Where are you?

Doo vortegh es? Where are you? There’s something sweet and surrendering when I hear this sidewalk cell-phone refrain. As it repeats in my head with the final chores of the day, I wonder about the myth among some Armenians, that their egos get in the way of the common good, of cooperation, organization. But from what I see they track each other well, with a minimum of defensiveness or preening.

My Aunt Winnie last week completed a long farewell wave to life as we think we know it. Even in misanthropic adolescence, I would always want to know where she was. I could picture her, tracking the people around her with a loving ferocity. Her way was effervescent, and her legacy, buoyancy and resilience. My wishful mind finds her among the great flocks of swifts that have recently arrived from Africa, and that seem to have replaced the crows in the air over Yerevan.

Song (guitar, swifts) Where Are You?: 

Swifts Off my balcony, when I am not looking at Ararat, I am studying some thousand swifts like the ethologist I never was. Soaring around with their mouths open, high above the crass, empty monuments of errant oligarchs, swifts are hunting down insect lightcraft. At dinner and breakfast-time, swifts awaken on the fly (sleeping with half their brains on the wing as they do) for these diurnal feeding conventions, organizing and disorganizing like 3rd graders on a playground. Some hard-working ornithologists have deduced that swifts never stop flying except to hatch their young. Even at 70 MPH, topological rules, known to swarm theorists and swifts, guarantee friendly skies.

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Clinic Sitting at 3 desks arranged in a right triangle, 3 sets of parents confer with 3 white-coated pediatricians. The rule: keep your voice down; the conversations intercalate gently. Then, as though choreographed, all 3 sets of parents rise, thank the clinicians, and leave them to their writing. Charting is done with a similar gesture, left arm encircling the chart, right hand–“tserke“–steadily scribing. (I make the typical neurologists’ opening gambit: “is he right handed or left-handed?” The mother frowns, “normal, right-handed of course!”). Decided: the girl with strabismus does not have a neurologic diagnosis; the boy whose seizures are intensifying on carbamazepine needs a new seizure medicine; the hallucinating, twitching boy with headaches needs an EEG, admission for observation; the nervous, sleepless boy shall consume sodium bromide. Meanwhile, in our continuing hallway conferences, or around Armenian coffee and a box of chocolates, the neurologists and I are homing in on which American guidelines may be most useful here. We clinicians likewise need rule-sets to avoid dangerous collisions, to counter our fallibilities.

Marshrutka I reach a commutation milestone: I read Malatia on the bus sign, and calculate how close it will get me to Parpetsy street, and home.

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Oh, I have lists, I know dozens of bus rules, just where they go. It’s like a hobby for me, and I even ride the vans, known as marshrutkas. Twenty-one passengers–20 Armenians and one plaid Vermonter, are carefully poised and folded around each other, hardly making contact (a marshrutka is about twice the size of a Honda Odyssey). Musical chairs at each stop, as the passengers make a seamless exchange, and the drivers–smoking, chatting on cell phones, making change–instruct each other by horn.

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Home A peloton of four or five swifts, banking off my balcony at the sunset hour, is damn near combing my hair as I sit on my perch. I admire the principled ways of swifts, the way they know just where they are in space. Doo vortegh es?

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