Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Laughing Out a Mouthful of Smoke or Filmy Grey Iris

International Women’s Day is based on an American occurrence, or rather tragedy, yet only the Europeans and the soviets seem to celebrate it. As it stands all the former soviet republics still celebrate this holiday, with no small amount of reverence, in fact, it seems to be one of the most important holidays around here, albeit not as a recognition of New York garment industry worker protests, but rather as something like Mother’s day and Valentine’s day rolled into one.
Whatever historical event brought International Women’s day to Armenia, it got me two days off that I used to walk around the country a little.
About 10 o’clock on Monday morning, the sky was cloudy, but the air was mild and was redolent with the light smell of melting snow, a beautiful smell which has always puzzled me, considering melting snow usually revels a lot of nasty things, bleached and buried over the course of the winter, horrible anemic looking things in beds of tussled yellow grass. What is it that makes that stuff smell good? I suppressed the images floating before me of what was being uncovered out there in the mountain junkyards and started out for the Selim pass, uncertain if I would actually attempt to walk all the way through it, or just have a look and turn around.
Getting up to the mountain pass from where I live is nearly an all day walk. I left around 10:30, and even with the help of a short ride, didn’t get to the base of the mountain until about 4. Undaunted, and probably quite unwisely, I began to climb up the road that looped back and forth in switchbacks over the mountain. I can’t really say what it is that pushes me into doing such idiotic things, somehow, I always feel like things’ll work out somehow, that even if I have to sleep in a cave or walk all night, at least it’ll make for an interesting story. So, with the sun setting into what was obviously some kind of storm in the west I began to climb up one of the highest mountain ranges in the country, still having at least 5 hours of walking ahead of me after I made it to the top. I began by climbing straight up through the switchbacks, where it was possible, rather than taking up unnecessary time by walking all the way around. Of course, I slipped a lot in the snow and mud around the base of the mountain and got myself pretty dirty before I had gotten too far, luckily there was almost no traffic up on the mountain, so my resemblance to a wildebeest wasn’t so great a concern for me.
Not even halfway up the mountain I could no longer ford the switchbacks, and had to take to walking all the way around, through hewn passageways that moaned forebodingly in the rising wind of the storm. The sky was darkening, to the east and, to the north, it actually looked dirty, a dark yellow color like the air over the coal plants in northern Indiana. I found this slightly disconcerting, but at the same time I was incredibly impressed with the sublime beauty of the scene I found myself apart of. The warmth had caused some of the snow to melt, but nothing of the melting snow could be seen from the surface, hard white crusts still covered the mountain, but rivulets of melt water and detritus could be heard creeping toward the valley below where they would become turgid, muddy rivers, flying through the backyards of the villages below, villages I could barely see now. A rock outcropping might come into view, where the water could be seen cascading down, from one snowy covering to the next, briefly visible until a gust of wind would pick up and pull the water from the rock face, scattering it all across the road. Amidst the sounds of running snow and splashing water, the wind was also pushing bottles down the mountain, so that every so often a faint rattling would become audible. Way up on the mountain, where I had not seen any traffic for at least an hour, these sounds echoed and swelled. Bottles bouncing down empty culverts, cups rolling down the light grade of the rough asphalt, clumps of snow dropping down short precipices, all the while the sickly patch of yellow light fading into a bruised color and the dark clouds spreading further in the east.
In my total solitude the mountain became haunted with its particular music, the wet and staccato sounds of being followed in the dark came to life, cemetery gates swung on rusty hinges, basement pipes leaked into dark, vermin plagued corners, old village walls darkened with a shapeless form momentarily blotting out the gas lights, dusty attics groaned and small weird lights grew in the sky. Perhaps it was the altitude, but I didn’t watch any of this in panic, but rather with awe and fascination. I knew there were much more real dangers than the phantasms that were chasing each other over the snowy cliffs and down the narrow two-lane road.
