Monday, September 22, 2008

Reflections on a rainy day (not today)

Reflections: one month later

I became unhappy with my life once I learned how to cook for one
For it was then that I realized
That love doesn't blossom in everyone's back yard
And when you have the chance to listen to your heart
You should take it

One jezveh
And a lonely coffee cup
Sit in the dish drying rack in my kitchen
There, I never drank coffee alone,
There were always at least 5 cups
Sitting in the dish drying rack
And you made coffee for me,
Each time, with sehr

Sehr means love in Armenian
But it is also the word used to describe
The additional foamy bit in your coffee
You can request your coffee with or without sehr
I always asked for sehr when I knew 
You were making the coffee

"Untitled" (anvernagir) is the title of works of art
Many are given this title there
And I am not surprised.
In a place where street names change regularly
And you can never be sure of the name of the street on which you live
In a place where you cannot define yourself
As others are much more quick to define you
In a place where words don't even exist
In the language in which you speak
Where rules are flexible, time is fluid, friends are constant
And each day holds no more new promises than the day before
"Untitled" is a word that describes more than just works of art.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Back in Toronto

12 days since my last post and so much has happened... those near and dear to me have heard (or will hear) the stories... now that I'm back in Toronto, I have regular internet access but no desire to keep updating this blog... no words to share at the moment except that I'm broke and unemployed and so very much desire to be back in Yerevan... any leads for work/money/travel costs to be paid for are most welcome :-)

I am unhappy because I know that I have to leave

Even though this was such a beautiful place... Ambert... and I had a lovely day... I knew that I had to leave and I most definitely did/do not want to leave

Friday, August 15, 2008

So full of LIFE

There is so much life here... sometimes there's no electricity, sometimes they cut the water, and you're lucky (and privileged) if you can take a hot shower every day or every 2 days, if you have a job, if you can afford to eat well... there are many things that Yerevan does not have, but what it does have is LIFE. I have been taking photos of people's hands because they are so expressive when they talk. You might not be able to flush the toilet after you've made a big stink, you may be told you can't have a cup of boiling water to top up your tea in the cafe because they have no more water, and you may even get tired of eating bread and cheese and cucumbers and tomatoes every day (not true), but you will be able to have the most passionate and inspiring conversations in the company of good friends and walk down the streets of Yerevan in the middle of the night wearing the same sleeveless shirt and shorts you've had on all day (and not be cold!) while the warm breeze caresses your hair and men may say stupid things to you, but really they're harmless and you can laugh at them all the way home...

You may cry at the weight of it all, the beauty and the sadness, the hopes and dreams, the laughter and the tears that would fill the wells the world over of an ancient people crushed between one super-power (Russia) and another (America). But what poetry - our language, our humour, our lifeline - this is the passion that fuels the fire and is what keeps us Diasporan Armenians coming back to this place again and again...

Saturday, August 9, 2008

The complexities of our identities never ceases to amaze me. Our lives are so layered; really, where do you begin? I am only beginning to grasp the depth of it all....

There are a few truths though that I have come to realize: in Yerevan, I never have to repeat my name twice (neither my first name nor my family name), no one asks me how to spell it, and people don't forget my name or me the second time they see me. For those of you who know me well, you know how much of a pet peeve this is for me, growing up in English-speaking North America after all.

But of course nothing is that simple and the common-ness (or at least the familiarity) of my name does not mean that all is perfect in this city on ancient land. There is an underbelly to this city and a weight that especially queer women feel --- or really anyone who might be in the slightest way "odd" or "unusual" whether that be in the way they dress or in the choices they make; i.e. choosing not to get married or have kids or pierce your eyebrow if you feel like it. I am "odd" too but not as odd as the last time I was here, if you can believe. The city has changed and I have hope for her yet....

And then there are the women---the queers, the artists, the academics, the writers, the "odd" ones. Their strength inspires me. And the conversations that we've had! The late-night rounds of Kilikia (and occasional shots of vodka), dancing in houses with open windows and all the lights on for the neighbours to see, and as odd as we are, feeling safe and walking carefree in the streets of Yerevan in the middle of the night with the warm breeze carressing our cheeks...

In the past couple of days, however, we've parted ways, most of them off to Lake Sevan with family or friends to enjoy a few days of holidays while they have the chance. I know they will return. And when they do, I hope we can go out dancing and gather in each others' houses and have more amazing late-night conversations....

Until then, I remain with my fellow tourists as we walk these streets during the day and consume our cultural artifacts and the sounds and smells and tastes that this city has to offer in all its complexities... we purchase our Armenian-ness in neatly packaged boxes and spend our money on items to take back with us so that we may display them in our home on stolen land (Canada) and show our non-Armenian friends just how Armenian we are....

