Showing Up

7:30am; opening my eyes in our 2 room apartment, I see two great columns of crows out my window. Eighty percent of life, they say, is just showing up, and there they are, spiraling in the cold morning air over Nor Nork (also known as New Nork). As the coffee water boils they break out of their dance, and settle onto one of the cranes that hang over the half-finished buildings of Yerevan. They line up along the steel arms as the social rules of crows require, improving the skyline with the sincerity of their black silhouettes. My Burlington crows do the same, moving together en masse, then forming a line like points on a ruler. These Yerevantsi crows make me feel at home.

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And they aren’t the only ones. Thanks to Dana, surprising connections spring up from all directions: my first week here, I get into a cab, having called the cab number Dana gave me. The driver is chatty; he knows about my 3 grown sons, that Dana is a writer, that my mother-in-law is not well. Later, Dana & I arrive to an already-full yoga class, but the teacher smiles, she will find a place for us. One evening we go to the weekly meeting of comic artists–“Drink & Draw”–at the library a few blocks away; there is a chair, a pencil, some blank paper ready for me. (I appointed myself official oudist, as there was no competition for this office.) On Sunday morning, friendly faces greet us outside of the 500 year old church walls, and we find the seats that are held for us. After the service (lots of singing), a lovely older lady puts one arm around Dana’s shoulder, eyes shining with the fullness of her affection, and in a word, tells me how she feels about Dana: “Chamach!” I couldn’t agree more.

It’s as though I’ve been showing up for years. If there is ever a question of how I got here, I mention that my sons’ names are Nishan, Tavid, Aram. My new friends seem to appreciate the roots of my sense of belonging. So, my phone is starting to ring, and only occasionally is it a wrong number, giving me that passing “11th finger” feeling. The caller sounds insistent, so I pass my phone mutely to Dana, my pioneer, my connector. She explains the situation to the caller. There is a nor person at this number.

Dancing is one of those ultimate ways of being present, though it hasn’t always been encouraged. It is said that during Soviet times, dances, like other expressions of national identity, were suppressed, a sort of cultural “sensory deprivation.” As though they could prevent children from learning them, erase them from community memory. Each town had its own dance, their celebration of home, of being together.

Clinic, mid-day; a delightful 3 year old boy walks in with his mother and grandmother, plants himself in the middle of the room, and closes his eyes tightly. Periodically, he opens his eyes, looks around, but he is remarkably tenacious, and keeps them closed for most of the 30 minute interview. The mother’s and grandmother’s concern is of new onset stuttering. He is otherwise fine, but he had not wanted to show up for this doctor-visit, so he is making us disappear. There are some gentle suggestions from my very talented pediatric neurology host to avoid physical punishment in general (?did the stuttering start after one such punishment?), or verbal corrections of the stutter.

There’s a grain of truth in the boy’s disappearing experiment. In a famous, horrifying neurobiological study, repeated in many variations since, a handful of kittens’ eyes–left or right–were covered for a few weeks. When tested later, they lost sight in the formerly covered eye, and the corresponding parts of their little, seeing brains had withered away. Experience is a food that is passed in a bucket line upstream to our brains.

Often enough, the blindfold is taken off, and vision returns. Now, the dances of Armenia’s villages are making a comeback. People are gathering them, teaching them, performing them at work, and in parks, when the children’s soccer game is over.

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8PM: At the Bari Hoompe (dance group) the men accommodate my un-trained feet, take me into their line. Arms locked behind our backs, shoulder-to-shoulder, we wheel, hop, skate, and leap over the wooden floor. [I wanted to bring you along too so I took a sound recording:Barighoomp ]. They don’t seem to think it’s too late to learn. I’m just glad I showed up.

Sides’chun for now!

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4 thoughts on “Showing Up

  1. Hi Peter,
    Reading and listening to these posts, I feel I was indeed hidden in your suitcase on the way to Armenia, and now I get to go dancing the Barighoomp with you and Dana, and sometimes I can morph into one of the crows on the steel arms.
    Writing from wintry, sap-running, occasional mud-on-my-boots Vermont, Sharyl

    Reply
  2. Hi Parpetsy

    Just read your neuro log to my family, we too would like to partake in the barighoompe. We are currently wrestling on the couch and avoiding homework. We send lots of love

    Adrie

    ________________________________

    Reply

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