Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Family Time in Artsvanik.

Pat and I with *Papi* and Anush.

If you are blessed in life, you are born into a family, hopefully a loving one. Sometimes you marry into one. Sometimes, one adopts you. Today, we were in a way, adopted, by a warm and loving Armenian family.

Years ago, on the occasion that I mentioned to my friend, Areg, that I wanted to visit Armenia, she immediately told me that I had to visit her father in his village.  "Oh yes, I must", I replied but never really believing that it would happen.  I figured she would have forgotten that conversation but she hadn't.  Days before I left on this trip, she told me she would tell her nephew, Gurgen, to take us to visit her father.

Gurgen was not about to disobey his aunt so from Artsakh, we headed to the southern part of Armenia - more specifically to the small village of Artsvanik where his grandfather lives.

Listening to both Areg and Gurgen talk about the man that Gurgen simply refers to as *Papi*, it is obvious that they not only love this man with all their heart but they are also inspired by him.  I, too, would come to greatly admire the man.

Yesterday, we crossed the border, from Artsakh, back into Armenia.  At the border stop, Gurgen took our passports and the registration card that we had received from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and headed to the security checkpoint.  He re-emerged a short while later with our passports in hand.   We were cleared to go.

Our first stop was the town of Goris where Gurgen shopped for ingredients for our dinner tonight.  We would be arriving late so the easiest thing to cook would be barbecued meat.  When asked what type of meat we wanted, there was no debate.  Pork!

I watched Gurgen as he did the needful at the local butcher shop.


Typically, in the US we buy meat by specific cuts and cost varies depending on the cut.  Here, I'm guessing it works as it does in many other parts of the world. You tell the butcher what you're intending to do with the meat and he gives you the appropriate cuts or mix of cuts.  In this case, perhaps some loin meat mixed in with rib meat.  Doesn't that sound like a good mix for barbecue?


I had Gurgen ask the butcher how long it takes for him to sell a pig.  The response was usually within a day but sometimes it takes up to two days.  In the US, our meat sits unsold for so long that it actually has to have an expiration date!  Here the meat is pretty much eaten fresh - it's NEVER frozen.  No wonder it tastes so good.  I also noticed how lean the meat is.  Very little fat yet when it cooks up, it's moist and tender.  There's something to be said about producing food on a small scale.  Unfortunately, that's not something that's possible if you have to feed a nation the size of the US :-(


I don't know how to read the scale.  Presuming we bought 1.450 kilos at 2500 dram per kilo??   Somehow that doesn't seem like enough meat.  We are carnivores!




After he bought the meat, Gurgen went about and got the veggies.  Have no idea what he's planning to cook up.  Interestingly enough, it was he that did the food shopping.  Had it been my mother and I doing this, we would have been picking out items together.  Today, Anush let her son do the work.  Smart woman.  Actually, she also did some shopping of her own - buying a pair of slippers for her father.  This will be the first time this year that she's gone to visit him and I'm sure she's very much looking forward to seeing him.



While Gurgen did his shopping, Pat and I did some of our own.  She was in need of some bottled water as the one she had bought this morning in Artsakh was sparkling water which she's not keen on.  I wanted something sugary so I had my sight set on Coke.  I don't drink sodas often but every now and again, I have a craving for one.


After food shopping, we made a quick stop at a local florist where Anush and Gurgen purchased a small bunch of white carnations to put atop the grave of their mother/grandmother who passed away just a few years ago.

Remarkably, we spent quite a bit of time in Goris but soon enough, we were on our way.  As we drove away from the city, Gurgen pointed out the facades of the traditional buildings here.  People in Goris prefer round shaped stones rather than square blocks.  It does give them a rather unique look.


It was almost 7p by the time we arrived into Papi's home.  Gurgen parked the van outside the gate and we were greeted by the barks of the family dog as we walked into the garden.

The view from Papi's front yard.  I think that is Khustup (Armenian: Խուստուփ) Mountain in the background. 

