Travel Thursday: Do You Mean Ya Armenia?

I was usually good at remembering where I was when I awoke, not an easy thing when you consider how much I travel. It was the plane descending, hopefully on purpose, that told me where I was, but even then I had to remember where I was going.
I wouldn’t get much time in Armenia, as it was really only a stop on the way to bigger things, but I still thought about taking a detour to the UCLA archaeological site, and really, how long could that take, this being such a small country? The Bruin diggers had found a perfectly preserved 5,500-year-old shoe in a cave; that was sure to peak some extra female interest in the find, I grinned to myself, especially since it was technically leather. . . if old, rather distressed leather. Though I did get a laugh when I found they couldn’t figure out if it had been made for a man or a woman.
Just for the heck of it, my mind reviewed the archaeological evidence, though I knew I should be thinking about my job instead. Knowing organic materials didn’t usually preserve well in this part of the world, due to high content of salts and fungi in the soil as well as dramatic fluctuations in temperature and humidity, I thought that made the condition of the footgear–I’d seen pictures–all the more remarkable.
Luckily the plane landed before I could berate myself for becoming so excited about a shoe. . .
Being around the world from El Lay, exactly twelve time zones away, I knew it would take a while getting used to Armenian standard time. . . except I didn’t have the time for that right now, so it was important not to go to bed until tonight. Since I’d napped on the plane, I thought I could make it, but on the other hand I hoped to be sleepy then. Figuring I’d better do things expected from a tourist, I made my way–known from a previous trip–to the American embassy, where I registered in case something went sideways. I wasn’t allowed to leave without getting the usual lecture to stay away from the drugs, Armenia being a stop on hash and opium’s trip from Afghanistan to Europe, but I seemed to do a good enough job of pretending to pay attention to satisfy the lecturer.
“So where does one go to get a burger around here?”
The Marines grinned as the diplomat told me my best bet was Mr. Pig, but that Wheel Club was the place for other American food.
“This is where State earn their money!” I crowed, leaving everyone in a laughing mood. I followed an American tourist out of the building, and just for fun and practice I kept right behind him as he took things to another level, taking photos of everything and everyone as he made it to Azatutian–or Opera–Square. I’d been told people in this country would be flattered that you wanted to take their portrait, though probably not so much here in Yerevan, where the locals had to laugh at you wanting a photo of a total stranger, if he’d asked first.
So I got my burger–luckily it was in the same direction as my fun spy time–then went back to the hotel, crashing and not waking till next morning, which was just as perfect as I could have ever imagined, or planned.
Thanks to the wonders of email, I already had a breakfast date, with an old friend from El Lay who’d moved back to her parents’ homeland to hit it rich, so she claimed. Unfortunately she invited me to her place, where as soon as she opened the door and gave me a hug she announced breakfast was served. I’d need to take her at her word as I examined the bowl she placed in front of him.
“Don’t be a wuss,” she smirked, proving she’d remembered American dialect perfectly well. “Eat up.”
“I never eat something without knowing what it is. . . and sometimes not even then.”
Finally she remembered what a picky eater I was, but couldn’t back down now. “You’ve been all over the world, eaten many things you wish you hadn’t, so don’t invite danger from an angry cook.” When I still didn’t look convinced, she breathed a sigh of exasperation right into his face. “C’mon, what’s the worst thing you’ve ever eaten?”
“That’s classified.”
“Ha! Your past is even murkier than I imagined.”
I grimaced. “That’s a quality shared by this soup.”
So I left her place a couple of minutes later, without getting hit but also without breakfast; I considered that an equitable solution. After all, there were many places I could have brekky, and just to prove it to her, even if she wasn’t there, I stopped at a place on the same block as her apartment building and enjoyed a very American morning repast, full of bacon and eggs and orange juice, though I skipped the local milk.
After that I walked back toward the hotel, waiting for a green light in the perfect spot to gaze upon the massive monument in Victory Park called Mother Armenia. Between the buildings it looked quite arresting, on a hilltop overlooking the center of Yerevan. I couldn’t remember if I’d shot it before, but figured it could wait till I had my big camera with me.
A few hours later I did indeed have my better photographing device out, shooting wildly at an admittedly awesome-looking Mt. Ararat, which dominated the skyline much like Rainier did in Seattle, yet somehow even more so. According to my internet scouting, clear days weren’t all the common here, with Yerevan suffering the same inversion problems as El Lay, being located in a bowl and encircled by hills. I’d figured I’d have to be content with the view I’d gotten as the plane landed, but if I were any type of superstitious I’d take this as a good sign.
As my brain had a tendency to do–more often than I’d like–it hijacked the train of thought onto another rail, this time reminding me of a story from World War Two, when a group of German mountaineers was square-pegged into a military unit that found them fighting in the area. . . and when the battle was over, there was Mount Elbrus, the highest peak in the Caucasus. Not content to just scale the mountain, they proudly planted their divisional flags and the German national flag on top, taking photos that quickly made their way back to the Nazi propaganda boys, who trumpeted the accomplishment like they’d found a cure for cancer or some such.
One person who’d seen right through it was Hitler himself, hard at “work” on the Battle of Stalingrad, reportedly annoyed to see his elite mountain troops caught on camera goofing off. And knowing how the Soviets felt about the Germans, if was no surprise when they reclaimed the area and made scaling Mount Elbrus to take down the German flags and plant their own their top priority.
Grinning at the arrogance and ridiculousness of puny human beings, I had my driver take a circuitous route back to Yerevan, just to see if there were any angles of the huge-looking mountain I missed. After a few shots of the Mother monument as promised, as well as a street filled with carpets for sale draped over old cars in such a way that simply begged to be photo’ed, I made my way back to the hotel to make sure I was presentable–enough–to take my old buddy out “somewhere nice, for a change,” to quote her. I wasn’t dumb enough to remind her the only comparison was her apartment, so I figured that as long as I found something my stomach could tolerate on the menu, the night would be fine.
It sure looked like it when I got to her place and she answered the door in a flaming red fuck me dress, so hot I almost didn’t hear her say, “There you are! You’re late!”
I smiled down at her cleavage to say, “There you are, too,” which made her smile knowingly. . .



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