Monday, April 16, 2018

It Might be a Detroit Thing

Chris and I with our Student Assistants
     I am an Associate Professor of Operations Management in School of Business and Nonprofit Management (SBNM) at North Park University. I began in the 2014/15 academic year. That same year my colleague Chris Hubbard, Assistant Professor of Management Leadership, also joined SBNM as well. We were freshmen faculty together even though we were years apart in age. For me, this position was what I am calling my “encore career” having already retired from industry. Chris, on the other hand, was just finishing up his PhD and really just starting his academic career in earnest.
     In getting to know each other and becoming friends, we realized we were both from Detroit and actually attended the same high school, Cass Tech, albeit years apart. I did not graduate from Cass and I am not sure Chris did either.
     Last summer, we both traveled to China and taught at the Anhui University of Finance and Economics in Bengbu. It was my second year there and Chris’s first. It was a great experience and a chance for us to hang out and bond even more. It was there that I picked up on something Chris did and recognized it as something I did as well.
     We were in the Canteen, a huge four-story cafeteria, on our first day. After lunch, we stopped in the snack shop to buy water. Chris bought an ice cream bar. We paid using our school issued ID on which we had deposited some cash. The next day we did the same thing except this time we had our student assistants with us. Chris realized the same cashier charged him fifty cents or, maybe, a dollar less for the same ice cream when he was by himself then when he was with our Chinese student assistants. It bothered him a bit.
     He brought it up a few times that day randomly. He would exclaim that he could not believe the same cashier cheated him when he was by himself but not when accompanied by Chinese students. He wanted to go back and confront her. He wanted to get his money back.
     It was funny. We knew he was joking. Mostly.
     But, he kept bring it up. The next day. It was always random and a bit surprising in the context of whatever conversation. It was still funny but a bit less so with each repeat. By the third day, it started to be downright annoying. But, then, after a more days, perhaps it was the 87th time he brought it up, it started to funny again… real funny.
     So, I asked him, “Do you do that often?” He responded, “Do what?” I explained what I observed to him and confessed that in seeing him do that, I realized it was also something I did fairly often. He then thought about it and said, “yeah… I actually do.” I asked “Does it irritate your wife? It can drive mine crazy.” He said, “Absolutely.” We laughed and decided that it had to be a Detroit thing. Since, then it has been our Detroit thing.
     Just last week, I was playing at a coffee house owned by a friend, Aynur, who sings in the Turkish Concerts at the Middle Eastern Music Ensemble (MEME) of the University of Chicago. There were five of us in the group and four of us were from MEME. It was a lot of fun. They put in long tables, seated 70 people in a space that barely could hold 70 people, served a delicious Turkish dinner, and we played a concert and then some dance music. As we were rehearsing for the concert over the few weeks earlier, I had asked Aynur if they would be serving “midye dolma”, a wonderful dish of stuffed mussels with
Our Group with Aynur singing.  Marc Dubay Photo
aromatic rice, herbs, spices, and olive oil. It is a favorite of mine but not something I often get because it is a time consuming to make. She laughed and said “No, not this time.”
     Well… I soon found myself doing that Detroit thing and bringing up the midye dolma when it seemed appropriate. Appropriate usually, in the case of this Detroit Thing, means in an unexpected context with the goal at first of being funny. Aynur or Jim Stoynoff, our concert master, would suggest that we consider playing this song or that. I would occasionally say, “Sure, if Aynur will make midye dolma.” We would laugh.
     Soon, I was getting responses like “oh, you and your midye dolma” and “you are obsessed with midye dolma” and such. I had moved from Phase 1 which is “OK funny” to Phase 2 which referred to either as “WTF?” or “enough already.” One only stops at Phase 2 if someone blows their lid which happens about 10% of the time. Otherwise, it is totally unfair to stop at Phase 2. So, I persisted.
     Mind you, this is not really anything we do with premeditation. It is more of a weird habit or better yet a modus operandi or vivendi. It is hard wired into our personalities. It is our thing… our Detroit Thing.
     The night after our concert on Friday where I mentioned midye dolma another 18 times, we went to a dinner party. Our good friends Claude and Audrey had three couples at their home. We were all Armenian and she served, yeah you guessed it, midye dolma. I
Audrey's Amazing Midye Dolma
started laughing and told them the story. I was also delighted to get midye dolma and Audrey did a great job.
     I took a photo of it and emailed it to the musicians and Aynur simply responded, “When you mention 40 times, it happens.” She later wrote, the next time we do the concert, she will serve midye dolma and other seafood. Just today, Jim suggested I fly to the fish market in Istanbul to make the selections personally. Now, I was laughing. We were in Phase 3. Mission accomplished.
     Is it really a Detroit thing? Chris and I would agree as academics that a sample size of two is not anywhere near definitive. We would have to design and field a survey, do a cultural observation and assessment, and on and on. But, this is not an academic thing. It is our Detroit Thing.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

