Sunday, August 2, 2015

Venice, Italy: Vacation More as a Traveler & Less Like a Tourist


Rio San Lorenzo, Castello - Venice, Italy

Recently, I've read a lot about Venice, Italy, and tourism in the town that's played an important role in my life for close to three decades. Many writers, bloggers, journalists speak about what attractions you should avoid, where not to eat or what not to buy when visiting. They seem to paint the town I love as a tourist trap with few qualities to offer visitors or residents. Though there are some truths in these articles, I think by only pointing out the negative these travel experts have overlooked the many fine things Venice offers.

But first, let me agree that in recent years 'trinket shops' have steadily squeezed out some of Venice's authentic artisan shops. One reason why these establishments struggle to survive is because of the National government's decision to free up the market and stop controlling what type of shop opens up when another one closes. There was a time when the number of licenses issued to operate mask shops, glass shops, greengrocers, bakeries, butcher shops, hairdressers and all the rest were monitored to balance competition while providing adequate services. That's no longer the case. Please continue reading my post as published in The Huffington Post-Travel: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/marie-ohanesian-nardin/venice-italy-help-local-a_b_7874982.html

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Grazie!

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Tornado in Veneto, Italy: Spirit of Unity and Solidarity has Infected the Riviera del Brenta

After the tornado's rage: 17th century Villa Santorini Toderini Fini
Photo by Dario Rigoni

Just after 5 p.m. on July 8, 2015 the sky over Mira, Italy, turned charcoal-grey and thunder rumbled in the distance. The storm we had been told would break the insufferable humidity and high temperatures that had suffocated the Veneto Region and most of Italy for days was on its way.

I tucked the garden chairs under their table, quickly watered my precious potted lemon tree, hoping the wet soil would anchor it against possible winds. I'd experienced harsh summer storms in the past in Mira--my hometown for the last 28 years...please continue reading my post as published in The Huffington Post - Impact: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/marie-ohanesian-nardin/tornado-in-veneto-italy-s_b_7779302.html

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Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Riconoscimento genocidio armeno: Lettera aperta al Presidente Barack Obama


Gentile Presidente Obama,

Domenica 12 aprile io, assieme ad altri armeni arrivati da tutto il mondo, ero seduta nella cattedrale di San Pietro nella Città del Vaticano e ho ascoltato Papa Francesco definire il massacro degli armeni del 1915 come il primo genocidio del 20° secolo. Parole subito sentite in tutto il mondo, parole che hanno acceso una discussione, parole che hanno spinto l'umanità più vicino alla comprensione e al riconoscimento della verità. Ho partecipato alla Santa Messa perché sono un’armena-americana di seconda generazione e, essendo stata cresciuta conoscendo la verità sul genocidio armeno, ho voluto assistere a questo pronunciamento storico.

Negli anni 90 del 1800, i miei nonni sono nati ad Ankara e a Malatya, Turchia, e a Van, Armenia. Nei primi anni del 1900 hanno perso i familiari, le loro case, il loro paese, il diritto di culto della loro religione cristiana e la loro libertà di parlare la lingua armena—a chi lo avesse fatto i turchi avrebbero tagliato la lingua. Quello che non hanno mai perso era la loro dignità e la memoria di quegli atti terrificanti commessi dai Giovani Turchi contro il loro popolo.

Siccome i giovani armeni erano i primi a essere mandati nell'esercito turco, e pochi se non nessuno ritornò, nel 1908 all'età di sedici anni mio nonno materno e il suo fratello gemello lasciarono Malatya, Turchia, per andare negli Stati Uniti. Il mio bisnonno, preside di una scuola a Malatya, aveva in precedenza visitato gli Stati Uniti, e decise di mandare i suoi figli maggiori prima del resto della famiglia a vivere con lo zio a Philadelphia. L'intera famiglia, dieci in tutto, prevedeva di trasferirsi in America l'anno successivo. Invece, una sera, mentre seduti al tavolo della sala da pranzo a casa, furono tutti massacrati. Questo è accaduto nel 1909 e, a quanto pare, il mio bisnonno era uno di quegli intellettuali che i Giovani Turchi volevano togliere di mezzo. A causa del destino, e di una decisione astuta da parte del mio bisnonno, mio ​​nonno e suo fratello sopravvissero. Solo a causa di tale decisione oggi io sono qui. Pertanto, è mio dovere come armena e come americana raccontare questa storia.

