The Other Hagop

About 1925. Hagop has his arms crossed, on the right.

About 1925. Hagop Topalian has his arms crossed, on the right.

I’ve been reading Paris 1919, a multi-threaded account of the six month period at the end of World War One when the French, British, and American leaders met in Paris to sort out the debris from the war and set the way forward. Nobody comes out looking too good. The author is a Canadian and the grand-daughter of Lloyd-George.

Embedded in the book are stories of many ethnic groups and how the Paris Conference attempted to deal with their claims. The Armenians were a medium-sized piece in this puzzle. What remained of them was a ragged, male-depleted group living outside the bounds of present-day Turkey. What supported them at the conference were the Americans, who actually had tried to help the Armenians as they were being slaughtered by their Ottoman tormentors.

Hagop Topalian – the other Hagop – had been lucky. His parents Kevork and Ardem lived in Cairo, where he was born in 1897. The family had a relatively safe place to grow up. At least it was safer than Konya, in the Anatolian highlands, where my mother’s family was from.

Some time soon after the remains of my maternal side of the family settled in Alexandria (about 1920) Hagop became a family friend, and remained one right up until his death in the late 1980s. The photo that you see him in here is a scan from an 8-10 silver contact print (it’s cropped in this blog version), shot complete with Somali camel guides.

Back to the book, though.

Perhaps if you identify yourself as long-generational from England, France, or the United States the experience of reading it is different, but I was quite aware of the different ethnic groups being discussed and found myself getting critical as I read about “my” tribes. The story of the Armenians was horrible, and told with details I had never read. I had a hard time stomaching that the author allows the Turkish side to even voice the argument that Armenians were traitors, but she does. On the other hand, it doesn’t really matter. As the UK/FR/US leaders politicians shifted their view eastward (and past the Balkans, where they made enough of a hash) their objectives also shifted – from at least an attempt at power/economics balanced with societal/ethnic fairness to more obvious self-interest: mainly buffering the new Bolsheviks and the black stuff that pooled up on the ground around Mosul. They knew that a military based on a liquid petroleum had a big advantage over one burning coal, and Mosul looked like a good supply bet – especially for the British. Anyway, as was said, “who’s ever going to remember the Armenians?”

 

 

Posted in Middle East

Hagop the optician

Hagop the optician
A large number of Armenians lived in Damascus, including this man with his two sons. I felt a connection to Hagop because his family endured the same Turkish/Ottoman exodus that had engulfed my mother’s side of the family. Added to that connection was his name – Hagop. It was the same as an elderly man who had been a surrogate grandfather to me.

On this day Hagop was displeased. He complained to me (in English) that his sons were not as capable of running the store as he was. Here they don’t look happy either. He probably wasn’t an easy person to work for.

Posted in Middle East, Social Documentary

Mexico City transit

Lázaro Cárdenas looking south near Bellas Artes

Mexico City trolley line and traffic on Lázaro Cárdenas

Mexico City always gets a bad rap – crowded, worn, dangerous, polluted – take your choice. The stereotyping gets a little tiring. Yes, Mexico has its problems, but so too does Montreal, or New York, or  for that matter any other city in the world. On a recent trip to Chicago, for example, the daughter of a friend who picked me up at the airport couldn’t help but tell me how many recent killings there had been block by block as we approached her parent’s home. Thanks but no thanks.

One of the things I like about travel is comparing the places I go to the place I live. I’m especially attuned to public transport and traffic; one I like and the other I don’t. My best traffic avoidance technique is a bike. In Montreal we have an extensive and expanding bike path system, but also serious problems with bike-truck accidents and figuring out how to balance the shared use of roadways and sidewalks. So when I got to Mexico City I had my antennas out.

View of Juárez and Lázaro Cárdenas from Torre Latinoamericana

Traffic looking down on Juaréz from the Tower Latinoamericana

We travelled by taxi from the airport and the right away the experience seemed like an invitation to take public transit. In Montreal we talk about using different forms of transport but in Mexico City it’s being done. Their systems handle a lot of people, often with creative solutions to difficult problems. An example would be extending the popular Metrobús system through the narrow streets of the Centro Histórico.

Metrobús line through Centro Histórico - notice bikes

Narrow lane Metrobús line through Centro Histórico – notice bikes using other lane

Mexico City is the third largest city in the world – and the metro system carries 4.4 million people a day (2012), versus the Montreal metro system’s .975 million (2013) people per day  – that’s roughly four and a half  times more volume per day, ranking  it eighth in the world.

The only time this street quiets is on holidays or late at night

Main artery traffic: The only time this street quiets is on holidays or late at night

The main avenues are rivers of traffic. They start flowing as soon as the light turns green and run fast until the next red. On the main arteries merges are not anything that can be called polite. The protocol is to barge in and whoever is chicken ends up last.

Locked personally owned bikes near Tacubaya turnstiles

Not for the weak: Locked personally owned bikes near Tacubaya turnstiles

It’s that same vehicular aggressiveness that makes it hard to believe that biking in the city would have a happy ending. To be honest, my first reaction was that biking was out in Mexico City. That was my first impression. But I always watch people on bikes trying to gauge what it would be like to be one myself. I saw hopeful signs. Some riders had their own bikes but a lot of people were using bikes from the ecobici rental system. After exploring around on foot I found easy (and used) ways through neighborhoods that avoided the main arteries. I also found well constructed bike paths.

Next post: bikes in the city

Posted in Mexico, Social Documentary, Transit, Travel
Tags: , ,

Sofa, Lincoln Gap

Photographers often have visual idiosyncrasies that they repeat. I’ve always had a sense of irony and it comes out in photos of incongruous situations.

Lincoln Gap, Vermont, Fall 1970

Lincoln Gap, Vermont, Fall 1970

This particular photo has a story behind it that gets lost if you weren’t the one who took it. I was driving through what we called “a high mountain pass” (all of about 740 m) in Vermont. The dirt road snaked up between a notch in the Green Mountains and at its highest point I came across this sofa.
Someone went through a great deal of effort to get the big sofa up a winding mountain road and then drop it off at the top. Maybe it was a big party that I just missed. I don’t know the answer – and you can use your own imagination to fill in …

Posted in Photography, Vermont
My first styled page
How Many Roads? is a new book of photographs by Jonathan Sa'adah, to be available October 2014, offering an unglossy but deeply human view of the period from 1968 to 1975 in richly detailed, observant images that have poignant resonance with the present. Ninety-one sepia photographs reproduced with an introduction by Teju Cole, essays by Beth Adams, Hoyt Alverson, and Steven Tozer, and a preface by the photographer.
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