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Monday, 30 December 2013

Pope Francis and all things amuzing - When was the last time you saw a Pope in a clown nose?

The following post is by my friend Ron Vazzano.  I hope it will put a big smile on your face.

Pope to Pop More Surprises in 2014?

In the nine months he has been in office, it seems Pope Francis pops one surprise after another on an almost weekly basis. Be it a startling quote, an act of ya-gotta-be-kidding-me humility, or some off-beat everyman disclosure (“I was once a bouncer”), he has captured the imagination of a large cross section of humanity.

I mean, a pope in a clown nose?

In designating him as their Person of the Year for 2013, Time magazine had this to say:
"… he has placed himself at the very center of the central conversations of our time, about wealth and poverty, fairness and justice, transparency, modernity, globalization, the role of women, the nature of marriage, the temptations of power. When he kisses the face of a disfigured man or washes the feet of a Muslim woman, the image resonates far beyond the boundaries of the Catholic Church."
And that’s just on Monday.

And then shortly after, Advocate, the oldest gay rights magazine in America, also honored him as their person of the year. In so doing, they hailed as a landmark, his famous response to a reporter who had asked about gay people in the church: "If a person is gay and seeks God and has good will, who am I to judge?"

One can’t help but wonder in all of this, what surprises and revelations might be forthcoming in 2014, regarding this popular pontiff. These are but a smattering of headlines that are not difficult to imagine in the coming year.wh

Pope Francis: “I once got a ‘D’ on my Latin Final”

A Vatican source who asked to remain anonymous, revealed that the Pope was a also terrible speller.

Pope Francis Lives in a Studio Apartment with His Dog “Assisi”

Sources confirmed that he walks to work every day, after first walking his dog, a mutt he rescued from a pound in his first week as Pope.

Pope Francis was Born in Kenya

Pope: “Mary Magdalene was an Apostle”

When asked by someone in the press corps on a flight coming back from the desert in which he had spent 40 days and 40 nights, if he was saying therefore that there were really 13 apostles (and a woman at that) and not 12 as in the scriptures, he responded: “13, 12, 11, whatever…it’s just a number.”

Pope was Fired from Bouncer Job

It was revealed today in the Italian press, that Pope Francis was fired from his job as a bouncer for always turning the other cheek and never checking ID’s at the door.

Pope in line at Motor Vehicles

Not using his status to avoid a four hour wait, Pope Francis stood in line to renew his license at a nearby Motor Vehicles in Rome today. (He drives an ‘84 Renault in lieu of the Vatican provided chauffeured car). It gave him the opportunity to “demonstrate patience, rather than merely to preach it,”he said, as he consoled some who had stopped by in tears, after having failed their written test.

Pope Francis Was Once Jewish

New Dress Code for the Swiss Guard

The Pope announced today that the Vatican will institute a casual Friday dress code for the Swiss Guard beginning this Spring.

“It’s Gay Divorce I’m Really Concerned About,” says Pope Francis

Pope Surprises Many on Scriptural Interpretations

As for the eating of the apple in the Garden of Eden, he responded: “I might have done the same. Who’s to say? I love apples.”

Pope Owns a Cell Phone

But in keeping with his austerity, it is a rotary. And he has not downloaded any applications. The U.S. Government has confirmed this.

Pope’s Denunciation of Capitalism Caused the DOW to Drop on Friday

Cardinal Dolan in a recent homily at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, and in follow ups on Meet the Press, the Today Show, Good Morning America, Charlie Rose, CNN, CNBC, Fox News and the Tonight Show, assured all that the pope was speaking metaphorically.

Pope Once Gave Meat to a Hungry Man on a Friday

When asked whether or not the man was Catholic, “Don’t ask don’t tell,” he explained to the press.

Pope Meets with Lady Gaga

They shared a bit of humor about the number of syllables in their respective real names: Jorge Mario Bergoglio and Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta. Ted Cruz is outraged.