Sad but true: just like this city, Yerevan.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Indeed Amsterdam again

So it came to be that I found myself on a train to Amsterdam at 08h30 Saturday morning. I am a Scorpio and I am impulsive and sometimes that's not a bad thing. Yesterday (Friday) was the first day I did not get lost in Paris. I had a wonderful, full day and then it rained at night. These two things—a hassle-free day & rain—I guess reminded me of Amsterdam or at least I took it to be a sign that I was done with Paris. I decided a short weekend trip to Amsterdam was in order, so I got online at 5 am in the morning (I only went to bed at 3 am and I wasn't really tired—haven't been sleeping too well in the hot Paris flat). I got online, booked a ticket for a train leaving as early as possible (08h30) and then got ready, packed and, leaving my suitcase in Stéphane's Paris apartment, took my sac à dos and off to Gare du Nord where I was only a few days earlier :-)

I texted Sam when I was only 20 mins from Amsterdam Centraal and she came to meet me at the station! She gave me keys to her apartment, called me crazy, and off she went to another engagement promising to see me later. I slept in her cozy apartment and opened a book to a random page and guess what it said? "In Praise of Spontaneity." In praise of spontaneity indeed....

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Amsterdam again?

I asked to take a picture of this bakfiets... the woman who owned the bike also had a lovely golden lab and asked me if I wanted to include him in the picture, which I thought was sweet... I asked her if there were many bikes like this in Paris and she said no and that she had to have it ordered specially—naturally, from the Netherlands :-)

Le Jardin des Tuileries et le Louvre 2

Le Jardin des Tuileries et le Louvre

Le Seine and along its banks...

A windmill in Paris?

The first thing I photographed in Paris and just around the corner from where I'm staying in Ivry sur Seine... funny, seems I'm never too far from a windmill (un moulin)....

Je suis à Paris!

Only 4 hours by train, but Paris feels worlds away from Amsterdam. For one thing, it's warmer. I'm actually hot! Though I hear it's warmer in Amsterdam now too (seems both cities experienced a bit of a cold spell), somehow I don't think it's as warm as it is here. I have to resist the tendency to respond in Dutch: my language gears are slowly turning, but it's taken a while, which is strange considering I speak better French than Dutch :-)

I had 4 people speak to me yesterday. Travelling solo has its perks and its challenges: more people are apt to approach you which can make for some entertaining conversation and insights into lives very different from your own, but it can also attract the gaze of men with an interest in you that extends beyond polite conversation. So far, it's been harmless and probably quite sincere: I've had 2 offers of "Prendre un café avec moi?" and that was just my first day! I was reading a book that Sam gave me on my last day in Amsterdam (Persepolis, thank you!) in the Jardin des Tuilieries, just resting my legs from walking around all day, and an older gentlemen approached me. We proceeded to have a friendly conversation in French (the more I talk, the easier it becomes :-) and, after finding out I'm from Canada, he told me his daughter lives in Montréal and he just came back from travelling in Québec for one month. After he left (and after refusing his offer to have a coffee, harmless I'm sure), a younger woman came by and asked me in English if she could sit on the bench where I was sitting. I agreed, of course, and we spent quite some time just sitting there, me reading, she writing and as I was getting ready to leave, I picked up my map to review my route and she told me "Oh, I thought you were French" :-) We had a lovely chat about how I'm from Canada and she's from Brazil, travelling various European cities before returning to Rio. It was her first time in Paris (I asked) and she said she loves it. I wished her safe and happy travels and we went along our merry way.

It is turning out to be that pulling out a map automatically marks you as a tourist (in case you didn't realize). This, however, turned out to be not so bad early in the day when I was stopped by a young woman yielding a camera who asked me (in French, naturellement!) if she could take my picture. I inquired about her intentions and it turns out she is doing a photo project about the people and places she encounters along the Péripherique (this is the long ring road that circles the city of Paris). Here I am, wearing sunglasses and my Yukon cap with a map on my hands, I probably couldn't look like less of a tourist if I tried! And so it was, that I happened to be in exactly the place where she was looking to photograph and so I agreed and then told her that I've done some photography myself and I would be interested in seeing her work (and she said she would be interested in seeing my work) so she gave me her card and her website address then asked me for my email address so she could send me the photo she just took of me! I thought that was sweet and sincere—what a totally random experience on my first day out in Paris :-)

I don't believe in coincidences: I think many "random" things in our life happen for a reason, it just takes a little focus to find out why something is happening right here, right now, in your life. With these little encounters in Paris thus far, it is no coincidence that Sam sent me a "random" SMS with the following message: "Today is a day of miracles, look around, they are in everything and in its timing." No kidding, eh?

