There is something extraordinarily good, tremendously fresh and clean and pure about “Song of America” by George Mardikian. Mardikian is a now-famous Armenian-American restauranteur and philanthropist who became successful despite the ‘old world’ difficulties – genocide by the Young Turks and Sovietization of his homeland by the Russians – that besought again and again his beloved Hayastan (the local name for Armenia).
“Song of America” is an ode to America by an immigrant who knew the perils of life lived in unfree lands and found out that with hard work and good cheer he could make the life he wanted for himself (and in the meantime become one of the great defenders of his people). “Song of America” is cheerful, but not naïve. It is filled with good food and deep relationships that marked Mardikian’s life; and it is filled with purpose that is derived from an existential love of people juxtaposed against the morally hazardous cynicism of today’s “humanitarians”.
That is, I think, what makes the difference. There is no “virtue signaling” in Mardikian’s telling of his extraordinary life. He’s not seeking to tell you how good he was, or how the way he sees the world is better than yours – his words do not drip with judgement and bitterness. Because he is grateful, and above all else he wants to tell you who read his only book (he wrote another, but it is a cook-book – his true love) about how thankful he is for the life he was given by America. The undercurrent being, please take better care of her.
Our poor country could use a dose of Mardikian these days – his book was like a fresh draught from an alpine Armenian mountain stream, refreshing and invigorating. And lets be honest, we who are Americans really aren’t making anyone proud these days – are we? Even (or perhaps especially) the current lot, those who “look fairer and feel fouler” to quote another great, prescient writer. We should all read “Song of America” to see her through Mardikian’s eyes – fleeing as he did Turkish thugs. We should work hard, not to gain power or to “influence” others through banal emptiness of social media but instead roll up our sleeves and love her again through anonymous sweat and silent tears.
Finally, and on a completely different note, I wanted to say a word about George Mardikian’s Armenia. I have spent the last two years here – under the silent supervision of Ararat – cowering from Covid and raising my son. Though I am not an immigrant, I am a guest – I have nevertheless learned from mother Armenia what George Mardikian went 6000 miles away to also teach us – the silent quiet beauty of the land, the goodness of a hard-working people yearning to be free but beset by one tribulation after another after yet another – here I have healed from some of my own bitterness and I have found beauty and love and meaning. I have become quiet, at last, and again grateful for the Lord and what He has given me; and that He allowed me a sojourn in this most extraordinary of lands, placing me in communion with thousands of years of uninterrupted struggle which produced the painters and sculptors and wine-makers – the writers and cooks – whose tremendous goodness spilled over to all the world and brought people like George Mardikian to our own shores. Now, would that we would only listen to them.