Comforts of Home

“All right, I’ll bite, what’s the gooseneck in the bag?” asks the customs lady. I explain. “You brought your oud all the way to Armenia and not your wife?” She’s coming a little later. She admits me, an oud-toting pediatrics professor from Vermont looking for a donut.


Even donuts have family back in the old country. It is cousin to the ponchig, which you can eat under an umbrella at a window-front bakery back in Yerevan. Ponchigs can be had–and have them you will if you can–at just 150 dram, sweet fried things with custard under-bellies passed to you through a window marked with strange letters by a woman with dark eyes and clear plastic gloves. As you eat the deltoid pastry, breath through your nose, not to inhale it, and watch the fine sugar drift away in sweet convections, melting on the  sidewalk under you in the 90 degree heat. This jet fuel can get you through the morning and then some. My translator warns me not to eat such things, as the frying oil may intoxicate me with free radicals. They have those here? But I can see her sadness as she conveys this teaching. She misses eating ponchigs.

“You never know when you leave the house, you might come home by a different route,”  (James McMurtry); I think he means the traveller has changed, more than the route. After a fretless 15 hour trip across the stratosphere to Boston, I am at Braintree’s midwestern-quaint bus depot. Little evidence of trees, but the brains are neighborly. A brown lady with a welcoming smile sells me some coffee and a donut.  The donut line-up has changed, as these things must always change, lest we hordes of donut-eaters grow bored. Our attention, battered by fluorescent lights, diesel fumes, and faux-vinyl seating, wanders easily. I scan the steel-rack slopes for a donut whose olfactory character may take me all the way home, like a salmon, swimming up the tributaries, deciding which way to turn. There’s a right answer, and many wrong answers.

I choose a donut dressed up as a piece of lemon cake. Wrong. Outlandishly yellow (# 43?), with a bullet-proof jacket of sugar and a belligerent dash of yellow flavoring that I suppose must be called “Natural” (like Plutonium!), its Armenian clansman would scarcely recognize it. Still, it shall be my ponchig, for the while. I am what I eat, and I am loyal, if no longer fully natural. Some day, Dunkin’ Donuts will recall its ancestry and serve ponchigs. Meanwhile, I’m trying to make better choices.

Sitting high in the Megabus, I stare out the picture window, eyes drinking, as we enter the White, and then the Green mountains. A geographic birth canal–shaggy, fog-smoked foldings of earth–weaves past and around me, until I am abruptly delivered into my academic ecosystem, there to re-join a circle of patients, families, colleagues, administrators, directors, friends from Africa who keep the place organized. My oud-pegs are a little tight from the change in humidity, but–even part ponchig–I love home. I know it’s comforts.

Guitar: Comforts of Home




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