the letter u (winkwildly) wrote,
the letter u

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hai hai, mrachni narod

i've put off writing about this for a long time, and i have nothing else to do tonight. i think i can feel september settling in... on my last evening in armenia, my aunt and cousin took me to a restaurant called Old Yerevan. we ate in the basement, which was decorated to look like an old armenian house. there was lavash hanging from the ceiling, and other little details i probably missed out on. we sat in the corner and we all wore new things. i remember vaguely wanting to impress my cousin, who was tired, the conversation flipped on unbroken, like it always does with family, until the music started. there was a three-piece armenian band, i really wanted to take their picture but i wasn't sure whether it'd be appropriate, too touristy, mood-ruining. so i asked them, but for some reason, and this happened a lot, i slipped into English instead of Russian (though they might not have known Russian either), and when I realized my mistake, just waved my camera and looked questioning and pathetic. the guy with the accordion shrugged so I snapped it, but it didn't turn out. too dark. let's not get sentimental.

they were all dressed in traditional armenian clothes. i can't remember much about it, but i remember it was such a perfect blend of delicate detail and rough utilitarianism. a troupe of dancers came in. i'd seen them earlier in the lobby, hanging out as people came in, talking. they launched into this set.. an equal number of men and women, they sang these songs.. i had finished my food by that point. and stopped talking. i couldn't talk because i wanted to say so much. the way they were moving, the sounds that came from them that blended so strinkingly, i had so much to say but none of it came out in words. instead i asked if i could move to a closer table, so i could see them better. i watched them with my camera in my lap, my heart disconnected from my body. and swirling in yelps and soothing lulls, i could see myself better than i'd ever before. they all seemed so kind, i don't know how to explain it. one of the girls smiled at me so genuinely i couldn't even find a facial expression to give back to her. instead, my eyes pooled a warmth that eventually condensed, melted into tears. but the strangest part was before that. when it lingered. for no discernible reason, i began to think about my mother, mother's mother's mother's mother until i ended up in the second drawer in her bathroom, where she kept the jewelry she never wears. there is a string of old coins her great grandmother wore on her head, silver and thick, heavy. how completely novel is that to me, to her. mom was born into a land where being armenian meant something different than it did to her parents, to her grandparents. she was named for the whiteness of her skin, and she was named a slavic name. in a way, being armenian even to my parents means something too much, too dark, too strange, something fractioned in them, diluted, but still there. i pictured my mother back then, dancing with these people, my mother as the woman who smiled at me... i can't explain this. i'm trying too hard, can you tell? it's just the way they were together, it's the launch, the constant give and take of their bodies in the circle, by themselves, rolling patterns, the rug-thick interwovenness of it all. the music, the singing, the movement. and i really felt like i had come across these people in the mountains, i was some lonely traveler taken in for a night, and i think they knew how much i appreciated it. after the show was over, the leader of the troupe, who looked like a bullfighter, came up to me and began talking in armenian. i just stared at him, and turned to my aunt. she looked at him for a second after he'd finished, and responded in armenian, prompting him to bow, turn and walk away. she said he had asked me "miss, i beg your pardon, but what is the reason you are crying?" she told him i didn't speak armenian. i wanted to go after him, to tell him that his dancing was beautiful, that i'm leaving, and everything that would embarrass me to death. instead, i just gathered my purse and we left, my heart swelling with heat, the evening air and the city putting a cool hand to my forehead.

that night, like every night in yerevan, i went to sleep facing the window, listening to the people below me, watching the light from adjacent rooms at 2 am. i stared deep into the curtains and deeply inhaled my bedsheets, and in a way i haven't felt since i was a toddler, i feel asleep in the arms of an ancient mother.
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