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By: Ioana Avadani

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Monday, 14-Sep-2009 00:52 Email | Share | | Bookmark
I remember you well in the Chelsea Hotel

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Friday, 12-Dec-2008 19:57 Email | Share | | Bookmark

leaving Athens
leaving Athens
Port of Pirraeus
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That night I fell asleep happy. A peaceful happiness I did not know whom to thank for: the healing power of the blue, the surrounding sea (I am a sea person, definitely), the very unlikely, almost illegal, December flowers or the population of talkative, engaging cats that inhabit the Greek island of Hydra.

What drew me to Hydra was my love for Leonard Cohen, who lived on the island in the '60s. It was then - and it is said to be now - a gathering hub for the artistic community and you can tell this judging by the jewels, the fanciful simple clothing and the artsy artifacts they sell in the (admittedly overpriced) shops on the waterfront. Well, this was the pretext, at least, the ignition agent, as I don't need too many reasons to go to places. Me, the errant soul, in love with everywhere!

I had been there 10 years ago, for a mere 30 minutes, in a touristic, if-it's-Tuesday-it-must-be-Belgium kind of trip and the place remained imprinted in my heart for good. I wanted to go there again, to confront my memories, for good or for bad. And among the things I should be loved for is the capacity to know what I want and the power to make things happen.

Hydra in December is *the* place to be. Such a peaceful little paradise, still full of flowers, sunny, almost silent - just little, fainted domestic noises, the clop-clop of the donkeys hooves (no cars on the island! no cars!) and the incidental conversations in Greek, a language so ancient that it turned into poetry. An a handful of people, saluting you when your paths cross.

Around 10 in the morning, old gentlemen (and the incidental tourists) get out and have their Greek coffee at the cafes around the little harbor - and if the day is sunny and the life is sweet, you can still find them there at noon and even later. Contemplation is what they are best at and very committed to.

Also around 10, the fishermen boats return from the sea, bringing in the catch of the day. And you can see people and cats lining up along the waterfront to buy (the former) or to be offered (the latter) the fresh fish and various sea creature that will become lunch in a matter of hours. And for the determined cat, following up the hill a bag of fish (with an inconsequential human attached) is just another day's work.

I was to meet the catch of the day later on, on a plate, at the fabulously unspectacular Ostria restaurant. The place is everything is vouched for - a small, family-run eatery, frequented by locals as well as by visitors and with a soul of its own. But it is more to it - an experience, an exercise in cultural self-development through eating. The spiritus loci is the owner-cum-cook-cum waiter, an energetic and talkative young man that manages the patrons in a sweetly tyrannical way. After having ordered a variety of dishes (eyes bigger than belly), he refused to add the eggplant salad to the order: "You have enough food what with what you've already ordered! You cannot eat everything!" He was right... Food is there to be enjoyed, not for you to pork yourself up, your brain should be the main taste bud... flavors should explode up there, filling the world with colors and textures and and a new understanding of peace. He turned into a "kalamari nazi" when he caught me in the act of salting my fried kalamari, "the best in the Universe". "Don't put salt on my kalamari!", he almost shouted. He then explained that this is a local species, sweet in taste, which makes it unique - and no salt was to ever ruin this delicate wonder of the palate. Lemon would do nicely. Once again, he was right and me, the taste-buds barbarian, stood corrected and ashamed of my lack of sophistication. And his rose house wine - what a wonder! Dry, flavored, oily - so oily that you would expected it to be sweet. But it is not and it changes the taste following what you eat, enhancing the taste of the food and re-constructing itself after every dish.

Praise shall go to the holy cats colonizing the island, in such a large number that it is difficult to turn your eyes without catching the glimpse of a feline presence. They do talk, these cats, and their conversations are meaningful, they teach you things and you better listen to them.

Two things seemed oxymoronic to me on this trip into magic: the guns (so ironically used as a decoration and a reminder of the bellicose past of the island) and Santa. I bet this island (belonging to a profoundly orthodox country) has other means to celebrate Christmas - and the plastic Nativity scene (with light bulbs inside each character!) is definitely not one of them.