The Buddha of Suburbia

Homo Urbanus - Homo Sapiens? Take 2

Friday, July 18, 2008

Kröller-Müller Museum in Otterlo

Unfortunately, after we left the house, I realized that the battery on my camera had died! So for our whole day excursion, I was without camera. Luckily, Sam's phone had a camera and I asked her to take this shot of the woman in the rain looking at the art in the sculpture garden of this lovely museum. The museum is out of Amsterdam and though it took a while getting there (train, then 2 buses, then bicycle :) it was more of a headache getting back! We must've missed a bus (though we waited for an hour) and so we decided to walk. After walking to the bus stop of the second bus we're supposed to take to the train station, we realized it was another hour till the next bus! Since the first bus never came, we weren't so confident that this bus would come (which was the last one of the day at 9 pm) so we ended up hitchhiking. We got a ride from a lovely Dutch guy who did a detour to pick up a TV from a friend and then dropped us off at the Ede train station so we can catch our train back to Amsterdam. There is so much that happened inbetween that I don't know where to begin. Hopefully this brief description gives you some idea of our day trip adventures :)

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Homo Urbanus - Homo Sapiens?

An art exhibit in Westerpark by Latvian artists. Note the tall podium with a deflated blue man on top (see entry below for more info about this piece).

View from window, Sam's place (detail)


Yummy cherry tomatoes, goat cheese, avocado, sprouts and arugala from Sam's garden :-)

My Suitcase to Sam's on Sunday

She had huge bike bags and it fit! Yay for moving by bicycle :-)

The best way to spend a Monday morning :-)

Sam's boat! A trip along the canals accompanied by ducks and houseboats :-)

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

New address, old memories

Well, I've moved to a new address: Sam's place overlooks the Westerpark which has a lovely interactive art exhibit on display from Riga. (I will post photos later.) One of the pieces is a 3-metre high podium with a blue man on top with his hand raised. I understand this man to be your everyman dictator: but the beauty of this art is that the spectator has the option of deflating this man (he is like a balloon, filled with air) or of inflating him. Press a green button and he stands erect with his arm raised to the sky. Press a red button and his arm falls down and he becomes a small no-man. The choice is yours. This is the democratic process (?).

But well, anyway, I did not come here to comment on art by Latvian artists (but I do love being taken by surprise by art!). I am seeing old friends and settling into Sam's one-room apartment. She has a rooftop garden with a variety of plants she has seeded herself and nurtures daily. She has her interests and her priorities and sometimes we meet half-way. Mostly we fall into old patterns and habits, but we are friends and we are older and wiser and we are learning to be in each other's company in a way that is healthy and supportive. And what more can I ask for?

Yesterday, we had a lovely sunny day and Sam took me out on her lovely red boat! I had never been on the canals in Amsterdam and it was one of the best way to experience this city. We went away from Centrum (city centre) and ended up on a lake with a forest nearby. We docked, had a picnic, and just lay in the sun. It was so warm! Also, being on the water, the reflection of the sun from the water... well, we got a little sunburnt :( I would never have thought I could get sunburned in Amsterdam! Regardless, I have asked her if we can go out on her boat again (at least a few times!) before I leave the 'Dam. Now let's just hope for more sun and warmth and rain-free days :)

Thursday, July 10, 2008

The view from inside the PIC looking out

Photographing from the inside out... instead of tourists photographing from the outside, when they looked in, they saw me pointing my camera out ;)

Stedelijk Museum

I was most fascinated with the exposed beams and wiring when going upstairs still inside the museum... 


Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Contemporary African photography, Amsterdam's gay bookstore, and PIC


1. Amsterdam's LGBT bookstore: Boekhandel Vrolijk where I picked up a couple of mags

2. "Snap Judgments: New Positions in Contemporary African Photography" at Stedelijk Museum (35 artists, 5 of them female)

3. PIC (Prostitutie Informatie Centrum): Prostitute Information Centre

oh and did I mention cramps? all in all, quite a full day...

Dinner today: before and after

Okay, so I have some time on my hands :) I made dinner today and since I've been photographing all day, I thought why not photograph what I will be eating? With the cold, windy weather and on-again, off-again rain (not to mention being tired after the red-eye), I have been spending some time indoors. It's a great house (see photos below) and though usually 8 people live here, currently only 2 are here (everyone else is out of town). I will be staying here for a few days and enjoying the quietness that is both in this house and in Amsterdam when it rains (which is often).

The kitchen

My room!

The room where I will be staying for the first 6 days of my time in Amsterdam. Isn't it gorgeous? Lots of light, big windows, lots of plants, and a skylight above. Can you see the loft bed? I have to climb a ladder to get to the bed, but it's so cozy and so Amsterdam....

Day 2

Boats and bikes (what else is new, I am in Amsterdam, after all), and a bench looking into a field of trees and grass with a conveniently placed garbage can right beside it (?). And Piccola Roma... ah that little restaurant where I worked for 2 weeks while I was living in the 'Dam about 3 and 1/2 years ago. Two weeks was about how long it took for me to realize I disliked the job and I didn't need to be there... Well, turns out they're still around and I was able to find my old haunts with little difficulty (okay, well, I did consult the map here and there ;)

More photos to come; stay tuned...