Pope: “I am Not Worthy of My Name Being Capitalized”

In still one more sign of great humility, the pope issued a statement in which he asked that his name no longer be capitalized, nor should a formal Roman number follow it. He asked that it now appear in print as francis 1.a

Wednesday, 25 December 2013

Memories of Past Christmases in Iran

On a misty December day in Glendale this year, I was jolted back in time 50 years to my childhood Christmases in Tehran. The experience was evoked upon the sight of the beautiful holiday décor arranged by Glendale School Board member Mary Boger in their living room. Mrs. Boger's home was one of the four enchanting homes chosen by Herbert Hoover High School for the Tour of Homes, a holiday fundraising tradition now in its 56th year.

I caught my breath when I entered their living room and saw not one, but three Christmas trees. They were all decorated in white twinkling lights and icicles. Patches of fluffy and sparkling snow made from cotton roll gave the look of a very old fashioned Christmas décor. I wished my mom was with me.

My mom - the Martha Stewart of 1960s, Iran - was meticulous in every aspect of home making. And during the Christmas season, she put extensive effort into creating exceptional décors and a beautiful tree for our celebrations.

First, there was the buying of the tree. The Russian embassy was in walking distance from where we lived, and along the sides of its walls, Christmas trees were sold. Buying the Christmas tree was a family affair. We all went along – Mom, Dad and us three kids, but Mom had the last word.  She scrupulously chose the largest tree with the most perfect and symmetrical shape. We all brought the tree back home. The installing of the tree was a big hassle, because we didn't have all the tools and facilities available today.  Sometimes we used a sheet metal bucket filled with dirt to hold the tree.  

Then came the painstaking decoration. Aluminum icicles were at the height of fashion and she hung them all over the tree, making sure every strand dangled perfectly straight from branches. As a special helper, I would place the lights evenly around the tree, squinting from afar until perfection was achieved. I was so proud to have the most beautifully decorated Christmas tree of all the families we knew.

My father’s side of the family belonged to the Evangelical Church, which was founded in the mid 1800s by American missionaries. The church was situated in the old part of Tehran on Ghavam-Saltaneh Street. Its sprawling grounds included two schools and living quarters for missionaries. At this church, my father’s side of the family celebrated Christmas on December 25. My mother’s side belonged to the Armenian Apostolic Church and they observed Christmas on January 6, as most Armenians do.

The Evangelical church to which my father belonged had a youth program. Mother was not keen about us participating in the program, because it was not conducted in Armenian, and our peers and instructors were proselytized Muslims. However, I loved the activities and have many fond memories of that church.

At the youth program, we learned Christmas carols in English and sometimes translated into Farsi. Leading up to Christmas, the elders of the church drove us around in crammed cars to visit different Christian homes so we could sing the songs we had learned. Today, hearing Christmas carols takes my mind back to that youth program. Without question, singing carols is a memory that I will always cherish. I’m glad that I insisted my mom to allow me to participate.

In Tehran, Christmas was not a big celebration, but New Year’s Eve was the excuse for major festivities. All the hoopla, the gift giving, the decorations, the “Holiday Tree” were for celebrating the New Year, not Christmas. Santa came on New Year’s Eve and we opened our gifts on New Year’s Day.

I sometimes think that it would have been so much better, if, here in the “West,” Santa would come for the New Year instead of Christmas. Then all children from every religion could enjoy the charm of Santa Claus. In reality, what does Santa have to do with the birth of Jesus?

Back to my memories of Armenian Christmas in Tehran: On January 5, we had our Christmas dinner around the table at my maternal grandmother’s home. The traditional food included smoked fish, pilaf and koukou. We had the same menu for Easter. I’m not sure how the dish became the traditional menu for Iranian-Armenians. I think the koukou (a cake of greens & eggs) and the pilaf were adopted from Persian cuisine, while fish is a staple from the Armenian tradition.

Red wine was always present on the table, and the “holy cracker” was brought from church and was cracked and served in the wine. The tradition also included burning incense (Frankincense), and I've always loved that aroma.

