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Turn Off the Lights, Spring Is Coming!

By Zara Nelson

 

The Armenian Weekly

March 8, 2008

 

The last customers of the cafe were leaving, while a new group was assembling there. It was almost midnight and we were getting ready to start shooting the new film. Despite the last hours, there was a lot of commotion at the square where we were scheduled to do the shooting.

An hour later, everyone had assumed their positions and was waiting for the magic word. I gave the sign to start shooting: “Action!”

This film tells a heart-warming story, full of love for Armenia, longing for the home city, Yerevan. It is the story of two women with different pasts crossing paths, and an accidental meeting that changes both their lives. They talk about how love erodes, and how men try to change one another instead of accepting others as they are.

Everything was magical! Scene after scene, our film was coming into life. I was so happy. The most beautiful spring of my life was arriving. At sunrise, we were already getting ready to shoot the final three scenes…

“The roosters are calling,” we joked. We were hearing unfamiliar sounds from the Liberty Square. Soon, buses full of soldiers appeared. We all approached the windows, wondering what the commotion was all about. Some police cars started calling the people to leave the square. It would have been good if the people had silently left, but that was not to be.

“Do not leave, people. We are victorious.” It was Levon’s voice.

The first group of soldiers—unarmed—who came down from the buses, all 18-19-year-olds, were looking around with confusion, while the people seemed to know what to do. The roles seemed to have been reversed. Soon enough, the people started throwing stones at the soldiers. A second group of soldiers arrived.

In the meantime, the crowd started dispersing; some were walking away, while other were running. Those who stayed started to resist the soldiers. Bottles filled with explosive material were flashing like fireworks, and screams had filled the air.

“I am pretty sure these are fireworks,” I said, realizing that we were witnessing something grave and serious.

We started hearing gunshots. To this day, I cannot understand where all those weapons came from. None of the soldiers were armed, as the 20 people who were with me that day could bear witness. That day, at dawn, we all were witness to something we would hardly ever wish to witness.

“Turn off the lights and get away from the windows,” the workers of the cafe said.

The demonstrators were throwing explosives and stones at the police as they ran away from them and approached us. The situation was getting worse by the minute. We moved to the cafe’s basement, where reproductions of Salvador Dali paintings were hanging from the walls. I was in the basement with elephants with long legs, rhinoceroses, distorted clocks and a group of terrified people crying, shaking out of fear…

I remembered “La Vita e Bella.” I was trying to convince my companions that they would all return home soon and that everything would be fine. “Didn’t you see how the soldiers were unarmed? Doesn’t that mean no one intended to fight?”

Around 30 minutes later, we went upstairs again. The square around the Opera House was cleared, but there were still many people in the area who were being very aggressive, even to passersby. “You were either with us, or you’re worthless,” the people were told. It was obvious that we were not with them, so I wonder what we were in their eyes.

For the first time in my life, I was forced to defend myself from my own people. We asked the security forces for help. My heart was full of pain. It felt as if there would be no tomorrow.

The security people came to help. We opened the door of the cafe and following their instruction, “follow us.” The film crew came out of the restaurant and moved to the production company’s bus. We had cameras and other equipment in our hands. The people around us started to shout, “They have arrested them. They are taking our journalists away!” Others were yelling, “Traitors, you think you can run away? You think you can run away from us so easily? We remember your faces very well, you were at the Opera Square.”

It was very painful for me to realize that these people were in a trance. They saw everything from their own perspective and the voice of reason could not reach them.

I don’t remember how I arrived home. I was very depressed. Why did things happen this way? How did my people become so divided, so torn apart? Why did they fall for this trap?

The first day of spring was terribly dim… My people had become unrecognizable… I was feeling hopeless. I was thinking, “The prince of darkness did his dark deed again, and this is not the end.”

