy school necessities at the first day of school.

Here in America, everything is planned ahead of time, not at all like the way we rushed to the stores in Tehran as soon as the first school day was over to buy our supplies.  Here, back-to-school sales start early and there are great deals. In recent years I've seen incredible prices, like pencil boxes for 10¢ each. I've taken advantage of such sales, buying extra to send to Armenian students in Armenia. 

I always enjoyed visiting stationery stores. One of my pastimes is to wander in the store aisles and buy things that I may need later.  This morning I visited the Staples store on Glendale Ave, to see both the back-to-school specials and the customers. I love watching parents and kids buying armful of colorful folders, binders, new pens and pencils, and other necessities.

The store had few customers.  I asked assistant manager Gustavo Luna about the best bargains.  He pointed out that with a $5 purchase, I could buy six wired notebooks for 10¢ each and see-through plastic pencil boxes (4"x6") for 50¢.  I didn't have any use for those, but I bought a few notebooks with bright and colorful hard-covers for 99¢.  They were so attractive I couldn't help myself! Gustavo mentioned that the majority of their clients are Armenians and if I want to see families buying school supplies I should return in the evening.

My best memory of a stationery item is when I was 9 or 10 (5th grade) and for my birthday I received a brown leather pencil case from my mother. I had seen and admired that pencil case in the window of Erros store.  I treasured that pencil case; I was so careful not to spoil the leather and used it very attentively, but one day on the way home from school it slipped out of my bag and it got lost.  It was a sad day for me!

Monday, 22 August 2011

"Vardavar" a Water Feast in Armenian Culture

Celebrating the feast of Vardavar from Tehran to Glendale.  
Here is my column in Asbarez, an Armenian newspaper, about vardavar a water feast that is one of the most joyful and a favorite holiday in Armenian culture.  the featured picture is copied from You may learn more about the feast of Vardavar at their site:

 photos © K. Shamlian

Here is the link to my story in

Celebrating Vardavar from Tehran to Glendale

Last Sunday as I drove past Verdugo Park in Glendale, I noticed a big crowd picnicking under the shades of the trees. Instantly it occurred to me that they were there celebrating the feast of “Vardavar.”  The day before, when I had talked to my daughter who is in Yerevan, she had casually mentioned that Sunday is “Vardavar” and that they were told to stay inside if they didn’t want to get wet, because the youth get rowdy and throw buckets of water to each other in the streets.
I made a quick U-turn and headed to find a parking spot, so I could meet the people who were at the park. My guess was right; the group was picnicking to celebrate the feast of “Vardavar.” This was one of the fun Armenian traditions that we used to celebrate in Iran when I was young. It seems the tradition got distorted when we came to America, or at least our kids didn’t celebrate it as we did. 
Vardavar (holiday of water) traces its roots to pagan times. In Tehran, Vardavar was a good excuse for the Armenian boys in our neighborhood to become mischievous.  I remember all too often becoming a victim when an unruly young boy threw water onto me. Many mornings during Vardavar my dreams were cut short when I felt a slap of water on my face from one of my younger brothers.  Those were the days!
Ourmya Armenian Society had organized the picnic.  Ourmya, formerly known as Rezayieh, is one of the main cities in northwestern Iran in the province of Azerbaijan.  Urumia (as it is spelled on the Internet) is known for its fertile agricultural soil, and for best kind of fruit, especially apples and grapes.
I visited the city during the Shah’s regime just once; it was during the feast of St. Mary when they bless the grapes. For the festivities of St. Mary’s day we were ushered to a nearby Armenian village (Gard-abad) where we witnessed the best group dances with the sound of dohol/zourna. We were offered grapes and “madagh” as our meal.
At one point, in Urumia 40% of the population was Christian which consisted mainly of Armenians and Assyrians.  Both ethnic groups have been a big part of Urumia’s history and the engines of the economy. But since the Islamic Revolution, the Armenian population has dwindled down to less than 4000 people, and that number includes those living in the surrounding villages.
Adjacent to Urumia is a salt water lake which was a great attraction when we visited there in 1964.  Because of the lakes; unusually high salt concentration, you could float in the water even if you didn’t know how to swim.  But God forbid if a drop of water hit your eyes. 

The organizers of the picnic
At Verdugo Park, I met Ardavazd, Boulik, Babayan, the head of the Society that was created in 1987.  Ourmya Armenian Society is a nonprofit organization; one of its main activities is giving out scholarships to deserving Armenian high school students.  This year was their 22nd annual Vardavar celebration at the park. The Organizers of the picnic arrive at 6:30 in the morning to reserve spots.  Every family brings their own folding tables and chairs, and the society provides kebab, rice and barbecued vegetables for $12.
When I arrived, it was already past 6 p.m.  The games were over and the kebab was gone.  Plenty of people were still sitting around the tables enjoying the early evening, having tea, talking or playing lotto. Ardavazd said that if I had been there earlier I could have seen the kids fighting each other with water-guns, and even their parents throwing water to each other.  There were close to 150 people there. 
Sunday, August 14, the society is organizing another Verdugo Park picnic. this time to celebrate St. Mary’s feast, and is expecting a big crowd of around 600 people.  Armenians have kept the tradition of sacrificing animals (madagh) a remnant of an ancient ritual. On that day they will offer free meals (madagh) as the tradition dictates. In 2008, on the day of St. Mary’s feast, I was in the city of Niece in France. The Armenian church there was celebrating its 80th anniversary, and the blessing of the grapes. They too provided free meals to the crowd from their morning sacrifice of the lambs.
Although we outside of Armenia don’t celebrate Vardavar as vigorously as they do in Armenia, I am glad that they are groups like Ourmya Armenian Society that are keeping our traditions alive and passing them on to the next generation.

Saturday, 13 August 2011

Very Rare Photos – Celebrities of Yesteryears... From Sophia Loren to Einstein

Aren't these pictures precious? They really tickled me... Don't miss the last picture with Salvador Dali and Walt Disney [-; Those were the days.

John Lenon and Yoko Ono

John Lenon and Son Julian

Sophia Loren & Jane Mansfield


Charlie Chaplin and Albert Einstein

Salvador Dali and Coco Chanel



Salvador Dali and Walt Disney

Saturday, 6 August 2011

The Last Shah of Iran

The Last Shah of Iran...
This is one of the best documentary films about the modern history of Iran – the last Shah and the Islamic Revolution.  It is Interesting and Informative and it tells you about the events that took place in Iran and how the Islamic Revolution came about. Watch the dressing room of the Shah at the Niavaran Palace. Do you see anything extravagant? Listen to the Former British Ambassador to Iran, Sir Anthony Parsons, saying that the Shah was "a genuine visionary." I have posted two pictures of the Shah and her Queen Farah.  I loved them both. They did a lot of good for the country.  I have told about this slice of history in my words in earlier posts.  It will take you an hour to watch the entire clip, but you will learn a 70 years of history. 
Here is the link:

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Kudos to two Iranian talented guys...

Kambiz Hosseini 35 and Saman Arabi 37 are two expats from Iran, now hired by US government as public diplomats, through Voice of America, they have created a satiric show named "Parazit."  The show that has a semblance to Jon Stewart's "Daily Show" is broadcasted weekly from Washington DC in Farsi.  The show that pokes fun at the Islamic Republic, has created a steer in the Iranian communities.  The following URL will take you to an interview of Jon Stewart with Hosseini and Arabi.  Kudos to these guys for having the talent and the guts to portrait the absurdities of life in the Islamic regime in Iran with so much "gusto." These guys are absolutely hilarious. I wish you could understand Farsi.