It's a modest home though quite large.  The original section was built by Papi's papi. Papi then added to it to accommodate for his family of 7.

Papi's office is behind the windows on the left.

Papi was busy, working at his desk, in his office.  Gurgen took Pat and I inside to meet his grandfather....a very handsome man, if I might say so myself.  And I am not blushing when I make that comment.  Papi had been writing, yes writing, I think his 5th (?) book.  He just had it published and with Gurgen translating, Papi briefly thumbed through several pages for us. If I understood correctly, the book documents the men of Artsvanik who lost their lives in wars.  Exactly which wars, I don't know.  I was incredibly impressed by Papi who at age 90 had just published a book.  Papi was a historian in his working days and obviously, tracking the history of his village is a passion for him because I don't think he makes much money from the sale of his book.  Who says it's too late life to continue to pursue your passion?

Gurgen started prepping for dinner.  First thing on the agenda was to pick the stinging nettle, one of my favorite wild veggies.  Here, as is in the US, it grows wild and there was a giant patch of it on a hill just a few feet from Papi's house.



Two neighborhood cows were grazing near the entry gate.  I love cows.  Had to take the photo but I dare not pet them.  You never know how they will react and I most certainly do not want to get kicked at!


Papi soon got into helping out with preparing dinner.  Gurgen must have told him we were having barbecue tonight.  Papi split some logs for the grill.  Yes, he's 90 years old but he's still splitting logs.  Not as fast as he might have done 10 years ago at the ripe old age of 80 but today, he got the job done!  Incredible!


Papi and Gurgen carried the grill closer to the house.


And Gurgen started to stack the wood into the grill.


Then Papi would restack the wood as Gurgen obviously did not do it correctly :-)



In the meantime, Anush had donned a pair of gloves and was going about the task of stripping the stinging nettle leaves from the stem.  I tried to help out by using a plastic grocery bag as a glove but the nettles were piercing through!  I quickly gave up because not only do the nettles sting you but where you've been stung, it gets really itchy!  The stuff is delicious to eat but a pain in the ass to prepare!


Photo courtesy of Gurgen.

 Gurgen's cousin, who lives nearby soon dropped by with her husband and their two young sons.   They would all be joining us for dinner.  It would be a family affair tonight!

Pat and I tried as best we could to lend a helping hand but in Armenia as in most places, guests are treated royally.  You don't have to do anything but enjoy yourself.  Although much of the conversation took place in Armenian, Gurgen would very often translate for us so we weren't feeling left out.  Truthfully, I think we both just enjoyed sitting back and watching loving family life unfold before us.

It was dark by the time the charcoal was ready for the meat to be put on the grill.  Gurgen and his cousin's husband tended to the grill.


The women were inside getting the rest of the food and the table ready.  Soon it would be time to chow down!


Papi sat on his chair and when he wasn't on his cellphone answering a call (yes, he has a cellphone and he knows how to use it), I think he was in heaven just watching everyone in his family doing their thing.  I'm sure he's happy to see them as much as they are happy to see him.

Anush handed me the pair of slippers that she had bought in Goris to give to Papi.  She wanted me to present them to him as a gift from Pat and I.  I was so grateful to her for that gesture.  I should have thought of it myself when we were in Goris.  I was brought up to never show up at someone's house empty handed and it completely slipped my mind to get him something.  I'm usually very mindful of this but today, I simply forgot.  My bad.


Sharing a laugh with Papi.  Photo courtesy of Gurgen.

Time to eat!  Anush could utter those words a million times but the true signal to everyone to gather around the table is when Papi takes his place. :-)


Papi insisted that Pat sit next to him.  Seat for the guest of honor whom Papi would be able to serve shots of his homemade vodka to.  Papi makes the vodka himself and he makes some large volume every year.  I don't drink any alcohol which many people find very surprising so I've gotten used to having to repeatedly but very graciously turn down offers.  Pat did a couple of shots which made Papi gleefully happy!  I'm sure he would have been even more pleased if she had matched him shot for shot but she was not about to do that.