Another custom I remember, now phased out, was visitations. After Christmas and Easter for almost two weeks priests and deacons would visit parishioners' homes and bless them.

Christmas and Easter dinners have an important role in our culture, and we were reminded of this regularly in Tehran. During dinner, our elders told us stories about how they celebrated the holy days in years past. My mom always told us that her father insisted that for Christmas the dinner could be served after the sun set, but Easter dinner had to be served while the sun was still up.

My grandfather was a village boy, his family moved to Tabriz when he was young. So my mother's memory of her own father's family practices reveal to me that Armenians living in villages in Iran also kept the tradition of having Christmas and Easter dinner.

The best part of Christmas was when we had the home ready for visitors on January 6. It was a tradition that the women stayed home while the men went from home to home to visit and celebrate the advent of Christmas and the New Year.

Our relatives and friends came for a short visit just to keep the tradition and to say Merry Christmas. They had to visit about 20 homes or more within a few hours. Usually they took taxi. We served them a shot of brandy and a chocolate and then off they went to the next home. Sometimes they brought their kids with them. That’s how we stayed in touch with distant relatives. Not every home had telephone.

My dad was a translator and worked with many Jewish and Muslim merchants. On January 6th, all his clients came to visit us. The house had such a festive spirit. We were dressed in our best clothes, the house decorated “to the T” and the food was overflowing. Dad’s clients brought us nice expensive gifts: huge vases, bowls, platters and trays of sterling silver or hand-painted miniatures in rich marquetry (khatam-kari) frames. We kids received gold coins. Usually Dad was not at home because according to the tradition he had to visit other relatives, but Mom received the visitors graciously.

A few years ago when Mom was still alive, I had the opportunity to walk to her home for our “Jour-orhnek” dinner – Blessed-water – that’s what we call the Armenian Christmas. To get to her home, I had to cross small residential streets in Glendale, where most homes are occupied with Armenians.

While walking, I looked through the windows and saw some dinner tables ready inside homes. The mood was so festive. I noticed people arriving by car or on foot, with their hands full. They carried gifts or dishes of food that they had prepared. I could even smell incense burning while passing by some homes.

Needless to say, the women were coiffed beautifully and the men were in their best suits. I was overjoyed to see how in these foreign shores, “Odar aperoom,” we Armenians are thriving and the traditions are alive and well.

As I sit here reflecting about past Christmases, I realize that although I no longer fuss about decorating my house and to have the largest and the most beautiful tree, I admire people who do that. I feel blessed that I can pass my stories to our next generation and I hope they will continue to tell the stories and practice the customs we have brought with us from old countries.

I’d like to quote the prolific novelist Isabel Allende who says, “I need to tell a story. It’s an obsession. Each story is a seed inside of me that starts to grow and grow, and I have to deal with it sooner or later.”  This is true with me.  

Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Divorced At Christmas... Whose Year Is It, Anyway?

Vicki Abelson is a cool person.  I know her from a writers group that she has created.  Here is a piece she has submitted to Huffington Post. The piece is about celebrating Christmas as a Jew. I love her style – snarky and witty.