I could smell the ‘90s in the Yerevan air and in my ears, I still heard the echoes of voices from earlier that day, “Baykar, baykar minchev verch” (“Struggle, struggle until the end”—a slogan championed by Levon Ter Petrosian), “Turn off the lights,” “Spring is coming”…

 

*Published in Armenian Weekly USA

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  Véronika décide de mourir or Veronika decides to die; call it whatever the main point is the same.

  I read this novel right the time I needed as well as I read “the Alchemist” and “Maktub”. Amazingly Paulo Coelho is right there in my life always at the time his presence is needed the most.

  I am sure many people have the same feeling about Paulo. I allow myself call the genius simply Paulo because I define him my friend. He did a lot for me without even knowing my existence.

  Please pay attention to the first sentence “For S.T. de L, who began to help me without my realizing it.” The same did Paulo. It has began in May 2006, when I first took “the Alchemist” to read while I have been traveling to Belgrade from Vienna.

  It was the beginning of my big and long trip around the World aimed to find my own Right Space in this World. It was not so long ago, but still I have to mention that at the time I didn’t know the Voice of Universe exists and there are signs everywhere that you should learn read them. So I started my trip deaf and blind. From today’s view it seems to me very funny though and I feel no regret for anything done.  Do you think Santiago had the feeling of regret in the end of his journey? I am sure he didn’t, same do I.

  Paulo’s Veronika gave me another serious reason to go for deep self analysis.  And since ‘nothing in this world happens by chance’ I accept the sign.

  Coming back to Veronika, I have to say that, I truly believe one could kill herself for a simple question written by a Homme’s correspondent saying “Where is Slovenia?” Maybe the reason is that after the journey my nation’s honor and pride are in the list of my main concerns.

  I have a feeling that the question wasn’t chosen randomly. It was difficult time for all of former Yugoslavian countries. Slovenia has got the independence relatively easy in comparison to Croatia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, etc. Still there is a colossal problem of finding national identity and ideology for new country, which is a painful process with lots of losses and finds. My country has same problems for many years after the USSR split. 

  She thought that Homme’s correspondent “had probably told his fellow journalists on the magazine various untrue stories about local customs too, and said how badly Slovene women dress.”* I think we already get used to one sided stories in press about our “third world” countries with no chance to sue them for inaccurate false information, or even to have the truth disclosed loud enough to be heard by them.

  The feeling of being unprotected of lies and inability to say the truth loud enough to be heard can cause the sense of complete hopelessly which itself can kill without even taking sleeping pills.

  In a world where everyone struggles to survive whatever the cost, how could one judge those people who decide to die? No one can judge. Each person knows the extent of their own suffering, or the total absence of meaning in their lives.   

  Maybe this is right, maybe wrong but at the point one think that the life is meaningless, what they need the most is to be insured in the opposite.

  What did she want from her life? Obviously she is one of the women I define as a statistical mistake. I define myself as statistical mistake as well. What is that and why I do so?

 These are woman which are perfectly happy with the quantity of dresses in their closet, which are not spending days and days on shopping at Christmas sales, can park the car in a narrow space by first try, who knows fist aid and quickly helps instead of screaming when sees the blood, which will bring a full suitcase of books from the next trip, spends maximum five minutes per day on the phone, don’t watch soaps, prefer museum to fashion show, don’t spend hours for her daily make-up and STILL they are interesting and charming for others.

  Veronika brought her interior monologue to a close and made a promise to herself: she would not leave Villette alive. It was best to put an end to everything now, while she was still brave and healthy enough to die.*  Her monologue was about a family model a lot of people are perfectly happy with. In my opinion she was way to romantic to accept this prosaic model of the family and happiness which was doubtless true.

 People mostly don’t pay attention to friendship in relationships but to love.  Love is important but not really enough, because love knows to be selfish, which kills healthy understanding of partner. Doubtless for a relationship you need one who is relatively close to your level of understanding and accepts you the way you are.

“That’s not the lack of love, but lack of friendship that makes unhappy families”, true.

Veronika was all alone, since her monologue was addressed herself , her behavior was introverted. 

I honestly lived and felt her last minutes with her.