Time to eat, drink and be merry!  Papi's leading the way!

We started with salads, bread, lavash and cheese.  The stinging nettles, which had been boiled and then scrambled with eggs, was also served. 


Gradually, everyone made their way to the table and the eating began.  Seriously, there was enough food to feed a small army or in this case, a few members of Papi's family and two guests :-)

What's the word for *cheers* in Armenian?  Oh, who cares.  Just drink up!!
Grandfather and grandson having a shot...or two....or three.  I think Papi could probably drink Gurgen under!

This is family!


The best dinner table is where there is so much food that there is barely any space left for each person to put their plate!


After dinner, the desserts were put out.  I think these were all bought by Gurgen's cousin as I don't remember (or may I just didn't notice) either Gurgen or Anush buying anything sweet when we were in Goris.  I was so full (at a lot of that pork barbecue and the stinging nettles), I turned out dessert.


This is what I said no to.  Next time, I have to eat less barbecued pork so I have room in my stomach for cake!

Happy uncle!

After dinner, Pat and I helped to clear the table.  In the back room, Anush was doing the dishes and Gurgen's cousin was putting away the food. 

With the dining table cleared, those who could chat in Armenian did so.  Pat and I chatted on the side.  

It took time for Gurgen's two young sons to warm up to me but in no time, I was helping the older one stack up lego type blocks to create whatever we felt like creating.  We couldn't speak to each other but hand gestures and the occasional smile was all that was needed to *communicate*.  Boys are so much fun to play with.  I've never been a doll girl so stacking blocks was something I did as a kid.  I still remember how to do it :-)



It was 11p when Pat and I finally retreated to our room for the night.  Anush took us upstairs to a large room with two beds in it.  Pat and I just each picked one.  Very comfy.  The only bathroom, that we knew of, was downstairs next to the kitchen.

Pat's bed on the left, my bed on the right.

Once upon a time, a baby slept here too!

It had been a very long day for Pat and I.  Normally, I go to sleep well after Pat dozes off but tonight our heads hit the pillow at the same time.

Next morning, I was up bright and early.   Before Pat even woke up, I snuck downstairs and outside.  In the light of day, I could see the snow atop Mount Khutstup.  What a lovely view to wake up to every day!


Papi's homemade weather vane.  Simple but it works!

Yesterday, the living room was buzzing with activity.  This morning, not even a mouse was stirring about.  I love how Papi built this room with the entire wall of windows.  Not only does it bring in a tremendous amount of light but you get a great view of the mountain.


He was quiet this morning but barking up a storm when we first entered Papi's place!

Papi's office is located in an adjoining building.


As I approached Papi's office, I caught sight of him through the glass.  He was seated at his desk, listening to a radio program.  Like so many elderly, Papi's hearing is not as good as it used to be so the radio volume was a tad loud. 


Papi turned to look out the window and saw me.  He gestured for me to come inside.

Entering into the office building, I couldn't but notice and admire how tidy the man is!


Papi was seated at his desk and he immediately started talking to me in Armenian.  I just looked back at him, obviously not understanding word he said.  In fact, as he was talking to me, I was just marveling at the fact that while everyone else was still fast a sleep, this elderly man was already up at this desk and working.

That's the desktop of a bus man!  (Gurgen - you need to build Papi some shelves for his office!)

Papi handed me a sealed, clear plastic envelope that had a copy of his book inside.  He said a few words and then I heard, "Areg".  From that I figured that the book was intended for Areg and he wanted me to take it back for her.  To confirm, I asked, "Areg?".  He replied something in Armenian while nodding his head so I presumed I was correct.


Before leaving Papi's office, I gestured for him to hold up his book so I could take a photo of him with it.  You can just see how proud he is of his accomplishment and rightfully so!


