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Saturday, 21 July 2012

Armenians of Issy-les-Moulineaux - a suburb of Paris

One of the main reasons I decided to visit Paris on my way to Armenia was to learn and write about the small community of Armenians living in Issy-Les-Moulineaux, a suburb located on the southwest edge of Paris.
My father’s family moved from Tehran to Paris when he was 9 or 10, and they had lived in Issy-les-Moulineaux. So I was on a mission: first, to visit the old neighborhood where my dad grew up; and second, to visit the City Hall to find out about the Armenian community in Issy-les-Moulineaux, which I will call ‘Issy’ for short.
My friend Lala, who lives in Issy, had invited me to spend the night at their home so that I would have a nearby base from which to explore the neighborhood. Lala and her sister live on a street named Yerevan. Rue d’Erevan is a short, narrow, uphill street which ends at the top of a hill, where their apartment complex is located.
They live on the seventh floor and have a commanding view of Paris with the Tour d’Eiffel in the middle. At night, when the tower is illuminated, the view is even more spectacular.
I arrived on Monday evening around 5:30 p.m. at Issy by metro, the last stop of Paris-Metro Line 12. As I stepped off the train I saw a shoe repair shop. The guy inside the shop looked Armenian. My patriotic blood sensed a connection. I gathered my courage, entered the shop and asked him if he was Armenian.
Nicole Essayan (assistant mayor of Issy-les-Moulineaux) with her daughter and son at her son, Azad's flower shop
“Bonjour monsieur. Est ce que vous êtes Armenian?” And indeed he was Armenian. He was a handsome middle-aged man with dark Armenian features. His name was Lionel Sarkissian. His surname was same as my maiden last name.
I had many questions, but he was preoccupied with his work. It was a busy time of the day. While I was there a woman brought in a pair of shoes needing repair and another picked up a pair. I really wanted to ask him if by any chance he was related to a long lost great-great uncle of mine, but I didn’t. All I learned that he was born in France and his parents were too. He spoke Western Armenian. I was happy to observe that as a member of the second or maybe third generation he could still speak Armenian.
The city's Armenian Genocide monument
I had a rendezvous with Lala at 7 p.m. To kill time, I decided to look around for another Armenian shopkeeper. Close to the metro station, there was a small hamburger place. The owner was Indian or Pakistani. I had a hamburger and asked the owner if he knew of any nearby Armenian shopkeepers. He said that there were many Armenians in town, but he didn’t know of any Armenian shopkeepers close by.
Wandering around I noticed that most people, who seemed to be coming from work and heading to their homes had baguettes in their hands. So I joined a queue in front of a bakery to buy a baguette with the hope that I would meet an Armenian in the line.
Lala arrived around 7 p.m. We took a bus to their home. We couldn’t walk because the streets leading up to the apartment complex are quite steep. From inside the bus, Lala pointed out two Armenian churches and a youth club.
Rue D'Armenie
When we got off the bus, we crossed Rue d’Armenie. On the corner was an Armenian grocery store, but since it was Monday the store was closed. I thought I could check it out the following day, but I didn’t get a chance to do that.
There was another Armenian grocery shop called “Markar,” which is my grandson’s name, but I didn’t get to visit that store, either. My slow pace limits me to about a project a day.
Lala took me around and showed me a few monuments in the city that memorialize Armenians’ presence. All were within walking distance from her home. The Genocide monument was directly at the bottom of the hill – literally under their nose.
We took a set of steps down to visit the monument. It was built in 1982. Flanked by a hillside with a terrace-type setting, it was striking and very interesting. I was moved by the Armenian-themed architectural features and the bas-reliefs. The monument was built with pink Toof stone brought from Armenia. I learned that the monument’s construction was funded half by the Armenian community and the other half by the City.
From this Genocide monument, we walked to an abstract bronze statue which had been erected to commemorate the victims of the 1988 earthquake in Armenia. The statue was located at a square called “Etch-miadzin.” I was really impressed with the number of street names and structures dedicated to Armenians.
Rue D'Erevan
The following day I met Nicole Essayan, one of the 18 elected deputies of Issy’s mayor André Santini. Essayan believes that Mr. Santini holds the record of being the longest elected mayor in the modern history of France.
He has been mayor of Issy since 1980!
Essayan has lived in Issy for 60 years. She says the main influx of Armenians began in the 1970s. Of the City’s 63,000 population, about 5,000 are Armenians. The Armenian community has two churches, one Apostolical and one Evangelical and one school.
The “Sourp Tarkmanenchatz” Armenian elementary school (k-6) was founded about 10 years ago. There is also an active Armenian soccer team. In 1975, “ASA Issy” (Association Sportive Ararat Issy) was formed to unify Armenian soccer lovers of Paris and its surroundings. In the beginning, the club was limited to Armenian players, but now it is more open and has become the town’s only major soccer team. Today, it has around 400 members and 30 coaches.
By the time I visited my dad’s neighborhood and walked to his school, “Lycée Michelet,” it was time to head back to Paris. I invited Nicole to visit Glendale. I hope one day I’ll be her guide in Glendale.

Thursday, 5 July 2012

Flying Easy-Jet

Flying Easy-Jet – from Paris to Copenhagen 

"Caveat Emptor" (ka-vee-ott emptor): it's a Latin expression for "let the buyer beware." Unfortunately, this buyer, moi, was not aware. I had not read the the Easy-Jet's ticketing disclosures about the number of bags and suitcases customers could bring.  And I had to pay for my negligence.