Fra la fine del 1910 e gli inizi degli anni ‘20, uno a uno, gli altri miei nonni sono emigrati anche loro negli Stati Uniti. Hanno creato piccole imprese a Philadelphia e a Los Angeles. Hanno lavorato duro e non hanno mai chiesto un sussidio. Mio nonno materno è diventato un sarto, e ha spesso pressato le uniformi militari per i soldati americani. Era un uomo religioso, e ha ricevuto una lettera dal Presidente Truman che lo ringraziava per le note d’ispirazione, foglietti di carta, che lasciava nelle tasche delle uniformi dei soldati. Lui amava l'America tanto quanto gli mancava la sua famiglia e la sua terra madre. Si è aggrappato alla sua fede e ad un modo democratico di vita e di pensiero. Morì nel 1966 senza aver mai sentito un solo paese riconoscere ciò che sapeva, che le sue perdite personali erano dovute al genocidio.

Tuttavia i miei nonni guardavano al futuro e mandavano i loro figli alla scuola pubblica. Mio padre si è arruolato in Marina Militare e ha combattuto nella seconda guerra mondiale, e poi è diventato un vigile del fuoco della contea di Los Angeles. Mia madre era una segretaria degli Ufficiali della Marina a Philadelphia. Dopo sposata e fino a quando lei è andata in pensione, ha lavorato per la contea di Los Angeles nei servizi sanitari. Ora, all'età di 90 anni, è la Democratica più democratica che io abbia mai conosciuto. Ha insegnato a me e ai miei fratelli di onorare la nostra cultura armena e di amare e credere negli Stati Uniti d’America. Abbiamo capito quanto siamo stati fortunati a vivere in un paese che ci ha dato libertà e opportunità. Una vita che 1,5 milioni di altri armeni non hanno mai avuto.

Signor Presidente, anche se vivo in Italia, nel 2008 instancabilmente ho fatto campagna elettorale per lei sia con il gruppo Americans in Italy for Obama che con il phone banking presso il vostro ufficio della campagna a Norristown, Pennsylvania. Nel 2012 ho fatto campagna elettorale per lei con la sezione di Venezia dei Democratici Americani all'estero. L'ho fatto perché lei era il candidato migliore che avessi mai avuto l'onore di poter votare. Ho creduto in lei, cosi come oggi. L’ho sostenuta ogni passo del suo percorso da Presidente, e sono venuta a Washington, D.C. per la sua seconda inaugurazione. Ero lì, in mezzo al pubblico, festeggiando con orgoglio la sua vittoria. Tuttavia, durante le due campagne elettorali, molti dei miei familiari e amici armeni-americani non erano così convinti di votare per lei come lo ero io. Ho lavorato con loro, parlato con loro, discusso con loro. Ho postato sul social network; ho organizzato il video YouTube “Gondoliers in Venice for Obama” che è subito diventato virale. Comunque, la cosa che ha convinto quegli amici e familiari armeni a votare a favore e non contro di lei era la sua promessa di riconoscere la “Questione Armena" come genocidio.

Il 24 aprile 1915 segna l'inizio delle uccisioni di massa degli armeni; un giorno in cui diverse centinaia di intellettuali armeni sono stati arrestati e successivamente giustiziati. Precedenti massacri di armeni sono avvenuti, tra cui quello del 1909, quando i membri della mia famiglia ne sono stati vittime. Adesso, cento anni dopo, le parole "Genocidio Armeno" sono espresse da paesi influenti e venerati e dai leader del mondo. Da quando Papa Francesco le ha pronunciate domenica 12 aprile, hanno occupato tutti i titoli dei media internazionali. Le chiedo, signor Presidente, non è il momento di tener fede alla sua promessa?

Capisco che la popolazione turca di oggi non è colpevole per le azioni orribili commesse dai loro antenati e che molti studiosi e civili turchi affronterebbero più apertamente la verità se fosse permesso loro farlo. Capisco anche che la Turchia è un alleato strategico per gli Stati Uniti e l’Europa. Tuttavia, quanto può essere affidabile qualsiasi rapporto se minacciato dal riconoscimento di una scomoda verità?

In nome dei miei bisnonni e i miei nonni, in nome di tutti gli armeni le cui famiglie hanno storie come la mia, in nome delle popolazioni che ora stanno sopportando atrocità simili in tutto il mondo e coloro che, a causa del nostro silenzio, rischiano lo stesso in futuro, la imploro di affrontare questo solenne 100° anniversario con la parola singolare che onestamente descrive gli eventi che seguirono il 24 aprile 1915. La parola è genocidio.


