28 July 2010

Paris through the eyes of a child

We're back from our long-awaited (and over much too quickly) trip to Paris! So as not to exhaust ourselves, we took it slow and easy, and since we were there a full week, we still managed to see and do quite a lot.

Rather than show off a lot of cliche family photos in front of the Eiffel Tower, I'll use this post to share the side of Paris we saw only because of Nathan... no, I'm not talking about the children's hospital where he had his annual cardiology exam (which went very well, all good news)... I'm talking about the lesser-known, kid-friendly side of the city that most tourists never see or read about. It was these -- the unexpected moments in Paris -- that we will cherish in our memories forever!

Splashing in the fountain in a roundabout off Rue Monge
A cute little playground behind the Parish of St. Medard
Airplane-spotting with un petit garçon français
Toys!
At the ancient Roman amphitheater of Lutece
Another playground, this one at the church of Saint-Séverin
A gargoyle with 'nummies' (that's Nathan-speak for 'breasts')
Dolls!
An elaborate "N" on the exterior of the Louvre palace
Paris as seen from the ferris wheel in the Tuillerie Gardens

Driving without a permit


At a sidewalk cafe, enjoying a Nutella panini
Playground number three, this one behind Les Invalides

Kicking leaves along the Seine

Learning how things work in the the Cité des Enfants at the Cité des Sciences et de l'Industrie


Balls!


Gears!
Water!
The geode outside the Science Center
GIANT HAMSTER WHEEL FOR CHILDREN
Nathan's thoughts on Versailles: the gardens are better than the palace because you can run around, and "The trees are silly because they have funny shapes!"

Visiting Quasimodo and friends...
...in the bell tower...

...and on the roof of Notre Dame Cathedral

Watching Disney's The Hunchback of Notre Dame in bed
Only a child could find a souvenir Eiffel Tower even more fascinating than the real thing
Yet another playground (we visited seven in total)



The snack of choice for a hungry toddler weary of strolling the Champs-Élysées: a scoop of Häagen-Dazs cookies and cream, on a white chocolate-macadamia nut cookie, served with rich hot chocolate

Cars, cars, and more cars!





The best part of Monmartre is riding the Funiculaire


To see all our Paris photos, including the more conventional ones, visit the July Photobucket album -- yes, I know I've been a total slacker on the Photobucket albums this year, but I'm trying to get back on top of things. Expect new links soon. Also, the above Paris videos and others are available on our YouTube channel. Finally, you'll notice that at the bottom of each post there are now some handy little share buttons for Twitter, Facebook, Buzz, etc. Click away, dear readers, and spread the love!

One final photo for your viewing pleasure...my personal favorite, even though Nathan is not looking at the camera:

Aah, Versailles

09 July 2010

American Independence Day in Armenia

Nathan and I spent a quiet 4th of July at home by ourselves (Jarred's still in the States on business). He had his weekly exercise class at the gym, then after I put him to bed, I stayed up and watched The Patriot. I had been hoping the US Embassy would host some holiday festivities -- for Nathan's sake more than mine -- but it turned out that Secretary of State Hilary Clinton was arriving that very day, so the embassy staff was working overtime to prepare for her visit. I understand that her trip was a success -- she even walked the Yerevan streets from the Presidential Palace to the Marriott in Republic Square (nearly 2 miles) so she could see the city. This of course made life very difficult for security personnel, but this country is so safe, and Armenians LOVE the Obama administration, so they really had nothing to worry about!

For those interested, you can read the embassy news writeup of Secretary Clinton's activities HERE, and view a transcript of a short speech she made to staff and guests at the embassy, including some of our students and their families, in the latest issue of our embassy newsletter HERE (download the PDF).

***

After Secretary Clinton left, embassy staff collectively breathed a sigh of relief ...and then the party started! Nathan and I attended a wonderful Independence Day celebration held at the embassy's recreational area, Gilmore Field, on the night of the 8th. Nathan had a great time! He ate pasta salad, corn on the cob, cherry pie and ice cream, and Ambassador Yovanovich personally poured drinks for everyone! Afterwards, he participated in the kids' parade, riding his loyal steed, Clip-Clop, who was beautifully dressed for the occasion. While there were many other activities for children throughout the evening -- fishing for prizes, face painting, water balloons, and a movie -- all that little boy wanted to do was play on the playground and in the bounce house from 7:30 to 10:15...the only reason he stopped was because it was time for the fireworks display, which he enjoyed tremendously, smiling and clapping the whole time!













Happy birthday, USA!



07 July 2010

Why I Hate the World Cup




During the past few weeks, Yerevan has been caught up in the frenzy of football fever. At the outset, it didn't seem like such a bad thing... I expected to witness greater camaraderie, enthusiasm for healthy physical activity, and the strengthening of international ties among the people of the city. I was filled with hope. I suppose it's the idealist in me. But as the days passed, I realized how foolish I was, for as it turned out, the opposite was the case.

