There are so many polar opposites where one side can only exist in the presence of the other. Arctic: Antarctic. Black: White. Tall: Short. But occasionally, although some things seem to be opposites, they are simply variations of the same. Los Angeles: New York. Lakers: Celtics. Apostolic: Catholic.
Hovhaness sits across the tiny table from me as he begins his story. His head is shaved clean except for his thick eyebrows over his piercing eyes and long lashes. He is somewhere in his mid forties, solidly built with a calm demeanor with a steady and piercing gaze. He is a lucky green card lottery winner from Yerevan who moved to Los Angeles three years ago with his wife Sonia and sons Haik and Kevork.
How do you describe the totality of a painting when your nose is pressed close to a small corner of it? That is the dilemma I face about the idea of writing about my father. It’s nearly impossible to move beyond the emotions when trying to use words to describe the things that make him special. Finally, in the quiet space between lights out and the blissful unconsciousness of sleep that they finally string themselves together.
Sometimes the road to self realization is arduous and full of u-turns. Finding out what it is you love is a lifelong process and few are lucky enough to find their path early in their attempts. Raffi is one such person who found his calling relatively early and the love of his life relatively late.
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.