This essay represents a failure, not complete for I remain optimistic but certainly a success deferred. I should be writing my Armenia novel. Each passing day, it gets a little harder. My parenthesis utopia is moving deeper into the past, joining the rest of my memories nestled in a bed of nostalgia. “Nostalgia is memory with the pain removed,” wrote Fred Davis in ‘Yearning for Yesterday’. Sometimes it’s harder to excise the pain – for Nigeria, I may never be able to accomplish that feat – but there are other times when you discover something so grand and magnificent, so surprising that you lose your breath for a moment, for a time, for a season. That’s what Armenia was for me. Perhaps it was the more remarkable because it was juxtaposed against six years in West Africa, an anti-utopia. An apocalypse. A glimpse into the anarchy that is coming – the ordeal that is arriving. None of my friends felt the same; all the State Department morons I worked with were ‘Europe area officers’ and spent their time complaining that sometimes the lights went out or that the sushi was not fresh enough. Those people who travel to somewhere foreign and search only for the familiar. For me Armenia was the most exotic of places.
W. Somerset Maugham once wrote of a certain Abraham in ‘The Moon and Sixpence’: “One morning the ship docked at Alexandria, and from the deck he looked at the city, white in the sunlight, and the crowd on the wharf; he saw the natives in their shabby gabardines, the blacks from the Soudan, the noisy throng of Greeks and Italians, the grave Turks in their tarbooshes, the sunshine and the blue sky; and something happened to him. He could not describe it. It was like a thunder-clap, he said, and then, dissatisfied with this, he said it was like a revelation. Something seemed to twist his heart, and suddenly he felt an exultation, a sense of wonderful freedom. He felt himself at home, and he made up his mind there and then, in a minute, that he would live the rest of his life in Alexandria.” They called him foolish, they said he had no character, because he was set for a prestigious job in London; because he had it in him to be a famous doctor. “Character? I should have thought it needed a good deal of character to throw up a career after half an hour’s meditation, because you saw in another way of living a more intense significance. And it required still more character never to regret the sudden step.”
That is Armenia. And how do I write about that? Especially since evidently I did not have the character required – that is to say, I moved on. I rejoined the ever-flowing river to nowhere; unlike Maugham’s Abraham. To be sure, I have a family – a son – and when you make that commitment, you put an asterisk after your own ambition, a pause while you pave the way for his future. That, too, requires character, I tell myself. Abraham, after all, was young and single.
Nevertheless, Armenia is still back there – the mountains and the rivers; Lake Sevan and the castles and monasteries, unchanged for a thousand years and likely unchanged for a thousand more. Yerevan, that ancient city older that Rome that changes only insofar as the layers of empire sit one atop the other going backward and forward in time. But there is now no empire over Armenia, a tense fleeting stasis while they define their own future, if they can. But it is moving backward into my past, the sharp edges are becoming smoother; the muted pastels of the landscape are fading; the crisp flavors of the cherries and the sweet squishiness of the peaches – all slipping deeper into my memory to join the nostalgia of other places, that were not the same. How do I write about that? So instead, I waste an hour on a Sunday morning writing about not being able to write. At least I could write of it; but instead of penning the first page, which will be joined by 200 others, I write of failure and another wasted day. How is that courage, or character, I ask you??