28 March 2009

Around town in March

Some recent photos for your viewing pleasure...

The Blue Mosque, constructed in 1765 and restored in 2003, is normally closed to visitors, but we were fortunate to find the gates open last Saturday, and basked in the tranquility we discovered within its ornate walls. This religious site serves as a reminder that the area was once part of the Persian Empire -- as well as the amazing fact that Armenia, the first Christian nation on earth, retains good relations with Iran, its fundamentalist Islamic neighbor to the south.

Nathan really liked the reflecting pool in the center of the garden.

More dichotomy: a cab driver's entire arsenal against bad luck -- a crucifix, a mini-portrait of the Virgin Mary, a big evil eye bead, and a string of smaller beads.

Our friend Maria escorts us on our first ride in a
marshrutka, one of Yerevan's ubiquitous passenger vans.

After we get off at our stop, we watch our marshrutka drive away. In the distance, you can see the newly renovated Sport and Concert Complex.

Our friend Josh shows us the view from his 12th floor apartment.

Looking southwest.

This statue, in front of a restaurant...

...and this mannequin, in front of a bridal shop...

...stand only 3 or 4 meters from each other on Kievyan Avenue, the main street in our neighborhood. They make me think of a silly, more twisted version of Hans Christian Andersen's tale of
The Steadfast Tin Soldier. Instead of a soldier, the hero is a 19th-century fruit seller; instead of a ballerina, the romantic interest is a wedding dress mannequin; and instead of the hero missing a leg, it's his true love who happens to be headless. (I told you it was silly, didn't I?)

Every weekday, as we drive to work northwest of Yerevan, Mt. Aragats, Armenia's highest peak, appears on the horizon.

Our favorite Indian restaurant, Karma.

And finally, shopping at our local Western-style grocery store, Galaxy Supermarket.

Click here to see all the latest pictures in our March Photobucket Album!

20 March 2009

The origins of "Spring Cleaning"...?

Happy Nowruz, everyone, and a hearty welcome to glorious spring weather!

Nowruz is a holiday that falls on the spring equinox and is associated with the new year in many Persian and Central Asian cultures and ancient religions, including Zoroastrianism, one of several faiths practiced in Armenia's pre-Christian days.

I haven't read about Nowruz in any of my books about Armenia, nor have I heard of it from any of our Armenian friends or coworkers; I just happened to come across the information in the "On This Day" section of Wikipedia's main page today. Apparently, celebrants traditionally prepare for Nowruz a day in advance by Khoune Takouni (literally means 'shaking the house') or 'complete cleaning of the house', followed by visits to the homes of friends, family, and neighbors on the holiday itself. Unlike the modern Armenian New Year, which is celebrated with mandatory gluttony, foods customarily served to guests for Nowruz include fresh and dried fruits, pastries, cookies, nuts, tea, sherbert, and other light fare.

Our upstairs neighbors in our apartment building are Iranian, so I wonder if they'll be celebrating...? They are really nice and have had us over a few times. They have a 4 year-old grandson, Misha (Michael), who is not crazy about sharing his toys with Nathan, but he did stop by our apartment at Christmastime to deliver a gift to him.

If you are interested, you can read more about Nowruz here!

18 March 2009

Let the Mischief Begin

Nathan told a lie today.

I was sitting at the computer after work earlier this evening when Nathan walked out of his room carrying his shape-sorting box and brought it to the living room. As he often does, he turned the box upside-down, noisily emptying the colorful plastic shapes onto the tile floor. I looked at Nathan and asked him, "Who made that big mess?" He replied, "Mey-mey [Mabel]." Thinking that perhaps he misunderstood my question, I reworded it. "Who threw all those toys on the floor?" He paused, looking down for a moment, then answered again, this time pointing in the direction where he last saw Mabel, "Mey-mey."

On page 197 of The New First Three Years of Life, author Burton White uses a nearly identical example (a 22-month-old blaming an accidental spill on the cat) to demonstrate the appearance of a child's abstract thinking ability, "the ability to create an idea. It is not just the denial that signals the new stage; it is rather the creation, after due consideration, of the related idea, the scapegoat."

Good luck, Mabel...and good luck to all of us.

06 March 2009

Representational Drawing and other developments

Last night Nathan sat down at his table with markers and drew an orange circle on his paper. He put the marker down and said, "Circle," then added, "Suh" with the hand motions he uses to mean sun. This isn't the first time he's done something like this -- back in October he made some crayon scribbles and called it "tyaah" (cat).

According to the child development book we're using, representational drawing doesn't emerge until nearly 36 months of age...maybe we're misunderstanding the meaning of "representational," but nonetheless, we were rather impressed. Nathan drew something intentionally and clearly communicated its representation before and after he drew it.

At Playgroup, Nathan is building a reputation as very polite. Parents comment on his ability to say "Peez" (please) while signing "please" in ASL when he wants a toy another kid is playing with instead of just grabbing it. Also, he makes sure to say goodbye to everyone before he leaves. He goes to each person, waves, and says "Bah!"

Nathan can identify the first few letters of the alphabet and pronounce their sound phonetically. This early phonetic awareness is remarkable!

He knows all of his body parts, even his heart, for which, he shows us his scar.

He knows what two is. When he puts on his shoes and socks, he knows how many are 1 and how many are 2.

Nathan knows all of the basic colors and can say them all, relatively.

He began pretending months ago. He loves soup. When we are in the kitchen or when he is in the bathtub, he pretends to pour, stir and drink the soup. This imaginative play is also not expected to surface until the end of the second year. I thought it was just mimicry, but when we are not making food, he will do the same thing.

