Adrift in Glendale’s Burgeoning Caf Culture
By Ishkhan Jinbashian
Hollywood might have its Little Armenia–but there’s no doubt that Little Yerevan is by now firmly ensconced in what I like to call the blessed city of Nagorno-Glendale.
Little Yerevan–and quite a bit of Little Tehran for sure. But definitely not Little Beirut or Aleppo or Baghdad–as a good chunk of the Western-Armenian contingent bolted years ago. As for the remnants–sometimes it feels as though their glaring visibility more than makes up for their diminishing numbers. Try Glendale watering holes like Sarkis Pastry–Carousel Restaurant (a favorite with community movers and shakers)–or the editorial offices of Asbarez–and you’ll know what I mean.
What perhaps most palpably distinguishes Glendale’s sprawling Little Yerevan from any number of cities with a large Armenian presence is its kitschy ostentation. Here we don’t just drive late-model German and Japanese cars–we insist on driving them extremely fast–wearing some kind of determined malevolence as a badge of honor. And we don’t merely put ululating rabiz music on in our apartmen’s and souped-up road machines; we make sure entire neighborhoods reverberate with the stuff.
Loud and obnoxious? You already gathered as much. Glad to suffer from a pandemic case of narcissism? Yes–sir. And habitually confusing rudeness with cool? Ditto.
Here’s a little clarification–before I get in too deep: the demographic in question is between the ages of–say–17 and 25–though to my knowledge the next age bracket has so far shown no signs of significant change.
Like one’s sun and rising signs–the youth is where the energies of a community are at their most salient. And it’s where the cultural and civic shape of things to come is molded (so help us God). In Little Yerevan–you would be hard-pressed to ascribe a certain collective character to the youth. By any standard–the young here seem to be a normal bunch–despite a worrisome knack for white-collar and petty crime in some quarters. But if you’re in the market for some naked sidewalk truths based on casual observation–some signposts if you will–to gauge the dynamic of the youth–then read on.
In Glendale today–by far the most public manifestation of Armenian youth culture happens in coffee houses. And within the hierarchy of the city’s cafs–no one has yet managed to dethrone La Goccia–Brand Boulevard’s premier destination for ceremonious outdoor gathering. At La Goccia–as throughout the city’s coffee houses (including some owned by Armenia’s and the ubiquitous Starbuckses)–Armenian dudes and dudettes do what people the world over like doing in cafs: watch people–shoot the breeze–court one another–catch up on gossip–watch people some more–refill the spiritual batteries following the rigors of office or school. But the vibe at La Goccia is in a league all its own.
Consider the location. On any given day or night–lounging around on the massive sidewalk stretch that doubles as La Goccia’s patio–you’re sure to be noticed from here to eternity–that is to say–from any vantage point between Broadway and Wilson. You’ll be noticed by pedestrians. And by people in the cars zooming through Brand. You’ll be plenty noticed by other customers at the caf. Plus–for the more romantically inclined among us–La Goccia on clearer evenings is a wonderful spot for enjoying the "magic hour," that deep–achingly uniform blue that envelops the sky right before the sun has finally set. But most importantly–La Goccia is where you get pretty damn close to feeling something–at least something–akin to a sense of community.
If this sounds a tad problematic–it’s because it is. As in any other context–the sense of community experienced at a crowded Glendale caf can be fraught with provisos. For instance: you love the fact that a throng of cappuccino sippers on either side of you happens to be of Armenian descent. Yet you can get quickly annoyed by the impertinent and lingering–sometimes lewd stares–the shouting that passes for benign conversation–and the green house effect-inducing clouds of tobacco smoke. You might also lure yourself into believing that a place like La Goccia may well represent a microcosm of the Armenian world as we know it. Yet such thoughts might quickly cede to the realization that that microcosm has less and less space for anything Western-Armenian these days–with entire dialects–literary and musical and theatrical traditions dying off to our bemused helplessness–given the cultural hegemony of Eastern-inflected Armenia.
This last point is thus very much the point of allowing that sense of community to seep into you. Because La Goccia and similar coffee houses–with their sheer volume of young Armenia’s teeming around you–may now and again impel you to think about your own role in–and your own position on–the larger patterns of our community.
Countless times I’ve caught myself vaguely musing on a smorgasbord of questions–mostly rhetorical–while having business meetings or tte–ttes with friends at La Goccia. Questions–in no particular order–such as: How can we–as a community–be so industrious–street-smart and resourceful–yet continue to be considerably lacking in terms of artistic creativity–notwithstanding our output in the visual arts? Why is it that I have yet to catch an Armenian youth engrossed in a book (and not a textbook)–at La Goccia or elsewhere in cafdom here in Nagorno-Glendale? How come Armenian young men in general–who were nurtured and reared by women (their mothers for Chrissake)–end up becoming misogynists of varying degrees? How does one explain the fact that Hayastantsi guys–for all their unbending machismo–possess the kind of mental athleticism that makes them so astonishingly witty? Are we more like the Italians or the Jews? More "The Sopran’s" or "Seinfeld?" Why do so many Armenian young women unquestioningly subscribe to mainstream conventions of desirability–allowing so much to ride on physical appearance? Why do their male counterparts do the exact same thing–only more damagingly? If young Armenia’s enjoy each other’s company so much–why is it that they’re often gripped with panic by Armenian-heavy stomping grounds–as though the plague were afoot? How is this problem handled in Armenia–where compatriots are to be found everywhere you look? Are the Armenia’s gathered at La Goccia ultimately just another faceless crowd–or do these people have something noteworthy to contribute to Glendale–something thoughtful–positive–original–extraordinary even–in the spirit of building that’s supposed to all but define us as a nation? And–all said–does anyone care about any of this–when it’s time to go home because your friend has started yawning like a debil and your bladder is about to burst as La Goccia has no benefit of a restroom?
I’m inclined to say yes–absolutely–quite a few of us do care about such matters – and then some. For one thing–Glendale is fast becoming arguably the most important hub in the diaspora–and we better remember that population growth has the danger of not automatically translating to collective excellence. And also because rare is the Armenian community–save the city of Yerevan–offering the kind of bustling caf culture that Glendale does–as both challenge and comfort.
Ishkhan Jinbashian is a journalist and the author of the novel Arkhiv Hasnumi. He lives in Glendale.