Surrounding terrain

The houses in the town are mainly made of stone, basalt I think, and there is a certain look to the streets I haven’t seen elsewhere. There are long shared walls running along the street, made of stone and mortar, the mortar in many of them shaped in such a way around the stone to give a leopard-skin pattern to the wall.

There are gutters between the streets and the walls, and each house’s wall has metal doors large enough for a car, painted eggshell blue with rectangular or curved gaps near their tops that are decorated with bars in a fan pattern or the pattern of a sunrise, or even one is curled into the shape of an eagle clutching a snake in its talons. When the doors are open you can see in and there are their stairs and balconies, their laundry and their gardens, like a photograph sitting there, or in the mornings sitting around their tea.

The town’s only colors seem to be rock-grey, green, or roof-red. The streets are mainly straight, and they define a downward-sloping, tilting plain of the right bank of the river. Across the river, below downtown, the streets follow the curves of the hills but up above the ground seems unnaturally regular, only the river, running ten meters below the plane of the streets is like a long, curved hole cut in that plane, showing the terrain beneath it like a cross-section. The effect is an illusion that the town is floating some distance above the ground.

Across the river are a series of caves, none of them very shallow. They had been used as dwellings at least since the medieval period, and possibly far earlier, and some of them were used as recently as the Karabakh war. Some are still used, either to keep cattle or for recreation. They are all clearly man-made, with rounded entrances and windows or holes created to cool the cave; some seem to be made for summer use and some for the winter. They look like old teeth coming up from the earth’s green gums, and the caves are cavities rotted into them.

Scenes from the south

The morning light on the back porch is the best light to read by. There’s an old bedframe there, the mattress support being thumb-sized metal rings, linked together in chain-mail style, hooked by springs to a square frame anchored on the end posts. The neighbor’s roof is by the left hand side and above there is a canopy of grapes, half-purpled and half still small and green.

In the space between the two, I can see the border with Karabakh, the spine of the South Caucasus. The clarity and coolness of the light between eight and nine match my book, and the air is so still my heartbeat seems to shake the bed.

The other side of the house, the street side, is where my room is; my window looks out on a stretch of street that is all dirt, stones, and rubble apart from two large asphalt continents and a few islands around them, due to a burst water pipe that runs underneath it. I can tell whether to grab a full bucket on my way into the toilet – if there’s a stream in the street outside, no, otherwise, yes.

There’s one route I take home from work in the evenings sometimes that goes high above the city, parallel to the Tabriz-Yerevan road that runs through it carrying Iranian trucks north laden with fuel and goods and south again empty, where you see the whole town all at once and it looks like a piece of red-roofed, stone-built Greece stuck here far away among these boulders and mountains with no sea for days in any direction.

Metric century

This afternoon, I’ll be riding a metric century, down around Salem. It’s a hundred kilometer ride. It shouldn’t be too hard, the course is pretty flat. I haven’t done a ride this long since before I was sick this winter, so I am nervous in spite of myself. But when I biked 100 miles before, I had only ever done forty, and my most recent long ride was about thirty, and I got through that last one all right. I’ve packed my Larabars and my butt’s all covered with chamois cream (which I really am not sure I need, but why not?). Anyhow, wish me luck.

Music changes

What is it about music? It makes me feel good. It doesn’t have to be any more complicated than that.

I went to a show last night, first time I had seen live music in a while. I can see in my thoughts how my happiness unfolded: at first, it was kitschy. Older men, basically a standard five piece outfit: a drum kit, a synthesizer, guitar, bass, and the vocalist had a hand drum; only they added a guy who can play the saz and the oud, and they called it traditional music. And even I could tell the singer’s pronunciation was terrible, whether he was singing in Armenian, Turkish, or Arabic, and didn’t they even realize the differences between the traditions? The dancers on the floor in front of them, so pretentious! What did they imagine they were doing? I was, in a word, defensive. Over-critical.

