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10.1.13

The Compulsive Armenian

Kristi Rendahl
Within an hour of talking to me—nay, 15 minutes—people know something of my history with Armenia and Armenians. “Are you Armenian?” they ask with reasonable skepticism.
“No, but I lived there for five years,” I respond, “and I return almost every year.”
They wonder where Armenia is and whether I know the Kardashian family.
“It was a good fit for me,” I explain without being asked.
In reality, I’m compulsively Armenian in very select ways. You know how Armenians watch the credits at the end of every film, waiting to see an Armenian name, mentioning it aloud to friends or tucking it away for a future conversation? “Do you remember the Academy Award for Best Picture in 1971? Yeah, the assistant costume designer was Armenian.”
Well, I do it, too. I watch the credits roll more times than I’d care to admit, waiting to see the tell-all sign of an Armenian’s signature on a piece of art. The unassuming addition of two vowels and a consonant at the end of a word that may otherwise be Arabic or Turkish or Armenian: ian and yan. I wait, and I make note, silently congratulating the new immigrant or descendant of genocide survivors for making their way onto the big screen.
And you know how Armenians tell you that this-or-that famous person is Armenian because their so-and-so was Armenian? (Forgive me, I have given myself license to make sweeping generalizations in this piece.)
I remember friends in Armenia talking about an astronaut. “Wasn’t he Armenian?” my friend Hakob asked. Over-saturated by Armenian nationalism at the time, I exclaimed in exasperation, “Can’t he just be an astronaut? Does he have to be identified as an ‘Armenian’ astronaut?” My friends laughed and we ate our soup. Now I understand. Or maybe they brainwashed me. In either case, I do that, too.
Something I’ve noticed recently occurs in church. Whenever I’m in town, I play piano for services at a church in Minneapolis. During the Lord’s Prayer, when I’m generally sitting out of sight of the congregation with my legs crossed and a cup of tea in my hand, I think of the Armenian Church’s rules on behavior in churches.
I still remember my first months in Armenia, when a friend was told sternly not to cross his arms or hold them behind his back during the Badarak. Nevermind that I’m drinking a cup of Dunn Bros tea in church, which doesn’t cause me guilt in the least, I uncross my legs immediately when I hear the words “Our Father.” Arms, legs, they’re all the same—don’t cross them in the Armenian Church. So I uncross everything, compulsively.
Numbers are important to Armenians. Not in terms of years lived or chocolates eaten (though those, too, may elicit unsolicited commentary), but in terms of bouquets. An Armenian superstition dictates that flower bouquets should be made of an odd number of flowers. An even number of flowers should only be presented for funerals or cemeteries. Which makes me wonder whether snarky people ever do it to mock an ex-girlfriend or curse a boss. But I can’t find it on the internet, so it must not happen.
So, as I was making a modest Christmas gift for a colleague a few weeks ago (I’m terrible at crafts, but occasionally make the effort), I was short one, making it a total of 9 items. I was relieved—mostly out of laziness, and partly out of superstition—that I would not be cursing him with an even-numbered gift this holiday season. I should tell him to thank me for it, but I’m afraid that that would be too compulsive.
And, in that spirit, I add a fifth, an odd number for good luck and something to demonstrate how very modern I am. The matter is friends, and the means is Facebook. Like any good Armenian, I accept Armenian friends with no questions asked. Who are you? Doesn’t matter, you’re Armenian and we already have 53 friends in common, so we’re going to be friends soon enough. Could it be a ruse? Yep, but at least you brought my total number of friends to an odd number. And you know what that means?
 
"The Armenian Weekly," January 9, 2013

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