Vicki Abelson

As an almost-divorced (don't get me started) Jewess with shared custody, the yearly Christian celebration is giving me a taste for the hunger games. Please, just kill me now.
I know it's not my holiday, but Christmas belongs to everyone... except my Uncle Si.
As a kid, I was all about my heritage. When asked by a Macy's Santa what I wanted for Christmas, I snarkily... although it wasn't called that then... replied, "Nothing. I'm a Chanukah girl." I was five. And stoopid. Sure the eight nights of candles had each brought a gift --but really? What could possibly be wrong with a few extra presents from a jolly old fat man?
By the time I was nine that shit stopped anyway when my parents took the divorce highway to holiday hell. My mother did her best, but after a couple of nights, it was a chocolate coin or two. I began to covet the ever-growing number of wrapped packages under my best friend, Roseanne's, family tree. And they were Jewish!
When I left New York for college in the desert town of Tucson (where a girl in my humanities class, upon hearing of my ethnicity, asked to feel my scalp -- looking for... horns. I swear!) I took to celebrating with the goyim. Then I married one. Where was the guilt? Where was my shame? I left it with my youth somewhere in Nebraska.
There are many Jews to whom Christmas is a day to catch a double feature and eat Asian -- that's way more evolved than what we actually say. For me, an overcompensating underachiever, it became my mission to be the best non-Christian Christmas celebrator around. I bought presents for just about everyone I knew... played songs of the season for weeks... decorated, cooked, baked and entertained other Christmas-loving-Jews and non-Jews, alike. I hid the activity from my Hebrew-teacher-father, holding my breath more than once when an unremembered photo crossed his path.
Husband number two (don't judge me, it's not the Christian thing to do -- especially now) was Jewish. I somehow managed to coerce him into joining me as a semi-secret Santa lover. Each year our home became Christmas central for our friends, and even our Jewish mothers.
Once we had kids, it felt morally irresponsible to have a tree and demand that our son take Bar Mitzvah lessons. Even though I was a "cultural" rather than a religious Jew, the rite of passage to manhood was a must for the son of this Hebrew teacher's daughter. So, I hid the ornaments, lights and tinsel, but continued to cook jumbo shrimp, sauce with sausage, and bake Christmas cookies for our holiday feast. I used blue and white sprinkles at least, damn it!
In more recent years, new traditions were added. On the first night of Christmas it was staunchly agreed... that we'd watch Elf and Love Actually. (I hope you sang that line. If you add a touch of seasonal good cheer, it almost works. Humor me.)
Then we split up. Mother's Day, Father's Day and birthdays were no-brainers, though a bit painful and awkward. We agreed to alternate the rest. Fourth of July -- whoever didn't have the kids spent the day with friends. The Jewish holidays and Thanksgiving have been a bit trickier. We did a couple of years all together. That proved increasingly difficult. And this year's double whammy Thanksgivukkah -- are you kidding me, or what?
I haven't hosted Christmas in a while. As a result, the holiday has lost much of its sparkle. I feel less like a non-Christian celebrator and more like that little girl spectator of other people's holiday.
And whose year is this, anyways?
We decided to split the pain... I mean holiday, in two. I get the kids on Christmas Eve. It'll be a touch of the old -- Love Actually -- and the new -- chili and latkes.
On Christmas Day, I'm gonna heed Uncle Si -- go to the movies and eat Chinese with the rest of the Jews.
It could work.
Now what the f**k do we do about New Years?

Haunted by ghost of Christmases past – A long-ago death still haunts a family's Christmas

Sandy Banks is a columnist at LA Times.  I've been reading her columns for a long time.  She writes about her life, about her challenges of being a single mother.  She also tells us about the social realities.  Here is her latest column reflecting on Past Christmases.

The children aren't little anymore; they're 28, 24 and 23. But I still know where my daughters will be on Christmas Eve — snuggled under a blanket with me, while I read "'Twas the Night Before Christmas," the classic story of Santa's visit.

I don't know when quaint becomes eccentric, but that's how we've spent every Christmas Eve for as long as they can remember.

Christmas rituals in our household are more than mere tradition. They're a link to the family we used to be; a connection to a father who died one week before Christmas 20 years ago, when his children barely knew him.
  • Sandy Banks
  • Sandy Banks
But they're women now, with obligations to others and busy lives of their own. I couldn't escape that fact this year, as I spent the run-up to the holiday baking cookies in a quiet kitchen and stringing lights alone.

Maybe it's time to let them move on, to let these rituals go.

I considered that thought for only as long as it took me to find our familiar Christmas Eve book in the bottom of a dusty box crammed with holiday decorations.