The Astrological Something or Other 
     About a month ago, I read or heard about an astrological phase we were entering. It seemed that some planet or moon that was in retrograde. Maybe it was that some planet, star, or moon was in conjunction with some other planet, star, or moon. Things were aligned or misaligned. It seemed rare. And, according to the report, it was to have an effect on all of us. We were all entering a period of increased chaos and lower productivity. If memory serves me correctly, it was supposed to last until the middle of April or the beginning of May.
     This, of course, is all from memory. As I didn’t think it was all that important, I did not save the article, capture the link, or pay attention to what radio station I might have been listening to. The reason is simple. I am not an astrological fellow. I pay attention now and then with some amusement, but do not take it seriously. While I say this, I do have respect and interest for the lunar cycle and the ebb and flow of the oceans and am open to how these forces impact our lives and emotion. Oh, the dichotomies.
     I really wish, at this writing, that I had saved the source of the story so I could properly name and refer to whatever it was that was happening in the heavens. It seems it is all, picture me typing this sheepishly, true.
     Since then, everyone has seemed out of sorts. People are touchy and edgy bordering on what we simply used to call: nuts. Also, enough people around me complained about being unproductive and lethargic to make me notice. I include myself in all this. I feel like with every task I do that I am slogging through mud. My productivity is suspect on good days, but these past few weeks? Oh my, things have been slow to get started and overly tedious and slower in the doing. Touchy and edgy? This too. I find that I am less patient with everyone and everyone I interact with is also more touchy and edgy with me.
     Things seem to be getting better, however, in the past few days. So, hopefully, whatever it was has moved on. Thanks for that, because my backlog of half-started, nowhere near starting, and uncompleted tasks has turned not into a mountain but more of a mountain range.
     Here is the big question. Was this real? I do believe what I have reported as happening to me, did happen. Was it due to that astrological thing? I am not sure. Maybe yes. Maybe, it was the placebo effect of that news item?  Maybe, I have just been overtired. I have no way of judging that. Sure, some folks with read this and reach out to tell me it is all imagined and in my head.  Others, will explain it all with some astrological psycho-babble that will turn me off just by the way they explain it.
     All I know is that my productivity does ebb and flow. It is not cyclic enough for me to notice or predict, but it does happen. Why it happens and what I can do about it? Ah… I would love to know.