Con rispetto e ammirazione,


Marie Ohanesian Nardin

                     


Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Armenian Genocide Recognition: an open letter to President Barack Obama

"We must recognize the full human equality of all our people--before God, before the law, and in the councils of government. We must do this, not because it is economically advantageous--although it is; not because the laws of God and man command it--although they do command it; not because people in other lands wish it so. We must do it for the single and fundamental reason that it is the right thing to do." Robert Kennedy-University of Cape Town, June 6, 1966

Dear President Obama.

Last Sunday I, along with thousands of other Armenians from across the globe, sat in St. Peter’s Cathedral in the Vatican City and listened to Pope Francis call the Armenian Massacre of 1915 the first Genocide of the 20th century. Words quickly heard around the world; words that have brought about discussion; words that pushed humanity a step closer to understanding and acknowledging the truth. I attended the Holy mass because I’m a second generation Armenian-American and, having been raised knowing the truth about the Armenian genocide, I wanted to witness the Pope’s historical pronouncement.  


In the 1890s, my maternal and paternal grandparents were born in Ankara and Malatya, Turkey, and in Van, Armenia. In the early 1900s, as young men and women, they lost family members, their homes, their country, their right to worship their Christian religion, and their freedom to speak the Armenian language—tongues would be cut out by the Turks for doing so. But what my grandparents never lost was their dignity or the memory of those terrifying acts committed against the Armenian people under the rule of the Young Turks.

Because young Armenian men were the first to be taken into the Turkish Army, and few if any returned, in 1908 at the age of 16 my maternal grandfather, Rouben Kashishian, and his twin brother, Benjamin, left Malatya, Turkey, to live in the United States. My great grandfather, a school Principal in Malatya, had previously visited the United States, and decided to send his eldest sons ahead of the rest of the family to live with their uncle in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  The plan was for the entire family, 10 in all, to follow them to America the next year. Instead, one evening, while seated at the dining room table in their home in Malatya they were all massacred. This was 1909 and, apparently, my great grandfather was one of those intellectuals that the Young Turks wanted out of the way. Only because of destiny, and an astute decision on my great grandfather’s part, did my grandfather and his twin brother survive. Only because of that decision am I here today. Therefore, it is my duty as an Armenian, and as an American, to tell you this story. 


In the late 1910s and early 1920s, one by one, my other grandparents immigrated to the United States, too. They set up small businesses in Philadelphia and Los Angeles. They worked hard and they never asked for a hand-out. My grandfather Rouben became a tailor, and often pressed or repaired military uniforms for U.S. soldiers. He was a religious man, and received a letter from President Truman thanking him for the notes of inspiration, slips of paper, which he left in the soldiers’ uniform pockets. He loved America as much as he missed his family and his mother country. He held on tight to his faith and to a democratic way of life and thought. He died in the late 1960s never having heard a single country recognize what he knew, that his personal losses were indeed due to genocide.


But my grandparents looked to the future and sent their children, my parents, to public schools.  My father John Ohanesian joined the Navy and fought in WWII, and then became a Los Angeles County firefighter. As a single woman, my mother Martha Kashishian Ohanesian worked as a secretary to Naval Officers in Philadelphia. After she married and until she retired, she worked for the County of Los Angeles in Health Services. Now, at the age of 90, she is the most democratic Democrat I have ever known. She raised me and my siblings to honor our Armenian culture and to love and believe in the United States of America. Because of the atrocities suffered by our ancestors, we understood how fortunate we were to live in a country that gave us liberty and opportunities.  A life 1.5 million other Armenians never had.

Mr. President, though I live in Italy, in 2008 I enthusiastically and tirelessly campaigned for you with the grassroots group Americans in Italy for Obama and by volunteering my time phone banking at your campaign office in Norristown, Pennsylvania, while in the U.S. on vacation. Then, again, in 2012 I helped organize and campaigned for you with the Venice, Italy Chapter of Democrats Abroad. I did this because you were the best candidate I had ever had the honor of voting for. I believed in you, as I do today. I have supported you every step of the way, and I traveled to Washington, D.C. for your second Inauguration. I was there, in the audience, proudly celebrating your victory. However, during both campaigns, many of my Armenian-American family members and friends weren’t as convinced to vote for you as I was. So, while doing my small part campaigning, I worked with them, spoke with them, and debated with them. I posted on social networks, and I organized the “Gondoliers in Venice for Obama” YouTube video which received more than 175,000 views.  Yet the matter which convinced most of those Armenian friends and family members to vote for and not against you was your promise to formally recognize the “Armenian Question” as Genocide.  