Usually people are pretty good about stopping to offer rides here, especially when you are in what looks to be a hopeless situation. Usually people don’t walk much, around the villages people can be seen walking, but never, or vary rarely on the long winding roads that connect them. When I walk around I’m constantly being offered rides, and depending how I feel, I’ll either hop right in or decline them. Sometimes when I’m purposely trying to walk somewhere, the proffered rides can become almost annoying. There’s something of Murphy’s Law here in that whenever I want a ride there’s no one around, but whenever I’m happily walking around I’ve practically got to fend off people stopping, in the middle of the highway and waving me over. That’s the thing, they never just yell out the window, nothing like the American, “Hey, need a ride?” Here, they just stop and wave you over, obviously its because they want to know what you’re doing, but after crossing the street ten times in one hour, you begin to feel inclined to make some sort of dismissive hand gesture and just keep walking. Of course that’s going to make you look really antisocial so you go over and again inform the driver, where you’re from (both where you live now and where you were born) where you’re going, why you’re going there, why the hell you’re walking, how long you’ve been here, how long you’ll stay, etc. etc. Even after you’ve gone through the rigmarole, you still have to convince this person that you’d really rather walk, which is not very easy, since, I’ve got a notion that it’s considered somewhat shameful to walk here, because it connotes poverty in the same way that dirty clothes of shoes with holes would. So, in order to walk anywhere you have to be prepared for this, as well as nearly everybody that passes honking at you, the reason for which I still haven’t quite figured out. This is perhaps something to keep in mind the next time you read about “One man’s harrowing journey through the wilds of [someplace in central Asia] on foot!” I can guarantee that person had to turn down about a thousand rides to make it through any of the countries here completely on foot, and as such, probably offended a lot of people.
As I neared the top of the mountain, I began feeling more and more cautious, the storm was beginning to break and some rain was beginning to fall, rain that I knew would begin to freeze soon at such an altitude and with the sun setting. Still, I was determined to at least make it over the mountain to see what lay ahead. I kept telling myself that I really hadn’t come that far, that I could still turn back and make it home before it got too late if I got to the top and it was mountainous as far as the eye could see.
I only had about two more switchbacks to go when a car came down from the mountain, going back the way I had come. When the young men in the car saw me, way up there, miles from any place, they practically slammed on the breaks. Once the car had stopped every door opened at once and I was immediately surrounded by about 6 young men in their twenties, ranting, gesticulating and pleading with me in Russian. There is something incredibly funny about this kind of bombardment and it’s somewhat difficult not to laugh, when you find you’ve inadvertently shocked a whole group of people to the point where they feel a need to jump out and accost you all at once, especially when you can’t understand a word they’re saying.
After a few seconds of raving, I explained to the young men that I didn’t speak Russian, whereupon they switched to an excited Armenian that was just about as difficult to understand. I tried to explain what I was doing to them, but they simply wouldn’t have it; the idea that I was trying to walk to Martuni was absolutely preposterous to them and from their attitude I could tell they would probably physically escort me down the mountain if I didn’t agree. For a moment I was in a certain quandary. The guy down in the village had also gone bat shit crazy when I told him I was going to walk to Martuni, saying over and over again that it was dangerous and telling me that the mountain range I’d have to go over was the highest in the country, which I knew for a fact was not true. Now, here I’d like to at least intimate that I am not as crazy as all this is making me sound. I did not tear up into the mountains with a string of people hanging from my coat tales, pleading with me not to commit suicide. Many people from the villages around here can be quite unreasonable about things they consider unsafe. As I’ve mentioned before, fresh air blowing through an open window can be quite unsafe, as can a number of other things that seem quite ridiculous by western standards. One of the complaints I hear expressed most often is that any area which is not populated by people, is, more than likely, a haven for wolves, snakes and scorpions, and if I attempt to go up that little hill I’ll probably never make it down. Stung, bitten and mauled to death before ever getting up the first few boulders. I’m not saying these ideas are completely devoid of reason, some, like always going places with someone, are actually great ideas, I just don’t they are always necessary. Which brings me back to the young men, bounding around outside their car, looking about as crazy to me as I must‘ve looked to them.
