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The Armenians are picnicking and odars are invited.

Picnicking Armenian-style means you're never too old to dance, never too young to challenge a master in backgammon, and never too full to accept another skewer of shish kebab. June through August, you can join in the feast and festivity of an Armenian picnic near Fresno, Los Angeles, or San Francisco.

You'll find Armenians very warm, affectionate, talkative--and especially receptive to odars (non-Armenians) who attend the picnics. Cultural celebration and preservation

Starting in the late 1800s, many Armenians, escaping persecution by the Ottoman Turks, left their dry, rocky homeland in Asia Minor. Some eventually emigrated to an area similar in geography, different in political climate: Fresno.

Today, more than 200,000 Armenians in California celebrate their culture, cuisine, music, dance, and language in picnics that have become a tradition.

Sponsored by Armenian organizations and churches, picnics usually begin around noon (though one will be held at night) and last until early evening. At the ticket counter, you can purchase food tickets and ask about backgammon tournaments, children's games, and raffles. Although tickets can often be bought in advance, food is served early and occasionally runs out, so plan to arrive at the starting time.

Dinners ($6 to $10) are built around a traditional menu: shish kebab (marinated lamb chunks and vegetables barbecued on skewers) or luleh kebab (ground lamb and beef cooked on the grill), rice or bulgur pilaf, tossed green salad, and peda (large, round yeast bread that can be split and used to hold the kebab).

Look for other Armenian delicacies such as kheyma (raw ground lamb, meatballs with a spiced nut filling, simmered in broth), lahmejun (Armenian pizza, made with lamb), and sarma (rice wrapped with grape leaves). Since kufta and lahmejun freeze well, you can take some home--if there's any left.

If you have a sweet tooth, try the Armenian pastries: paklava (delicate layers of fine fila dough and nuts topped with honey-sugar syrup), bourma (fila dough rolled with nuts and soaked in honey-sugar syrup), kurabia (almond cooky). Tahn is a cool drink made from yogurt. Armenian folk dancing and "Blessing of the Grapes"

If you can stand on one foot, you can probably handle Armenian folk dancing. The steps are easy to learn, and you can join the human chain at any point in the dance and drop out just as easily. Swing to the lute-like oud, the dumbeg drum, or the clarinet. Music and dancing continue throughout the afternoon.

Take time out to walk around and explore other activities. A huddle of people leaning intently over a table probably means a backgammon tournament is underway; test your skill, work on strategies, or just admire the wood- and ivory-inlaid boards--some are heirlooms from "the old country." Some picnics offer bingo, children's games, softball, raffles, and other pastimes.

At the start of two Fresno picnics, Armenian Apostolic Orthodox clergy will observe "The Blessing of the Grapes." In this traditional ceremony, the first grapes harvested are blessed and passed to eat. Here we list the larger picnics you can join in three California regions this summer these will draw 250 to 600 people or more. Local newspapers may list others. We name each site; write or call for details on menus and activities.

Fresno area. June 3 Dinuba Memorial Building, Dinuba. Write to Sts. Sahag-Mesrob Armenian Church, Box 205. Reedley 93654, or call (209) 638-2740.

June 17: California Armenian Home, 6720 E. Kings Canyon Rd., Fresno. St. Gregory Armenian Church, Box 246, Fowler 93625; (209) 834-2919.

June 24: California Armenian Home. Write or call the home, Box 7877, Fresno 93727; (209) 251-8414.

July 4: California Armenian Home. The Armenian General Benevolent Union, Fresno Chapter, 1720 Fulton St., Fresno 93721; (209) 233-5626.

July 14: Moonlight picnic at California Armenian Home. Food will be served from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Armenian American Citizens League, Fresno Chapter, Box 1244, Fresno 93715; (209) 222-2936.

August 5: Grape blessing at 11:30 precedes a picnic at California Armenian Home. Holy Trinity Armenian Apostolic Church, Box 1865, Fresno 93718; (209) 486-1141.

August 12: Blessing of the Grapes picnic at St. Paul Armenian Church, 3767 N First Street, Fresno. Write or call the church, Box 5768, Fresno 93755; (209) 226-6343.

Los Angeles Area. June 24 St. James Armenian Church. Write or call church, 4950 W. Slauson Ave., Los Angeles 90056, (213) 295-4588.

July 22: Huntington Central Park, Huntington Beach. Orange County Triple X, 106 N. Trevor St., Anaheim 92806; (714) 778-5286.

August 19: Ararat Home of Los Angeles Write or call the home, 3730 W 27th St. Los Angeles 90018; (213) 733-5502 or (714) 521-4015.

San Francisco Bay Area. July 22: Santa Clara County Fairgrounds. Write to the Armenian Apostolic Church of the Santa Clara Valley, 11370 Stelling Rd., Cupertino 95015; (408) 257-6743.

August 5: Lower level of Junipero Serra Park, San Bruno. St. John's Armenian Apostolic Church, 275 Olympia Way, San Francisco 94131, (415) 661-1142.
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Date:Jun 1, 1984
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