I felt a rush when I opened the book with its smudged and fading pop-ups. It takes me back to when we were whole, and I'd read the poem to little girls whose dad was on the roof jingling bells, trying to make them believe that Santa was coming.

Rituals can be both comfort and crutch, in ever-shifting proportions. Ours link us to an image of family that we didn't want to release. But they've also stranded us in the past, tethered beyond reason to the way things used to be.

Most people feel sentimental at this time of year. But how do you untangle desperate longing from ordinary pine-scented nostalgia?

My middle daughter recently shared with me a 20-year-old memory of the night her father died, when she was about to turn 5. "I understood when you told us daddy died," she said. "But I didn't know that meant that he would always be dead."

None of us, I realize now, understood what his death meant then. We couldn't comprehend that every milestone and celebration from that night forward would be shadowed by his absence.
I understand now that death's reach is long and hard and strong. When you lose a loved one near a holiday, the annual onslaught of painful memories competes with the season's joy.
I learned rituals can turn into ordeals that just make everything harder.

There were years we didn't buy our tree until Christmas Eve because college, jobs and holiday outings kept us from getting together. And times when the pressure to get everything right turned grown women into squabbling toddlers.

This year, I decreed we'd buy our tree at Thanksgiving, when all my girls were home. They argued over what tree to get, then cried because the one I picked wasn't quite perfect.
It's kind of hard to get in the holiday spirit when your 28-year-old can't look at the Christmas tree without weeping because a dad she holds in her heart might not think it's good enough.

Saturday, 23 November 2013

Remembering JFK – After 50 years, the Mystery is not solved – The World saw JFK as a hero standing for the ideals of freedom

On Friday Nov 22, I followed most TV channels and watched many documentaries for the commemoration of JFK's assassination. It bogles my mind to see that after all these years the shooting of the president is not yet solved. Still they're is an argument, weather the shot came from the front or the back.  Nor they know why Jack Ruby killed Oswald. 

As the nation or maybe the whole world pauses to remember the assassination of President John F. Kennedy 50 years to the day, My mind wanders to Tehran and the moment I heard the news. I was 15. It was Saturday morning and I was on my way to school (Saturday in Iran is a school day)  I remember the exact spot where I met my friend and when she asked me if I have heard the news and I said, "what news?"  And she told me that President Kennedy was killed.

My brother tells me on that Saturday morning when he went to school, he saw the boys were reading newspaper and the title in bold letters (of course in Farsi) said that President Kennedy died.  My husband says on that Saturday morning when he went to school, there was a line written on the black-board which read, "Our master died."

It was a somber day for America however many people around the world shared the sentiments.  The world saw JFK as a hero standing for the ideals of freedom. I think no other president has achieved such a global admiration and left an indelible legacy and all that was achieved only within 1000 days of his presidency.  Here are the words not too often heard from the inaugural address on January 22, 1961.  

“My fellow citizens of the world: Ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man.”

The following is a post by Jack Neworth in Santa Monica Daily Press.
He remembers the day JFK took a dip in Santa Monica