I could think of no solution, for one thing I didn’t really want to keep going if, as they told me, it was nothing but mountains all the way to Martuni. I wasn’t dressed to walk through fifteen miles of mountains in the snow, nor, after walking all afternoon did I really want to walk that far. However, I also didn’t want to go back down to the first village and try to find a way home, which would no doubt result in arguing with a flock of con-artist cab drivers. I was considering my options, which were decidedly few when, to my salvation, I spotted a car coming up the mountain, going in my direction. It was beginning to rain hard now and the snow was quickly turning to slush and crowding the narrow street. I pointed to the car going up the switchbacks below and told the young men that I’d try to get a ride with them, going the other way. They looked at me skeptically and got halfway back in their car, obviously not planning on going anywhere until they had made sure I was not going to continue on alone, which made me feel happy especially when I considered that the approaching car might just pass me by, leaving me at the top of the mountain, in the rain, facing a long walk through the stormy mountain night. It was nice to have an out from that, no matter which direction it was going in.
As the other car approached I swung my arms up over my head, hoping the idling car next to me and the international signal for distress would make enough of an impression on them to stop. The car pulled up alongside me and the window rolled down.
“I want to go there, can’t walk,” I tried to explain.
The driver was cordial enough and invited me in, after exchanging a words with the car headed down, probably to get a better picture of the scenario. I got in the back seat next to another young man who seemed over eager to figure out what the hell I was doing way up on the mountain in the rain. I began to explain the best I could and the four us, two in the back, two up front, started off.
At first I was getting all the usual questions, which was undoubtedly gracious because I knew these questions so well I could understand them even in the heavy Martuni slang they were being put forth in. After a few minutes the driver and the back seat passenger had exhausted the repertoire of questions and we settled into a comfortable silence, while I relaxed for the first time after 6 hours on the road. This silence did not keep long before my backseat companion began to ask me why I was going to Martuni. I explained I was going to visit a friend of mine, another American volunteer, like myself, who lived there. From this topic a few more harmless questions arose that I did my bet to answer and then, as sometimes happens with young men, the topic turned abruptly to sex.
After asking if I was married, if I had a girlfriend and finally what I thought of Armenian girls my companion in the back started to proposition me for solicited sex with someone I guess he knew in Martuni. I did my best to calmly tell him that I had no desire to pay anybody to have sex with me, but he persisted, eventually coming to question my manhood in light of my refusal. The puzzling thing was that there was an older man in the front seat, probably well into his forties, who, though he didn’t join in the discussion, didn’t tell the younger kid to shut up either as he proceeded to badger me through what would’ve been a very enjoyable ride through the mountains.
I was becoming increasingly annoyed with the banter, but tried my best to be cordial, while dissuasive, by giving terse answers and looking out the window, it was also necessary to keep my head turned away from the kid, not only to show my disinterest, but to avoid his halitosis, that was almost beginning to fog up the car windows in his unctuous stream of sex talk. Usually there is no way to retaliate against such talk, but, suddenly the older man in the front turned around and offered me an opportunity, by asking my back seat companion to speak in English since he was always talking about how he spoke it so well. Usually, I am not one to take advantage of such scenarios, and I just humor people even if they don’t know a damn thing, but I have learned from my interactions with the young men in this country, sometimes, making fun of someone is the only way to regain respect for yourself after you have been divested of it.
“Oh, you speak English?” I offered.
“Da,” was the kid’s inevitable answer. Which he quickly followed by asking, “Vat is your name?”
In Armenian I asked what “Vat is you name” meant in Armenian. Unable to think of a response the kid told me, in Armenian, that he could count quite well in English and began doing so. He stumbled at 7 and 9, and I let this go but when he stopped abruptly at ten, I decided to antagonize him a little for all the sex talk he had given me earlier.
“Heto?” I asked in Armenian, “and then?”
“Tenty one?” he offered, I shook my head, “Eleventy?” he tried again, and I gave it to him, it was, after all, close enough.
“And then?” I asked again.
