Today I have a wonderful surprise for all of you! Although Fika and Governing Ana are primarily ttwd venues, I was so impressed with a new vanilla book titled The Apple Tree Blossoms in the Fall that I invited the author to visit for Fika. Please welcome Armineh Ohanian as she talks with us about Armenian coffee time.
My Father had taken us to Hamadan for our summer holidays. At the time, we lived in a strict Islamic city called Arak, in Iran. However, all our relatives lived in Hamadan on Sar Ghaleh, which in those days, used to be an Armenian commune. Sar Ghaleh, which means the top of the fortress in Farsi, was located on top of a cobblestoned hill overlooking Hamadan.
Arak, the city of my birth, encircled by high rocky mountains, is located in central Iran. I was eleven when we left Arak to go and live in the cosmopolitan city of Tehran. As far as I can remember, it has no historical significance, while Hamadan used to be the ancient capital of Iran. Foreign archeologists excavating certain sections of the latter city discovered that it is a city with many layers. I.e.: for centuries new cities were built on top of the old ruins. This is the same city where Queen Esther, the Jewish wife of the Persian king Xerxes I, is buried and about whom we read in the Bible.
I recall that summer in Hamadan roaming about with my cousins from one interconnected yard to another. Almost all the Armenians living in those conjoined houses were either our close or far removed relatives. During my jaunts from house- to-house, I would find women gathered together every day around mid morning, as they served each other Turkish – or as the Armenians like to call it – Armenian coffee. And, while they enjoyed their coffee and Gatta, a delicious Armenian shortcake; pirogue, a jam filled pastry, or badam bouri, a scrumptious almond stuffed pastry, they giggled, chatted, and gossiped.
Once, when I was playing with my two cousins on their porch, I overheard their mother talking behind my mom’s back during one of those coffee morning session. She was saying, “All Aunt Siran cares about is reading. She is not a good homemaker, and does not know how to make delicious food or pastries for her children.”
I was furious. How dare she badmouth my precious mother, I told myself. Naturally, I reported it to Mother, who in turn confronted the gossiping aunt.
Back in Iran, during my youth, Armenian and Iranian women competed with one another over being the best in managing their households, being the best cooks, and pastry chefs. I, however, after getting married and having my two children, did not care about whether I was branded as a “perfect housewife” or not by the Armenian women. In other words, showing off was not one of my best traits. I simply knew that I loved a clean and tidy house and that I had to cook to feed my children and husband. In the meantime, I had a career outside the house. No, not as a writer… Unfortunately, in the early days of my marriage I had to interrupt my writing profession.
The other thing which I could not do was to attend coffee morning gatherings. Now I have all the time in the world to do so… As you can see I am happily participating in Ana’s “Fika” – coffee chatting time community – of course, minus the gossip!
I remember my childhood and youth in Iran fondly. Under the Shah’s regime, minorities had total freedom to practice their religion and customs. For example, when mini skirt was fashionable in the sixties, Armenian girls wore short skirts freely and went about without anybody bothering them. In fact, so did modern Iranian girls. Nowadays, it is different. Everybody, either Muslim or non-Muslim should wear long clothes with long sleeves. They should also cover their heads. Thank God neither I, nor my daughter had to go through those restrictions. Having returned to Iran from Switzerland and living there for only three years, we managed to get out of Iran a few months before Ayatollah Khomeini took over the country. Nevertheless, Iranians are wonderful people. They are not as strict Muslims as, for example, certain Arab nationals. I figured this out when we lived in Abu Dhabi for a year and a half, from mid 2007 to the beginning of 2009. Iranian culture is as old as the ancient Greek civilization. What’s more, Iranians are fun-loving people. Even today, despite all the Islamic laws and restrictions, they hold parties in the quite of their homes, and so forth. Also, unlike certain strict Islamic countries, Iranian women play a major role in the society. They can get higher education, hold important positions, and express their opinions freely. I am sure you all have read about that poor sixteen-year old girl who was shot and fatally wounded in Pakistan by the Taliban, just because she was trying to be modern and use the internet to blog.
As a teenager, two things sparked the love of writing in me. The first was reading “Little Women” by Louisa May Alcott, in which the protagonist writes some stories and sends them anonymously to a publisher, and they get published. I decided to copy Louisa May Alcott, which fortunately it worked for me, too. For a whole year I sent children’s stories anonymously to our church magazine, and they were published. After a year I was discovered and offered to write the feature romance story for the above magazine. This brought me fame among the churches all over Iran. I also started translating children’s story books from English into Persian. At a later stage, I translated from both, English and French into Farsi.
The second factor that I believe turned me into a writer was an animated dream. It happened at the same time as I began sending my children’s stories to our church magazine. One night, I dreamt that I was in a dimly lit smoky bar filled with criminals who were trying to kill me. As soon as I woke up, I made up a thriller story in the form of a comic book, and illustrated it myself. Later, when I took the book to school and showed it to my friends, they were fighting over reading it.
After many, many years of not writing, when we finally immigrated to the United States, after the birth of my grandchildren, I decided to take up writing again. I have written two children’s story books from my series of “The Talking Animals.” I completed the third volume, co-authored by my fourteen-year old grandson, Alec Ohanian. I have also written two books of fiction; one of which is called “Nine Years to Freedom,” and the other, “The Apple Tree Blossoms in the Fall,” published by Lazy Day Publishers in late September. The latter is heavily based on the story of my journey of life, beginning in Iran and carrying on in the four corners of the world. It is about the adventures of a daring and ambitious woman, who at times struggles with lack of self confidence and sometimes impossible conditions, which always are solved miraculously. Just like an apple tree blossoming in the fall. (Actually, the apple tree did indeed blossom in the fall after my father died and we lost everything.) Yes, that autumn, when I was nine and we had almost no food to eat, one morning I woke up to find that the apple tree had blossomed. Being fall, we were all appalled that such a thing could happen. Within two weeks it produced a generous load of apples, but small ones, which provided us with some fruit to eat. Just like manna sent from heaven for the Israelites.
THE APPLE TREE BLOSSOMS IN THE FALL – The Blurb
The Islamic revolution is imminent. Carineh, an Armenian beauty, knows it is time to leave Iran. The
country she grew up in is drawing back to its Islamic roots. Carineh would vehemently hate to wear a
veil, to the point that she is willing to say goodbye to her homeland, her father’s resting place, her family, and friends.
In The Apple Tree Blossoms in the Fall, Carineh narrates stories of her life in an Iran before Ayatollah’s
time. She also recounts tales about her new life in Europe and America. This book offers a unique insight into Iran, Islam, Armenian culture, and the fascinating life of a jet‐setting woman.