As you are well aware, April 24, 1915 marks the start of the mass killings of Armenians. A day when several hundred Armenian intellectuals were rounded up, arrested and later executed. There were also earlier massacres of Armenians, including that of 1909 when my family members were victims. At last, one hundred years later, the words “Armenian Genocide” are being expressed by influential and revered countries and leaders of the world. Since Pope Francis spoke them on Sunday, they have occupied International headlines. I ask you, Mr. President, isn’t it time to make good on your promise?

I understand that today’s Turkish population is not to blame for their forefathers' horrific actions and that many Turkish scholars and civilians would more openly address the truth if allowed to do so. I also understand that Turkey is a strategic ally to the United States and Europe. However, how trustworthy is any relationship if it is threatened by the recognition of an uncomfortable truth?

On behalf of my great grandparents and my grandparents, on behalf of the hundreds of thousands of Armenians in the United States and beyond whose families have stories like mine, on behalf of the populations who are now enduring similar atrocities around the globe and those who, because of our silence, risk the same in the future, I implore you to address this most solemn 100th anniversary with the singular word which honestly describes the events that followed April 24, 1915. That word is genocide.  

With respect and admiration,
Marie Ohanesian Nardin

  





Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Gondolas4All: Gondola rides in Venice accessible to all

Helping others bypass architectural barriers in Venice


Those who have visited Venice, or other historical centers throughout Italy, know how difficult it can be to get around town. Lugging suitcases and pulling strollers over bridges or perhaps touring about in a wheelchair can be trying, if not impossible.  Yet, to have access to and freely move about is a right for all, and for persons with disabilities it’s a right sanctioned by the United Nations Organization.

Still, when a person with disabilities dreams about riding in a gondola the realization of that desire is difficult and at times out of the question. Like all people who fall for Venice’s mystery and charm, those whose mobility requires the aid of a wheelchair yearn to enjoy the beauty of the Serenissma as seen from the symbol of this most romantic and rare city, too. But to have that experience they must be carried in their wheelchairs from a pier to a bobbing gondola by two or more gondoliers. A situation that’s not always possible, and when it is, there are obvious risks involved.

So, sensitive to the needs of these special guests, Alessandro Dalla Pietà and Enrico Greifenberg, proud seasoned gondoliers who work at the Traghetto Ferrovia gondola station, came up with a wonderful solution which will make gondola rides through their city’s historical canals accessible to everyone, including wheelchair users. In 2012 they shared that solution with the Venice Chapter of UILDM (Italian Union for the Fight against Muscular Dystrophy). The idea to build an automated footboard which will safely board a person with his or her own wheelchair directly from a special floating pier into the gondola pleased the UILDM Chapter so much that they collaborated by
participating in further developing the idea from a technical standpoint. In addition, they shared the efforts by researching and financing the initial work, gathering funds together with the gondoliers, and by economically sustaining the creation of the website Gondolas4All . The Veneto Region approved the project and committed 50,000 euros, and V4A-Village4All—accessible tourism—joined this unique project, too. To further qualify the project, twenty-one gondoliers from the Ferrovia Traghetto attended and passed the Handling, Transporting, and Relating with People with Disabilities training course which was organized by the Venice Chapter of UILDM.

Now, the wheelchair accessible floating pier is waiting to be built at the gondola station near Piazzale Roma, the principle entrance to Venice from the mainland, and begin service in 2015.  

HOWEVER, funds collected to date aren’t sufficient to complete the project. Another 56,000 euros are needed.

Hopeful that this important project will see its fruition, Gondolas4All has turned to the public via CROWDFUNDING. Gondolas4All 

All funds collected will be used for the development and maintenance of this important project. For the cost of an espresso or a glass of prosecco, we can all be part of this Venetian journey. A moment of your time and a small contribution will assist others in making their otherwise impossible dream come true. 

Please, click on this link Gondolas4All Video and watch the cheerful video directed by Aldo Bisacco. Then, if you will, take a minute and donate what you can.  

Grazie!



