Sophia Vartanian

These Years

By January 5, 2016 Health, Personal
North Cascades

These years are full of many firsts and many lasts. Don’t waste your youth. Don’t waste your life. Don’t waste your breath on maybes and could-bes – do things with your whole heart. We become what we commit time to, so commit to what makes you happy. What do you want more of in your life? Do that.

More being creative simply for the sake of being creative. More saying yes. More saying no. More runs. More books. More things to learn. More mountains to hike. More time on the mat. More cooking. More writing. More morning walks.

Take photographs. Write things. Wear your best clothes. Burn candles. Watch sunsets and sunrises from your rooftop. Drink great tea and find some more good coffee. Kiss in the rain. Swim in phosphorescence. Book the plane ticket. Take that class that terrifies you. Buy tulips and lilies and peonies for your kitchen table, no matter how uselessly beautiful they seem. Learn something new everyday. Listen more than you speak. Play Françoise Hardy while you cook. Learn how to do a handstand, and laugh when you land face first on the floor. Journal your heart out until you understand a bit of everything you feel. Smile at everyone – you have no idea whose day you could make.

Whenever you feel sadness, remember that everything always turns out for the best and for a reason, and that there’s help when you need it. Whenever you feel claustrophobic or trapped, remember that the world is so much bigger than you. Whenever you feel alone, remember that you’ll be holding your own hand the longest. Learn how to be alone. And whenever these words don’t help, trust that you’re strong enough to get through.

Make your life exciting and amazing. Make it something beautiful, exhilarating, and inspiring by always treating it as such.

This year, and all the rest that follow, will be amazing.

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Art

By July 30, 2015 Travel
Rythme n°1, Decoration for the Salon des Tuileries by Robert Delaunay

Art can seem frustrating, complicated, and boring. But art is essentially about making us feel. Comparing brushwork, backstories, and Baroque to Bauhaus can give you an intellectual high, but it isn’t necessary for appreciating art.

Art for art’s sake can sound appealing and avant-garde, but the phrase doesn’t actually mean much. Art inherently has a purpose, and that purpose is to make us feel. No artist finishes their piece, steps back, and thinks, “I hope everyone who experiences my work feels absolutely nothing and walks right past it.” Art seeks to engage, converse, shout, incite, whisper, provoke.

La Femme aux yeux bleus par Amedeo Modigliani

Sometimes the feeling provoked is happiness, awe, wonder, or excitement, and sometimes it is disgust, confusion, frustration, or anger. If a piece of art doesn’t draw your eye at all or spark anything, that’s great, just move on. If you find yourself stuck in front of painting dominated by swirling range of sharp shapes and bright contrasting colours, or a forgotten sculpture in a silent corner of  the Louvre, or a series of panels illustrating the colours, light, and radiance of a waterlily garden from dawn to dusk, stay there and feel.

The City of Paris - Robert Delaunay

Before Paris this summer, I had a vague idea of what I liked in art. The city is gloriously full of museums and galleries. With freedom to wander and gentle focus, I would stop at whatever paintings and pieces I pleased, scribble in my notebook, and just watch. The idea of staring at art implies passivity and disengagement. Try watching instead.

Art benefits from time and engagement. You gain more from a piece by standing in front of it for five minutes than for twenty seconds. In the Musée de l’Art Modernée’s permanent collection hangs “Six Janvier 1968” by Zao Wou-Ki. At first, it looks like a pointless mess of black and white paint. “This is exactly what gives modern art a bad name,” some people might think. But if you stay and linger, you see more. It’s not black and white. Rather, it’s dark green and muddy brown and snow white, with the most fragile shades of pink emerging from brackish black. It feels like the struggle from winter to spring. It’s like the earth cracking and exhaling after winter has reached its peak.

Six Janvier 1968” by Zao Wou-Ki. 2 Six Janvier 1968” by Zao Wou-Ki. 3

Although thousands – sometimes hundreds of thousands – of people will see a piece, art can become intensely personal. Maybe you don’t know what school the artist was part of, who they kept company with, or what the light was like in their studio. But regardless of their brushstrokes or backstory, their work can become vitally important to you.

Artworks:  “Rythme n°1, Decoration for the Salon des Tuileries” by Robert Delaunay; “La Femme aux yeux bleus” by Amedeo Modigliani; “The City of Paris” by Robert Delaunay; and “Six Janvier 1968” by Zao Wou-Ki.

All photographs by Sophia Vartanian.