Monday, April 9, 2018

April 4, 1968

MLK Memorial in DC
     April 4:  1968 was a pivotal year in many ways. I was coming of age. I was full of the hope instilled in me from both family and society. That hope was based on the American ideal and dream.
     Fifty years ago today, Martin Luther King was assassinated in Memphis.
     It was a Thursday. It was a beautiful Spring day in Detroit with the temperature hitting 68. It was a few days before Palm Sunday.
     I was finishing up 9th Grade at Cadillac Junior High School and thinking about high school not yet sure if I was going to Cooley High School which was two blocks from our house or Cass Tech downtown. It was a crazy time in Detroit, it was only nine months after the 1967 Riots which rocked the city putting it on a path of white flight and a gradual slide that led to the insolvency of the once great city. Because the city was still in the aftershock of the Riots, Detroit Public Schools decided to close schools on April 5th. I am not sure if they did out of fear that racial tensions in schools might erupt into violence or if it was to be day of mourning for the slain civil rights icon. I am going with the former.
     April 5th, the day off from school, was a good 25 degrees cooler. I looked it up because I recalled that it was a warmer day than that. When we learned school was out, a group of us that had played pick-up baseball games for years, decided to meet at Cooley High School and play another. I do not even remember who all showed up, but I remember playing. We played on the big high school diamond and not on a side field where we had always played. We were kids bordering on becoming young men. We did not talk much about the assassination. We did not feel scared at all. It was a peaceful day. That might have been the last pick-up baseball game I ever played.
     There was a moment, however, when the reality of what had happened in Memphis and what might happen as a result became quite real. In the midst of our baseball, I looked over and saw a National Guard Jeep driving down Chalfonte. It was one of those Jeeps with a machine gun mounted in the rear. Two guardsmen were in the Jeep. One was driving and the other standing up with his hands on the machine gun. The pulled into the school parking lot, did a loop, and drove off. The whole thing might have only been a minute long, but it had an impact. Whatever idyllic world I had grown up in was over. America had changed. Of course, America was always changing during my entire life from the McCarthy Era to JFK’s assassination to the Vietnam War to the Civil Rights Movement and on that day in April, the assassination of Marin Luther King. This may well have been the inflection point from the Wonder Years to adulthood for me.
     The Detroit Tigers had yet to open their season. The opener was on April 10th and they would go on to win the pennant and the World Series. That World Series Championship and graduating from Cadillac Junior High made the year magical. The 1967 Riots, the assassination of King, the June assassination of Robert F. Kennedy on June 5, the craziness of the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago, the on-going Vietnam War, and the election of Richard Nixon in November made for a most turbulent time to be coming of age. It will be the 50th year for all of these events as well.
     And what did my almost 15-year-old self think about the assassination of Martin Luther King? Sadly, until I saw the National Guard Jeep with the machine gun drive by, I did not give it much thought. I was not treating the day off with the joy that a snow day would have brought. I knew the assassination was a important, shocking, and sad. But, I did not fully understand the impact of Martin Luther King and Civil Rights Movement.
     I was influenced by my surroundings and upbringing. The world was more racially segregated than I knew or suspected. I was under the naïve belief that after the Civil War, everyone had the same chances and opportunities. I was a Boy Scout, after all. I was also the recipient, directly or indirectly, of J. Edgar Hoover’s campaign to paint King as a anti-American and a communist. I had only recently fully understood what communism was supposed to be and how the Soviets usurped it. It was the beginning of an awakening and enlightenment that lasts to this day.
      I actually blogged twice on Martin Luther King on the holiday that commemorates his birth:
     Perhaps the impact came when I read the following poem from Haki Madubhubuti, nee Don L. Lee, that helped me see this more from the Black perspective and which resonated very well with my Armenian perspective.


     it was wild.
     the bullet hit high.

          (the throat-neck)

     &from everywhere:

          the motel, from under blushes and cars,
          from around corners and across streets,
          out of the garbage cans and from rat holes
          in the earth

     they came running.
     they came running

toward the King--

          all of them
          fast and sure--

     as if
     the King
     was going to fire back.
     they came running,
     fast and sure,
     in the

Friday, April 6, 2018

Quarterly Report

Click here to buy
     Back on January 1st, I resolved “to resume my daily writing and subsequent blogging in earnest.” Well, the first quarter has ended and, like a corporation, I feel compelled to file a report.

