The Armenian Weekly On-Line
80 Bigelow Avenue
Watertown MA 02472 USA
The Armenian Weekly; Volume 73, No. 38; Sept. 22, 2007
Literature, Art and Science:
1. Solar Energy Prophet Giacomo Luigi Ciamician
By George B. Kauffman & Giorgio Nebbia
2. The Search: From Tigran Mets to Sayat Nova (Part VI)
By Knarik O. Meneshian
1. Solar Energy Prophet Giacomo Luigi Ciamician
By George B. Kauffman & Giorgio Nebbia
Concern over solar and other forms of alternative energy, green chemistry,
global climate change, greenhouse gas emissions, biomass conversion and a
host of environmental problems has proliferated everywhere in the media.
Evangelical groups, taking humankind’s stewardship of our planet seriously,
have joined the movement. Sales of hybrid vehicles, formerly in only
moderate demand, have skyrocketed. Concern with the environment, long
promoted by most scientists, seems to be reaching a tipping point as
citizens and society all over the world are finally paying attention to this
Yet, Al Gore, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, and other high
profile figures were not the first to advocate the adoption of measures to
mitigate the adverse effects of human actions on the environment. Priority
for this achievement belongs to Giacomo Ciamician (1857-1922), the founder
of photochemistry and a pioneer of solar energy, who, in an often-quoted
address, "The Photochemistry of the Future," delivered before the Eighth
International Congress of Applied Chemistry, held in New York City in 1912,
stated: "And if in a distant future the supply of coal [then the most widely
used fossil fuel] becomes completely exhausted, civilization will not be
checked by that, for life and civilization will continue as long as the sun
shines!" In many ways, Ciamician was truly a century ahead of his time.
To commemorate the 150th anniversary of Ciamician’s birth, a
historical-scientific conference featuring 14 speakers, including one of us
(Giorgio Nebbia) and sponsored by four Italian organizations, will be held
at the Department of Chemistry "Giacomo Ciamician" (the department is named
in his honor) of the Università di Bologna (the oldest continually operating
degree-granting university in the world, founded in 1088), where Ciamician,
a nine-time Nobel prize nominee, spent most of his career, carrying out
numerous photochemical experiments and lobbying for solar energy.
Giacomo Luigi Ciamician was born on Aug. 25, 1857 in Trieste, at that time
part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The Municipality of Trieste placed a
bronze medallion with his portrait and an inscription by patriot and scholar
Senator Attilio Hortis on the house in which he was born at 21 Via S.
Martiri. Ciamician was very proud of his Armenian origin and heritage. The
family claimed descent from Michele Ciamician, the great 18th-century
historian of the Armenian people. In around 1850, Ciamician’s family moved
>From Istanbul to Trieste, where there was a thriving Armenian community and
where they had ties with one of the Mechitarist bishops.
The Mechitarist (or Mekhitarist) congregation of Roman Catholic Armenian
monks, widely recognized for their contribution to the Renaissance of
Armenian philology, literature and culture early in the 19th century, and
particularly for the publication of old Armenian-Christian manuscripts, was
founded in 1701 in Constantinople (now Istanbul) by their eponymous founder,
the priest Mekhitar Petrosian of Sivas (1676-1749). Expelled from
Constantinople in 1703, the congregation moved to Modon in Morea, Greece,
and finally settled in 1717 on the island of San Lazzaro in Venice, which
was given to them by the Venetian state. Their community, known as Ordo
Mechitaristarum Venetiarum, argued over a revised constitution by Abbot
Stephen Melkonian, and in 1772 a group of dissidents left Venice for Trieste
and founded a separate branch (Ordo Mechitaristarum Vindobonensis) in Vienna
in around 1810. The Ciamician family was indeed fortunate, for by their move
to Trieste they avoided extermination during the persecutions of Armenians
by the crumbling Ottoman Empire, which began at the end of the 19th century
and culminating in the first genocide of the 20th century.