As the world around him was waking up aka the other humans in the house, Papi went about his day starting with feeding his chickens.  He keeps them in a gated section of his yard but when it's feeding time, he lets them right into his yard.



He lets them feed for a bit but he's got them so well trained that when he thinks they're done, he literally opens up the gate and whistles to tell them to back inside their gated area.

Before breakfast, Gurgen wanted Papi to take Pat and I to see the museum that he established decades ago but continues to still manage and operate.  We took a short stroll through the village of Artsvanik to get to Papi's museum.


Papi's museum is located next to the church.





Papi walked up to a very modest building and unlocked the door to let us in.



A smalll stone ram graces the entrance to the museum.   It's so charming!

This is a small village in a remote part of Armenia so you don't expect to see much of the museum. At first glance, the space was small and so was the collection.  But what is remarkable is that this museum even exists!  Even more remarkable is that every item has been properly cataloged and described.  Papi proudly showed us around the collection which is comprised items that he himself found as well as things that others have contributed.




As we walked through the three rooms, it was hard to not notice that things we often scattered about.  I think Papi needs more room so he can properly display everything!


What do you think it is?  Have no clue!

Old bellows for a metalsmith.

It's a crib.

A drawing, by Papi of course, showing a farmer plowing the field.


Teeth??
One room was essentially the war memorial for Artsvanik.  Photographs of those who lost their lives were displayed on one wall - I recognized a few from Papi's book.


Papi's museum is just three rooms but the amount of stuff he has collected is very impressive.  It's easy to look at something small like this and say, "Oh, I could do that" but the fact is you can't unless you have the passion, motivation, and determination to do so.  At his age, Papi is still going strong and shows no signs of slowing down!  I truly admire him.  I can only hope that I am even half as active and engaged as he is at his age!

Papi had a guestbook.  Pat signed on behalf of the two of us.  I know we're not the only people from the US to have come here and I hope we're not the last!


We then headed back to Papi's house, passing by a few villagers here.  They all knew him and Gurgen.  It's a small world here and everyone is family.  Papi may live alone in his house but he's by no means lonely which was good to hear. 


Back at the house, Anush was awake and getting breakfast ready.  Gurgen did his duty with making the scrambled eggs.


It was a simple breakfast with the eggs and some leftovers from last night's meal.  I was still plenty full from dinner - a few small bites of egg and a cup of tea was all I needed.  I've been eating way too much on this trip so cutting back every now and again is a good thing!

After breakfast, it was time to pack up and get ready to leave.  Before saying goodbye, we took a few photos with Papi.

I caught Papi and Gurgen having a chat.  The body language between them says it all.  Gurgen is getting some grandfatherly advice :-)   I asked Gurgen what his grandfather said to him - he wanted Gurgen to go back home, shave off his beard and mustache, and find a wife.  I smiled when Gurgen told me that.  Minus the words about the beard and mustache, I've been in this same position but with my grandmother.


It was a very sweet and loving moment between grandfather and grandson.


Then, it was our turn with Papi.  Gurgen took the photo.


A beautiful portrait of father and daughter taken by Gurgen.  The camera just loves Anush! 


Then it was my turn to take a family portrait.  Of all the photos I've taken on this trip, one of my favorites.  I just love the way they have their hands around each other.  Pure love!


After the photos, it really was time to leave!  We are returning to Yerevan today but we have to be back in time for a 7p dance performance at the Opera Theatre.  Yes, Gurgen - I don't know how he did it, managed to get us tickets and he was itching to get on the road.  It would be a long drive back to Yerevan not to mention the fact that on the way back to the big city, we will be doing a bit of sightseeing along the way.

We hugged Papi goodbye and thanked him for his hospitality.  I had to take one last photo of him before I got into the van.  Every now and again, I am fortunate to meet someone whom I come to admire and who inspires me.  I am blessed to have met Papi.


To Tatev we go!