Before I continue, I should make the following disclaimer:

***I AM AMERICAN. FEW PEOPLE IN THE U.S. CARE ABOUT FOOTBALL IF IT ISN'T "AMERICAN" FOOTBALL. THEREFORE, I GREW UP WITH VIRTUALLY NO KNOWLEDGE OF OR INTEREST IN THE SPORT WE YANKS REFER TO AS SOCCER. HOWEVER, UNLIKE MANY AMERICANS, I GENERALLY DISLIKE MOST FORMS OF COMPETITION. AS A CHILD WITH MORE OF A MIND FOR ACADEMICS THAN ATHLETICS, I CAME IN LAST PLACE AT EVERY SWIM MEET WITHOUT EXCEPTION, I GOT MORE BASKETBALLS IN THE FACE (RIGHT IN MY COKE-BOTTLE EYEGLASSES) THAN IN THE NET, AND, CONTRARY TO THE VIEWS OF MY CLASSMATES, I CONSIDERED FIELD DAY THE ABSOLUTE WORST DAY OF THE YEAR. I EMPATHIZE DEEPLY WITH THOSE SCHOOLCHILDREN -- PAST, PRESENT, AND FUTURE -- WHO, LIKE ME, HAVE BEEN/WILL BE SUBJECT TO THE LASTING TRAUMA OF ALWAYS BEING THE LAST ONE PICKED FOR A SPORTS TEAM THEY DIDN'T WANT TO JOIN IN THE FIRST PLACE, THE ONE NO ONE WANTS, THE DORK. SO BEFORE YOU ROUND UP AN ANGRY MOB AND COME AFTER ME WITH PITCHFORKS AND FLAMING TORCHES, PLEASE UNDERSTAND THAT I AM SOMEWHAT BITER WHEN IT COMES TO ALL POPULAR SPORTS, NOT JUST FOOTBALL. THE EVIDENCE ON WHICH THIS POST IS BASED IS ALL ANECDOTAL, MY OPINIONS ARE THE RESULT OF MY OWN PERSONAL EXPERIENCES, AND YES, I DO HAVE A SENSE OF HUMOR.***

First off, rather than camaraderie, I have witnessed the weakening of friendships on their most rudimentary level. No, I'm not talking about riots in the streets, nor even about best friends splitting up over a controversial call by a referee. It seems that the World Cup has become an excuse for ignoring the decorum that forms the basis of any relationship. Consider a recent telephone conversation, which went something like this:

ME: Hey, I'm on my way to the restaurant. Are you there yet?
FRIEND: Oh...no...you know, I'm going to be late. Sorry, I can't leave home until the game is over. It's so exciting!
ME: Um, okaaay... thanks for letting me know in advance.

On another occasion, I was with a group of friends having dinner at an outdoor cafe. Instead of sitting together for the entire meal like civilized human beings, various members of our party repeatedly left the table to check the score. Excuse me...I'm no Emily Post, but isn't that terribly rude?

I can forgive one little slip-up, but if sports-mania becomes an acceptable replacement for good manners, I'd prefer to spend the rest of my life alone.

As for physical activity, I guess I was naïve to expect to see strangers take to the streets, laughing and kicking a ball around together. Instead of taking to the streets, people are taking their seats, hypnotized by their TVs. And not just at home; many of the most fashionable cafes and clubs throughout the city have installed several large flat-screens to attract customers...so that rather than sitting on their butts watching the game at home, they're paying money to sit on their butts and watch in the cafe, smoking and drinking all the while. Not exactly the healthy effect I was hoping the games would create.

One the one hand, this may seem like a smart move from a marketing perspective, but in reality, they're losing business -- MY business, that is. At least twice I have been unable to find an available seat at our favorite cafe because of football fans who are incapable of vacating the table even when they're finished with their food/drinks/cigarettes because apparently their eyeballs are attached by invisible steel chains to the TV screens. One time, Jarred and I found a good place to sit at yet another cafe (in the V.I.P. section, ooh-la-la) but the servers there informed us that because of the World Cup, all the tables were already reserved, so we had to leave. I also heard that one of the popular discos in town now has a big screen up, and doesn't play music when there is a game on. So even those who are out to get their bodies moving and dance off a few calories are unable to do so -- not at that particular club, anyway.

There are some people who watch World Cup simply because it's a fad... they are about as athletically-disinclined as I am, don't know the first thing about the rules of football, and have no interest in learning; they simply watch the game play out as if it were a soap opera or TV drama, under the guise of being a sports fanatic. This may not sound all that bad, but I hope you can appreciate how unbelievably aggravating it is for me when I tell you that the person I have in mind for this example is the very offender from the aforementioned telephone conversation.

My third reason for hating the World Cup is harder to explain. I believe compassion and cooperation are more powerful and more beneficial than competition. Does the World Cup foster international cooperation? Perhaps to some extent... I admit I don't know enough about this topic. Maybe someone can enlighten me. But so far all I've read is bad news: the Nigerian president attempting to suspend his country's team because of their poor performance, rumors of bribery and corruption, opportunities for spammers and hackers to spread malware, the French debacle...all driven by pressure to be "the best." I've noticed, too, that these games tend to bring out all the old, often politically incorrect stereotypes about the participating countries, perpetuating misconceptions about diverse cultures and peoples who, in the end, have more in common than not. On top of all of this is the excessive betting on teams for money -- legal or illegal, it's gambling, and we all know how dangerous that can be, especially in developing countries where the people are already so poor. What do the bookmakers care? Sports for them is not about compassion or cooperation...it's all about profit. Haven't you seen Two For the Money?

There is one final reason why I hate the World Cup. I discovered it the first time I turned on a game, so that I might attempt to understand everyone's excitement: THE VUVUZELA. Need I say more?

***
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05 July 2010

Yerevan Street View

We're catching up with the rest of the world... a handy resource for travelers, newcomers, and the curious. Thanks to Arpik for the info... I never would have known about it otherwise!

Yerevan Street View? Already there! - whatever you are be a good one

02 July 2010

A spontaneous trip to Vanadzor

After Jarred left for the U.S. on Monday, Nathan and I decided to accompany Maria on a 24-hour trip to her hometown of Vanadzor to take care of some passport business and visit her relatives. The weather was great, and we got to see a few places we hadn't been before, including the town's Russian Orthodox Church and a little park with play areas and rides for kids.

Pictures!