“Eleventy two” he said matter of factly.
“No” I said, and the two guys in the front, who I was beginning to like more and more, started laughing. Maybe I should’ve felt bad, but I didn’t, the guy was being a jerk and he should’ve known it. It wasn’t my fault he told everybody he could speak English when he couldn’t at all.
“Yeah, well, I stopped studying so I could have more sex.” He told me, as if this were some perfect argument. I just told him to do whatever was more important to him. Seeing that he was beaten in this area he began to speak Armenian quickly but I just nodded and grunted at every pause; I really had no intention of listening to him anymore.
When we got into Martuni, I thanked the driver and said goodbye, as the two men in the front, although quite silent, seemed to be pretty nice people. I said goodbye to the pervert with bad breath, too, just to show there were no hard feelings. The car drove off, and again I was alone, in the rain looking around the town of Martuni. Luckily, I was standing in front of a café so I went in to get a cup of coffee and call Jay, to figure out where his village was in relation to Martuni.
The proprietor of the café was a nice guy who, at first, declined payment for the coffee. Having been made quite happy by the warmth and the coffee, I tried to force some money on him until he eventually accepted half of what I was offering. Thus emboldened, I set back out into the rain, walking down the length of road I was told would take me to Zolakar, Jay’s village. It was a miserable walk, the wind was whipping off Lake Sevan and the rain was already beginning to flood the street, but I was feeling strangely happy until I came to a beautiful German shepherd mix lying dead by the side of the road, his coat pelted by rain and his eyes staring up, unseeing into the sky. This sight isn’t so abnormal here as it is in the states, but it never really makes you feel good or anything, usually you see dead animals, dogs and cats, on garbage piles, but to see them on the side of a narrow road makes the impression even greater. I walked on, and only about thirty paces later came to a pair of dead dogs, lying right next to each other. In the rain and through my fatigue the experience was becoming quite melancholy, walking through garbage, mud and dead animals.
When I got into Jay’s village I came across another dog lying in the gutter, right between two gutted buildings and the sound of rain blowing through the trees. Everything here looked so much more unkempt than it did in my region, perhaps because it was wetter and colder here year round. When it is sunny and the air is warm, even tragic scenes are rendered bearable. Like something in the desert atmosphere bleaches scenes of their emotional quality, makes them seem more abstract and removed. In wet and cold places, a dead dog’s eyes are filled with the reflection of a leaden sky, and his fur is stirred by cold winds. In short, he makes the world around him pitiful for allowing him to die in such a place.
In Jay’s empty windy house, I took my wet clothes off and put on a random assortment of Jay’s clothes, as well as an old woman’s coat I found on the floor. The whole ensemble had quite a hippy look to it, flip-flops, frayed blue jeans and an orangish maroon pea coat with a white fur collar. After the long day, and with the rain quickly turning to snow outside, I was happy to be warm and dry, no matter how absurd I looked.
The next morning I decided that I would again make the effort to walk over the mountain pass. The weather was much clearer than it has been the day before and now I knew the road. I knew the mountains began almost right where Martuni ended; if I began early enough I would be able to clear them before it got too late.
It was cold and windy when I started off, and immediately I felt as if I’d made a mistake by walking. The wind cut right through my jacket, and even though I had borrowed another layer from Jay, it didn’t look as if I was going to be warm enough.
It took me a while to thread my way through all the villages between Zolakar and Martuni and it was already almost one by the time I was up in the mountain pass. Surprisingly, the weather was warmer up in the mountains and the reflection of sunlight off the oceans of snow all around me was nearly disorientating. I walked for hours and hours through white expanses of nothingness, where there was no wind, no traffic and no sound other than the periodic crunch of my boots on the thin layer of snow that covered the road.
I walked on and on, rounding corners only to find another long road, winding ahead of me for miles, with nothing at all on either side expect snow. Every so often a car would pass me, out there in the wasteland, and most of them would offer me a ride. Some would become rather upset by my refusal, making a hand gesture that implied that I was crazy, while others would just smile, nod and drive on as if they understood well.