As we’ve been inundated for the past weeks, today marks the 50th anniversary of one of the darkest days in America’s history. In some aspects, I don’t think we’ve ever recovered.
On his 1,000th day in office, President John F. Kennedy was brutally assassinated in an open limousine motorcade in Dallas with his wife, Jackie, by his side. Eerily, Nellie Connally, wife of Texas Gov. John Connally, had just commented, “Mr. President, you can’t say Dallas doesn’t love you.”
In these cynical times it may be difficult for today’s youth to imagine, but JFK inspired much of my generation. With all that has been written about the dark side of Camelot, I still admire him. I suppose a boy’s hero stays with him forever.
JFK was handsome, charming and had a great wit. And the First Family was like no other before. Jackie was beautiful and elegant and the Kennedys had two adorable children. You could even say that I ditched school because of JFK. You see, Kennedy held frequent press conferences where he’d display charm and humor. (He was considered the first “TV era” president.) I somehow managed to see most of them, even if it meant cutting classes.
As JFK playfully bantered with the press, I found myself unwittingly imitating his Boston accent. Eventually I could impersonate all three Kennedy brothers. Four decades later, in 2004, Santa Monica City Council candidate Bobby Shriver (JFK’s nephew) left me a voicemail. In returning his call, fortunately I did not to do my Kennedy impression.
As his sister Pat lived in Santa Monica with her husband, actor Peter Lawford, Kennedy often visited here. To see his remarkable charisma go to YouTube and type “President Kennedy takes a swim.” It’s an absolutely riveting one-minute video.
On that Aug. 19, 1962 day, L.A. Times photographer Bill Beebe was covering Kennedy’s visit to Santa Monica. When JFK spontaneously took off his shirt and dove into the water, Beebe, in a suit and tie, followed.
Beebe went into the water to above his knees just to get the photo. And then he almost lost the shots by inadvertently opening the camera while he was still wet. Though the classic image didn’t win a Pulitzer, it did win “Photo of the Year” in many competitions.
As it happens, my late mother met JFK and his brothers at the Democratic Convention in 1960. It was staged in Los Angeles at the Sports Arena and my mother, who was an officer in the California Democratic Council, was in charge of the seating.
At the convention she met just about every important dignitary, including Eleanor Roosevelt, Adlai Stevenson and LBJ. (Just turned 16, I attended and was fairly awestruck.)
After JFK won the nomination there was a party to celebrate at the Lawford’s beachfront house. (Once owned by Louis B. Mayer.) And my mother was among the hundreds who were invited. Such a Kennedy fan, I stayed up late until she got home.
When she arrived home, I eagerly grilled my exhausted mother for details from the party. However briefly, did she get to talk to JFK? Knowing my admiration for him, she reluctantly confessed that JFK had disappeared from the party and the Secret Service, climbing a fence, to rendezvous with — Marilyn Monroe!
Like a poor man’s Biff in “Death of a Salesman,” I was mortified. Actually, I refused to believe it. “Mother, he’s only married to Jackie!” (Who me, naïve?)
Under my breath (and obviously my father wasn’t within earshot) I compared my mother to gossip columnist “Hedda Hopper.” Ouch. Decades later, when JFK’s affair with Monroe was fairly well documented, I apologized, though fortunately my mother hadn’t heard me in the first place.
Fifty years have passed, but the debate still rages about who murdered JFK. At the risk of receiving e-mails labeling me a “conspiracy nut” or a “Commie” (which happens), how, after defecting to the Soviet Union at the height of the Cold War, did Oswald waltz back into the U.S. and not be constantly tailed like he was in Russia?
But the files are sealed until 2025. President Johnson justified it as “sparing the Kennedy family.” But Jackie died nearly 20 years ago. As for “national security,” the Cold War ended in 1991.
The mayor of Dallas has called for cities nationwide to ring church bells at 12:30 p.m. CST to commemorate the moment of JFK’s assassination. A better idea, and perhaps to finally heal from the nightmare of that day, would be to unseal the files. While I can think of lots of bad ones, I can’t think of any good reason for the files to remain sealed. Can you?
Then again, I’m admittedly biased. It might have something to with forever revering one’s boyhood hero. So I’ll close in the spirit of the 1770s Irish folk song, “Johnny, I Hardly Knew Ye.” John Fitzgerald Kennedy (1917-1963) R.I.P.

To see JFK’s swim go to:  Jack can be reached at, or via e-mail at
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Saturday, 2 November 2013

In Remembrance on the Death of JFK – President Kennedy

President Kennedy was assassinated on Friday November 22 at 12:30 pm – 50 years ago. I was 15.  I heard about the shocking news the following day on Saturday morning.  I was walking to school, when I met my friend and she told me about it – (Saturday in Iran is a school day)  But my friend Ron Vazzano has a more vivid recollection from that day.  Here is his story.