Ciamician’s contributions to chemistry are as outstanding as they are
varied. He made significant discoveries in physical and theoretical
chemistry; spectroscopy; organic chemistry; natural products; the chemistry
of natural substances; essences of plants such as aniseed, saxifrage,
parsley and celery; and organic photochemistry, of which he is recognized as
Ciamician and his collaborator Paul Silber’s work on natural products led
them to investigate the chemical effects of light. The experimental work was
carried out by exposing various vessels containing the chemical compounds to
sunlight on a terrace of the Istituto Chimico of the Università di Bologna.
These researches opened a new field of chemistry and placed Ciamician among
the leading scientists of his time, thus bringing world renown to Italian
In a prophetic anticipation of the current attention to so-called renewable
or "green" resources and energies, Ciamician presented a unified view of all
the aspects in which solar energy and radiation may satisfy humankind’s
needs for energy and commodities. He judged all known sources of energy to
be inferior to natural sunlight, and he predicted solar home heating,
photoelectric batteries, increased agricultural utilization of light, and
industrial and synthetic applications of solar fuel.
Ciamician was named a member of the Italian Senate on Jan. 26, 1910. In
Italy at that time, the members of the Senate were not elected but were
named by the King on the basis of their authority as scientists or as
entrepreneurs or politicians. Senator Ciamician gave his first speech on May
11, 1910, to commemorate the death of his mentor, the chemist Stanislao
Cannizzaro, also a Senator. In the Senate, Ciamician intervened in various
important problems on the organization of university studies and on
The outbreak of World War I found Italian cultural and political circles
sharply divided. Ciamician, who chose to be neutral, believed that science
and scientists should ignore national differences, proclaim their aversion
to "exacerbated nationalism," and condemn war as a "crime against
Exhausted by his labors for Italy during the war, Ciamician suffered from a
fever in the autumn of 1921. Contrary to the advice of both students and
friends, he tried to begin his lectures on general chemistry and organic
chemistry, but he was unable to continue. He died on Jan. 2, 1922, at the
age of 65. His work at Bologna raised its status from its inception as a
modest laboratory to that of a preeminent, internationally recognized
George B. Kauffman is Professor Emeritus of Chemistry at California State
University in Fresno. Giorgio Nebbia is Professor Emeritus of Merceology at
the Università di Bari in Bari, Italy.
——————————————- ————————————————– —–
2. The Search: From Tigran Mets to Sayat Nova (Part VI)
Article and Photos by Knarik O. Meneshian
It was Sunday morning. We opened our eyes to the sun shining through the
bedroom window. As it warmed our faces, spiritual songs resounded throughout
the building. We sat up in bed for a moment and listened to joyful voices
singing the praises of the Lord while church bells rang in the distance.
Services for the Armenian Evangelical Congregation had begun in the basement
hall downstairs. "Shall we join them today?" I asked.
"Let’s," said Murad, as we got out of bed. I bent over to scratch my legs.
For the last few days they’d been feeling itchy, especially upon awakening.
"Have your leg’s been feeling itchy too?" I asked Murad.
"Uh hum, lately I’ve felt like scratching them, but then the itching
passes," he said. As we got dressed, I thought we must have a case of dry
skin. We put on our wool sweaters, washed up, and headed for the kitchen to
begin our morning ritual with Murad lighting the kitchen stove and I turning
on the bleeda. In a matter of minutes the kitchen was warm, and soon after
the teakettle whistled. While I sliced the bread, the cheese, then set the
table and poured the tea, Murad reached for the sliced pieces of bread and
arranged them on a round metal tray to make "toast" by placing the tray on
the stove over a low flame. The aroma of slightly burned bread smelled so
good, and tasted even better. Hats, baneer, yev tey- delightful! Just as we
finished breakfast the doorbell rang. It was the matzoon (yogurt) lady. We
bought a couple of jars from her and wished her a "baree or" (nice day) as
she made her way down the stairs with her bags of goods.