I have the same concerns about my future as well, but I am not brave enough to even decide to die…

… she was proud she did that,

… I am proud I can’t

 

Belgrade, Serbia

2007      

— I’m tired… — this was the short answer to the question of why they were separating…

 

I am a curious person, not in the sense that I like to stick my nose in other people’s business, I simply try to know as much as I possibly can about people’s relationships. I am always a supporter of conversation and because I also have a propensity for listening that woman opened up to me like a book. There was no Anna Karenina’s exaggerated passion in her story. It was more a sorrowful story, about how, in our everyday lives, we lose the most definitive of human sentiments. We waited till the coffee was ready. Each one of us picked up a paper cup, full of four hundred calorie coffee, and began to look for a table. We took a small table near a window.  I love windows, one day when I own a house, it’ll be one with big windows, full of sunlight.

 

I’m looking at her, she’s pretty, even now with fifty-six years engraved on her face.

 

–   This is good coffee, – I say. I don’t mean it, I just say it to start a conversation.

–   Yes, it really is good,– she confirms, it’s obvious that she’s enjoying her coffee; – I like the strong smell of coffee at Starbucks, I don’t like to drink coffee anywhere else.

–    Smell isn’t important, for me taste is important։ I like homemade coffee prepared in a jazzve, you can’t find that in Canada.

 

I thought to myself. «This woman will never understand what jazzve coffee is and why it tastes better. Evidently it wasn’t even worth telling her that in Europe they call that type of coffee Turkish, though it comes from Arabic countries. And that as an Armenian, I call this coffee exclusively homemade or black coffee.» Apparently my silence lasted a long while. She lifted her eyebrow, maybe to get my attention, and began to speak.

 

– I think, actually, I’m sure, that now, at the very least, I deserve to live for myself. It’s been almost 23 years that I have been circling around him as if he were the center of the earth.

 

When we got married, he was already very mature and he had his own conception of how a family should work. I didn’t have my own thoughts on the subject, maybe I was too young or foolish, or perhaps I just wasn’t ready for marriage. So, I accepted his conception as if it were my own, and we lived happily that way. He was the center of the universe, while the kids and I were only appendages, sometimes needed, other times absolutely unnecessary. It was a constant concern of mine that it always be clean, that the kids sit quietly while he worked, that on his days off no one disturb his sleep until noon, and that his work and coworkers and family and comfort not turn into a mess.

 

His greatest concern at that time was what to get me for Christmas and Mother’s day. Over the years even his presents lost their originality and became so commonplace that I thought, «My god, is he capable of surprising me with anything? When exactly did he get so grey?» Over the years I felt an apparent need to make some adjustments in our everyday life. I tried to carry them out unnoticed, so he wouldn’t be offended.  My husband simply didn’t accept it, and we turned against each other.

 

The insults grew deeper every day… I thought to myself, «why so that I always have obligations and he has wishes only. Everything with him depends on the wish, either wants it or doesn’t. They say it’s compromise that preserves a family, why was it so one-sided in my case?

 

The years were passing, slowly we lost the ties between us. More and more often we were communicating through the kids. That’s quite possibly the greatest menacing danger to a marriage, that you don’t feel in the beginning, and when you finally  acknowledge it, it’s too late. And then one day all of a sudden it pierces your ear, «tell your mother…», you hear in response to the cry, «tell your father…» It is then that you clearly acknowledge that it seems like only yesterday you belonged to each other, and now you belong to your children, which is not so bad, if, of course, there is no desire to bring back the former state of affairs. I had that desire…

 

Every time, when he situated himself comfortably on the couch, watching TV and becoming irritated by the slightest noise of the children playing, I hated him. That hatred was so strong, that it caused pain in my chest.  I remember very well, how one day I woke up in our bed next to a stranger.  Our bed of twelve years… hiding my tears, I locked myself in the bathroom so the children wouldn’t see me. I was choking…

 

I thought to myself, this too will pass, next Mother’s day, when I receive the next bouquet of roses, the which are pledge of his waning love and attention. If you only knew how much he was falling out of favor with me with every one of his bouquets of roses.

