Monday, December 17, 2012

Snowpocolypistan: Yerevan Style

Some thoughts as I pack to visit home for the next nine days...

Is there anything more poetic, more enlivening than Yerevan under a thick blanket of snow? That makes you feel warm as you plod through the piercing cold? That opens your senses and makes every step an exhilarating victory?

Today is my last day in Armenia...for the moment. I return after a brief visit home for nine days. I'm excited to see my family, but can't help feel that departing now in this momentous changing of the seasonal guard leaves a bitter sweet texture in my heart.

Where do I live, I wondered, sliding through the snowy streets en route to the conservatory with a freshly strung flamenco guitar in hand? Today my lessons with the local flamenco master Hagop Chaghatzbanian took place at the Yerevan Conservatory of Music, fourth floor, room 435. I got there before Hagop. They gave me the key to the room. Operatic belting and tetrachords floating down the hall. The passion and relentless practice to maintain this immense artistic pride I'm lucky enough to have a slice of. I hit the lights and look out the window. I watch snow coat the brilliant-grey opera house as winterized citizens amble on. Hagop is on his way. But wait. Where's my foot stool? You need a foot stool to play flamenco guitar, whether you're in Yerevan, Sevilla, or Baltimore. Aha - it's tucked behind the heater. I'm still getting the hang of this flamenco thing - it's a technical juggernaut that demands only the most focused levels of practice and attention to detail, to sound, to the gorgeous strokes, attacks, arpeggios, rasgueos, trills, ad infinitum of flamenco guitar - but you sit in that room and you flip that foot stool open and strum one of those tragic open chords that fills the room with an emotion you can't describe in this snow blanketed post-Soviet urban mystery and what you get is simple: the spirit of existence.

Walking back home I think of the musicians who have come through this conservatory for decades and the artists who have walked these streets for centuries and the spirits of those children in Connecticut that will haunt us for the rest of our lives consciously and subconsciously and the call to action to stand up against the ignorance and vitriol that keeps gun's circulating in America's market of the unnecessary.

Adieu, Yerevan. For now.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The Mute Barber

Today I got my second haircut since arriving in Armenia three months ago to the day. My first haircut cost 8,000 Armenian dram (AMD); that's about $20 for those of you keeping track at home. I won't disclose where, but rest assured, it was fancy and beyond my budget. The cut was great, but the price left me feeling robbed and ever-aware of the absurd income gap in Armenia.

So today I searched and found something more reasonably priced - 2,000 AMD, or, $5. I thought it would be another routine haircut as I ascended the steps and entered the brightly lit room with scents of chemical fruit and sounds of squirting water afloat in the air. There was one male barber in a sea of stern/vivacious women and he approached me. Puts a metal device up to his throat and begins to talk. His voice sounds robotic as it comes through the small machine a few words at a time, but his expressions are of course human. He tells me to wait. I look him in the eye and try to pretend everything is normal. That I wouldn't dare ask him how this happened though its the first thing I want to know. That regardless of how it happened, I would know it was simply not right, not fair that this man had to hold a machine up to his throat every time he wanted to ask, and that I could just stand there and sing a song or whistle a melody should I choose. Is there justice in this world, I wanted to ask him. I wanted to know. I wanted to ask my friends. Earlier today I saw images of children's bloody corpses in the Gaza Strip. A few days ago it was another family shot dead in Aleppo. At a breakfast under the oppressive, mind-numbing thud of techno trash in yet another smoke-filled Yerevan café I watched soldiers stampede through the DRC and another endless stream of refugees fleeing for "safety". Is there justice in the world? I don't want to know the answer for I already know the deepest truths can shock, stifle man.

I'm told to wait and when it's my turn, I'm treated to a damn fine haircut. The mute barber, Jack, was simply a master. I have been the VICTIM of many horrible haircuts. I'm sure there are many reasons these occur: barber/barbress is having a lousy day/week/month/year/..., has grown sloppy over time, is thinking about something else, or simply believes the job at hand does not deserve the fullest attention.

Jack cut at my hair like he the finest onion slicer. With precision he sliced face and neck hair like it could be done in his dreams. He had five different kinds of brushes, and used them all; each served a purpose and was deployed with immense precision at just the right moment. My only critique is that too much water wound up in my ears. But that's more of a self-critique. Next time I should man up more.

So if you need a barber in Yerevan who is of the highest caliber and the fairest price, let me know.

Monday, November 12, 2012

At My Doorstep - Dispatch From Armenia #1

I thought I wouldn't blog in Armenia during my Fulbright year as it would deter time from scribing larger works, like a novel, play, second album, etc. Everyday things happen to me that are blogworthy. In contemplating launching these blog entries, I wondered would it be excessive to start a brand new blog URL, or build on this URL, "Single Steps", a blog I started after graduating from college with a one way ticket overseas (yes, I just used "blog" three times in a single sentence). The decision should be apparent (hint: epic entries from walking across Spain, WWOOFing in Portugal, cycling across the US and more can be found in "Single Step" entries past). Well I quickly wanted to write about two encounters that happened to me in my apartment building, which I love. One morning about a month ago I am preparing to leave the apartment when a knock is at the door. I don't usually have unannounced visitors. I peer through the peephole and find an elderly lady. I open the door. She starts yelling. Doesn't have teeth. It's incomprehensible but her desperation and purposes is apparent. She is fragile. Ancient. Lines all over her face. I shut the door and feel like a vagabond for doing so. But what can I do to help her? I think about my grandmother. My father who was educated in this country. All the people who helped me when I needed a hand. Who do I think I am for shutting the door on her? It's easy to pass up on the elderly. They'll be gone soon, right? Yet they seem to constitute the majority of beggars I have seen in this country. One man by the opera who sits at his stoop 8am on the dot, every morning. Another who walks around in the finest suit writing - with incredible braggadocio - your name and insisting on payment. I open the door and she's still there, thinking about which door to knock on next. I give her some change and it feels inadequate. Still would have had I given her a few bills. I can't save this woman whose age compels me to consider her simply as a source of innocence. I shut the door and think - what could I have done more? Another morning I am headed to class. It's super early. Birds are chipping. Streets are empty. I have some trash to take out - there's a big trashcan along my commute route and my bag is small and would fit easily in it. I step out and there's an old man in the classic Armenian sweatsuit. He sees the trash bag in my hand and asks me what I'm up to. Throwing it out, I tell him. Not in the dumpster out back? That's where we're supposed to throw it out. No, I tell him. There's a trashcan on my commute. You shameful little boy, he scowls. How dare you. You should be ashamed. ASHAMED. And I walk off. Who has time for this crap? Maybe there's a reason, maybe there's an art to trash gathering and collecting in Armenia that I'm not privvy to. But at the end of the day, trash is trash, a trashcan is a trashcan, and for two instances, I opened my door here in Armenia and found some interesting characters on the other end.