But here's my decision: if 2009 is a good year, I'll celebrate the New Year's eve next year on Hydra, on that little patch of beach, with the empty island cupped around me. I'll have champagne and fireworks - so that the time curl around its tail and start a good year again and again and again. Then I'll go to the Kalamari Nazi, to eat his sea food, drink his wine and break his dishes, in an omen of good fortune. Gyassou! I'll take there somebody who loves cats and wine, who does not consider there is life without coffee (brewed the Oriental style, full-bodied, sensual, velvety). Somebody I can stay comfortably silent with for eons.

Saturday, 31-Mar-2007 18:10 Email | Share | | Bookmark
Kumm - the rocky side of me

The calm before the tempest
Saxs waiting
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Well, let's face it. I have a certain age, I am socially inserted, I have my responsibilities, I may be a role model for some. All in all, I am not exactly the tipical groupie. Yet I found myself going thrice to Kumm concerts in a couple of weeks (actually twice, but I will go again next week ). It's not only the music - the world is full of good music. It's the energy of the show, the involvement, the feeling of participation. But mostly the energy, something that does not consumes itself, but rather regenerates and replicates itself (well, I am aware that the band may be of a different opinion on this ).
I haven't yet negotiated with myself if taking pictures while events develop is bad, because it distracts my attention or good, as it multiplies the sensations and brings out angles that I would otherwise miss. But this time I decided to go for it - and here's the result. I cannot capture the music, but I hunted faces, movements, emotions, colors and light.
(Kumm in Club Back Stage, Bucharest, March 30)

Saturday, 17-Mar-2007 20:19 Email | Share | | Bookmark
Yerevan - again (and again)

spring sky
spring's coming
spring's coming 2
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I do not believe in coincidences - everything that happens, it happens for a reason. I still work to find out what are the odds for a "normal" person like me, with no known family, cultural or ethnic roots to Armenia, to make it to Yerevan three times in one year. The second time almost does not count, as I almost died there (peritonitis was the name of the near-deadly game) last October.
But I returned now, to celebrate life and to resume traveling (and photo-blogging) there where I left it.
So, here I am, one year later, exploring Yerevan with my all favourable eye. I found the city changed a bit and "cleaned" a bit. I use the quotation marks, as the "cleaning" - the demolition of the old and derelict buildings - comes at a heavy price, eating parts of the city's soul and charm. But this is a decisions for Armenians themselves to make and travelers like me can only melancholically sigh over the fate of the once beautiful buildings. Still, the new buildings are shedding the Soviet-like atmosphere of the city and olny a few accents here and there remind you of this. I found the Armenians dealing sweetly self-ironical with their communist past: there is a karaoke restaurant called CCCP (USSR). The monument to celebrate 50 years of Soviet Armenia (a high obelisc dominating the platform on top of the Cascade, also known locally as "the impotent's dream") is counter-weighted ironically by Botero's Roman Warrior.
I went to visit my favourite building in Yerevan: an old house, marked for demolition and a probable (but hihlgly unlikely, I was told) reconstruction somewhere else. I found it last year and I fell in love on the spot. Now, huge concrete buildings are nearing and for a moment I thought that they engulfed "my house". But the sad beautiful soul-softening building is still standing - this time completely uninhabited, except for a couple of stray dogs, menacingly showing me theeths when I tried to enter the courtyard. The protecting spirits, I thought, and I respectfully backed.
The city has a striving social life. All the big fashion houses have their outlets there and it appears that the Armenian diaspora does its best to return to the country whatever success they made oversees. Thus, I found out that there is such a thing as the Armenian Cigar Association and the promotion is done in clubs and bars that offer you a "cigar menu" along with the regular food and drinks one. The first cigar festival was just organised this March, with Cuban and Dominican merchendise presented by major cigar importers. Of course, a good cigar asks for a good brandy - and Armenia has its own remarcable products in this respect.
Food is also remarcable, both in savour and in quantity. A lot of vegetables, cooked in various ways, keep the meat good company, while cheese is a wonder in its own right. Or in their own right - as there are many kinds. I note - for the love of it - the fresh coriander offered as a complement for apetizers. And the unbelivable "mussel dolma" - a mussel filled with minced cereals, corn, raisins and cinamon. To die for!
I was told that I have to come in summer, to taste the fruits - and I clearly intend to do so. I don't know when and how this will happen - but if my guardian angel is up to his/her task, it will.
Yerevan has a significant number of clubs with live music, mostly jazz. I missed by a day the performance of the famous Armenian Navy Band, a group whose CDs I had the opportunity to listen to. But I was told that the live performance, especially those of the band leader Arto Tuncboyaciyan is nothing like the records. As I said, it will be for the next time.
This time, I was not able to get not even a glimpse of the Ararat, the supreme mountain. An overcast sky covered it completely - and if I didn't know better, I could have bet my morning (Armenian, of course) coffee that there is nothing there... But it is, it is, as it is everywhere in the Armenian culture (everything, from the mineral water to brandy to music and to boulodrome - a court for the French "jeu des boulles" - is branded "Ararat"). Another good reason - the best - to get back one summer...with a clear sky above...[url]