Saturday, January 24, 2015

Mask hunting in Venice: the profane to benefit the sacred


A beautiful mask from Ca' Del Sol-Venice

Yesterday, I went to Venice specifically in search of the perfect Carnevale mask. On my route through town, I stopped by every authentic Venetian mask shop along my path. Still, none of the masks I saw or tried on met what I was looking for. Then, in the late afternoon, when my walk took me to Ca’ Del Sol—the shop I had most wanted to visit—I was greeted by a Torno Subito-Be Right Back sign hanging from a hook on the shop’s door. Peeking through the storefront window and passed a wall of Commedia dell’arte masks, I saw two electricians doing what electricians do. I knew subito or right back wouldn't be the case. I also knew I wouldn’t have time to return to Venice for shopping before Carnevale began. So, I turned my back on the shop, crossed over a narrow bridge, and entered Ca’ Del Sol’s workshop which sits across the canal from their store. Inside, a mask maker set down her needle and thread, while another continued to apply light strokes of gold paint onto papier maché. They listened to my request to visit their shop, and then gently asked if I could come back the next day. When I told them I had come in from the mainland, one of the artisans offered to telephone the owner. Within a few minutes, the owner arrived and kindly accompanied me back across the bridge, unlocked the door and invited me to browse around. Except for the electricians, I had this masked wonderland to myself.  
Vetrata Vivarini - Basilica SS. Giovanni e Paolo-Venezia

Dark blue was the tone I was looking for, and after trying on a few masks decorated with Swarovski crystals, others with delicate lace, many with colorful plumes, I chose the one in the photo. I’ll wear it to a benefit Masquerade Ball—Galà di Carnevale—which I’m very much looking forward to. It’s my first ever formal masked ball, and what makes it more special is that funds raised during the event will be used to continue the restoration work on the 15th century Vivarini stain glass windows which grace the Basilica dei SS. Giovanni e Paolo in Venice. www.basilicasantigiovanniepaolo.it/vetratavivarini

An evening of fun, food, dancing and fund raising! A profane celebration to benefit a sacred work of art. I can’t think of a better way to celebrate Carnevale.


I thank Ca' Del Sol for accommodating me and for being so helpful and professional. I especially thank them for continuing the tradition of making authentic Venetian masks. Should you find yourself in Venice, their shop is well worth a visit. You might want to attend one of their mask making workshops, too! http://www.cadelsolmascherevenezia.com

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Festa della Madonna della Salute: a votive bridge, a cathedral, candles, prayer and delicious mutton soup




A view of the Chiesa della Madonna della Salute from the votive bridge

Yesterday, November 21st, I joined thousands of others who participated in the annual Festa della Madonna della Salute and paid tribute to this most Venetian tradition. A commemoration dating back to 1630 when the Venetians prayed for an end to the Bubonic plague and Nicolò Contarini, Doge of the Republic of Venice, promised that if their prayers were answered he would have a worthy cathedral built. Apparently, mere weeks later their prayers were answered when the spread of the epidemic slowed down, and then ceased a year later. The government kept their word, and contracted Architect Baldassarre Longhena to build the Basilica della Madonna della Salute--the Church of Holy (Saint) Mary of Health, known to be one of the best expressions of Venetian Baroque architecture.
A small section of the many candles lit.

Beginning early in the morning and continuing until late at night, a constant flow of people cross the temporary votive bridge that reaches across the Grand Canal from Campo Santa Maria del Giglio to Calle Lanza and leads them steps away from the church. Candle stands are spread out in the nearby campo and along the waterfront. Thousands of candles, it seems, are purchased and then handed to church volunteers to be lit, one by one. The crowd of worshipers is so thick that it would be impossible for each visitor to light their own. 

Holy masses are continuously held throughout the day and evening. Many come to listen and pray, while others come to admire the extraordinary architecture and be part of this special experience. 
Looking up at the church's main entrance



Outside, the crowd slowly moves through the Dorsoduro neighborhood where the air smells as sweet as the cotton candy, caramel apples, Nutella crepes and cream filled pastry sold from white tented stands; confirming that this is also a festive occasion.

Street festival-Madonna della Salute
Bewitched Apples
La Castradina
However, no celebration of the Madonna della Salute is complete without a warm bowl or plate of Castradina. I’ve been told, and I've read, that this tradition is a tribute to the loyalty shown by the Dalmatians to the Venetian Republic during the very long period when, because of the plague, Venice was isolated from the rest of the world. The Dalmatians were the only ones who supplied the residents with food. And they supplied them with what was on hand: mutton and cabbage. Therefore, the Venetians ate little more than castradina during those eighteen months of the plague. So, to remember those difficult times, Venetians have maintained the tradition of eating castradina during the Salute festivities. I enjoyed mine at a bustling trattoria our family has frequented for generations: Trattoria Alla Rivetta. Mario, the chef, exceeded my expectations. Buonissima!