But: could have been the low light, the heat, the noise, could have been the girl with the beautiful tattooed arms dancing near me, my mood changed. I started thinking: After all, well aren’t they singing traditional songs, with traditional melodies and lyrics? So what if they are using different instrumentation, if they westernize it. What’s the big deal, and where’s the gain for the purist. They had good energy, people were enjoying themselves. It was good to hear the melodies, and when they played Western rock, it was good to hear it transformed this way.

Music is all about change, and variation. Alteration and identity, their marriage and the conflict between them: isn’t that what makes a melody or a harmony. A tune is a thing that unfolds, changes over time while remaning the same; and a harmony is differences that added together make a whole.

I don’t think Oidupaa’s music is less authentically Tuvan because he uses a Russian bayan instead of an igil, e.g:
Exactly the opposite; and his singing style, which sounds like no other Tuvan’s, sounds all the more Tuvan for that reason. More to the point, don’t I admire Erkin Koray and Sezen Aksu for exactly the same kind of fusion as this group was making? Only done from the other end. Sure: it might have seemed less authentic. But things always look less real close up, exactly because they’re more real. And anyway, no one is expecting these guys to be world-class musicians. And the dancing was good, and I woke up happy and humming.


It’s good to see old friends again and see them happy.

I saw one yesterday after over a year. Time isn’t dealing them out faster than I can take them. He’s up from California for the week for some shows with his band. He looks tanner and thinner, maybe taller and maybe greyer. He’s become an electrical engineer since I saw him last, specializing in solar panels; his wife does belly-dance instruction out of their home and is branching out to clothing manufacture in the kitchen. We talked over salad, humus, and a tempeh-BLT. We talked about Armenia, Anatolian history, music, the price of wood, how to live a full life. He works outdoors and his mind is his own, he says, when he works.

I asked if he had moved from where his wife was miserable to where he would be. It’s clear he hadn’t, and in his words, I’m always able make it happen for me. The self-source of happiness.

If your sense of a person is a sense of their story, and the story is more than where they are at this point, but how they have been between points, it was a good story: it made me feel good, it was believable .

The feeling was: offstage is a safe place to be. I can keep my eye off the ball if it rolls out of my court. The future doesn’t seem dangerous, and I can trust in what’s outside my cone of vision.

He gave me several cubic feet of ripe avocados and blood oranges, and a cheerful, social energy. He left happy with the wet air and land of Portland, and the green everywhere.

We met at my new favorite place to read: a worker-owned vegetarian cafe a few blocks from my apartment. It’s become my new favorite place to read. Whether there are a lot of people or just a few, I can concentrate more effectively there than at home. There’s something relaxing about it, and something homey. We’ve given them books and a couple bookcases, there always seems to be good music, there’s never a bad mood in the place. The endless refills of my tea, the salads as big as my head.

There’s the cone of attention again: the security about what is beyond its boundaries.

Time fetish

I can feel a change coming in my life. Of course I know that it is coming, since I set it in motion; but there are indicators that confirm it for me. I touch on them and their texture reassures me.

There is a certain character to my encounters these days. I get in touch with old friends, I revisit old familiar places I haven’t been in years, I try drinks I had put aside long ago, I see old roommates again. And in each of these circumstances, there is a kind of summing-up; chapters get closed, stories are resolved, the past is put in its new place and its parts shuffle into their new arrangements. The conversations tend toward the historical, or the philosophical. They also seem larger than themselves, and they somehow come from behind themselves.

The people I’m meeting, the encounters I’m having, stand like gatekeepers at a portal. They are ordinary encounters at ordinary times in others’ lives; but for me they seem to reflect the glow that comes from the open hallway behind them. They are different in that light. Their shadows go far back, the shine on them projects forward. They take on a fetish character, they represent a divinity that I begin to see in them.

Fetishization has come to mean pay unreasonable attention to, or rank something inappropriately: there’s a background standard of rationality the fetishizer offends against. I think the usage derives from Marx; but he used it to mean: to give powers to something that doesn’t have them, to make the thing a divinity. However there is a truth to the divinity of the fetish, that he would not deny.

