The Hundred-Year Walk

July 26, 2016 § Leave a comment

The Hundred Year WalkGrowing up in the 1950s, I would hear my mother say, as mothers are wont to do, “Don’t waste food. Think of the starving children in __________!”

India was usually the country named, though China occasionally received a nod. And then my mother would add, “In my day, it was starving Armenians.”

Until much later, I had no idea who Armenians were, where they lived, or why they were starving. Now I find myself living amongst the largest concentration of Armenian Americans outside of Russia—214,000 residents of Greater Los Angeles claim Armenian heritage— and next door to Glendale, where an estimated 40 percent of the population has Armenian roots.

I now know that Armenians were starving because during WW I, Turkish officials rounded up as many as 1.5 million Armenian citizens of the Ottoman Empire and either slaughtered them outright or force-marched them into desolate regions where they slowly succumbed to disease, malnutrition or exposure.

Dawn Anahid MacKeen, who grew up in Glendale’s Armenian diaspora, has written the astonishing account of one man who, against all odds, survived the genocide: her grandfather Stepan Miskjian. The Hundred-Year Walk, An Armenian Odyssey, was published earlier this year by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.


Stepan Miskjian

It is a deeply personal tale, interwoven with her own story of how she came to learn the details of Stephan’s arduous journey, eventually retracing his route through Turkey and into the deserts of what is now Syria and Iraq.

Cliche though it is, I have to say that if Stephan’s life were made into a movie, no one would believe it.

For two years, he, along with hundreds of thousands of others, were herded further and further from population centers, always alert to opportunities to earn a bit of bread or a place in someone’s shelter. Stepan escaped what was to be the final death march by slipping away in the dark and walking six days through the desert with no food and only two cups of water.

It was a superhuman feat but not the end of Stepan’s trials. He was recaptured and had to escape again—not once but several times over. Eventually he found his way to the camp of a powerful Bedouin sheik who sheltered him until the Ottoman empire’s war effort collapsed and Stepan was able to make his way back to his hometown and remaining family members.

The Hundred-Year Walk is a richly detailed narrative, a visceral testimony to suffering that is not easily forgotten.

I now understand why my mother, born in 1910, would have been encouraged to “remember the starving Armenians.”

Here’s what puzzles me, though: If a little girl in far-off Altoona, Pennsylvania, knew about the calamity befalling Armenians, how is it that one hundred years later, the Turkish government and many of Turkey’s citizens still cannot see it for what it was: genocide?


July 5, 2016 § Leave a comment

365 logo  It’s been a while since anything has annoyed me as much as the new 365 store in Silver Lake.

Maybe I just don’t like 365’s parent company, Whole Foods Markets.

You’ve heard the common complaint, that the stores should be called “Whole Paycheck” because of the high prices.

But I’ve got a few more grievances:

  • John Mackey, a Whole Foods founder and current co-CEO, is an anti-union, libertarian jerk who felt so strongly about Obamacare that he wrote a Wall Street Journal op-ed opposing it.
  • Mackey expanded Whole Foods by scooping up regional chains, e.g. Fresh Fields in No. Virginia and Mrs. Gooch’s in SoCal, to create a near monopoly on what we used to call health food stores. Independent stores, with clerks who knew you and their products, got pushed out of business.
  • Whole Foods masquerades as a health food store but is actually an up-scale big-box merchandizer selling gourmet products to a monied constituency.

good choices And now along comes 365, designed to cut costs by requiring only 100 employees to operate, as opposed to the typical Whole Foods Market that employs 250 to 500 workers. The preponderance of prepackaged produce and a DIY regimen for what isn’t—customers must weigh and tag their own, a task done by check-out clerks at Whole Foods Markets—also cut labor costs.

The company says prices at 365 are cheaper than at Whole Foods, but that’s more appearance than reality. The store brand—365—dominates inventory; shoppers looking for  high-priced specialty items won’t find them. A Los Angeles Times consumer review of five basics found 365’s priced about the same as Trader Joe’s.

good times  Whole Foods is gambling on the success of its 365 stores. According to the L.A. Times, full-sized Whole Food Markets open a year or more have shown three straight quarters of declining revenue; this year’s sales are flat. Shares are trading at less than half their $65 high in the fall of 2013. The company has announced its intention to open five more 365 locations in SoCal.

The company is upfront about banking on Millennials to pull them out of their hole. The stores employ technology Millennials have grown up with: iPads to place orders with the store kitchen and a wine section where you find reviews by scanning labels with a smartphone.

And then there’s the not-too-subtle marketing. The company ran three full-page ads targeting Millennials in the Times’ “Saturday” section just before opening day. They border on being parodies of themselves: good-looking young people, not all of them white and some of them tattooed, with phrases such as “good choices,” “good times,” “good vibes,” and “good things” liberally sprinkled about.

good vibesThe ads represent 365 as being a gift to this demographic, “Because we believe making good choices should be a lot less effing time consuming.”

Seriously, could they get any more effing annoying?

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