The basement hall, decorated with children’s art, was filled with
worshipers-young children, teenagers (many of them our students), and
younger and older adults. After the minister’s sermon, the congregation sang
"Hayr mer, vor hergeenus yes, soorp yegheetsee anoon ko." ("Our Father, who
art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name.") How I loved to sing the Lord’s
Prayer. Although the Armenian Evangelical Church was founded in 1846, the
Armenian Catholic Church formally in 1742, and the Armenian Apostolic Church
in 301, in each of these three churches the Aghotk Deroonagan (the Lord’s
Prayer) filled me with the same wonder and reverence. How nice it was to be
able to visit these Armenian churches, so close in proximity to one another,
in this city.
After the church service, Murad and I chatted with some of the members of
the congregation and AMA staff. Before we knew it, it was already afternoon.
While Murad went for a walk, I remained in our apartment to go over my week’s
lesson plans and to jot down some things in my notebook. Before beginning, I
went to our bedroom window, pulled back the curtains, and looked out for a
while. Most definitely, the city was awakening from its winter slumber-mud
was replacing the snow. More people were strolling up and down the streets
again. The street vendor on the corner was selling a somewhat larger variety
of goods. The two cab drivers at the end of the street were still parking in
their usual spots, a sign that they were yet in business. A fellow,
obviously suffering from a toothache, was walking hurriedly past both the
stamalyok (Russian word for dental) office and the pharmacy across the
street, his source of agony shielded from the elements with a large, white
handkerchief that ran from under his chin and over his cheeks with the ends
tied together forming a bow on top of his head. As I looked away from the
street scene below and up towards the horizon, snow-capped Mt. Aragats stood
shimmering and regal in the distance. I couldn’t wait for the day we would
finally see the mountain up close. I wondered what we would see up there,
what it would feel like viewing the vast countryside from up high, and then
looking up at the sky.
I released the curtains, went to the kitchen and began my work. I decided
that this week, I would be reading The Phantom of the Opera to my combined
beginner and intermediate English class downstairs at the AMA Center’s
after-school program. The thin paperback book, with black and white
sketches, was written in an abridged and simplified version, just right for
the students. In Murad’s advanced English class, his students had already
read it, and were discussing and writing reviews of other abridged and
simplified versions of literature they had read in class, such as Jane Eyre,
The Scarlet Letter and excerpts from A Tale of Two Cities. Our class would
read those later. We’d come a long way since our first day when I read
Beauty and the Beast to them. As I prepared a list of new vocabulary words
for the class, my thoughts wandered to the previous week when I had
introduced my students at the Our Lady of Armenia Convent and
Center/Orphanage to a different kind of lesson. With notebooks, pens and
pencils in hand, they had followed me from their classroom on the second
floor down to the first floor hallway. "Ashagertner (Students)," I said,
"Look carefully at the pictures on both sides of the hall (they were
watercolors of the various Armenian churches), decide on the one you like
best, then sit down on the floor and draw it." Surprised, they asked, "Can
we really sit on the floor?" I nodded. "When you are finished drawing, write
in either Armenian or English a description of your selected picture, why
you selected it, and how it made you feel when you looked at it." The
students squealed with delight as they uttered, "We have never done anything
like this before!" and eagerly began their assignment. Up and down both
sides of the long hallway that led from one end of the building to the
other, some students stood studying their selected picture, others sat on
the floor drawing them, while a few were already writing. During the entire
class period they were so engrossed in what they were doing that all I heard
were the soft sounds of their pencils and pens gliding on paper as they
drew, as they wrote. The Sisters walked by, staff members and students
walked by, and still, deeply engrossed, the students worked.
"Deegeen Knarik, what if we cannot finish everything today?" some asked with
concerned looks on their faces.
"Oh, you will not be able to finish everything today. This assignment will
take a while." They grinned.
As I walked up and down the hall checking their progress, helping those that
needed help, one student remained standing with her eyes fixed on her
selected picture-the ruins of Ani. Another was drawing Zvartnots and said,
"I like it because it is round." While yet another was drawing Geghard. One
had begun writing his impressions of Haghbat, another of Sanahin, and one
asked, "Is my picture of Akhtamar good enough because it does not look
exactly like the one on the wall?"