     First, I have written every day and posted 34 bloggy bits (I am the only one I know that refers to blog posts this way). I posted 14 times in January and 10 times each in February and March. These 34 posts in just three months surpasses the 8 posts in 2017, the 18 posts in 2016, and the 29 in 2014. If I keep up this pace, which is a big if, I could hit over 100 posts this year. That would be awesome. 
     Of the 34 posts, 5 of them had more than 500 views. While, that is not anything impressive in the world of a bloggers, it is pretty good for me.
      Every time I posted a blog, I would tweet it, Google+ it, and post it on Facebook. While the individual posting views are an improvement for me, the overall blog views, called pageviews, are really impressive. Prior to January, my average pageviews per month were about 1,500. In January, there 4,934 pageviews, in February it was 6,474, and in March 5,796. A click on the general blog address is considered a pageview but does not count toward any particular posting. So, pageviews will always be higher than the sum of the views. It sounds kind of wonky but it is how Blogger (my blog host which is a Google product) tallies things. There are so many robots that these numbers are probably all inflated. Robots? Think automatic programs that lurk about social media gathering data for whatever purposes the Russians and others use that information for. Lately, with all the issues with Facebook (Facebook Analytica), the media is referring to them as trolls. Gee, I hope nothing I wrote influenced that last Presidential Election... or the next. So, I look at these numbers over time as relative indicators of interest. 
     I could have posted more in the past two weeks, but I hit a kind of slump. I did write everyday. I had some good topics and ideas. Yet, I was writing like I was slugging through mud. I wrote sentences which became paragraphs. I amassed several hundred words, but it seemed like everything needed some serious editing. Nothing passed quality control.
     While I fancy myself as a writer. I am most certainly an amateur. It is a hobby and something I love to do. Sometimes, I will read an article or short essay from a more well-known professional writer that makes the difference quite clear to me. I recently read a short piece by Chris Bohjalian, of The Sandcastle Girls fame, in which he shared how the idea for his latest novel The Flight Attendant. Writing like this humbles me, makes me admire Chris more, motivates me to buy and read his latest book, read it on an airplane, and then write a bloggy bit about it.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Loyola Rambles into The Final Four

Sister Jean - Chicago Sun Times
     March Madness is a wonderful and crazy time. This year, in Chicago we are excited and a bit electrified by the Loyola Men’s Basketball Team and the incredible run they are having in the NCAA Championship Tournament. There is 1:16 left in the game. They are leading Kansas State 73 – 59. If they win this game, which appears a certainty, the will go to the Final Four. This, in essence, is a real time blog post. Their fans are all decked out in maroon and gold scarves cheering like crazy and enjoying the ride.
     Loyola, while not a perennial power, has had a history of basketball excellence. In 1963, Loyola actually won the NCAA Tournament. The announcers just announced that the 1963 team is the only Illinois basketball team to win a national championship.
     I am waiting for the second game in which Michigan squares off against Florida State. Michigan is my team. Of course, I want them to win. But, honestly, I was equally if not more excited to see what Loyola would do against a very good Kansas State team. The game just ended. The final score is 78 – 62. They were an 11th seed in the South Region and now they are in the Final Four. Their next game will be against the winner of the Michigan – Florida State game. If Michigan wins, as I hope they will, I will want Michigan to win the next game versus Loyola but I will not be so disappointed if they don’t.
     Loyola has won fourteen games in a row since February 2. They were ecstatic to have made the tournament. Their first game was against the 6th seed University of Miami. Everyone expected them to lose. They didn’t. They won it 64 – 62 with a winning shot as time ran out. Their second game was against Tennessee, the 3rd seed in the South region. Everyone expected them to lose. They didn’t. They upset the volunteers 63 – 62 with another game ending basket. It was getting crazy. Their third game, this past Thursday, was against the 7th seed Nevada. Folks were not so quick to favor Nevada. Loyola did win that game and did it again with a last-minute bucket to secure a 69 – 68 victory. They got to the Elite Eight by winning three games by a net margin of 4 points. Indeed it was crazy!
     The Ramblers took it up a few notches in today’s game. They dominated Kansas State by securing a double digit lead early in the second half and never relinquished it. Here I am writing about them and I cannot name their coach or any of their players without resorting to Google. They are a true Cinderella story. They are even more loveable, story bookish, and special with the sudden celebrity of their 98-year-old chaplain, Sister Jean, who has been a fixture on the sidelines the entire tournament. 98 years old! She loves the team and the team adores her. At this point, the entire country enjoys this lovely lady and her amazing team.
     The Michigan – Florida State game just started. The talking heads on TBS all think that Florida State is about to school Michigan. We shall see…