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A Month in Paris

By July 24, 2015 Personal, Travel

This summer was quiet hours in the Luxembourg Garden on Sunday mornings. I left the house early, a note on the kitchen counter. My roommates were still sleeping. Everyone was still sleeping.

Stairs Saint-Michel Metro

Paris on Sunday is the simple pleasure of fresh sunlight washing the empty streets as you find your way to Pierre Hermé or Ladurée on Rue Bonaparte. The occasional boulangerie is open. All the other shops are shuttered. There is space on the street for you to walk freely for once. I’d take my six macarons – flavours like olive oil and mandarin, pistachio, dark chocolate, peppermint, praline, and rose – and walk to the Luxembourg Garden. For me, the Tuileries were too open and formal, defined by straight lines and wide boulevards, and full of white sand that blinded me at full noon; the Luxembourg, more wooded and more personal, was mine. It was visited more by students on lunch break and young families instead of tourists fresh from the Louvre.

With a good book, I’d settle into one of the green metal chairs scattered everywhere in Parisian public gardens. A few fellow early-risers passed through as I turned the pages. Small groups silently practiced qigong between the trees. Business men in their relaxed summer suits read Le Monde and Figaro. Twin toddlers, a boy and a girl, ran across the islands of grass and flowers that the French hold sacred and inviolable.

This summer was sitting in Les Nymphéas rooms at the Musée de l’Orangerie for hours, staring at the oasis on the walls, the brush strokes that meant nothing, anything, and something. At the Musée de l’Art Modernée and Centres Pompidou, modern art stood out against white walls in clean frames. At the older Musée d’Orsay and Musée de l’Orangerie, gilt and gold-leafed frames popped against pistachio green and plum purple walls.

IMG_9266 Rue Babylonie Renoir Ile

This summer was hot chocolate at Angelina’s and chocolatine aux amandes at Dominique Saibron, and the best croissants at Thevenin. Standing in line in a June rain shower outside our boulangerie, I waited to buy baguettes while American tourists sat in a café, shaking their heads with laughter and incredulous delight.

This summer was Metro’ing across the city to the Canal St. Martin to drink great coffee at Holybelly and Ten Belles, and then sit by the canal with an escargot de pistache pastry from Du Pain et Des Idées. The canal water was green, and the trees lining the water rushed with summer heat, a wind, and the laughter of strangers.

Canal St. Martin

This summer was buying kilos of figs and cherries and pêches plates at the Marché Edgar Quintet, my arms full of fresh pink peonies. At the Marché Saxe-Breteuil, I bought bunches of basil with roots and dirt still attached. There was one farmer who dealt exclusively in tomatoes, dozens and dozens of varieties. We joined the long line of elderly French men and women at this tomato stall in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower.

Peonies Cherries Basil and Wine

This summer was taking the Metro over the Seine to Trocadero, and catching a view of the Eiffel Tower over the water, sparkling at midnight.

Eiffel Tower

This summer was cheap rosé and spitting out cherry pits in the evening on the Seine, laughing and talking with good friends. I uncorked a shaken bottle of pink champagne while eating crêpes at the Square du Vert-Galant, and pouring half of the exploding bottle over my friend while the other picnic-goers laughed.

This summer was repeat visits to Gibert Joseph and Shakespeare & Co. In Gibert Joseph, I’d look at the thousands of livres poches and search for the books with easy enough French for me to read, while wishing I had so much more. In Shakespeare & Co., I’d pick up a copy of Joyce, Hemingway, or Fitzgerald and try to comprehend that they had frequented this same city, their shoes wearing down the same cobblestones. The store clerks stamped the books I bought with “Shakespeare & Co – Kilometre Zero”, and I wanted to be at the centre of something.

Shakespeare and Co Lock Bridge

This summer was sitting in old churches on humble wicker chairs, and staring up at the soaring stone arches, trying to feel something grander, more mysterious, more powerful. Removed from nature here, I felt like man had swallowed up everything. I wanted to feel small again, not anonymous.

This summer was 8am at Café Deux Magots, journaling and people-watching as I dipped pieces of pain au chocolat in my hot chocolate. Coffee stained the morning’s issues of Le Canard. What had Hollande done this time? People emerged from the Metro by L’Église Saint-Germain-des-Prés. Years ago, at this café, Existentialists like Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir had discussed life beyond God across from the oldest church in Paris.

