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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.

Arpa Film Festival in Hollywood

A Film Festival Not to be Missed

Halloween, pumpkin patches, and fallen leaves are images that come to mind when I think of autumn. The assortment of festivals are events associated with that time of the year. Among all Fall Festivals – from October Fest to Harvest Fest – there is one that I don't want to miss: that’s the Arpa International Film Festival.

Yes, I'm a diehard fan of that Festival.  Over the course of many years I've followed Arpa Foundation for Film, Music and Art events. Through watching many documentaries at its festival I've gained insight into the dynamic of global issues.

This proved true again last week, when the Arpa International Film Festival opened its doors on Thursday evening (September 26) to its faithful audience at the Egyptian Theatre in the heart of Hollywood.

At the festival, each year I try to watch as many films as possible. There are always at least one or two films that stand out. This year the opening night kicked off with "Lady Urmia," a 30-minute environmental documentary by Mohammad Ehsani, an Iranian filmmaker, about a dying lake in Iran called Urmia.

The subject of the documentary was close to my heart, because my mother grew up in Tabriz where the lake is. Like every Persian work I encounter, its artistic rendition accents the message. The film is narrated in poetic words by the lake itself. The lake tells us about its glorious past. Today, Urmia, the third world's largest salt-water lake, has lost 70% of its waters and is dying.

I went to Urmia once for a family vacation, fifty years ago. At that time, we enjoyed its beauty and swam in its salty waters. You could float in the water even if you didn't know how to swim. But God forbid if a drop of water touched your eyes!

The film shows boats, now abandoned and rusted, that we rode to travel from one end of the lake to the other. The trip took a whole day because the boats moved quite slowly. My two grandmothers were with us. We made them comfortable by giving them the seats on covered inside benches, while we rode outside under the scorching sun. Today, there are no more boat trips, and the water is too salty for swimmers.

Another notable documentary at the festival was "Heal America" by Yervand Kochar. It features advocate Ted Hayes, a black guy, who has dedicated his life to increasing sympathy and support for homeless people, and to making their voices heard. In 1985, Hayes left the comfort of his home and joined the homeless population in Los Angeles.  The film portrays his plucky and eccentric character, and shows him dressed in his signature white clothing and the flowing white robe. The audience pursues the discussion of Hayes and Alec, an Armenian cynical writer.  We learn Ted’s views of life through the dialog between him and Alec.

After the screening of the film, I had the chance to talk to Hayes.  He said that God and Scriptures motivated him to address the abject poverty of the homeless population. He said, "I may have a controversial personality, but what I say is the simple truth. We are connected to the pain of everyone in the world."  The self-proclaimed American "Gandhi" has high hopes that he will heal America from the wounds of slavery.

The film festival ended with a documentary about orphans of the Armenian Genocide.  It was an emotional visual portrayal of the subsequent lives of orphans who lost their parents during the death marches.  The children were housed in schools and orphanages of countries bordering Turkey. The never-seen pictures of orphanages put me in awe.

All in all, this year's full schedule of films once again encompassed the festival's core mission, which is cultural understanding and global empathy.  Kudos to Sylvia Minassian for having a vision to hold a festival where emerging filmmakers can screen their creative expressions. The Arpa International Film Festival audience is lucky to enjoy and learn from a variety of new works.
I cannot finish my review of the festival without mentioning the wonderful hospitality we received every night – a spread of delicious food. I'm already looking forward to next year!

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Government Shutdown – The Reign of Morons

Someone had to say it!  Charles Pierce puts the Republican idiocy in perspective, using some epithets that may add words to your vocabulary.  

The Reign Of Morons Is Here
By Charles P. Pierce
October 1, 2013

Only the truly naive can be truly surprised.

Only the truly child-like can have expected anything else.

In the year of our Lord 2010, the voters of the United States elected the worst Congress in the history of the Republic. There have been Congresses more dilatory. There have been Congresses more irresponsible, though not many of them. There have been lazier Congresses, more vicious Congresses, and Congresses less capable of seeing forests for trees. But there has never been in a single Congress -- or, more precisely, in a single House of the Congress -- a more lethal combination of political ambition, political stupidity, and political vainglory than exists in this one, which has arranged to shut down the federal government because it disapproves of a law passed by a previous Congress, signed by the president, and upheld by the Supreme Court, a law that does nothing more than extend the possibility of health insurance to the millions of Americans who do not presently have it, a law based on a proposal from a conservative think-tank and taken out on the test track in Massachusetts by a Republican governor who also happens to have been the party's 2012 nominee for president of the United States. That is why the government of the United States is, in large measure, closed this morning.

We have elected the people sitting on hold, waiting for their moment on an evening drive-time radio talk show.

We have elected an ungovernable collection of snake-handlers, Bible-bangers, ignorami, bagmen and outright frauds, a collection so ungovernable that it insists the nation be ungovernable, too. We have elected people to govern us who do not believe in government.

We have elected a national legislature in which Louie Gohmert and Michele Bachmann have more power than does the Speaker of the House of Representatives, who has been made a piteous spectacle in the eyes of the country and doesn't seem to mind that at all. We have elected a national legislature in which the true power resides in a cabal of vandals, a nihilistic brigade that believes that its opposition to a bill directing millions of new customers to the nation's insurance companies is the equivalent of standing up the the Nazis in 1938, to the bravery of the passengers on Flight 93 on September 11, 2001, and to Mel Gibson's account of the Scottish Wars of Independence in the 13th Century. We have elected a national legislature that looks into the mirror and sees itself already cast in marble.

We did this. We looked at our great legacy of self-government and we handed ourselves over to the reign of morons.

This is what they came to Washington to do -- to break the government of the United States. It doesn't matter any more whether they're doing it out of pure crackpot ideology, or at the behest of the various sugar daddies that back their campaigns, or at the instigation of their party's mouthbreathing base. It may be any one of those reasons. It may be all of them. The government of the United States, in the first three words of its founding charter, belongs to all of us, and these people have broken it deliberately. The true hell of it, though, is that you could see this coming down through the years, all the way from Ronald Reagan's First Inaugural Address in which government "was" the problem, through Bill Clinton's ameliorative nonsense about the era of big government being "over," through the attempts to make a charlatan like Newt Gingrich into a scholar and an ambitious hack like Paul Ryan into a budget genius, and through all the endless attempts to find "common ground" and a "Third Way." Ultimately, as we all wrapped ourselves in good intentions, a prion disease was eating away at the country's higher functions. One of the ways you can acquire a prion disease is to eat right out of its skull the brains of an infected monkey. We are now seeing the country reeling and jabbering from the effects of the prion disease, but it was during the time of Reagan that the country ate the monkey brains.