"Abres! (‘May you live,’ meaning very good!) You have drawn a beautiful
picture." The student smiled a huge smile and continued working. I would
have several more such sessions with the students, sometimes indoors,
sometimes outdoors. As we explored the world around us, sometimes they would
say as they looked at an object in the room, or at something out the window,
or listened to the sounds coming from outdoors: "We did not notice this
before. We have never done anything like this. This is such fun!" Each, in
his or her own style, created lovely drawings, and their writings were good,
often times moving, with a few quite poignant and creative. I remembered the
afternoon when one of the assistant principals at the public school had
asked me as we were leaving for our duties at the Center/Orphanage, "Are
those children at the orphanage oontoonak (capable) students?"
"Ayo, shad (Yes, very)," I replied.
As I thought about our experiences so far at the public school (first grade
through high school) where we taught, and schools visited, I began to write:
Generally, in class, students are quiet, respectful of the teacher, complete
their homework assignments, and are engaged in their class work; but when
the teacher asks questions, they can be very loud with everyone blurting out
the answers at the same time. When students leave a classroom they do not
line up, but rather dash to the door all at once. As they make their way to
their next class, there is often times shoving and pushing, fighting and
bellowing in the hallways and up and down the stairs. Even with teachers
scolding students, shaking their fingers at them, warning them against such
behavior, the students continue, oblivious as to whether or not a teacher is
present or scolding them-until they step into the next class. Then, relative
quiet reigns. When I had asked some teachers, ‘Is it always this chaotic at
the beginning of the school day, in between classes, and at dismissal time?’
they had replied, ‘Of course, they are children, they need to expend their
energy!’ Their comment reminded me both of the year 1991 when I was teaching
in Jrashen, a small village near Spitak-the teachers there had said the very
same thing-and the day not long ago when Murad and I attended a concert at
the theater next to Yot Verk Church in the square. Having purchased our
tickets, we waited in line. When the doors opened, just like the students in
school, teenagers and adults alike shoved and pushed their way into the
building. When the teacher enters the room the students rise. Students
memorize their lessons. Classroom exercises are done rather rapidly, and
when reading aloud the text is read even more rapidly. In general, there are
twenty to twenty-five students per class, sometimes more. Barabmoonk (paid
tutoring), is a common practice from the elementary through university
level, and those who can afford this ‘necessity’ are encouraged to
participate in the after-school or after-class activity, taught, mostly, by
the classroom teacher. Shouting and screaming at students by the teacher,
along with belittling them, is a common occurrence. In one class, when a boy
excitedly waived his hand in the air and said, ‘Yes geedem! Yes geedem! (I
know! I know!)’ because a fellow classmate, a female, was unable to answer
the teacher’s questions, he was reprimanded. Glaring at the boy, she
scolded, ‘So, you are now Anna! Well then, we will call you by a girl’s name
>From now on-Anna.’ The boy quickly lowered his hand and glanced
uncomfortably back and forth at his classmates, then sadly looked down at
the floor. In another class, when homework notebooks were returned to the
students, I noticed a marked difference in the way the teacher handed them
out. Those students from economically better off families were handed their
notebooks with the utmost of care along with a smile and words of praise for
a job well down; those a little less fortunate economically received
somewhat less care and praise when their notebooks were handed to them,
while the poorest did not have their notebooks handed to them. Instead,
theirs were tossed to them, and they were given stern looks and scolded for
not doing better, especially those students who had moved from nearby
villages to the city and still spoke in their village dialects. ‘We do not
understand your language, speak Armenian!’ the teacher would scold. It was
shocking to witness such overt cruelty and favoritism by the teacher towards
students, especially in a place of learning and enlightenment. I was
reminded of Hovannes Toumanyan’s story, Gikor.