Flowers

This summer was wandering the empty streets of Paris in the purple dusk and the blue dawn, running around in circles in my head. You’re supposed to be ecstatically happy, I’d tell myself. You’re nineteen years old in Paris, in the summer. You’ll never be this young again. Instead, I drifted through streets and passageways and gardens, and haunted churches and museums, and tried to feel something.

This summer was realizing that I’m a little bit lost, very determined, and kind of confused. Paris has a weight to it. It exists in the shadow of our memories and expectations. The city is heavy with the responsibility to be profound, life-changing, heart-stopping, heart-warming, and all sorts of other adjectives. I felt burdened with the weight of needing this city to mean something to me. I landed in Paris expecting to love the city as much as my fourteen-year-old self had. I wanted to fall back in love with this place like some starry-eyed and shy girl. But I was different, the city had changed, and I simply saw a beautiful city, not an entire world I wanted. So what do you do when the city of your dreams isn’t that city anymore?

If there’s one thing I learned from this trip, it’s that travel is not a magic pill. You don’t just board a plane and fly straight into some land called happiness. Yes, sometimes the atmosphere of a new place overwhelms you and you’re drawn into the irresistible other of a life entirely different than your own. But no matter where you go, you’re still right there, stuck with yourself. And that’s the real, unglamorous magic of travel.

Will cobblestones and pretty coffee and old churches make me happy? No, not really. Waking up early in the morning on a camping trip does. Salt water and lingering sunsets. Wandering farmers’ markets in the fresh sunshine and cooking for friends and family. Writing for hours and feeling like I’ve done something worthwhile. Meaningful time with friends and meeting new people.  Realizing the small things, I walked through the old city in the bruised-purple evenings and the lavender dusks, and tried to shake this wordless feeling of discontent, this not-happiness-not-unhappiness.

Pont Neuf

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The Happiness List

By May 6, 2015 Personal
The Happiness List

Know what makes you happy. A lot of us wander through our days, randomly and vaguely trying to find happiness, meaning, motivation, and inspiration. Big concepts that are actually rooted in the little things.

Happiness can be the scent of fresh coffee or sage mint tea, the feeling of savasana after yoga practice, a new book or a good run. Happiness hides in plain sight in the little things, the ordinary moments that make up a day. Things like fresh flowers, cold-pressed juice, swimming in the ocean, campfires, loose-leaf tea, summer sunsets, good books, saltwater in my hair, the scent of coffee and dirt.

So write a list of what makes you really and truly happy. A list of things that put a smile on your face and a glow in your heart.

When you’re feeling uninspired, despondent, sad, or empty, it may be because of a larger issue. But the first and most important thing you need to do to get yourself out of that space is to reconnect with what makes you happy. That may be as seemingly superficial as buying yourself flowers, eating good chocolate, or sweating a bit. But flowers, chocolate, and sweat can run deep.

Then write a list of all the things you do everyday. The habits, the routines, the unconscious actions, the have-tos and musts. How do the two lists compare?

We’ve each got about 28, 000 days on this planet. That’s 672, 000 hours. That’s a frighteningly small amount of time. Why ignore your happiness list? Try and live one day doing everything on your list. Happiness isn’t an abstract concept. It’s in the little ordinary things. The potential for it is in every moment of every day.

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Small Adventures

By February 15, 2015 Personal
(c) Siobhan Barry; (c) Sophia Vartanian

It’s the small adventures that count. We were feeling run-down, restless, and stressed. So we grabbed some cameras – film, DSLR, iPhones – and went outside. I never want to go outside until I get out. Then I love it. It’s too easy to feel trapped and uninspired inside, too easy to get apathetic. I feel my best and my happiest when I’m breathing fresh air, weaving between tall trees, and my cheeks are flushed with the cold and exertion.

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The sound of rushing water is never far off on campus. Ring Creek runs right behind our upper-year residences, with just a bit of scrambling needed to get to it. Not far after this point, the creek dips into the thicker and older second-growth forest. It carves a canyon out of rock, becomes a torrential waterfall, and makes a racket. But here it’s still calm, soothing, and young. When it’s warmer, and the water’s still freezing, jumping in and out is on my to-do list.

(c) Siobhan Barry

IMG_0016(c) Siobhan Barry and Sophia Vartanian

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Just Trust

By January 28, 2015 Uncategorized
beach and snow

Sometimes you don’t know if you’re making the right choices. Sometimes your instincts just aren’t there, and sometimes you second-guess them to death. You deny how you feel, and you forget how to really get angry. You forgive half-heartedly, which is worse than holding a grudge. Your favourite song starts to remind you of the most painful times. You feel a thousand miles away from adventure. Sometimes you wonder if you’re where you’re supposed to be.