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Facebook Analytica

     It was all over the news yesterday and today. Facebook was being severely criticized for allowing Cambridge Analytica to surreptitiously mine the personal data of Facebook users and using that data to support the likes of the Trump and Brexit campaigns. Cambridge Analytica is a UK based big data analytics firm that consults with election campaigns around the world. The huge unanswered question in my book is if Facebook sold them the data.
     People are upset to the point where they are deleting their Facebook accounts. Yesterday morning, NPR commented that folks were waiting to hear from Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and were surprised he had not as yet addressed this issue. I guess his team was still crafting his statement as he did not say anything until this afternoon.  Even when he spoke and apologized, it sounded like blah-blah written by a PR firm.  I am sure that if Eduardo Saverin and the Winklevoss twins were involved in the company, Facebook would have never come to this.
     I believe that the only way to fight something like this is to bury companies like Cambridge Analytica in a tsunami of disinformation. How would they process it? What would they do with it? They would be stymied and neutered and we could all go back to enjoyed what Facebook is really meant for: cheering us up with cute kitten and baby goat videos.
     Whatever am I talking about? Disinformation? Here is a long rambling sample of posts in the spirit of what I am talking about.

  • I am gay, I am not gay, but gay is OK, when I am not anti-gay. 
  • Trump? I love the guy. Don’t like his hair. Where does he get those long ties? Pretty wife, Marla, right? I don’t like it when he tweets. Actually, I am not a huge fan. 
  • Alexander Nix is the president of Cambridge Analytica. Nix? Nixon? Coindcidence? (cue the Twilight Zone theme.) 
  • We should invite Kim Jong-un for Trump’s army parade thing. At that time, we can either negotiate a reconciliation with his country or brainwash him. I am OK with either. 
  • Hilary? Poor dear. Bless her heart, what made her think she could beat a man. Actually, she is as good as any man, maybe better. I love her policy on taxes but most definitely against raising them. 
  • Speaking of Hilary and Kim Jong-un, do they buy their pantsuits at the same place? 
  • Putin? I know the boy. Good man. Loves his country. Loves to be in charge. I kinda have a man crush on him. Hate what he has done in the Ukraine. When I next see him, I will most def ask him to consider term limits. 
  • I sure hope President Nixon puts J. Edgar Hoover on the job to investigate Russian influence pedaling in our last election. 
  • And then, of course, there is global warming. What a crock of science. Where do these guys get off analyzing data? Where do they even find this so-called data? It was probably hacked from Instabook or Facegram. It was probably Snipchatted or Twhatted. It has to be bogus except for on those days in February when it is 70-degree days. Then it kinda makes sense. 
  • The New York Yankees? Love it when they lose. Hate em when they win. But, I still want them to win the world series. 
  • Native Americans? Never cared for the Cleveland Indians, but love the Redksins, and the Stanford… what are they again? Ah yes, Indians that live in pine trees and get magically transformed into cardinals. I sure wish Fidel Castro would explain that in his next four-hour long speech. 
  • As for marriages? They should all be arranged. Let’s rev up the heat on the melting pot, let's enact a law that requires everyone to marry someone from a different race and religion. 
  • Gun control? All against it, except that teachers should be armed to the teeth with both guns and grenades. As Mike Royko once wrote, the teachers should not put themselves or their students in harm’s way. They should use the grenades to clear out the hallways before venturing out of their classrooms 
     If I posted stuff like this, what would Cambridge Analytica’s algorithms do with me. What would they send me? I would love to see how this would play out. In fact, I would love to see how it would play out on a larger scale. That is, what would happen, if we all posted dichotomous political and social views on a massive scale? What if there were an app for that? The app would randomly generate posts so companies like Cambridge Analytica would have a pile of stinky information that they really could not do anything with.  What shall we call the app?  Perhaps something along the lines of FaceSlap or FaceSmash.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