Finished with work, it was time to begin planning dinner. I decided that
today, instead of cooking, I would try Saka Grocery Store’s new item-greel
(grilled chicken). The owner had asked me several times since he began
selling it if I would like to purchase the chicken. Each time I said,
"Ooreesh ankam. (Another time.)" The "ooreesh ankam" had arrived! The
occasion: a special dinner for Sahak. I put on my coat, grabbed my purse and
walked down the stairs. In the hallway near the guard’s office, a couple of
teenagers were talking. One asked the other, "Eench ukh gnes? (What are you
doing?)" I liked the colorful and melodic Gyumri dialect, a mixture of
Eastern and Western Armenian. It was pleasing to the ear, and softer
sounding than the Yerevan dialect.
As I finished setting the table, Murad walked in the door, and I said
jokingly, "Just in time, Baron! (Mister!)" He chuckled.
"Oh, it smells so good! What are we eating?"
"But before we eat, I want to take some to Sahak." Murad nodded and together
we filled Sahak’s plate with lots of hot, juicy chicken wrapped in lavash.
With some greens on the side and desert, I took the plate downstairs.
"Es eench eh? (What is this?)" Sahak asked surprised and smiling as I placed
the plate, silverware and napkin on his table.
"Baree akhorzhak (Good appetite), Sahak!" I said, and after chatting with
him for a few minutes, I went upstairs.
After dinner, Murad and I watched a program on television, a hilarious
comedy in the Gyumri dialect. We laughed so hard we could barely breathe;
tears streamed down our cheeks and our bellies hurt. So, this was the famous
Gyumri humor! Outstanding!
Suddenly, there was a knock at the door. I went to see who it was. "Hovik,
doo es? (Hovik, is it you?) Did you come alone in the dark?"
"Ha, Deegeen Knarik (Yeah, Mrs. Knarik), it is I, and I came alone. I am
accustomed to walking in the dark. I came to see how Baron Murad and you are
doing." Hovik would stop by from time to time just to say "barev." During
his visits we talked, and had tea and biscuits together. Sometimes Hovik
came with his father, the principal of the school we taught at, and
sometimes with both of his parents.
"Ners aree, Hovik jan (Come in, Hovik dear)," I said as I took his coat.
Hovik was one of Murad’s computer students as well as his assistant in the
public school’s computer class. Despite the teenager’s disabilities, he
worked very hard both as a student and as an assistant. He was very attached
to his family, and always accompanied his sister around town. The custom of
akhcheek pakhtsnel (girl kidnapping-for the purpose of marriage) was
unfortunately still practiced, and for many parents of young girls this was
a concern. And so, it was Hovik’s job to accompany his sister everywhere.
It was early morning. I screamed, "Murad! Murad! Come quickly, there’s a
critter in our bed!" He came running from the kitchen.
"What? What happened?"
"There is a critter in our bed!"
"No, there can’t be," he said trying to calm me.
"Look at my legs; they have red spots on them!"
"Come here," I said to him. "Now watch, I bet you’ll be able to see it." I
slowly pulled back the blankets and there it was, the dreadful critter that
had been recently nibbling at our legs, and apparently mine more so than
"Cover the bed again!" Murad said as he quickly ran to the kitchen and
returned with a small glass jar. As he removed the lid from the jar, he
said, "When I say ‘open,’ pull back the blankets."
As soon as Murad said "open," I pulled back the blankets, and before I could
blink the critter was in the jar. With the cap on, we studied it, compared
it to the pictures we had of various insects (in a brochure for overseas
travelers), and then we called our friend Karine, the doctor. After
describing our bite marks and the itchy skin to her, she said, "It must be
takhdabeetee (wood bugs, also known as bedbugs)!"
"Karine, could it be that it is something else because the critter does not
quite have the appearance of the bedbug according to the pictures we have."
After describing the culprit in greater detail, Karine determined that it
was not a takhdabeetee after all, but rather a lu (flea). "You must make
certain to wash everything," she said, and I immediately began the lengthy
task of washing and rinsing everything by hand in the bathtub (our washing
machine was good only for spinning), waiting for the laundry to dry, and
then ironing everything. In the meantime, we soon learned from several
people that as the weather warms up the lu, imbedded somehow in the
mattress, makes its pilgrimage upwards towards the unsuspecting slumberer.
