27 October 2008

Back to work

Well, it looks like the summer weather is gone for good. The past week has been cloudy, grey, and drizzly, although I understand that autumn is normally considered the most beautiful season in Armenia. Even today it is raining, so our students had to spend recess indoors. I don't mind the cool temperatures at all...in fact, it's rather nice to give my sweat glands a break after 14 years of subtropical Florida weather...but still, I hope the sun will come out tomorrow.

Our fall break was great -- productive, but not too busy, and relaxing, but not to the point of boredom. On Monday, we took Nathan to a pediatrician recommended to us by a coworker. Dr. Abelyan was very friendly and Nathan got a clean bill of health. The same afternoon, all three of us went to the dentist's office just around the corner (we literally walked there from our apartment in about 4 minutes). Jarred and I both got a cleaning for a total of 20,000 dram (about U.S. $30 each) and we had the dentist examine Nathan's strange-looking front teeth. He said they are caused by a single tooth follicle producing two fused teeth. He added that we shouldn't worry about it now, just allow him to monitor it, and it shouldn't be a problem. In doing a quick search, I found out this condition is called gemination, and is fairly common in babies. I don't have photos of Nathan's teeth, but this is what they look like. And if you're still curious, here is an Alabama dentist's description.

Marina came over for two days to babysit so that Jarred and I could go out and do a few things on our own. On Thursday we went out to lunch at Pizza Roma for their excellent salad bar, then it was on to the National History Museum on Republic Square. The most interesting exhibit was the ancient map display. It turns out that the oldest known maps of the world, particularly the Babylonian Imago Mundi, show Armenia as one of the few nations on Earth. Another map that struck me (from the Middle Ages), shows Armenia just northeast of Paradise. We also learned about Armenian-American artist Arshile Gorky, and saw some of his works displayed among an exhibit of Armenian traditional needle-lace.

On Friday, Jarred and I went to Tsitsernakaberd, the site commemorating the 1915 Armenian Genocide. Just outside the entrance to the museum were planted rows of trees, donated by world leaders and sympathetic individuals in recognition of the victims of that atrocity. I counted three donated by U.S. Congressmen, and even one from Pope John Paul II. We didn't get to stay long in the museum because it closed at 4pm, but seeing the photographs and reading the letters, articles, and other preserved documents was nonetheless a very moving experience. For over an hour after the museum closed, we strolled the surrounding woods, pondering the dark side of human nature, and wondering why we didn't learn about the Armenian Genocide in any of our world history classes.
*****

As a result of my thrice-weekly lessons and of course, our daily exposure, I find that I am now able to read more than half of the Russian signage I encounter. My vocabulary is still quite limited, however, so I am able to understand far less than what I can read. It seems there are a lot of Russian words pronounced very similarly as their English equivalents, like salon, autobus, three, aquarium, and mayonnaise, for example. Pretty random, but hey, those are five words I can say in Russian without even thinking about it! And my accent must be fairly good because no one gives me any weird looks when I greet them. Sadly, my knowledge of Armenian (both written and spoken) remains virtually unchanged since a month ago. To say it is a difficult language to learn is an understatement.


I will be posting more pictures taken in the past couple weeks, including photos from fall break, at this month's Photobucket page. Enjoy, and thanks for reading!

13 October 2008

A field trip and a party

Last Friday my class took a trip to Garni as part of our Cultural Studies unit on Ancient Rome. I don't think the Roman Empire ever extended this far east, but it sure came close.

Here's some info I pieced together from various sources, and one of my favorite photographs from our little excursion.

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The temple was constructed in 76 AD by the King Tiridates I of Armenia and probably funded with money the king received from Emperor Nero during his visit to Rome. The temple, resting on an elevated podium, was most likely dedicated to the Zoroastrian sun god Mithras. The roof is supported by 24 Ionic columns on Attic bases. Unlike other Greco-Roman temples, which were usually made of marble, the temple of Garni is made of basalt, a material of abundant local availability.

