Monday, January 07, 2008

Armenia journal: January 5-6

Dateline: New York. I made it back. Of course, there was a price to be paid: 36 mostly sleepless hours, leading me to my present nearly-catatonic state, and the fact that L is still half a planet away, since her own trek home from Yerevan isn't until Thursday. But, despite the fatigue and exhaustion, I will add the final notes from the trip, buoyed as I am by the bright cozy decadence of American culture.

1/5. Snowed all day. Thin rainy particles in the morning gave way to fatter, swiftly falling snowflakes later on. I estimate at least 4 inches, maybe 6, as I trudged back and forth to the laundry room for one last emergency load. We wrapped up "Big Love" and I began reading Philip Pullman's "The Golden Compass." We set out for a walk in the afternoon to the neighborhood store: returning empty Kilikia beer bottles for a deposit (it tasted good at first, Rolling Rock-esque, until an unpleasant aftertaste settled on your tongue) and picking up some other goods. Walked through tire tracks and along drifting snowbanks by the side of the road. A pack of 5 or 6 stray dogs was bounding through the snow, leaping happily and wrestling with each other. As we walked, that stray puppy we had seen several days earlier -- the dog I wanted to take home -- started following us again! He looked happy, too. I was happy for him, I guess, and the life he made among the houses and the dirt and the rubble. Something was working.

Armenian Christmas was the next day, Sunday, so we went to a big holiday dinner at a restaurant for the Peace Corps staff. One of the most endearing attributes of the Armenian people is their ability to punctuate any meal with a series of lusty, heartfelt, generous toasts. As the dinner progressed we toasted the volunteers, the Armenian and American peoples, our families, our mothers, our sisters, our children who don't exist yet. Being a sentimental fool myself I was touched by the way these great burly Armenian men spoke of the virtues of love and family, of their hopes for the new year, of the goodness of God and the great providence that united us all there. The dinner itself was delicious: the usual spread of meats, cheeses, pickled vegetables, lavash, etc, along with two kinds of trout, the traditional Christmas eve meal. And this trout was delicious, falling off the bone and tasting clean and fresh. I ate my portion so quickly the waiter returned and brought me another chunk, including the head. This was unnecessary. I would also note that I drank vodka, again, according to the old precept, "when in Yerevan, do as the Armenian men do." Every time I took a swig of it, causing my cheeks to pinch up and my whole body to shudder, I would look at L and point angrily at myself and scowl and mouth the words, "I'm a man," to make clear she knew it.

1/6. Still snowy and wintry. Finally saw a first glimpse of Ararat as we drove to the airport. The flights home were long, and tedious. The first flight, to Paris, was overrun with hateful French children who loitered and pushed on chairs and annoyed me. I tried to give them dirty looks strong enough to influence their behavior, but not so strong that they would tell on me. I spent an hour in the Paris airport seeking out The New Yorker, to no avail; I settled for The Economist and didn't care for it. The flight to JFK was uneventful, but an exercise in patience and an example that maybe I really am growing up, since being trapped in that tiny cabin with the boorish fat Americans and the rude brittle French people made me want to throw a tantrum.

And now I'm home, not sleeping, expecting the light switches to be Armenian and whispering "excuse me" in pidgin French in the hallways at law school. I look forward to mulling over this trip for a few days. Armenia is a more complicated and tragic and beautiful place than I could have thought.

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