The First Day of Spring

      Today was the first day of Spring. While the there are bits of new green sprouting out of the earth, it did not feel like Spring at all. But, it was not winter either. March, in these parts, is kind of an in between month. The flora is thinking about coming back to life but for the most part things are dull and dormant. The air is not as cold as winter, but there is still a rawness to it. It is in between.
     The transition from Summer to Fall to Winter seems to be a more natural and continuous progression to me. The world is in full bloom and gradually dies or goes dormant. The transition for Winter to Spring somehow seems more abrupt and a bigger change. I am not sure why I even view things this way.
     This is not to say that Spring is not a gradual blooming and not a gradual change from colder days to warmer days. Perhaps, I am looking at birth and rebirth as being more of an abrupt change than the growing and eventually withering away.
     I tried to see if there was anything close to my odd view of things in a web search. Needless to say, there is nothing close. Most of the quotes, poems, and other bits I found in the transition from Winter to Spring were welcoming the rebirth and warmth that is the promise of the season. In my comments here, I am not disparaging the arrival of spring. I do indeed look forward to the Summer that it brings and am quite content to leave Winter behind. As a schoolboy, Spring was the promise of the beginning of the baseball season and the end of the school year. Both were good things.
     Maybe, I am grappling with the same sentiment that T. S. Eliot opened The Waste Land with:
April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
Winter kept us warm, covering
Earth in forgetful snow, feeding
A little life with dried tubers.
     I remember how these lines resonated with me when I first read them. The rest of the famous poem was a let down by comparison. The breeding of lilacs and the spring rains stirring the dead roots is a good thing. That is the view most have… if and when they think about such.
     Perhaps, there is something very Armenian in my genetic coding. Of course, I like and embrace this notion. In days of old, March was a time of scarcity. All the reserves of the harvest were running low. It was a time of austerity, a time to persevere until things could be planted and trees would blossom. It is no small coincidence that Lent is such a heavy, somber, reflective time in the Armenian Church. We tend to lament more than others, and March is peak season for such. And I try to do my part…

Monday, March 12, 2018

Igreja Armenia Sao Jorge - São Paulo
     There are a lot of pluses and minuses of business travel. The major plus for me was to get to see many parts of the world especially Latin America. I got to travel business or first class, we stayed in great hotels, and frequented fabulous restaurants. I visited the richest, poorest, and certainly most industrial parts of the major cities in Latin America. I made many friends and learned about the unique cultures of these countries that we Americans sometimes tend to lump into one large south of the Rio Grande category. The major minus was that I was travelling for business and not tourism. Therefore, in most places, I did much less tourism than I would have liked.
     I have done very little tourism in Brazil. All of my trips were to Sao Paulo, for example, were fly in and out, with most of my time spent in factories, warehouses, and offices. I did make friends with an Armenian fellow, Artur Der Haroutunian, who took me to an Armenian Restaurant and had me over his house for his son’s birthday. I had not been to a soccer game, Rio, the Amazon, the beaches, and any place tourists might want to go and see in this vast country.
     In my many trips to Sao Paulo, I always would pass by an Armenian Church on the way into the city for the airport. I recognized it immediately as an Armenian Church the first
time I say it. On each successive trip, in passing by it again and again, I wanted to visit the church… just because it is Armenian. As I always say, being Armenian is closer to being a large club or fraternity than a small nationality. Because of this, we stop and engage when we hear the language or see an Armenian church that is not in Armenia or Los Angeles. This being said, I never did visit the church. Mostly, it was because I was never here on a Sunday which would have been the logical and most convenient day to visit a church.
     On this trip, with the School of Business of North Park University, I am here for ten days, as a tourist, and over a Sunday. Perfect. I would finally have my chance to visit the Armenian Church that I had passed by so often. As the trip neared, I went online to try to find the address and email of the church and clergy. I did find a website for Sao Jorge (St. George) and the photo was of the church the one I wanted. They had an inquiry email address that I sent an email to… and never got an answer.
      I asked our priest in Chicago, Very Reverend Ghevont Pentezian, to see he could get

me better contact information for the clergy. He, obviously being younger and more resourceful than I, found Bishop Nareg Berberian on Facebook. We both wrote him, he graciously responded, and I found myself getting into an Uber at 10 am to get to the mass which started at 10:30.
     What a beautiful church! The stained glass windows were both vibrant and exquisite, the paintings that adorned the church were very well done and quite special, the ceiling was elegantly frescoed. As it was Lent and the curtain was closed, only the Etchmiadzinesque top of the altar was showing. It is an impressive sanctuary and well worth the wait.