So where were we on that day? Almost three-quarters of us were not yet born. And when you weed out kids who were ten years or younger back then, about one in seven Americans now living, presumably remembers with some degree of vividness, that day and the theater of events that would unfold over that long weekend. We would sit transfixed before our sets—first time ever for “24/7-news” type coverage—for hours on end, culminating in the funeral that Monday. “Regular programming” in a realm of three TV networks, wouldn’t resume until Tuesday.

I was a freshman at Manhattan College (two years behind Rudy Giuliani) when first reports began to spread on campus, that Kennedy and Vice President Johnson had been shot. There were no readily accessible TV’s in the vicinity, and so we relied on an ear here and there, glued to a transistor radio, catching unclear or incorrect messages (Johnson of course was not shot) which were relayed to those of us clustered in the quadrangle as if in a third world village awaiting word. These were what I have just referred to as modern times?

Why was JFK in Dallas anyway? I didn’t know. Nor was I aware back then, of the animosity that had been brewing in Texas over his pending visit. My agenda that Friday included placing bets in the cafeteria at lunch for that weekend’s football games on “the ticket,” a small time bookie sheet distributed by a classmate to a dedicated clientele. And while Kennedy was the cat’s pajamas at this all male Catholic college, I certainly wasn’t following his doings as closely as the point spreads that November. The high drama of his presidency had taken place with the Cuban Missile Crisis in October of the previous year. In comparison, this autumn was benign.

But it was now time to go to the next class. And being the dutiful students we were, we went, though as if sleepwalking through a bad dream. We were still unsure as to whether Kennedy was alive or dead as we entered that room. What happened then, is something I tried to capture in a poem I wrote thirty-five years after the fact. Predominantly in tercets and rhyme, it mimics a classic poetic construct that we had been reading as part of the syllabus for that course.

II. Greek and Latin Lit: 101

Upon entering the room, you simply said
in a manner of fact, “Yes it’s true. He’s dead.”
      And proceeded to go on with that Friday’s class.

That part where Medea serves up the last
of her children chopped up on a plate
      for Jason, his ravishing appetite to sate.

And unsuspectingly he does.
And we knew just how vile a meal that was
      on this day when the classics were undermined

by Dallas: A Tragedy for Modern Time.
Our time. And you took it away;
      the right to succumb to grief kept it at bay.

You venomous, vainglorious man.
You served up Medea at a moment when
      butchered progeny was the last thing we needed.

With a smirk you watched as we sat defeated.
Was some point proved? Did we pass our test?
      I’ve wondered why we stayed bound to our desks.

Too civilized I suppose, to stomp out of the room.
We should have sent you right to your doom;
      trampled underfoot and dragged across campus

as Achilles, passionate warrior that he was,
had done with the carcass of Hector.
      And now each time at that vector,

that November day crossing of another year,
I taste the irony in your name Mr. Lear.
      And can only wish you an afterlife fixed

to a barge floating down the river Styx
winding its way through the sewers of Dallas
      encircling the sins of fraud and malice.

And each time in passing pray you are sprayed
with the brains that flew from that motorcade.
      In response to my whereabouts that day, I tell
      how you taught us, you bastard, the classics so well.

                                                               —Ron Vazzano

Friday, 4 October 2013

Eat, Walk, Glendale –

Eat, Walk, Glendale     

It was a Sunday full of discoveries.  My son Erik picked me up at 8 in the morning and we drove to the bank of the LA River in Glendale, to join a walking tour of the river.  Yes, a real river runs through Glendale! It's a river where you can swim and kayak, and I hadn't even heard about it until recently.

At the Riverwalk, we met a dozen people and we started out on the tour, which had been organized by “Walk, Bike. Glendale.”

Although I'd seen articles about the opening of the new Riverwalk in Glendale, I should admit that I was not prepared to see a large body of water surrounded with lush trees and great scenery. It was just like the Karaj River I remember from my childhood in Tehran.