But happiness will come back. It always does. Life is for living. Learn to live for Mondays. Learn to love every damn moment. Because you’re breathing, you’re alive, and the whole world is open for you. The mountains are calling your name, and you’re a whole person right now. You have everything you need to be happy and inspired.

You’ll have regrets. I already do. You’ll grapple with belonging and with finding purpose. You’ll wish you had hiked more mountains, danced longer, written more, kissed more boys, spent more time in the forest, gone rock climbing, woken up earlier, run further, cooked more, said no more, camped out, met more people, said yes more.

So wake up early. Start conversations with strangers. Go to farmers’ markets and go jump in freezing rivers. Find good coffee. Eat a lot of kale. Walk barefoot. Light candles. Stargaze. Watch the sun rise. Learn a new language. Get the smell of campfire in your hair. Cook. Take the picture already. Read poetry outside. Journal. Smile.

Because everything turns out ok. Everything turns out for the best. This I fiercely believe, and this I fiercely trust. Life is beyond beautiful despite any and all pain. You’ll know love when you meet it. Adventure’s always there for the taking.

So have a little trust.

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On Summer

By August 19, 2014 Uncategorized
trees and water

Summer feels nostalgic, sweet, heartbreaking as it happens; this season feels the most fleeting and the most precious.

There are the hours spent on the docks at noon, with the cold bay water sparkling. Ripe peaches twisted off the highest branches, their skin still warm, flushed pink and yellow and orange. The sun is white, white, white, and beats a gentle tattoo against my closed eyes.

“I Forgot Where We Were” by Ben Howard

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In the early morning, there are trail runs through the cool forest. Bay jumps with the sweat still lingering on your skin. The salty bite of the sea mixes with the stagnant, mineral green scent of lake water.

Bare legs, dirty feet, tanned skin. Attempting hand- and head-stands, and learning how to stand on each other’s shoulders. We walk on the shoulder of the road, gravel and dry earth crunching under our feet, and the miles hike up and down hills. Picking blackberries, running late, and losing track of time.

It’s a season of easy embraces, simple and meaningful friendships, burning away fears, and spraining ankles. The golden grass is overgrown, burnt, and the most comfortable bed. The bay water,  turquoise and alluring, looks deceptively warm.

Lingering conversations with friends, perched in old tree branches that reach and stretch for the water. The sun sets, leaving behind a bruised lavender sky that slowly fades to black. These summer evenings are warm, and someone plays the guitar.

Already, I’m thinking about next summer, about when warmth will visit again, about travels with these friends. Imagining bright colours and spices, the pliable leather of passports, the press of visa stamps, red dirt and cobblestones under my feet, warm nights roaming old thriving cities, the heavy card stock of plane tickets.

It’s the last summer at home for me, and I’m ready to leave. This season feels the most fleeting, and its events have already taken on the sepia tones of old memories.

photo

 

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Vegan Pesto

By July 12, 2014 Food, Recipes, Vancouver
organic vegan pesto recipe

Today, I went to the farmer’s market with only one goal in mind. Pesto. Some things in life are perfect without ever trying, like basil, which exists in my mind solely to make pesto. Traditional Italian pesto is made using parmesan, pine nuts, garlic, and olive oil. I like keeping things vegan, however, so I tweaked things  bit and came up with this recipe that revisits my kitchen summer after summer.

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Basil isn’t just a pretty face. This fragrant green herb packs a knockout nutritional punch, with substantial amounts of Vitamin K, Vitamin A, magnesium, and calcium. A strong anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory agent, basil’s flavonoids also offer DNA protection against radiation¹.

IMG_0541 My one and only experience with making pesto using pine nuts wasn’t great. They tasted chalky, bitter, and unpleasant. For $12.99/100g, I wasn’t buying it, so I made the switch to walnuts. Walnuts are an awesome source of monounsaturated fats and omega-3 fatty acids, which makes these nuts great for the brain and heart².

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Adding a kick of lemon makes this pesto slightly more full of sunshine, and combines nicely with the garlic. Lemons are high in Vitamin C, which neutralizes free radicals in the body, and possess natural anti-biotic and anti-inflammatory characteristics³. As they say, when life gives you lemons, make pesto. We also just happen to have a Meyer lemon tree thriving on our city balcony.