When we count to 10, Nathan will fill in a number we intentionally and randomly stop at. 1,2,3,4,FAH! 6,7,8,Nah! 10-TEH!

Since before his first birthday, he was able to identify most of his toys and we would ask for him to get them and place them in the basket or his shoes in the closet. Crawling, he would excitedly do so.

He can remember back several weeks. He would remind himself with his Pinocchio bath book that he was at Pinocchio and rode the Train as much as 3 weeks back! He remembers even more weeks past that his friend Alex came over, they played (over here -- pointing) and then he left, through THAT door! He walks us through the steps of actions that didn't just occur today while we were at work, but as far back as 2 months ago when we had a bunch of teachers and their kids over.

He makes choices and has been since August. And, surprizingly, he doesnt change his mind if we offer the object he passed on before. He has firmly decided this is what he wants to eat, wear, play with, who he wants to give him a bath, what book to read.

He can now fill in any random word in ALL of his books and songs. He insists on turning the pages to get to the parts he remembers he likes. He knows what pages they are on, and how far back it is in the book!

I like to think all of this is because of the constant 1:1 attention and positive encouragement to read whatever he chooses and crawl around the entire house since he was little expanding his desire to explore.

The most remarkable behavior is Nathan's ability to think critically about an object we ask him about. With no car around, we ask Nathan, "Do cars have feet?" He says "No!" "What do cars have?" He indicates that Cars have wheels! We ask him if mabel has wheels, and he replies, NO! She has?........."Feeee!"

His understanding of language and his ability to think critically, creatively and accurately is incredible! His exposure to multiple languages like Armenian, Russian, English and of course ASL is definitely having a strong effect on his acquisition of language. According to Angela, who has seen dozens of toddlers in the preschools, Nathan is far more verbose than other toddlers his age and especially boys, even much older than him, respectively.

Who knows what he will impress us with next?

03 March 2009


Although Yerevan was founded over 2,700 years ago, most of the buildings standing today were constructed during the Soviet era of the 20th century, which is very recent in comparison to other European capitals (even Paris, for example, has remained relatively unchanged since 1860, at least within the city limits). So while the majority of structures, trends, and attitudes in this city are quite new, everywhere you look, traces of the past remain, stubbornly refusing to fade away. As a result, one might say that Yerevan has a split personality.

The new overshadows the old: this heap of trash and rubble was clearly once someone's home; it's directly across the street from a Schwartzkopf professional salon, and steps away from brand new luxury apartment buildings on Northern Avenue.

Walk down a street lined with expensive restaurants and shops selling cutting edge electronics or hot-off-the-runway Italian fashions; turn a corner and you may find yourself in a time capsule, face to face with a centuries-old church or mosque, or the barely-preserved remains of a neighborhood comprised of mud-brick homes without modern conveniences, many still occupied by the descendants of those who lived during the Persian and Ottoman rule of Armenia (16th-19th centuries).

Just this past Saturday, as I was strolling down our street past the home of the U.S. Ambassador on my way to the metro station (which is currently undergoing a long-overdue technological facelift), I heard a rooster crowing from someone's backyard. I was hardly surprised...that makes two families I've counted in our urban neighborhood who keep chickens; several others often hang freshly shorn wool from the clotheslines outside their high-rise apartment buildings. Another paradox we encounter frequently is the sight of an old woman in tattered clothes sweeping the sidewalk with a handmade straw broom in front of an upscale designer boutique downtown. And when we hail a taxi, we never know what kind of cab might pull over for us: a clean, late-model Chevy or Toyota with a great sound system and an American flag Pine-Fresh air freshener hanging from the rear view mirror...or a rusting, boxy, Soviet relic with a traditional Armenian carpet covering the seat and evil eye stones adorning both the rear view mirror and the superstitious driver's keychain, presumably to ward off evil spirits -- but maybe also to keep the whole car from falling apart!

A Zoroastrian-style bas-relief on the exterior of a building that houses a Eurofootball bookmaker, while at far left a woman sells vegetables to passersby along one of the city's busiest streets.

Despite the numerous strange (and sometimes sad) ironies and contradictions that surround us every day, we enjoy living here. Armenia lies at a unique crossroads of Europe, Asia, and the Middle East, whose culture we continue to experience with the awe and astonishment of newcomers, yet its people desperately seek recognition as members of the the modern western world. Notwithstanding the technological and scientific advances of the last few decades, their country retains an old-world charm, even in the capital city. It's a place where children needn't fear strangers; where you can buy home-grown flowers, culinary herbs, or a snack of roasted sunflower seeds on the street corner; where you can ride the subway to any stop for just 50 dram -- about 14 cents! It's a place where food is really fresh, delivered to stores from local farms every morning; where there's no Wal-Mart to muscle out the small business owner; where even beggars have the dignity and work ethic to ask foreigners for employment, not money. (We were once approached by a older gentleman who spoke English -- he had lived in the States for some time -- he very politely asked if we needed someone handy to do any work around our house; on another occasion, a kindly grandmother offered to knit some clothing for Nathan.)

At the end of each day, Nathan likes to watch the sun set across the gorge and wave goodnight to the birds flying past our balcony.

I was reminded of Florida most unexpectedly today when I walked down to the corner food store with Nathan to buy a long-distance calling card. I was standing in line at the register when something caught my eye: there in the deli case, among the sausages, blocks of cheese, and vacuum-packed meats and fish was a lone package of Publix brand 'Freshly Frozen Tuna Steaks.' I literally did a double-take! How did that get here? Talk about weird! As we left the store and headed home, snowflakes began to fall, and my mind zoomed back to the present...we're not in Florida any more!