It took us about 30 minutes to walk the half-mile stretch which the city has turned into a linear park by the river and landscaped with native plants in their raw and natural forms.  Along the path, the tour stopped a few times to cover some of the history of the river and details of the park which is now called the Glendale Narrows Riverwalk.

After enjoying our walk along the river’s bank, we exited the park and continued the tour towards the Grand Central Air Terminal, which was a few short blocks away. The historic Terminal was built in 1928 and played a major role in the development of American commercial aviation. In those days, Glendale ruled the skies and its terminal was associated with famous aviators such as Amelia Earhart and Charles Lindbergh.

The watch-tower of the terminal, which still stands today, carries stylized Art Deco-era details.  Today the building is owned by the Walt Disney Company and is in urgent need of restoration. Even though I've lived in Glendale for 34 years, I had never visited this historic site, and I'm an enthusiast for all things connected to history. Thank you, Walk, Bike, Glendale, for arranging the tour!

After we got back to our car my son suggested we go and have a bite to eat together.  Now, where should we eat? Adana Armenian restaurant, close by and recently reviewed in the New York Times – yes, the New York Times! – came to our mind. My son told me that the day after the New York Times review was published, a line formed outside of the restaurant.

Let's take a look at how in the world a little-known restaurant in Glendale, a "hole in the wall" eatery, can receive a visit and review from Mark Bittman, a leading food critic for the New York Times. It all boils down to location, location, location.

As Bittman put it in his review, "Adana restaurant is on the terminally unhip San Fernando Road, right near the Burbank border." Yes, an unhip location, but close to all the movie studios.

The story is that one day, when Bittman was visiting a movie studio in Glendale, a friend suggested they eat at Adana restaurant. He liked the food and wrote a review. That simple!

It was around 11 a.m. when we got there.  We were the only customers at the tiny restaurant at that early hour. We sat at a table right in the middle and ordered food.

I had Sunday's L.A. Times with me, and we started to read the paper while waiting for our food to be served.  Then an American couple, husband and wife, stepped in.  As the place is so small and we were sitting right in the middle by the door, we said “hello” and started a conversation with them. They said they had read a good review of the restaurant in the morning paper and had decided to drop by and order food to go.

Erik and I looked at each other in dismay, wondering why we hadn't seen the review in the local paper.  Then we checked the stack again, and yes, there it was in the Sunday Glendale News-Press food section.

Next, a woman walked in.  She had come all the way from Echo Park, just south of Glendale, and she had ordered food to take home for an afternoon party. Her order was ready when she arrived, so she picked up her order and left. Then another American man came who had also ordered food to go.

We carried on conversations with everyone who came in. It kind of reminded me of a play by William Saroyan, "The Time of Your Life," which happens in a saloon/restaurant. Throughout the play clients are coming and going, and you learn about their lives.

The man in his 40s who was serving us told us that his dad had started the restaurant 16 years ago. I could tell by his accent that he was Armenian from Armenia, but the food had Persian flavor.  So I asked about his background. He said that he was born in Armenia but his parents had repatriated from Iran in the early 1970s.

He went on to say: "My dad was one of the chefs at the Armenian Club in Tehran."

"Oh, then he must know my uncle, who was the director of the Club," I said.

I asked him if his dad was at the restaurant and if I could speak with him.  Dad came out and I remembered his face from the days when we went to the Armenian Club in Tehran to dine.  His name was Samson.

I asked him, "Do you know my uncle Arshik? He said, "Of course! I know Arshik, and all of his cronies, too." He started naming all of his friends from the Armenian Club and I knew most of them. His stories took me back to the "Golden Years" of Tehran and brought back a lot of memories.

He told us about the celebrities that he had served, from Charles Aznavour to members of the Shah's family.  As we were leaving the restaurant, my son said, "Mom, I should learn more about your life in Iran." Yes, maybe one day he will.

That concluded a wonderful day spent with my son, with hopes to spend more time together. As we were exiting the restaurant I found myself thinking about the fact that sometimes we know more about other people’s lives than we do about our own.