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.  


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!

Saturday, November 1, 2014

You might add Procida Island to your travel destination list

Marina Corricella at sunset

Procida, a small island forty minutes by motorboat off the coast of Naples, Italy, is a place many visitors to the Amalfi Coast have never heard of. That's probably the reason it's held onto its authentic feel and has attracted filmmakers for decades. 

Capable of welcoming guests with its delicious fresh-seafood restaurants, quaint and colorful marinas, narrow volcanic-sand beaches and moderate but comfortable hotels and B&B's, it's the island I favor over Capri and Ischia. 

I fell hard for Procida. So much so, that I hesitated before sharing my photos here with you all. But how selfish of me would that have been to keep this to myself? Of course, Procida fills up in the high tourist season, but if you're fortunate to visit in the spring or autumn you'll have the place, almost, to yourself.

I hope in the years to come tourism will permit this island to maintain it's calm, quiet authenticity. The locals I spoke to said that was their intention. And I hope you enjoy and appreciate the beauty of this special island, as I saw it in early October, enough to think about making your slow-down, take-your-time and get-away-from-it-all vacation there, too.

Buona visione!

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Il male minore: un porto turistico offshore per Venezia o scavare la laguna ancor di più?

Bacino San Marco-settembre 2013

Le grandi navi da turismo portano centinaia di migliaia di turisti a Venezia ogni anno, i quali, in cambio, contribuiscono all’economia locale e nazionale sostenendo, in parte, i lavori nell’ambito del turismo. Ad ogni modo, come Gulliver che pesta Lilliput, questi enormi grattacieli su acqua navigano attraverso la laguna veneziana e il fragile centro storico—il bacino di San Marco e il Canale della Giudecca—lasciando le loro impronte.  Dopo la tragica vicenda che ha coinvolto la Costa Concordia, nella quale hanno perso la vita trentadue persone sulla costa toscana nel gennaio del 2012, pochi sarebbero in disaccordo nel dire che le grandi navi sono una minaccia per la salute di Venezia—una città che rischia il suo status di U.N.E.S.C.O. World Heritage site e che troppo spesso viene trattata come un’attrazione turistica e non il raro gioiello che è.

 Il mese scorso, il Comitato Interministeriale per la salvaguardia di Venezia e della Laguna si è riunito a Roma. Tutti i membri hanno votato a favore del blocco delle navi che superano 40,000 tonnellate al bacino San Marco. Solo il comune di Mira—i cui confini includono una bella fetta della laguna veneziana—ha votato contro la soluzione favorita dal comitato, che dirotterebbe le grandi navi da crociera attraverso la Canale Sant’Angelo—Contorta; un canale stretto, poco profondo e naturale (largo circa 30 metri al punto massimo) che vira dal più grande Canale dei Petroli, utilizzato dalle navi industriali per entrare nella Porto di Marghera e nella direzione dell’esistente porto turistico di Venezia. La proposta del progetto Canale Sant’Angelo-Contorta stima che ci vogliano diciotto mesi per implementare i lavori necessari per estenderlo, allargarlo, ed approfondirlo prima che possa essere pronto per il traffico delle navi da crociera. Gli amministratori di Mira, assieme a movimenti locali e frequentatori abituali della laguna, credono che scavando e prolungando questo canale verrebbero causati danni irreparabili e gravi conseguenze ambientali alla laguna e alle sue aree periferiche. I giornali riportano che questo progetto è stato inviato alla Valutazione di Impatto Ambientale, mentre anche altri progetti sono sotto valutazione.

 Uno di questi progetti, Porto Novissimo di Lido, è stato proposto dal Comune di Mira e sviluppato da Luciano Claut, architetto e Assessore all’urbanistica per il Comune. La proposta prevede un molo galleggiante di 600 metri, costruito offshore all’ingresso della laguna, che verrebbe costruito con moduli collegati da cerniere e ancorati al fondo. All’inizio, questo porto galleggiante potrebbe accogliere quattro grandi navi da crociera e sarebbe autonomo. Una volta completata la costruzione del M.O.S.E.—le barriere contro l’alta marea—il molo galleggiante verrebbe integrato con l’isola del M.O.S.E. per formare un porto pienamente funzionante. La prima fase del progetto dice sia eco-compatibile, a basso costo e potrebbe essere pronto e operativo in poco tempo.

 Sembra interessante, ho pensato mentre ascoltavo gli amministratori del comune di Mira, dopo che mi avevano contattata e chiesto se ero disposta a scrivere un articolo sul mio blog sul loro progetto—per spargere la voce in inglese. Mi hanno spiegato che il molo galleggiante e l’isola del M.O.S.E. verrebbero usati come punto di rifornimento e punto di dogana per le navi. Cibo, carburante, approvvigionamenti, bagagli e reflui verrebbero trasferiti da e alle navi attraverso trasporto merci mentre ormeggiate offshore, ed ogni anno migliaia di crocieristi verrebbero trasportati via barca da e per il centro storico, la stazione della ferrovia e l’aeroporto di Venezia.

 A quel punto le immagini del motondoso sono apparse nella mia mente e la parola continuava a tornarmi sulle labbra.

