Monday, October 6, 2008

Return to Innocence

Yesterday, while I was talking to the Russian-Canadian guy outside the hostel, Gevorg Babayan walked up to us. Gevorg works here at the Envoy Hostel, and since I first spoke to him on the phone a week or so before I flew here, I knew that I would get along with him well. He is very sensitive and intelligent, very good at English, and just a great guy to talk to. He mentioned that he was going to be leading a Village Cultural Tour, and I asked if I could join him. He said I was welcome to.

Today we set out for the Aragats Plateau. I already knew that this was a beautiful region, because that is where the Amberd Fortress was. We stopped off at the church which had the stones in the forms of the Armenian letters, where Mesrop Mashtots is buried (I had seen this church with Sati last week).

Then we did something different. Gevorg took us to a local town called Byurakan, which so happens to be his hometown. He took us to the astronomical observatory there, the founder of which had been an astronomer of international renown. The docent of the founder's house spoke English fluently and guided us through the house and cited this scientist's many achievements in astronomy, which are now considered facts of life.

The history of Byurakan is a bit sad. During Soviet times, it was a big town, with lots of inhabitants. Both of Gevorg's parents had worked at the observatory. After the Soviet Union collapsed, funding had dried up. The place is still functioning, but it is in decline and a shadow of it's former self.

After this, Gevorg took us to his uncle's house and took us to a small separate building where his relatives were making fresh lavash bread. There was a deep oven pit called a Tonir, where the heat came from. One person kneaded the dough, and then passed to another person, who would out it in the oven, take it out, and then peel it off. Probably not as easy to do as it looks, and those pieces are super-thin!

A few minutes later, we saw that same bread at the table. All the produce without exception was home-grown. That same fresh lavash bread, Madzoon (yoghurt), honey, salads, cheese. Unbelievable. All of it tasted so fresh! And of course, apple oghee vodka (which is home-brewed by Gevorg's grandfather in their still). Our group was three Swedes, one Russian-Armenian, and myself. We sat there, taking our time. As I write this entry, it is almost 8:30 PM, and I am still full! I don't think I need any dinner tonight. The icing on the cake was berry juice from berries from their own orchard, and fresh fruits also from their own orchard. The berry juice was currant, I believe, and the berries were floating right in it.

Not only was this stuff so fresh, but none of it (particularly the fruits and fruit juice) were sour. The berry juice and the grapes had none of the sourness that you usually find.

I commented to Gevorg, as did the Swedes, that this type of produce is pretty much part of an old way of life in our respective countries that is dying. I mentioned that in the USA people pay big money for organic produce, when they can get it. Gevorg simply smiled and said "We don't use fertilizer, we don't need it! This is the only way we know!"

The Russian-Armenian congratulated me on how I handled the apple oghee. I don't know why, again moderation seems to prevail here. I just sipped a little, then they would top off and do a toast again once in a while. My stomach was pretty full, and again, these folks seem to be a model for moderation. They chided one of the Swedish ladies who did not want to refill, kidding around with her and whatnot, but clearly it was nothing vicious. Then they just topped her up, too, giving her less. It seems like it's perfectly ok to just sip a little here and there, which is what I did.

I arrived at the hostel feeling rested.


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