Saturday, 8-Apr-2006 13:40 Email | Share | | Bookmark
Yerevan, Armenia (April 2006)

Republic Square
Republic Square
Republic Square
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It took me 13 years to turn the wish to visit Armenia into reality. Well, I admit, a very marginal and fragmented reality, as I just spent three days in Yerevan alone.
Yerevan is a rather small but well designed city - or at least it used to be well designed, a combination of straight broad boulevards, circular belts and gardens. It makes the place a nice walkable environment and it takes you less than one hour to cross the city ( a break for an Armenian coffee included - that's a must!). The pink tuff is a kind of landmark of the local architecture and gives the city a special look, especially in the sunny days (which I did not have ). You can still see some old two-stories houses, build of tuff bricks and ornated with small balconies and with skillful wooden carvings. Misterious gangways lead into intriguing inner courts. More recent additions tend to spoil this atemporal charm and huge buildings are under construction, to add to the Soviet-era style-less flat buildings. The Armenians have a clear preoccupation for beauty and a lot of street art is displayed all over the city. Antique rugs and other folk art souvenirs are on sale in the most various places - but the main streets are the surest bet.
Armenia is the first Christian nation - the first state to adopt Christianity as a state religion, back in the 3rd century. I have expected a pletora of churches spread around Yerevan - but I was in for a tough awakening. There is, of course, the anniversary cathedral, but I was not looking for anything like that. I found almost by chance a 17th century church nested on a tiny platform and circled by monstruous appartment buildings. It was 3 o'clock on a windy Thursday afternoon and many people were in that church, praying and meditating. The church was austere, with just a couple of icons and with stone carvings as the only ornamentation. The carved cross on the front of the church tells a full story of old symbols - and the Dan Brown's unconditionals will ravel to see the rose of winds to the right of the cross. I was told that many old churches are to be found outside Yerevan, preserved from the early years of Christianity - but discovering them will be for the next time - or the next life, whichever comes first.
Yerevan may not have many churches, but it definitely has just one single mosque - the magnificent Blue Mosque, or Gok Jami (Gok means "sky blue"), erected in the 18th century and still displaying its marvelous tiles and the unbelievable malachite wall that separates it to the day from the crowded Mashtots Boulevard.
There is also Radio Yerevan (by its official name "Public Radio of Armenia"). The people in the ex-communist countries still enjoy remembering the "Radio Yerevan" jokes, most of them with political connotations, a kind of steam-letting mechanism for the frustrations of millions of people. For me, it was a kind of pilgrimige, a duty of honour, respects to pay to my guardian Gods of ambulation, who guide me through the process of seeing the jokes of my childhood turning into reality.
But the most powerful symbol of Yerevan remains the Ararat Mountain, where the Noah's Ark is said to have landed after the flood, the first patch of dry land appearing from the sea, signalling the end of the wrath of God. The mountain dominates the city and the people, even if not visible from all points. I expected to see it right away - but geography and big buildings do their best to hide it, as if you have to deserve to see it. Even from the panorama points, the view is mostly ruined by tall trees (leafless at this time of the year, thank God), electricity wires, TV antennae and disrespectful and presumptuously tall buildings. But when you see it fully, the view is simply overwhelming, breathtaking. I took so many pictures of it, and still am not satisfied. I simply cannot have enough of this "second tallest mountain in the world, in terms of visible part" (after Kilimanjaro; there are taller mountains, but they do not stand alone, being part of high massives). It had to be an impressive mountain, to be worth of such a powerful legend. My brain understands this - still a thrill of wonder wandered me every time I got a glimpse of the peak. While currently on Turkish territory, Ararat remains part of the cultural heritage of Armenia and haunts the viewer - and I cannot begin to imagine how it is to live under it, longingly.

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