One family's diary, journeys and thoughts

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

More good news

Another Roxy update: she graduated 10th grade today with straight A's and a presidential award (not to mention the perfect attendance award, for which she had to work really hard). Nice job, Roxy! Keep it up!

Friday, June 13, 2008

More familiar faces

Vicky at work...

...and by my house.

Did you know Roxy's name is actually Araks?

My half-German nephew Gregor and I.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

A family moment

Wednesday, June 11, 2008


Even a brief look at Armenian folklore will reveal the following fact: a donkey was by far the most popular animal with our ancestors, featured in more folk tales, sayings, proverbs, idioms and jokes than any other character (okay, maybe dogs are mentioned quite as frequently). This is easily accounted for, if you remember that Armenia is a mountainous country where, before the heavy machinery even existed to dig roads and tunnels, most traveling and cargo transportation was done via narrow mountain paths. A donkey was indispensable for this sort of thing, better even than a horse, especially because not everyone could afford a horse. So there you have it – please welcome the hero of Armenian national folklore!

Though it is a thankless task to translate idioms and proverbs, I will site some donkey-related ones, still widely used:

You will often hear a stupid and obstinate person being called a donkey, donkey head or, if the stupidity is particularly irritating – a donkey foal. (These expressions are particularly popular with drivers and politicians these days.) Similarly, to speak like a donkey means to say something stupid. And if someone is especially obstinate and insists on getting his own way no matter what, he will certainly be described as spurring his donkey on.

Someone who is sluggish or tuned out will be dubbed slumbering in a donkey ear. For instance, if you are the last one to hear that your boss is marrying his secretary after 7 years of relationship, you were definitely taking a nap in one of those furry ears.

The condition of mountain roads and the rocking gait of an average donkey must have been the reason why a person who is feeling tired and beaten will describe himself as having just dismounted from a donkey. Somewhere along those lines goes the following saying: mounting a donkey is shame, getting off is twice the shame. I think it means: if you took something upon you - do it, no matter how unpleasant the task is.

Don’t die, donkey – spring will come, grass will grow describes empty promises. Others might be donkeys, we are just a donkey saddle is to say - life/progress is passing us by. Looking for a dead donkey to take the shoes off usually describes an opportunist, or someone taking advantage of others. Pull the donkey out of the mud means to survive a challenge (if you didn’t study for the test and got an A just using your wit, this would be a very appropriate thing to say)

Ate the donkey, turned away from the tail – my mom would say when I run out to play leaving the last sentence of my homework unfinished (didn’t happen too often). And if I didn’t appreciate something yummy she made, her comment was: what does donkey know about almonds? Loaded donkey runs faster – she would sigh taking yet another task upon herself.

A donkey, even if it makes 40 trips to Jerusalem, will still be a donkey – doesn’t need much explanation, I think.

All this aside, however, donkeys are rather smart animals, if somewhat obstinate and loud. They are tough, hard working and cheap, and to this day are still popular throughout the countryside. What with the rising gas prices, I am thinking about getting one myself!

To conclude, a fable by a 13th century Armenia writerVardan Aygekci.

Messengers came to a donkey: “Rejoice and be glad and prepare gifts, you had a grandson.”
“Woe to me, friends”, - the donkey answered. “Even with hundred grandsons, my load will remain just as heavy.”

Monday, June 09, 2008



Thursday, June 05, 2008

The Armenian Time

Being positioned between Europe and Asia ever since the beginning of times, Armenia always had to choose which part of the world to identify with. Recently, it is fashionable (and is in many cases justified) to view Armenia as a European country. There can be endless arguments for and against it. There is no arguing with this, however: as far as the perception of time is concerned, Armenia and Armenians should be classified with their Southern neighbors.

Roman Smirnov, a theatrical director from Saint Petersburg, spent some time in Armenia collecting materials for a film he was working on. Some of his reflections on the time spent here can be found in an article he wrote, called “Ban-man” (loosely translated as “Things and such”). Here is an excerpt in my translation.

“Armenian time is a complicated thing and cannot be measured by logic. This is how it works: you make an appointment for three o'clock, but the person comes at five, not today but tomorrow, not alone, but with friends and on a totally different business. At first I thought I will go crazy, then decided to look carefully into how the locals deal with the problem and started following their system.

The system is simple. You should arrange things in general. As in, when accidentally bumping into someone somewhere, discuss business (“do things”, as the locals would call it), make plans, further perspectives, shake hands and forget about it until the next accidental meeting. This is normal. “Problem chka” (no problem). “

I must admit this is very true. Just because someone told you they will call you back doesn’t necessarily mean they will. They tell you they will come, but they don’t, or come on another day. With the exception of the most modern and progressive offices, no business keeps the business hours they announce. And most concerts usually start 15-20 minutes late, waiting until the tardy fans get in and find their seats.

After spending 2 years in Armenia, Roxy too is getting the idea and is making a dictionary of Armenian time for her own personal use. “I am almost there means I have another 20-30 minutes to go. I will call you tonight means I might call you tomorrow, or might not call you at all. Come around two means I don’t expect you earlier than four.”

You see, it's simple to learn, and the good thing is, you can be as slow and relaxed as you wish most of the time. Just remember, if you are invited to an Armenian house for dinner, never arrive on time, or else the host will get an impression you were starving for days.