I’ve been in that catch-up-with-normalcy phase that happens after your mom makes a whizbang journey across the earth to see you. I feel like I used up all my language skills on my mother and for the last week or so can’t seem to construct a full Armenian sentence. I’m feeling the weight of my current state, the missing of mom added to the pressure of work projects mixed with the swirl of information concerning my grad school search sweetened by the idea of visiting friends all floating on an under current of Oh How I Love My Life and Won’t I Be A Total Mess In Less Than Ten Months When I Have To Leave.
It’s true. Already I’m feeling the fear of leaving, the dread of saying goodbye to this beautiful place full of beautiful souls. Let’s examine, for instance, the past weekend.
It begins Friday night with a simple canning lesson. Serine, the sweet landmom of mine, comes over to show me what’s up with that favorite Armenian past time. There’s an actual word for it in Armenian, but up in my marz, people just use the word pakel which means ‘to close’. So here we are boiling tomatoes for closing, with Serine’s daughters (pictured here) watching Finding Nemo on my computer.
The next morning I wake to banging on my front door. Serine has come to close the tomatoes, so just like that we’re up and boiling, the smell of parsely and red pepper and tomatoes quickly filling the cottage. With merely a few spins of the zakat, I have before me five jars of chunky tomato sauce chilling by the window. I also have within me the fever, a revelation tindered by my friend’s canning spree and sparked to flame by this tiny canned success.
All the sudden, recalling that I have recipes stowed and a helpful landmom, I am in flight to the shuka to by kilos and kilos of eggplant, red peppers, green peppers, spicy peppers, onions and more tomatoes. With a pile of veggies on the floor, I chop and dice and follow a recipe in our Peace Corps cookbook for chunky salsa. I finish up Finding Nemo on my own. After almost every Dori line I overlaugh, high perhaps on tomato fumes and sun rays from the window.
Later, while the jars of salsa boil in a steamy bath, Serine comes over to teach me to cook one of my favorite Armenian foods, bdrijani khaviar. She bakes and peels eggplants while I send all the rest through a grinder and into the kettle. Herbs are chopped and tossed in and all of it boils while we listen to a mix of Pete Yorn, The Temper Trap, Local Natives, and the like. Sweet aroma swirls with savory smells.
In the midst of stirring, a bell rings from the road, and Meri comes running to tell her mother that the vegetable man has come. We leave everything steaming, and head to the street finding a truck full of figs, roughly $1.30 a kilo, and both of us buy a bag full and plot a jam.
By the end of the day I have 17 jars full of sauces and a pot full of slowly gelling figs.
The next morning I head out with The Europeans, An and Kristine, two great new friends who enjoy a sunny day or a warm cup of tea as much as I do. We take an avtobus out to Kurtan, a village on the edge of a canyon. After saying hello to some friends of mine there, we walk out the muddy road to the cliff edge. We sit on a rock, our toes hovering some hundred feet about the ground, and consider the expanse. The sky is a calm blue and the colors of fall are just beginning to peek out at the tips of branches. A river winds it’s way from around a cliff corner and brushes past a centuries old church perched on a small hill. After a while we pick up and hike down into the gorge on wet, craggy edges.
Down in the gorge, we dip our feet in the river; I feel the sun on my back. We try to catch a fresh water crab the size of a silver dollar. We name it Louise, making up a story about how Louise is a female crab trapped in a male crabs body, a transcrab. Perhaps, we say, that’s why Louise is being so shy, why Louise keeps running under the rock where we can’t ask Louise which pronoun Louise prefers.
We picnic on the bank sitting barefoot in the shade, eating that homemade khaviar with tomatoes, bread and cheese. And thanks to Autumn, I fall in love with those cinnamon-sweet persimmons all over again. After eating, I climb around on the creek stones, collecting, working my way back to shore holding bunches of freshly picked wild mint in my hands. Finally when the clouds start rolling over the canyon, when an unwelcome thunder starts to rumble through, we pack up and head back the way we came.
Right before the climb up, the one we’d been considering as possibly dangerous, we meet again two Armenian village men who had helped us hike down from the top. While we were picnicing, they were collecting walnuts from canyon trees. Their fingers are stained black from peeling the rinds.
“The rain is coming,” they tell us.
“You’ll wait here then,” I ask. They are sitting by an abandoned domik, someone’s old canyon home made of plasterboard and tin.
“Until the rain ends. Then we’ll head up.”
“Can we wait with you?” I ask.
They nod, hands still busy cracking open walnuts, chewing a reply, “Of course. Why not?” And before we know it, there we are sitting in the dank cabin playing Durak, each eating from the offered walnuts.
After only twenty minutes or so the rain lets up, and we wait for the men to sweep up the husks and gather their filled bags before we head out of the cabin and up the cliffside.
On the hike back we pause to see a rainbow and later to pet the goats who are making their way down the trail we’re taking up.
Back at my cottage, two more of The Europeans come over, and we make a pizza while An so kindly reboils the fig jam so we can seel it in jars.
So, you see, this place seems now to just be day after day of A Damn Good Life. All in all the weekend turned out twenty cans of yum that will give me a much tastier winter. And what’s more I spent time with good friends enjoying fall weather that couldn’t have been sunnier. Right before The Europeans left my house for theirs, a new friend came to visit. I picked up the tiny thing who graciously posed for a photoshoot. It was as if, just when the weekend was over, she showed up to say, “Hey, don’t think because your party’s ending the goodness needs to stop.” Indeed.
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