“And your husband, is he Armenian too?” ask the ladies as they make lavash. “He is not Hie, but he has an Armenian heart.” How they smile! My blood–now that is another matter, separated from my heart by some kind of genetic moat. Or can my Armenian heart change my blood, the way a wine cask seasons wine?
We are sitting with Vergine, a venerated folklorist and Yerevantsi scholar who has also compiled a massive tome of eyewitness accounts of the genocidal atrocities. Dana sings her Armenian folk songs, remembered from 40 year old recordings of George Mgrdichian, who introduced the oud to America, and to me. Vergine writes down lyrics she never heard before:
Yerkenk barenk miatseen, Vor mer tsegh getar mena Let’s sing and dance together! So our race can continue!
Vahan an American-Armenian professor here, turns over the grapes from his farm outside of Yerevan to his friend Mavrik, who makes wine out of them. Mavrik, while showing us how to distill vodka from mulberries with a still on his shaded porch, explains how mixed up Armenian blood has become. Ethnic marms disdain the notion of romantic inter-marriage, calling it bad fiction. Meanwhile, my eligible (well, not exactly eligible!) sons in the country for 2 weeks, and they receive at least 4 recommendations to marry an Armenian!
After a marvelous Spring in Yerevan, I’m pulling up my stakes, preparing for a different kind of crossing over. The joy of travel seeks novelty at first, then it backflips, and revels in similarities. Here I have seen new kinds of humility, of resilience, of professional dedication, of national pride, and of gratitude. I leave wondering, how can people, nations, hold together over what we hold in common, and still celebrate differences? Nature relentlessly mixes us up, crosses over our chromatids, separates and re-joins us.
Returning with me are memories of heroic clinicians working with generosity and competence for a pittance; and of new music, new ways to move with it. I am odar (foreign), but I identify with the love of Armenians for their own particular ways–a love I hardly knew as an American. This love, knotted like a carpet (the word carpet is Armenian for knotted), itself becomes a treasure. It binds together, like family; and it has an ambivalent boundary, unsure of its own porousness, of how to stay pure.
I want to see that boundary melted with beautiful cultural fusions, with people helping each other to heal. Then, I want to go into the heart of the village, see the fathers holding their daughters’ hands, dance the Tzakhadzor, sit with the doctors and the families, and listen to the old women’s stories. Our planet’s heart has many chambers.
Song: Our Big Trip: Our Big Trip