 Motondoso (moto ondoso) è il termine usato dai locali per descrivere il danno perpetrato dalle onde che lacerano le fragili fondamenta di Venezia, principalmente causate da barche a motore che eccedono il limite di velocità.

 E’ facile capire che un porto offshore aumenterebbe l’uso e il traffico di barche a motore, ferryboats, vaporetti, taxi acquei, gran turismo, trasporto merci, carburanti e reflui. Riuscite ad immaginare quale minaccia potrebbe essere per Venezia, e la laguna, un possibile versamento di reflui e/o carburanti durante il trasporto dal porto offshore alla terraferma?  In una città dove è difficile trovare polizia locale per controllare il già pesante traffico acqueo e rallentare le barche a motore, un porto offshore non moltiplicherebbe i problemi e i rischi che Venezia sta provando a risolvere?

Non sono un ingegnere o un architetto o un amministratore locale ma, come qualsiasi persona che abbia passato del tempo a Venezia, capisco i problemi del traffico acqueo e delle grandi navi che sovrastano la città. Come altri che tengono alla salute di Venezia sono contenta che il governo si stia finalmente muovendo per trovare una soluzione reale a questo problema.

La mia unica speranza è che, viste queste scelte—che definisco il male minore—non facciamo più male che bene a Venezia.

Cosa ne pensate?

Sunday, September 14, 2014

The lesser of two evils: An offshore touristic port for Venice or more canal digging?

St. Mark's Basin-September 2013
Cruise ships bring hundreds of thousands of tourists to Venice each year who, in turn, contribute to the local and national economy by sustaining, in part, tourist related jobs. However, like Gulliver stepping through Lilliput, these gigantic floating skyscrapers sail through the Venetian lagoon and the fragile historical center—St. Mark’s Basin and the Giudecca Canal—and leave their footprints, too. Two years after the Costa Concordia fiasco, which tragically took 32 lives off the Tuscan coast in January 2012, few people would disagree that large cruise ships threaten the health of Venice—a city which risks its U.N.E.S.C.O. Heritage site status, and is too often treated like a tourist attraction instead of a rare jewel.  

Last month, the Italian Interministerial Committee to Safeguard Venice and the Lagoon met in Rome. All members voted in favor of prohibiting ships weighing more than 40,000 tons from passing through the St. Mark’s Basin.  Yet, only the city of Mira—whose city limits include a good slice of the Venetian lagoon—voted against the committee’s favored solution which would redirect large cruise ships through the Canale Contorta-Sant’Angelo; a natural narrow and shallow canal (more or less 30 meters at its widest point) which veers off of the larger Canale dei Petroli used by industrial ships to enter the Port of Marghera, and in the direction of Venice's existing touristic port. The proposed Contorta-Sant’Angelo project estimates that it would take 18 months to implement work needed to extend, widen and deepen the canal before it could be ready for cruise ship traffic. The city of Mira administrators, along with many grassroots groups and lagoon habitué, believe that digging and extending this canal would cause irreparable damage and environmental consequences to the lagoon and its surrounding areas. It’s been reported that an environmental impact study is being done on this project, while other projects are being reviewed, too.

One of those projects, Porto Novissimo di Lido, was presented by the city of Mira and developed by Luciano Claut, architect and Assessor of Urban development for the city. The proposal calls for a 600 meter floating jetty to be built offshore at the entrance to the lagoon. It would be made up of modules connected by hinges and fixed by simple anchors to the bottom of the sea. In the beginning, this floating port could accommodate four large cruise ships and would be self-reliant. Once the construction of the M.O.S.E. high-tide water gates is completed the floating jetty would be integrated with the island of M.O.S.E. to form a full functioning port. The first step of this project is said to be eco-compatible, low cost and could be up and running in little time.

Sounds interesting, I thought as I listened to the city of Mira administrators who had contacted me and asked me if I would write about their project on my blog—to get the word out in English. They explained that the floating jetty and the M.O.S.E. island port would be used as a customs point and refurbishing spot for the ships. Food, fuel, supplies, luggage and waste would be transferred to and from cargo boats to the cruise ships while offshore, and thousands of cruise passengers each year would be transported by boat to and from Venice’s historic center, the train station, and the Venice airport.

That’s when I removed my rose colored glasses, and the word motondoso kept coming to my lips.

Motondoso is the local term used to describe the damaging waves that claw away Venice’s fragile foundation, and are principally caused by speeding motor boats.

It’s easy to understand that an offshore port would increase the use of and traffic by motorboats, ferryboats, vaporetti, water taxis, group tour boats, cargo boats, boats carrying fuel and waste. Can you imagine the spillage threat waste and fuel being transported from the offshore port to the mainland would bring to Venice and the lagoon? In a city where it’s hard to find local police to patrol the already heavy water traffic and slow motorboats down, wouldn’t an offshore port multiple the problems and risks Venice is trying to resolve?

I’m not an engineer or an architect or a city administrator but, like anyone who has spent time in Venice, I do understand the water traffic and cruise ship problems facing Venice. And, like others who have Venice’s well-being at heart, I'm pleased that the government is, at last, taking steps to find a real solution to this problem. 

My only hope is that, given these male minore or lesser of evils choices, we don’t harm Venice more than help her.

What are your thoughts?