     The service was a typical Armenian mass or badarak meaning beautiful, ceremonial, and on the long side.  The sermon and announcements were, not surprisingly, in Portuguese while everything else was in Armenian.  The choir was in the loft in the back of the sanctuary and did a wonderful job with the Ekmalian hymns.
     The church was full as well which was a delight to see. I got to meet the Bishop after the mass and also met some other lovely Paulista Armenians. It was a real pleasure to be here as a tourist and finally get Sao Jorge.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

The Pelé Museum in Santos

     I am inspired by sport movies. If I like one, I tend to watch it multiple times. In divulging this, I myself am kind of surprised that I am not a paragon of fitness. To explain that, however, would require several blogs and probably years of psychotherapy.
     My favorites include the Pride of the Yankees, Jim Thorpe – All American, Knute Rockne All American (and yes, Rudy as well), Remember the Titans, Miracle, Bobby Jones: Stroke of Genius, The Express, and, lately, Pelé: Birth of a Legend. I have probably watched the Pelé movie a dozen times in total or part in the past year. This movie is the story of the great Brazilian soccer player Edson Arantes do Nascimento who from a young age was simple known as Pelé. He was born on October 23, 1945 and is generally considered the greatest soccer player of all time. In 1999, the International Olympic Committee named him the Athlete of the Century.
     The film covers his childhood, recruitment by the Santos Futebol Clube (SFC) at the age of 15, and ended with his pivotal role helping Brazil win its first World Cup in 1958 when he was just 17. Pelé grew up in the town of Bauru living in poverty. He honed his soccer skills on the streets and dirt fields of Bauru using a ball fashioned of a sock stuffed with rags. His skills in Bauru got him noticed by Waldemir de Brito, a famous soccer player in his right who became a scout in retirement, who brought him to the SFC.
     Pelé was an immediate sensation in Santos.  He was named to the Brazilian National Team that was to go to the 1958 World Cup in Sweden. Pelé became an international star and sensation leading to Brazil’s first World Cup. He broke out in the final two games scoring three goals in Brazil’s 5-2 semifinal win over France. He scored two more goals in their 5-2 win in the championship game against the heavily favored host team of Sweden.
The young superstar received hefty offers to play for European clubs, and Brazilian President Jânio Quadros eventually had Pelé declared a national treasure, making it legally difficult for him to play in another country. Regardless, Santos club ownership ensured its star attraction was well paid by scheduling lucrative exhibition matches with teams around the world.
     Pelé was known for his unbelievable footwork with the ball, his incredible acceleration, and accuracy in making amazingly difficult shots. It is safe, even for a soccer neophyte like me, to say that he revolutionized the game. He is known for his bicycle kick that seemed to define both gravity and possibility.
Pelé Bicycle Kick - 

     Pelé was a member of the Brazilian National Team in 1962, 1966, and 1970. Brazil with 
Pelé won two more World Cups in 1962 and 1970. He retired from soccer in 1974 but was enticed out of retirement to play for the New York Cosmos of the fledgling North American Soccer League giving the league immediate credibility.  Over all, Pelé played in 1,363 and is the leading scorer, ever, with 1,261 goals.
     Today, we visited the port town of Santos. We visited the Pelé Museum which was full of memorabilia and dozens of film clips showing Pelé’s most famous goals. It was amazing to be there. Not everyone in our tour group knew who Pelé was and were surprised that he and not Michael Jordon or Muhammad Ali was named Athlete of the Century. For the Brazilians visiting the museum, there was no question how they much they revered their National Treasure.