 

My jaw had dropped in amazement and remained that way till the end of the story. I don’t know what she would have thought if she saw the expression on my face. I was lucky that she was exceedingly carried away with her own thoughts, continually  striving to formulate them.  I was trying to fish her words from the air, so that nothing would be left out, I wanted to understand how family relations were in this progressive country.

 

–  The kids were getting older, I didn’t allow myself to change the steady pace of their lives to put my situation in order. And despite all this, according to statistics, our average and happy Canadian family was experiencing apparent progress. Unfortunately, my husband’s viewpoint didn’t particularly differ from the universal mentality. He had bought the best car but continued to complain that his friend’s car was better. He also bought a car for our son, like any exemplary father.  Our daughter’s tuition was paid for by the State Educational Foundation, and he didn’t have any concerns with this regard. Each one of us had our room and our computer, the kitchen was armed with the newest equipment «specially for me,» as if to remind me of my place. VHS was changed to DVD and we bought a new TV every year, the screen of which grew with each purchase, then it began to flatten out until finally it became a home theater.  He would enjoy absolute pleasure watching a series of sports matches on that TV.

 

If you asked him, he would probably say, «what else does she want, I work, I earn a living, and what does she do?» And, you know, he would be right, another person might have been happy by his side, just not me. I would dream of travelling and watch the Discovery channel for hours, dreaming that one day I would see those marvels with my own eyes. When we were young I still had hope that we would travel together, and he would always find any reason     to refuse.  I understood that those things didn’t interest him. I couldn’t travel alone, and if I took the kids with me he wouldn’t be able to buy a new TV every year.

 

I sat, quietly looking at her, she continued:

 

–  The only thing I don’t regret is that my children grew up in a family full of values, having both parents around, my husband and I had equal influence in their upbringing. Now they are mature adults, they understand everything and don’t blame anyone for having a sad childhood. I’ve seen the suffering that children of a divorced couple endure, and the things they lose as a result.  I wouldn’t have wanted my children to have to pass through all that hardship.

 

Simply put, my marriage was 23 long years of suffering, repression of the self  for the sake of my children’s happiness. They have their own lives now, I think it’s time I had my own as well.

 

She looks at my face inquisitively. I’m quiet, I don’t know what else to say, what right do I have to say anything. I’m also divorced, because I thought I deserved more. I couldn’t even endure two years, while seated in front of me is a proud woman, who protected her children’s inner tranquility for twenty three years and raised them in a stable family environment.

 

–   You have the right, of course you do.

–   For 23 years I was the principle performer in the presentation on «familial harmony,» while in my soul I added a new chapter to the book on «family hell» each day.

 

With these words she finished her story and quickly moved to the series of questions of the work placement agency so that she could start working again after 21 years.

 

After that day, I thought of her story continually for more than a month. I could not seem to comprehend the border between love and hate. I don’t think she understood it either.  I made futile attempts to understand where in their lives they had lost the feeling of love for each other.  I thought to myself, that it was lost somewhere between 24 and 28 inches of TV screen. Yes, I was being sarcastic. I was saddened, it was proof that they had lost it and it did not really matter at which point. There is no longer a way to return, nor will there be.  After the sounding of the gavel in the courtroom, one person or the other, whoever gets lucky, will receive half of the savings of the last three to five years, their lawyers fees partially compensated, and an insignificant amount of monetary aid, because no sum can compensate for lost time and neither will the years of suffering be erased. Then one thought will torment both of them, why did it all turn out the way it did. Of course, the question of who is to blame will also remain unanswered. And it will be even more hurtful when one day it becomes clear that the furniture was to blame, it simply wasn’t arranged correctly, or the gas stove because it was time to replace it, or, as it happened in my case, because someone really loved to have an apple with their morning coffee.

 

March 1, 2006 (Oakville, Canada)

Author Zara Nelson Sargsyan