Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Armenia journal: January 2

1/2. Woke up for a last morning in Goris. Before we drove back, L and I wandered through the village in search of Cokes and snacks for the road. Most shops were closed for the holiday, but we entered several of them to see what they had. We always said hello in Armenian (betev zez), and the shopkeepers were usually stone-faced middle-aged men who could not care less about us. It was amazing to walk into a store and see the shopkeeper scowling at you with a look of such boredom, even before he could register who we were. Once they know we're Americans (amerigatsi), of course they will loathe us; these guys loathed us even before we clanked into their grim little shops. Ultimately we found the main drag of town and bought some sweetbreads and these coconut cakes from some nicer shopkeeper women. They seemed happier to see us, charmed by our efforts to say happy new year. Most of the stores also had an attendant little kid whose job it was to run errands and stare at us.

The most notable things about the ride back: the driver, Armen, had a lead foot, leading to a much choppier and bumpier ride; we saw several vehicles at the side of the road for maintenance, whose passengers would stare at our car and turn their heads as we passed; and we passed through a mountain range blanketed in snow -- at times all you could see were the rolling mountains meeting the sky, all of it the same blinding white color; no tracks or signs of life besides the narrow ribbon of road and the latticed metal structures holding up the power lines. But even then, your perspective was so skewed by the unceasing whiteness of the whole field of vision that these structures almost seemed randomly scattered throughout the landscape, rickety little towers stuck here and there among the plump white snow. It was amazing -- it seemed like a myth.

Went to a colleague's house for dinner. The cabbie on the way there was extremely sour and unpleasant; as we entered the car he yelled at us about slamming the doors, before any doors had even been closed. Midway through the ride he pulled the car over to the wrong side of the road, got out, walked over to a trashcan and hunched over it for a few minutes -- I don't know what he was doing. At first I was intimidated by his inexplicable rage, but then I just got irritated with it. "What's up your butt, Armenia?" is a motto of this trip.

Went to Vahogan's house for dinner. Wife Marina, son David, mother-in-law, two friends (including most attractive Armenian woman ever seen). An amazing spread: pickles, pickled beets, hot dolma (ground beef wrapped in cabbage), vegetarian dolma, meat patties, blintzes, bread, nuts, cheese, chicken salad, etc. Our host offered many beverages but Lee's words from earlier in the day ("the women drink wine, men drink vodka") came back to haunt me, so as I write this I'm feeling a little gross, after the main beverage of my meal turned out to Followed by Armenian cognac, which was smooth and delicious and like hot tar in my throat. Our host made many generous and heartfelt toasts about his hopes for the new year, Armenian culture and history, his hopes for our visit and future stays in country, etc. Except one toast was overrun when his lovely and fun wife started up karaoke on their DVD player. We Americans sang "Satisfaction," "Love Me Do," "Killing Me Softly," and others. A very fun night.

Maybe that's where Armenia is right now, in a lot of ways: someone offering an expansive toast on the history and culture of the great nation, while at the same time someone is cranking up the karaoke to sing some old western pop hits.

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