After whipping up the pesto, I paired it with some apricot, walnut, & raisin bread from A Bread Affair. Pesto dreams achieved. So, without further ado, the recipe –

Vegan Pesto

Ingredients 

1/2 lb basil, washed
3/4 cup extra-virgin cold-pressed olive oil
3/4 cup walnuts
1/2 cup vegan cheese, like Daiya
3 to 4 cloves garlic
Juice of two lemon
Sprinkle of Himalayan sea salt and pepper, to taste
2 tbsp nutritional yeast (optional)

Directions

1. Throw the washed basil into a high-speed blender or trusty food processor. I used a Vita-Mix. Add olive oil and walnuts. Blend until smooth, pausing to scrape down sides if needed.
2. Add vegan cheese, lemon, salt, pepper, and nutritional yeast. Blend until completely smooth and drop-dead delicious.

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Sources

¹ “The World’s Healthiest Foods: Basil”, whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=85

² “The World’s Healthiest Foods: Walnuts”, whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=99

³ “The World’s Healthiest Foods: Lemon/Limes”, whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=27

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Old Faithful Shop

By June 7, 2014 Vancouver
potted fresh organic herbs at Old Faithful Shop

Never thought you’d need toothpicks infused with flavours of single malt scotch, bourbon, lemon, mint, or salted birch? Dodecahedron terrariums filled with succulents? A classic Wentworth pewter flask? Well, think again. A visit to Old Faithful will change all that.

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This Gastown shop is plainly passionate, authentic, and committed to quality. Their range of goods, magazines, and edibles are excellently curated and all finely made.

Old Faithful’s selection of books and magazines is full of publications you’re unlikely to find elsewhere, with quarterlies like Smith, Gather, The Gourmand, Kindling, and Kinfolk.

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The selection of gourmet foodstuffs is the stuff of dreams for those who love food – Bellocq teas, Jacobsen Salt Co’s flavoured salts, Noble syrups, and Jack Rudy cocktail tonics. Old Faithful’s considerable library of Mast Brothers’ Chocolate is probably the best in Vancouver, and they stock Hot Cakes’ candied hazelnuts, which are delicious with coffee grabbed from Revolver right around the corner.

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If you want to go for the exotic, Old Faithful has ginger spiced beets from Donovan’s Cellar in New York, Stumptown Coffee Flake Salt from Jacobsen Salt Co, and Hot Cakes’ chocolate chips cold-smoked over alder wood. They’ve also got a solid selection of coffee making materials and tools for the kitchen, from pour-over kettles, hand-grinders, Chemex coffee makers, filters, and enamel pots.

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The place also smells like heaven. Paine’s Cedar and Balsam Fir incenses have been family-owned and produced in Maine since 1931, and they make a room smell like camp fire, summer days, and cabin summers. Carrière Frères’ classic candles are more refined, and their earthier scents, like sandalwood, rosemary, thyme, and cedar, are just as transportive. You’ll have a hard time leaving Old Faithful without your arms full of books, chocolate, candles, soaps, and plants. But is that really such a bad thing?

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Old Faithful Shop320 W Cordova St, Vancouver, BC. 778.327.9376.

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Finch’s Tea & Coffee House

By June 7, 2014 Food, Vancouver
baguette at finch's tea vancouver

Finch’s Tea & Coffee House is a charming mixture of your grandmother’s kitchen and attic – rickety and sturdy wooden chairs, pale green pantry, bright flowers, a wireless, fruit nectars and an extensive tea list, spotted mirrors, fresh cookies, and simple, fresh food.

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Finch’s trademark is their baguette sandwiches, delivered to your table on squares of parchment paper or tied up with twine to go. Their full vegetarian baguette is to die for, stuffed full with avocado, cucumber, red onion, tomato, cheddar, lettuce, and dijon mustard. That oatmeal chocolate chip cookie is perfect. Chewy, soft, with a bit of crunch. You’ll come away from breakfast or lunch at Finch’s feeling satiated but energetic, full of delicious food instead of weighed down by traditional restaurant fare.

Things can get beyond crowded here, with line ups out the door, so fair warning – try to stop by a bit before or after regular lunch and breakfast times, or head out to the Finch’s outpost in Strathcona.

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 Finch’s Tea & Coffee House: 353 West Pender, at the corner of Homer. 604.899.4040

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