"Barev, Gamo, we have a problem.!"
"I will be over shortly, Murad."
Gamo walked into the apartment holding a large can of pesticide. "I will
take care of the problem immediately!" he said and marched into the bedroom.
"Gamo, before you spray, I would like to read the ingredients on the can."
Although the writing was in Russian, with his chemistry background, Murad
recognized the chemical names and said, "Gamo, it is not a good idea to use
this, especially indoors."
"But, it is just pesticide that is all!" said Gamo as he put the can in his
coat pocket. "Murad jan, I will bring someone from Sanepid (short for
Sanitary Epidemiological Center, which was located near the Mayor’s Office
on Shiragatsi Street) to prove to you that this spray is perfectly safe. She
is an expert, an authority on the subject!
Murad nodded and said, "Please give her this jar for me," as he handed him
the jar with the captured lu jumping around in it. Gamo glanced at the jar,
nodded and put it in his other pocket.
Later, into the apartment walked Gamo introducing the person with him. "Here
is the expert I said I would bring to assure you that this product (holding
up the can) is indeed safe."
Murad and I looked at the expert, and then at each other. The expert was a
male! A pleasant fellow, who read the ingredients on the can aloud in
Russian and then assured us that the product was perfectly safe for humans
and indoor use. "We appreciate your time and effort in coming here today to
assure us of the safety of this product, but for health reasons, this should
not be used, especially indoors and on something we will be sleeping on,"
"Lav! (Fine!)," said Gamo raising his hand in the air. "I will take your bed
to Sanepid, and after it has been treated return it to you."
Murad nodded, and then having noticed that no mention had been made of the
jar, he asked, "By the way, Gamo, did you give the jar to the expert?"
Gamo looked up at the ceiling for a second, and then said, "No, I lost it."
"How long before we get our bed back?" I asked.
"In a few days," said Gamo.
"And where will we sleep in the meantime?" I asked.
"Egek (Come), let me show you how to open the couch."
Murad and I followed Gamo into the living room. Within seconds, the couch
was a bed, albeit a very hard and narrow one with a depression in the middle
where it folded.
What an experience it was for two people to sleep on a twin-size bed! In
order to have some shoulder room, we slept at opposite ends with Murad’s
feet next to my face, and my feet next to his. Every night we switched
places with one of us sleeping against the wall. When we needed to turn we
tapped each other’s feet once, when we needed to get up we tapped them
twice, and then the one away from the wall brought the knees close to the
chest in order for the other to climb out of bed. This system worked well,
and made us feel like kids camping out in the living room, especially with
the flashlight next to us on the floor. And so we slept in our living room,
often times along with laundry drying on our "clothes driers," the chairs
and table. Sometimes, late at night, we would hear the lady downstairs in
the domeek calling to her cats, and we would giggle. After a number of days
had gone by with no sign of our bed we phoned our landlord. "Gamo, when will
we get our bed?" we asked.
"Shoodov, shad shoodov! (Soon, very soon!)" he assured us.
More than two weeks passed, and still no mahchagal (bed)!
Finally, the day had come when I said, "Murad, today we are going to go and
look for our bed!" During break time at school, I approached the principal
and asked for permission for Murad and me to go to Sanepid in search of our
"Do you mean to say that all this time you have been sleeping like that?"
Melkon asked as he shook his head. "Yes, I think it is about time that you
go and look for your bed. Make sure, though, to take a cab instead of riding
the bus. It will be easier for you."
We stood on the street corner and waited for a cab. Before too long, we saw
one coming and waved. It quickly stopped in front of us. The lady cabby (the
only female cab driver in the entire country according to her) asked, "Where
"Sanepid!" we answered, and off we went.
"Barev dzez, we are here to find out the status of our bed. Our landlord
brought it here over two weeks ago." we explained to a dourly woman wearing
a white lab coat.
