Late in the day at a trade show, the marquee of a booth selling floor tiles with a prominently displayed company name caught my attention. “Armenians,” I thought to myself and walked into the space. “Can I help you?” asked a blond and blue eyed young man. A quick glance at this name badge confirmed that he was not a member of the family the company was named for. I explained to him why I was there and he responded with “Then you want to talk to Eddie who will be running everything in a year,” he said proudly, perhaps with a hint of envy.
One of the features of growth is the chance for introspection based on a body of experience; taking a deep hard look at ourselves no matter how difficult it may be. Learning from our past to improve our future is sign of maturity. The Armenian community in the United States, particularly in Southern California, has expanded in leaps and bounds in the last few decades. Our evolution from mere immigrants focused on daily survival to socially, politically and artistically active communities is cause for much self congratulations.
Mike offered to drive me the few blocks to the café where I would wait while they detailed my car. He’s a quiet, 30 years old former surfer and walks with a slow gait with his arms swinging lazily by his side. His sloped shoulders, relaxed manners and easy tone of voice are indicative of the laid back lifestyle of a California surfer. He ambles across the lot of the business he owns and runs with his father Steve towards his car assumes I’m not far behind.
Paul greeted me at the door of his office by grabbing my shoulders and giving a hearty kiss on both cheeks. I’d only recently met him so it wasn’t clear if this was normal behavior or a newly acquired habit due to his recent entrenchment in the Armenian community. He speaks with gusto and in a direct manner, asking pointed questions in his attempt to get to know a stranger in a short amount of time. As the Chief Curator of the Museum of Contemporary Art, he is up to his elbows in the final planning stages for Arshile Gorky’s retrospective. “I like the in-between periods between movements,” he says, referring to Gorky’s place in the world of art – at the end of American Surrealism and the beginning of Abstract Expressionism, of straddling the different worlds of being Armenian and being a new American.
A recent column from these pages traveled the wide highways of the internet and found a home on another Armenia related website. The notice popped up in my inbox and, curious, I clicked on the link. First I noticed the advertising for a singles website, then, in the process of looking for the text of the column, I scrolled down the page where my attention was captured by a bright orange banner ad for the Anatolian Cultures & Food Festival.
Could our ancestors, living in on the Anatolian Plains and other parts of Historic Armenia a hundred years ago, imagine the multicultural life of an Armenian today? Or what of those from our parents’ generation, who were born and raised in various parts of the Middle East, the Soviet Union or Iran? As cosmopolitan as life may have seemed back then, it doesn’t compare to the present day life lived by an average citizen in a city as banal as Glendale.
It’s that time of year again when thousands of high school Juniors travel around the country visiting college universities. It’s a right of Spring, along with Easter, and Memorial Day. Alin returned from just such a trip to the East Coast recently. Next year she will be a Senior at a local, well regarded private high school. Two years ago, she sat aside and looked longingly as her brother did a similar trip. Now it was her turn.
The start of any new venture requires lots of hard work, attention to detail, determination and, most of all, research. This is exactly what Alex has been going through in preparation to opening his restaurant next month in Beverly Hills. Based on the cuisine of the Levant which is made up of countries bordering the eastern Mediterranean Sea, he plans to make his menu a modern interpretation of well known flavors and textures.
While waiting for an appointment at a local nail salon, a man, in his late 50s stepped up to the counter to pay for the services he had received. “I’m Christian,” he bellowed to his Korean manicurist loud enough for everyone in the room to hear. “I’m Armenian. You know the Genocide?” he asked her to stress his point. She nodded politely, took his money and sent him on his way without acknowledging any of his ramblings.
Chips and salsa washed down by ice cold margaritas caused the conversation to turn towards the subject of life and love and everything in between. Mari begins by commenting on the current status of her former high school classmates, “Class of 2004, Glendale High School, 90 percent are married with kids,” she says.
There’s a deceptive lightheartedness to Levon that masks his serious side. Of his three closest friends, he is the one that speaks the least Armenian and generally does not participate in the discussions taking place regarding life, community, and identity swirling around the table at lighting speed; preferring to focus his attention on his dinner. This, coupled with the fact that he makes goofy faces in every photo ever taken of him, one would think that Levon was a happy-go-lucky guy who didn’t take anything seriously.