Diana Der Hovanessian (1934 – 2018)

      I learned yesterday that my friend, my fellow Armenian, daughter of Kharpert, and a beloved poetic voice, Diana Der Hovanessian passed away on March 1. She was approaching her 84th birthday. It was sad to hear this news. I am forever thankful for her voice and for the kindness she showed me as a young aspiring poet. She was generous with her time and constructive criticism.
     We were in correspondence in the 1980s and early 90s. Then, as is prone to happen and I do mean prone to happen to me, I let the correspondence lag and gradually become nonexistent. We exchanged letters. I sent her my poetry. We spoke several times on the phone. I visited her once at her home in Cambridge. It was the afternoon tea of great memory. I cannot recall what we talked about, but talk we did.
      I wrote a poem for her about visiting her. She wrote a significantly better one right back at me. I have not read either of those for way too long.
     With each passing year and each of her poems read and re-read, I appreciate her talent more than ever. I appreciate the care and craftsmanship of her work. I appreciate the lens and reflection through which she viewed the same world I see. As an Armenian, I appreciate that I can relate to her view while simultaneously not. I am provided with a richness that is hard to describe when I read her work.
     She was a gifted poet for sure. Her body of work, books, and favorable reviews is testimony to this. She was also a gifted translator of poetry. Poetry is ridiculously hard to translate. The essence of good poetry, the imagery and nuances, are tied to the language, cadence, double meanings of words, and that je ne sais quoi of the language in which the poetry is written. Translators often go for a literal translation that results in a translation that looks like a poem visually but is not poetic, only one dimensional, and thus tedious to read. Diana took a different tack based on her unique talent. She translated the poetry into poetry. She reflected the original through her poetic lens. She would create a new poem, a high-quality poem, closely modeled on the original. But, for her to make her translation a stand-alone poem, she had to trade off some of the literal parts of the translation. Some critics dinged her for this. I thought she had basically created a new art form. I loved to read the original and her translation, perhaps a few times each. It enriched both for me. The best example of this for me her book Come Sit Beside Me and Listen to Kouchag: Medieval Poems of Nahabed Kouchag. She has the Armenian on the left-hand page and her translation on the right. I never tire of reading this gem of a book. Her translations have to be read with the original.
     I am sorry that she passed. That sorrow is magnified that I had let our correspondence lag… but I have her poems.

On Not Meeting Mark Gavoor

On the dock at Camp Hayastan
the summer I had gone to teach
the English course on Armenian
poets, I saw you sprawled
on the gray wooden pier. It was
noon and hot. I sighed at
the sight of so many water lilies
blanketing the skin of Uncus Pond.
"You can't pick them. They are
protected," you warned.
Unlike us, I thought. Anyone
who picks these lilies drowns.

But no need to worry. I am not
one who picks anything. Unfortunately
things pick me.

Suddenly you leaped up saying
"Oh, I know you. I hope
you will have a chance to look
at my poems. My name is Mark."

You moved like all the summer
boys I had known in my youth.
You spoke with the voice of all
the mountain poets I had never
heard in our own tongue.

You smiled with the eyes of the son
I would never have. "Mark?
Mark Gavoor?"

"No," you answered and faded into
the noon light. The lilies shrivelled.
Ice formed on Uncus Pond.

Men from Franklin in rough coats cut
it into blocks to pack into straw
on sleighs. Uncus Indians peered
through the trees.

You and I left to cross two continents.
I to say old poems, you to cut them
into new shapes.

Visitation: for Diana Der Hovanessian
to the poet's home
across harvard yard
anticipation meeting
with the daughter of
my grandfather's friend,
a pilgrimage to see
to learn, absorb the
aura of her way

to the poet's home
a tea august afternoon
of melon and madeleines
(bought just for me)
discussing words
and ironies of
working in our
new native tongue

to the poet's home
that ordered clutter
of books and words
in stacks and shelves
a stark and rich
canonical equilibrium
of perfect entropy
balance and awe

to the poet's home...