I had three pieces of luggage – a large suitcase, one carry-on and a handbag.  Flying American Airlines from LAX  (Los Angeles airport) was no problem.  Passengers are allowed to check-in up to 50 lbs. of luggage. My large suitcase weighed closer to 60 lbs. The officer at the counter said, "Ma'am, I can let you go a few pounds over but not 10."  He suggested I transfer a few items to my carry-on bag, and I did. This worked out fine.  

I later realized, after the security check, even at the boarding gate, we could check in another bag. Ah! how spoiled we are as Americans!  After this personalized customer service, I didn't even think to read through the rules Easy-Jet sent me after I bought an online flight ticket from Paris to Copenhagen. I had not realized when flying Easy-Jet I could only check in one piece of luggage up to 20 kilos, plus one carry-on, and THAT WAS IT.

It seems I'm more punctual as I'm getting older.  I arrived at Charles de Gaulle airport at 10 a.m., more than three hours before my flight.  I bought my last French baguette sandwich, which was called the American sandwich with ham and cheese.   After two weeks in Paris, 5 Euros for a sandwich no longer seemed expensive.

In the food court there was a McDonald's which was still serving breakfast.  So I also bought a ham & egg sandwich for 1.40€.  I love their breakfast sandwich. I thought I could have the baguette later when I got hungry again.  

After having my breakfast sandwich I headed to the check-in counter.  My big suitcase was exactly 20 kilos.  The problem was I had to pay for the extra handbag.  After adjusting a few things, and transferring a few things here and there, my handbag weighed five kg. I heard the officer say I had to pay 19€, and I thought, "That's not so bad."

It's not an exaggeration to say that I went into a great deal of trouble maneuvering myself and carrying all my suitcases to the cashier at the other end of the hall. Why do Europeans have such illogical ways of doing things? Why couldn't we pay at the check in counter?

At the cashier's I found out that the surcharge was 90€, not 19. For my ticket I had paid only 60€. Go figure! With much resentment, I paid the 90€. After the fact, I realized that I didn't carry anything of value equal to 90€. Hindsight is 20/20.

Even before that unfortunate incident, prior to arriving at the airport, I was thinking that I should have taken the train instead of the plane to Copenhagen because I would have had more time to write.   My cousin had advised me that the flight would be cheaper than the train trip. In reality, it could have been cheaper if I had read the disclosures.  In my case the flight turned out to be much more expensive.  But I don't regret it, because at the boarding gate I met a young guy and got into a conversation that will always stay with me. 

His name was Mohamed and he was from Tunisia.  That 26-year-old, who looked much older than his age, put forward a sage argument.  Mohamed at his young age was able to solve the mystery of the Existence of God.  My fellow passenger said, "In my heart, not in my head, I believe in God. And since my feeling is stronger than my reasoning, I say God exists."

Now when I think back to our exchange of opinions about religion, I cannot recall how we got into a discussion about God. On the airplane we sat next to each other, and he told me that he was part of the movement that overthrew the old government of Tunisia.  I should admit that I didn't know much about Tunisia.  I only remember that I had read in Time magazine that the "Arab Spring," as they call the recent revolutions of the Arab nations, had started with an incident in Tunisia. 

Mohamed brushed over the surface of their revolution.  He also told me how he loves Tunisia and he thinks that tunisians are the most intelligent of all other Arab nations.  He also told me about their beautiful  beaches and made me want to travel to Tunisia. 

Mohamed now lives in France and he has high hopes that soon one day,  everything in Tunisia will stabilize and he will be able to go back to his homeland.  He said, "The main problem of Tunisia is corruption and no opportunity for youth to have employment ."  He hopes the new government will be able to solve the problems.  

Unfortunately two hours was not enough time to learn more.  I gave him my information and asked him to follow me on my blog.  I'm not sure if Mohamed will read this post or not.  But I hope all Mohameds will have the opportunity to follow their dreams.  

The following is about the incident that brought about the movement of Arab Spring.  Copied from Wikipedia.                     

"Tarek al-Tayeb Mohamed Bouazizi (29 March 1984 – 4 January 2011; Arabic: محمد البوعزيزي‎) was a Tunisian street vendor who set himself on fire on 17 December 2010, in protest of the confiscation of his wares and the harassment and humiliation that he reported was inflicted on him by a municipal official and her aides. 

His act became a catalyst for the Tunisian Revolution and the wider Arab Spring, inciting demonstrations and riots throughout Tunisia in protest of social and political issues in the country.

The public's anger and violence intensified following Bouazizi's death, leading then-President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali to step down on 14 January 2011, after 23 years in power. The success of the Tunisian protests inspired protests in several other Arab countries, plus several non-Arab countries.

The protests included several men who emulated Bouazizi's act of self-immolation, in an attempt to bring an end to their own autocratic governments. Those men and Bouazizi were hailed by some Arab commentators as "heroic martyrs of a new Middle Eastern revolution."

In 2011, Bouazizi was posthumously awarded the Sakharov Prize jointly along with four others for his and their contributions to "historic changes in the Arab world".The Tunisian government honored him with a postal stamp. The Times of the United Kingdom named Bouazizi as person of the year 2011."