"Come with me," she said. Silently, we walked down a winding path, into a
building, out of a building, and then down another path. We stopped. "Take a
look at that!" she said, pointing at an object in the near distance. It was
a large, rusted, cylindrical tank with a latch on the door similar to those
on submarines. Staring at the rust on the tank, the tank’s shape, and then
walking around it, I asked, "But how can a bed fit in here?"
"Ah! But it is not for beds, it is for clothes!" the woman explained.
"People used to bring their lice-ridden clothes here to be fumigated, but as
you can tell from the rusted condition of the handle and door that it has
not been used in years. As for beds and other furniture, such items have
never been brought here. They are too big. For such large items we go to the
homes and fumigate there."
"So, no bed was ever brought here," said Murad.
"That is correct," said the woman.
"Come with me," she said, and we followed her into one of the buildings.
She stopped in the doorway of a dim office, and asked loudly, "Does anyone
know about a bed that was supposedly brought here?" A couple of female
workers sitting in front of a desk chatting over coffee glanced at each
other, then at the woman at the door, and then at us, before one of them
replied, "No, no bed has ever been brought here!" They turned away and
continued chatting. In a far corner of the office sat a man on a chair
staring out the window.
"What is the name of your landlord?" he asked as he looked towards us.
"Gamo." we replied. He nodded and stared out the window again.
"Come, I will walk you to the exit," said the woman, suddenly speaking to us
in a friendly and familiar manner. "Knarik jan, you said you live in an
apartment. May I ask how much your rent is?"
"Two hundred dollars a month," I replied.
Her eyes widened, and then she said, "I have a lovely, furnished apartment
that I can rent you for only $150 a month. Come, let me show you. It is just
across the street." Murad and I followed her, making small talk as we
crossed the street. "Here we are!" she announced with a smile. The
dilapidated building stood on a lot littered with trash and rats darting
about. Murad and I stared at each other.
"Come," she said, "the entrance is this way." We followed her to the back of
the building. The place stunk. We climbed the stairs to the first floor and
then waited as the woman attempted to unlock the door. Finally, unlocked,
she turned the doorknob. It fell off. Then, with both hands, she pushed and
pushed and pushed at the door, but it would not budge. Finally, she forced
the door open by kicking it and then shoving first her hip and then her
shoulder into it. Suffocating fumes rushed out. I quickly reached for
napkins in my coat pocket, handed some to Murad, and then covered my nose
and mouth with a few. It was clear that the apartment had a severe cockroach
problem (not an uncommon thing), and she had just sprayed. "How do you like
this place? Is it not roomy and bright?" she asked as she showed us the
long, narrow living, dining, bedroom combination. All it had were white
curtains hanging from the windows and a cot covered with a worn-out, gray,
wool blanket that stood against the wall. "And this is the zookaran!" she
announced smiling as she opened the facility door. It had a sink and a
toilet with no seat. There was no bathtub.
"Where is the bathtub?" I asked.
"Oh, will you be bathing?"
"Well, then, I can arrange to have something put in for you."
"Come, let me show you the kitchen!" We followed her to a small area that
looked like an enclosed porch. A narrow table with a hotplate on it stood
against the wall. There was nothing else in the room.
"So, how do you like it? Would you like to rent the apartment?"
Speechless for a moment, we then replied, "We will have to think about it,"
and thanked her for her time.
Upon returning to school, Melkon asked, "Did you find your bed?"
"Not yet," we said.
That evening I called our landlord. "Gamo, where is our mahchagal?"
"I hear you have been to Sanepid looking for your bed! What is this, are you
now my personal KGB?" he said roughly. (It so happened that someone at the
Sanepid office was Gamo’s friend and had notified him of our visit.)
"Ha!" I said in a tone just as rough as his, "Now where is our bed?"
"I burned it!"
"Well then, you will have to buy us a new one!"
"No, I will not. I have some mattresses in the garage, you can use them!"
"No, we will not! Gamo, when we first rented this apartment, you said and I
quote, ‘If for any reason you do not like the bed I will be happy to buy you
a new one.’ Well, we are not happy; we have no bed! So, you need to buy us a
bed since you said you burned the one you took away. I am sure you are
familiar with the saying that a man, a real dghamart, is only as good as his
Suddenly, he softened his tone and said sweetly, "Knarik jan, I cannot
afford to buy a new bed, but I will be happy to give you our twin beds, the
beds my wife and I sleep on."