In the social world, powers are transferable to things. Money is a god, it does create and destroy. Clothes, houses, other objects: they can confer status. The fetishes that are made of these things do gain powers. You make a thing a fetish, and the fetish is the dwelling place of the god, simply because you say it is. The fetish is the object or the time or the festival or the place in which god reveals some of his presence; and he reveals it to you and you perceive it.

This time is the dwelling place of the god, the god resides in this time, he gives the events in this time to partake in his character; because the god is absolute openness and absolute possibility. This is the time of portals and the openings in walls that had been only the outer edges of the shape of your life, this time has the god in it; it shows forth part of the god, a possibility from his realm of all-possible, sent as emissary to the actual world, existing in the transient moment, temporarily making actual the possibility as possibility.

Or: instead it’s like you check your necessities before you go out the door. Spectacles, testicles, wallet and watch, your fingers touch on them and make sure they are there to rely on; you double-check on the things you are used to, the things you’ll carry on your way; you touch a memory and remind yourself of its texture, you close certain doors to shallow halls as you climb the stairs into the radiant, deeper one.


I haven’t been control of myself for a few days. I’m nervous, jumpy, and clingy.

There’s a woman at our office who works in the mailroom; she’s deaf, and a funny thing, she always walks very softly, with an exaggerated, silent-movie tiptoe. I almost expect her to be putting a finger to her lips, wearing white gloves. Her face is made up thickly, like tv makeup, except seen in person; which alters it. And she’s deaf, so I wonder why she takes such care not to make any noise, on the thick concrete floor with silencing rugs, wearing sneakers. Nobody, wearing no matter what, makes noise on them. Of course she wouldn’t have any way of knowing that.

My feelings are unpredictable, but they’re always the same; only the intensities and durations and occasions aren’t. I wonder if it isn’t just statistical noise. Not statistical noise, but meaningless co-occurrence of random, unrelated feeling pips. They come, they go, and each irrelevantly to the other, they make a cloud of feelings, uniformly distributed, except occasionally, and for no reason at all, you’ll have a rush on one feeling or another, and you get crests and troughs without any underlying cause. There’s no reason I should feel worse since Tuesday, apart from being unable to sleep, and not being able to understand what’s going on around me from prolonged sleeplessness: but that’s another symptom, like the choking throat, the difficulty breathing, the irritability, the elevated heart rate, trouble in swallowing, and general panic.

There’s a novel I am reading, it’s about a bunch of young Americans, nearly adults, not too much going on in their lives, they get to know one another, talk, date, drink, and strangely, the book is written all in this atmosphere of total wow. It’s effectively communicated. I get this wide-awake, wow, open feeling from it. But wow over what? What is going on in it? I can’t see much in it.

I suppose there is one issue, in that the main character is trying to keep his family and friends apart, and can’t. The two worlds collide. But what stands out to me is all the rich stuff he seems to be surrounded with, all the money that his friends and their families evidently have, and how much useless, expensive stuff there is in all their houses. I just find it really difficult to get over that. I’m not sure if the author wants me to, whether that’s part of the picture he’s getting across. Certainly it’s in the picture, but how does he mean me to look at it?

It just seems like second nature to him, all these big houses with multiple rooms and fancy furniture, and country residences, he doesn’t really dwell on them, they’re just there, everywhere. And I can’t seem to ignore it. To the point where it’s hard for me to see what, exactly, the characters’ problems are. Except the one who drinks too much and doesn’t like his job. Okay, those are problems. But everyone else?

And then compared to the glee with which the Russian novel I picked up yesterday described the poverty of its main character, and the quickness and completeness and tidiness that it was in and done. The spring in the mattress, the cramped room, the burnt-out lamp. And then the story moved on.

And why can’t I move on from my anxiety, I don’t know. It was worst today as I went into the main front hall of our building during lunch, with the live piano player, and the clean tiles, the smooth escalators and elevators, the clean, well-fed people, thousands of cubic feet of climate-controlled air; there’s something terrifying and hideous in that scene. I fled to the back stairs, bare concrete with old white-painted, windowless walls, the steps steeper than they are deep, and wide enough for three abreast, and the comforting flicker of the flourescent light; and all alone with only my own echo.