After Christianity had been proclaimed the state religion in Armenia in 301, all other pagan temples were destroyed, but the temple at Garni remained, and was probably used as a summer residence of the kings. A chronicle describes it as ‘a house of coolness’. It was ransacked in 1386 by the Turkish ruler Timur Lenk. In 1679 it was destroyed by an earthquake. Most of the original pieces remained at the site until the 20th century, allowing the building to be reconstructed between 1969 and 1979.
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In addition to the temple, we also visited the ruins of a Roman-style bath that still has some ancient mosaics intact. Unfortunately, I didn't get a photo, but it was really awesome to see. You can see someone else's photos of them, and read more about Garni HERE.

After working up an appetite at the Garni complex, we drove about 20 minutes to Geghard Monastery, where we ate lunch and walked around a bit before heading back to school. The whole trip was amazing, and as you can tell from the photos, we couldn't have asked for better weather. We had to wear light jackets in the morning, and by afternoon it was warmer, but not hot enough to sweat, even with all our hiking.

*****
On Saturday night we were invited to a birthday party for our nanny, Marina. It was also a celebration for her recent engagement to her longtime boyfriend Karen (kah-REN). The party was held in the city center, at the apartment of Karen's parents. It was a very traditional celebration: the guests sat at a long table that was literally COVERED with food. When someone brought out a new dish from the kitchen and there was no empty space on the table, they would just stack it on top of something else. There were at least three types of salad that I could see (not like American salads with lettuce...more like various mixed vegetables and grains), big bowls of fresh whole fruit, tolmas, barbecued meats, bread and lavash, Georgian pickled vegetables, yogurt and sour cream, sliced salamis and cheeses, soft drinks, wine, and several kinds of vodka -- which the Armenian men kept making Jarred drink and drink because, to their amazement, he didn't get drunk. My favorite food was the homemade tabouleh. Meanwhile, Nathan filled up on corn, olives, and grapes.

There was plenty of Armenian music, singing, and dancing, and Nathan was the hit of the party. He played with the balloons and danced with all the ladies. Eventually, we had to leave, as it was getting late, and Nathan was tired...too tired to even try the birthday cake.

See all photos from the field trip, Marina's party, and more by clicking here.

One final note: our school will be closed for fall break Oct. 17-24, so unless we go to an internet club or come in to do some work during the holiday (which I would rather not do), we won't have access to email or anything for over a week. Please don't be alarmed; we'll be back as usual on the 27th. =)

10 October 2008

St. Grigor Lusavorich

Victory Park

Nathan Playing Video

Working Out

I have finally begun working out again. There is a gym just down the street from us with an indoor pool. It is nice having a housekeeper because on Mondays and Thursdays she comes to clean the apartment and if we ask her, she can make us an Armenian dinner. I do love to cook, but making dinner is always a good excuse to not go ot the gym. "Oh I had to stay later at work than expected, I still have to make dinner and it is just too late." Now, being able to have dinner prepared when i get home, I just have our driver take me by the gym on our way to drop Angela off at home, and I swim my laps. I am still building my endurance but I swam 1500 meters yesterday. It is hard getting used to the metric lengths. A 25 meter pool is about 6 strokes longer than I am used to. It throws me off when I know exactly how many strokes there are before I flip-turn in a 25 yard pool. But I feel good. Stress levels are reducing. It is amazing how much having money reduces stress. The apartment is clean, dinner is made on days i work out, our driver is on a strict schedule which keeps US on a strict schedule, and we are paying things off. Feels good.

From now on, whenever I post, I will include at the end a breif summary of my wellbeing. I am working out and eatling less junk so I am monitoring my weight.
I am swimming and working on increasing my endurance.
My stress level (1-10) the month before we left was a 12. I sought prescription mellow medicine.
My happiness with life here includes how I think of my career, language acquisition and survival, interactions with locals, apartment, money, comparing with life in US, and family togetherness.

Status:
Weight: 195lbs
Swimming: 1500 meters
Stress level (1-10): 4
Satisfaction with life here (1-10): 8

Nathan and Grandma Michele

This was taken in late July, shortly before we departed

05 October 2008

Eureka!

On Saturday we found broccoli and soymilk (vanilla and strawberry flavored)! Woo-hoo!