"But, Gamo, what will you and your wife sleep on?"
"We will manage somehow. When shall we bring the beds?
"Before we accept the beds we want to come over and look at them."
Gamo let out a heavy sigh and said, "Very well."
At his home, with smiling faces Gamo and his wife greeted us and graciously
offered and served us coffee, sweets and a variety of foods before we were
ushered into their bedroom. "See, the beds are very clean!" said his wife as
she lifted the ends of the bedspreads and blankets for me to examine.
"Are these really the beds you will be bringing over?" we asked Gamo.
"Arkhaeen yeghek (rest assured), these are the beds I will bring over
today," he replied.
Within a short while Gamo and a friend brought the beds. As I examined them
to make certain they were indeed the beds we had seen at his apartment, I
asked again, "Gamo, where will you and your wife now sleep?" Apparently
having forgotten what he had told us earlier, he said, "On the bed that was
So, the bed that he said he had taken away to be fumigated, and then he said
that he had burned, had suddenly been resurrected and was now in his
bedroom! Zarmanalee! (Amazing!) Truly amazing and remarkable! This was a far
greater feat than the one performed by the fellow from Gyumri who had come
to Jrashen in 1991. In his perfectly creased, shiny, light blue satin suit,
and his hair slicked back, he had announced to the poor villagers (after
having sold them tickets) that he could perform miracles, even levitate
people. We all sat in the dim, long, cold metal container watching and
waiting, watching and waiting as the satin-suited fellow slowly moved his
stretched out arms back and forth, back and forth over the frightened little
village boy lying on the table in front of him. "Rise!" he commanded,
"Rise!" The boy never rose.
"I’ll test out the beds before you cover them," said Murad, and sat on one,
and then the other. The frame of the second bed he sat on cracked. "I wonder
what would have happened had I been a large man?" he laughed, and then went
downstairs to the AMA office to borrow some tools and a piece of wood. In a
few minutes, Murad came up with Mooshegh, one carrying the wood and the
other the tools. In less than an hour the bed frame was fixed. It was now my
turn to work. I wiped the beds, and then covered them with freshly washed
and ironed sheets, pillowcases and blankets. Then I pushed the beds together
and covered them with the freshly washed bedspread. I looked at the
headboards so similar to the other bed and remembered the day Gamo showed us
the apartment and announced as he pointed to the double bed, "This is a very
fine bed, you know. I ordered it all the way from Europe!" As I finished
straightening the bedspread, I thought, These too must have come from
Europe! I chuckled. They sold them at the shuga!
"Come, let’s go for a walk!" I said to Murad, and together we strolled down
Rishkov Street, past Yot Verk Church and up the street to Central Park,
where the opera "Anush" had premiered in 1913. After walking in the park for
a while, we made our way back to the square. Passing a row of fountains, we
walked up Vahan Sherazi Street to Gyumri’s historic section, a captivating
part of the city we had not seen before. Along the way we saw single-family
homes and black tuf buildings, many of them in need of repair. As we
strolled along, suddenly something reflected in our eyes; it was a silvery
dome. We walked quickly and curiously towards it. So, this was the Russian
chapel built in 1879 and known as Blblan Zham (Shimmering Chapel)! After
walking around the chapel’s perimeter strewn with debris, broken glass, and
overgrown with weeds, we entered the place of worship. Among the religious
pictures, icons and melted, hardened candles, a single candle flickered. On
the ground nearby lay a neatly folded blanket next to a bag of old clothes.
Had someone taken refuge in this neglected place? Was it the one who lit the
candle? If so, what did he or she beseech of the saints, of the angels, of
Outside, under a tree behind Blblan Zham sat a woman on a short-legged
stool. She was elderly and shabbily dressed. With folded hands she looked up
at the sky, then down at the ground.
To be continued.