Sunday, April 27, 2008

On Being Armenian

Throughout my life, I was reminded of the death and destruction that fell upon my family simply for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. I am Armenian – 100% and this week as every week around this time of the year, there is always a remembrance of the genocide that took place April 24, 1915. On that day, the Turkish government carried out their plan to rid their country of the Armenian population in much the same way Hitler planned the systematic destruction of the Jewish people. All Armenians have a story of someone in their family that either lived or died during this massacre. Mine involved my father. His father, who because he was among the prominent citizens of town, was one of the first to be taken from his home and never seen again. My father, his mother, brother and sister were forced to walk across the desert in what was labeled “the death march”. They somehow made their way to America, except for his 3-year-old sister who died of starvation en route. I was named after her. Growing up in NJ, our social life was only with other Armenian families. We lived near Armenians, spoke Armenian in the house and participated in only Armenian functions. I could only have Armenian friends (think how many of those there were in public school) and my brother and I were not allowed to join after school activities that did not have anything to do with the Armenians. That pretty much limits ones social life to being home with parents and their friends and hopefully, someone who was among them that was of our age. That may sound unreasonable but it was not within my world. Most Armenian parents of the genocide generation practiced that same philosophy of child rearing. Things loosened up for me in high school, but my cousin, even at age 16, wasn’t allowed to leave the house without a grown-up. Many of us from that age can’t ride a bike or swim. These were considered dangerous sports and unnecessary. Keep the kids close and pray they will be safe. There are a lot of good things about being from an Armenian household. We always had company over, even during the week and the cuisine is the best. We always knew there would be a lot of people over when the night before, my mother, an excellent cook, worked most of the night to make our favorite foods.We hold family above everything. The remembrance of the massacre by my generation is once removed from the horrors of the massacre. We grew up hearing about it but never experienced it. We didn’t know it then, but we were held close more for them than for us. They needed to feel we wouldn’t be taken away or led on a march somewhere. Our lives are better now because of the struggles of our parents and grandparents and we respect and love them for it. Today to commemorate the massacre, there is a rally in Times Square. to bring attention to the genocide and how the Turkish government still refuses to acknowledge that this systematic killing took place. I won’t go. Today, I will remember my father, who now as a parent, understand him more and more. Azat & Thomas on their wedding day

Friday, April 11, 2008

My Rocky Mountain High

As a child, I was pathetically un-athletic. Couldn’t ride a bike and never learned to swim. I blamed these shortcomings on my over-protective parents. Having come from foreign countries where they survived wars and genocide, they were convinced that any physical activity outside of cleaning the house would have lead to my death. Then I had kids and I was insistent that they do all the things I couldn’t. They were enrolled in swim classes and learned to ride a bike like normal children. On their own, they even went on to enjoying the winter sports like ice skating, hockey, snowboarding and skiing. Every winter we would head up to Mountain Creek where they would ski for hours and I would sit in the lodge contently reading a book. Until one day. I think kids keep you young. You show them your world and they open yours to what’s new, trendy and different. So it was because of them I was at the mountain every weekend. But it was my husband who decided we needed to get out there and try skiing. So it happened seven years ago I took my first lesson. The instructor felt I should get on the chair lift as so I did. After my first fall, I said oh no and proceeded to walked down the slope. If you think skiing is hard, try walking down the bunny slope. You would think I would have gone back to the lodge and the book but, for some reason, I couldn’t give it up. I have this thing you see. I do something and if I don't get it right, I do it till I do - to a fault (ask Tony about my countless attempts to make chili which I finally gave up at his insistence and one too many bathroom trips). Anyway, I was determined to get this skiing thing down. So after two years on the bunny slope, it started to grow on me. It wasn’t just the skiing; it was the mountain scenery, the feeling of doing something during the winter months and learning a sport that I enjoyed. I went to the mountain to practice during the week. And after a few years, I was even comfortable on some blue trails. But seven years later, my kids had gotten away from it and Tony has moved on to another risky sport (motorcycling). I only skied once this winter and alone. Then at the end of February, one of my closest friends, Chris who now lives in Houston, called me up, feeling she wanted to get away and suggested a long weekend together. I immediately responded that I wanted to go skiing somewhere. I wanted to experience real snow, wide trails and towns geared for the skiers . I am talking to Chris, a girl who grew up in Canada, skiing. Within 24 hours, we booked a flight to Calgary with hotels in the Canadian Rockies. I have to say my excitement was also tempered with the thought that I might be in over my head. For a girl who had never skied outside of New York or New Jersey and was over 50, was I taking on more than I should? But I had to do this. I wanted to do this. So I did it. I can’t tell you how glad I am that I did. It was the most awesome experience I have ever had. We skiing only one day but one perfect day.We stayed at the Sunshine Lodge at the base of the mountain where it is ski in/ski out to five chairlifts going to different mountains. After getting warmed up on two of the mountains, we felt we could move on to a bigger elevation. (Check out the trail map.)We got on the Angel Express chair lift. It started up and up and kept going and kept going and still going. We looked at each other and said “OMG, what have we done”. I was thinking, I probably wouldn't be able to walk down this mountain but maybe I could just stay on the chair lift and go back down. But I didn't. When we finally arrived at the summit, Chris asked a man who was with his family where the green trail was. He had a smart English accent and told us to follow him. He advised if you don’t know where you are going, you could wind up on a black trail. So we followed him every inch of the way. He told me what to do and I did it. I skied fast to keep up the momentum and dug in to keep my balance, just like he told me. When I reached the base it was with an exhilaration I have never felt before. We broke for lunch at the lodge where I had the best chili ever (so that's what it is supposed to taste like). I was in one piece, no injuries and my spirits were as high as the mountain. I thanked my Liverpool guide and his family for giving me the guidance I needed to get me down the mountain and decided I was done – at least for now. Chris and I, joined by two other girls (we were girls this weekend) spent the rest of the weekend in the town of Banff. It is full of skiers mostly from Australia and England who come to ski – lovely. We stayed here and ate a delicious meal here and a great brunch here and woke up to views like this all around us. The Main Street of Banff Lake Louise The water is that color - no touch up here. The girls of the weekend. Aren't my boots the best! I now know how my husband feels when he takes his motorcycle trips. Beautiful country, a little risky and you end the day with a nice glass of wine. I tip my glass to Chris, my Liverpool guide and my husband and kids for making me get out there. I finally can say, I can do one sport. One for my bucket list.