"Rest of the World 2013-14" story # 12

Yerevan, Armenia           October 9, 2013

My mom was also Catholic and submissive. I hoped that she ...
     Wait! I needed to interrupt this interruption (the talk of my family) to return to the previous interruption:
     The story of my voyage to Armenia.
     I would return to writing about my thrump in Turkey, one of these days. But, would I do so with less energy, after traveling all the way to Armenia? Or would my voyage to Armenia revitalize me? ...
     It all began on a Friday night in Armenia's capital, where I pitched my tent on a mountain then walked into town to hear some Armenian singing.
     Wait! It had begun before that.
     I paid $8 on the Georgian-Armenian border for a three-week visa. I knew little about Armenia at this time, except that an Armenian kid named Aram Ohanyan had gone to my high school. This mischievous lad used to walk past open classrooms and, while other students and I and the teacher were inside learning physics, yell, "Delivery!" and throw two-liter bottles full of water through the doors. And he tied all our lockers together with fishing string. It was worth $8 just to visit Aram's homeland.
     A man named Arman drove me, and my three Polish hitchhiking companions, through a crowd of violently chiseled dinosaurs, a.k.a. Armenian hills. A dark sky poured rain on the pine green, yellow, and burnt orange trees covering these hills.
     A successful and intelligent man, Arman told us about the horrible earthquake that had struck his town, Spitak, in 1988. He'd been in school at the time, and hidden under a desk for four hours. When asked, he said 25,000 people now lived in Spitak. But the Poles wanted to know, how many had died? "Ochen mnogo," he said. (A whole lot.) One of the Poles laughed at this response. Arman didn't find this funny. He threw a two-liter bottle of water at his head.
     Arman helped us get to Yerevan, the Armenian capital. I quickly met two local girls, both of whom were named Ermine. Was everyone's name here some re-arrangement of the letters of "Armenia"?
     A man named Poghos Eghiazar and a woman named Nyne Melik-Vrtanesyan were performing Armenian music, when I entered The Club restaurant on a Friday night.
     Poghos sang. His lungs filled his vest. His mouth, surrounded by graying black beard stubble, inflated and contorted. He sang the story of a life in every song. This story bounced off the stone walls of the small, underground restaurant. Poghos' story was beautiful, passionate, solemn - sometimes victorious but always solemn. His mouth was expressive, but his eyes always sad.
     I could see he suffered for his music. For him, every syllable was important - as in a Jewish short story, as in the way I wanted my writing to be.
     Nyne made the music for Poghos, with strong poignant piano strikes. Her music was happier than the singing. It was like human life in general, which carried on and somehow stayed happy, even as we individuals became old and grumpy.
     Together, Poghos and Nyne sounded like a green spring day with butterflies, surrounding an old crumbling house full of sadness. They reminded me of a Jewish funeral procession on a rainy day. Poghos sang one happy song in which he boasted, "Ayrah-ree!" It made me happy with teary eyes.
     From here, I went out to experience Yerevan's nightlife. And I fell in love with it. As a result, I would spend two weeks in this big city. I only left once to experience the countryside.
     That was also a good experience. A shepherd came walking by my tent, singing a song about "Babylonia!" He handed me some apples and grapes, which were growing near my tent but I hadn't seen. Then, he left to chase his two cows that were constantly escaping him. He came back and told me he lived "odin" (alone). I knew then that this kind man and I would get along. Finally ... someone in this part of the world who understood me!
     Shtepan the shepherd told me that, when he'd served in the Soviet military, he'd had a friend from Estonia who'd served with him. The Estonian always used to sing about, "Babylonia!" I asked if Shtepan kept in touch with him. They used to write letters, he said, but they'd lost each other's addresses when the U.S.S.R. fell. I felt bad, and told Shtepan I also liked writing letters. He smiled. He said we were kindred spirits; our "pradedushky" (great grandfathers) must've been brothers.
     He took me to his house. He introduced me to his dog and cat. He showed me his two baby cows and three rabbits.
     In a room outside his house, he showed me two holes in the ground. One was for sitting in, while the other was heated to make "shashliki" (barbecued/steamed meat). This second hole was where the rabbits would end up. Shtepan showed me an aluminum barrel, where he made butter.
     The inside of the house smelled of wool blankets, black tea, and milk. In the small house's only room, Shtepan cooked us Armenian porridge which we ate as dry grains with our fingers. We ate fresh "kefir" (sour cream) with sugar. I liked how Shtepan lived.
     This reminded me ... not all of Moses Oddyseus' Ten Commandments had been revealed yet! Seeing as how Mt. Ararat - the inspiration for these commandments - was the symbol of Armenia, I figured my stay with Shtepan would be a good occasion for presenting the Fifth Commandment:
     "Thou shalt be a minimalist."
     Advocating minimalism? Hmm. Maybe I was selfless like my Grandma Bott? Maybe I was also going to get Alzheimer's!
     A Vladimir Nabokov character had once thought about ...
     "the incalculable amount of tenderness contained in the world; (and) the fate of this tenderness, which is either crushed, or wasted, or transformed into madness;"
     Shtepan was tender, but he wasn't happy. Two wives had left him. He lived alone, except when his mom came by to make butter. Occasionally, wandering Americans spent the night.
     "If you clean your plate, you'll have a beautiful wife." He taught me an Armenian saying in the morning, as we ate eggs.
     I thanked him for his friendship and wished him a happy future. I traveled to Yerevan.
     My voyage to Armenia was an unusual one, in that I spent most of my time there in a big city. The resulting MODERN ODDYSEUS' TOP 5!!! would thus be mostly urban.
     It had seemed at first that I wouldn't like Armenia; and so, The Top 5 Worst Things about Armenia! would start us off:

     In this region of the world, people loved themselves and spoke badly about their neighbors. Armenians were especially proud that their country had been the first to accept Christianity, in 301 A.D. (So, they were the ones to blame!) It often seemed that, the more religious people were, the less they accepted others.

     Single women were almost never permitted by their families to live alone.


     When I first saw how girls in the center of Yerevan dressed, I assumed that everyone here listened to pop music and thought only of money. I was wrong.
     Nevertheless, it seemed unfair that women should spend so much more time making themselves up than men. I worried that they thought of this effort as an investment; they would expect men to spend money on them, and could reject more men.


     But, I quickly discovered I liked Armenia - or, at least, Yerevan. The Top 5 Best Things about Armenia! would prove it ...

     I danced with girls named Barboline, Toma, and stunning Araxin. I also danced with lots of girls named Ann or Mary. I was surprised to see that the locals danced together to Latin music, rock music, and Armenian/Arabic sounds they circle-danced to. I was excited to go home and try my newest dance move and say: "I learned that on a Latin night in Armenia."

     One smart and successful man asked me: What was the best place I'd ever visited? "Australia." Why? Because the people didn't want to be better than one another there, they had desires of brotherhood.
     I asked: Had Armenians lived better during communism? He said, yes. Everyone had been equal. They'd lived like Australians, he said.
     I asked: If everyone had been equal, how did women choose their husbands - based on whether or not they were good people? "Da," he said. (Yes.) "Seychas eto nikomu ne interesuet." (Now, nobody cares about that.)


HM included THE COLORFUL HILLS; CALUMET PUB; MUSHROOM PUB; "MUSIC FACTORY" CLUB; VIEWS OF MT. ARARAT; and KEBASPITALITY. I made that last word up. Three of my first six drivers treated me to Armenian kebabs. These were made by wrapping vegetables and tender "shashliki" meat in soft, thin bread. They gave me strength! Armenia, I was happy to report, had given me energy.
     I'd been invited by the owners of Mushroom Pub to sleep in their pub. I did so. Every time I entered the pub, someone began a great conversation with me. A girl named Toma read me her writing; a curly-black-haired teenager named Nona said she planned to live on her own in two years; a human rights defender and I argued, because I said traveling freely was a human right.
     The pub's owner, a tiny doctor named Lev, said he'd entered the U.S. illegally from Canada. He'd been caught and thrown in jail for a month. The poor guy.
     He envied me for everything I must've learned. He told me about his own theory: The Genocide Theory. Those nations who'd survived attempted genocides were especially strong, because their cleverest individuals had survived.
     I walked from Mushroom Pub to Music Factory, so I could dance. There, I met a short and energetic girl wearing make-up. I thought she was Armenian. We even spoke Russian together. But, no. She was from New York. She was living in Yerevan. And she invited me to stay at her place.
     It was unusual in this part of the world for a girl to help a guy. But, thanks to Laura from New York - and the two Iranian brothers she lived with - I moved from a pub to a real apartment.
     It was in an old, ugly Soviet building. "You're living the dream," I told Laura. "Living the Soviet dream!" she said and smiled.
     She liked Russian cars, too.
     And I felt relieved that I'd come to Armenia.

The Modern Oddyseus.

Thanks to Soso; Zura & George; Valiko; Valera & Roban; Suren; Arman; Mahel; Ondranik & Harut; and Samvel for rides!
Much thanks to Karlen, Lev, & Mushroom Pub; Shtepan; and Laura, Khashayar, & Esfandyar for places to stay!

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