There really wasn’t much to see for the 7 hours or so that I walked through the mountains, I passed by a few ghost towns, and at some point I passed a parked car where two guys had a snack, replete with a bottle of vodka, of course, arraigned on the hood of the car. I had about half a shot with these guys, that I immediately regretted, knowing that it would only dehydrate me, and was therefore not really worth having on such a long walk.
I was beginning to near the end of the mountain range around 4 o’clock, when a car passed me, and for the second time since I had left the day before, I was immediately accosted by five young men, all of which, practically leaped out of the car, before it had even seemed to have come to a stop. All the men were wearing some kind of uniform, which never bodes well, and they all seemed propelled by the emphatic Russian they were speaking as they approached me.
I knew I still had a long way to go, and as such didn’t want to stop and chat with these guys, I was tired, hungry and, most interestingly, my legs actually wouldn’t seem to stop walking. I had been walking without a break for so long, (there’s no place to sit when the snow is at least 5 five high on either side of the road.) I tried to be polite but, as always, one guy wanted to clown around a little more than I felt comfortable in allowing him. He tried to persuade me to stay, practically yelling in my face (as people often do when they can tell you aren’t fluent in their language) and trying to grab my arm to prevent me from walking further away. I did what I could to explain that I just wanted to walk and, since I had a long way to go, was really in quite a hurry. As usual the event ended with the leader yelling things after me while I gave monosyllabic answers to questions I couldn’t understand, as I walked further and further away. When the guys finally got back in their car and continued down the road, the complete silence resumed immediately, as if it had never been broken.
About half an hour later, I crested the mountain, that, the day before, had brought me over to this part of the country. I was nearly overjoyed to see the peak of Mt. Vartablur in the distance which is near my site and a significant landmark to me since I climbed it once in another all day hike.
It took a lot longer than I had expected to walk back down the mountain, even cutting across the switchbacks by sliding through the mud, I still didn’t get down to the valley floor until twilight had fully fallen, and the sky was mottled with orange and purple clouds. The weather was still very mild, and finally away from the solid reflective sheet of sun shinning on miles of snow, I could finally open my eyes and look around in the comforting dimness of the light.
I walked on through the villages, and refused several more rides, trying to suppress the voice in my head that told me I was still a long way from home and that it was almost dark. I wasn’t worried, I knew this road, there was no sign of approaching storms and, at long last, I was finally out of the mountains.
I walked on, until the sun set completely and the full moon began to rise behind an outcropping of cliffs. I was beginning to feel very tired, dragging myself along after walking constantly for more than ten hours. I hadn’t taken a rest at all, but I began to worry that if I did, it would be very difficult to get up from. I didn’t want to sleep outside, after the distance I had gone, I wanted to have a nice meal, and sleep in my own bed.
I limped on, under the full moon, trying to estimate how much longer I had to go, staring up at the moon in the sky and trying not to trip. I was probably about an hour away, when a car full of young men stopped, and choppy Russian began to issue from its windows, along with eager hand gestures and I thought to myself, “oh what the hell” and got in.

II This morning I did my laundry by hand, listening to Billie Holiday, the hue of the water coming to imitate that of the overcast sky outside through the dirt and cheap soap.

I left the house around 9. There was a birthday party going on underneath my apartment, that I could hear even clearer from the empty lot in front of my building. I heard the same yelling and bumping sound that had been muffled by my floor, unbridled under the clear sky as it drifted from the window out into the night. The children took up a round of the Birthday Song in English, it was surprisingly good, somewhat startling and left me with a feeling I found myself at a loss to express, a feeling I took with me as I walked on into the darkened town.
I passed the usual anonymous groupings on the corners and the soft window lights filled with shadows where apartment blocks abut the sky. I didn’t consider anything. I had no where to go and, really, didn’t want to go anywhere, so I walked through intersections, turning right or left at the last minute, finding no new streets to walk down.
On, what I think is the northern end of town, I climbed up a little hill and stood in the wind for a while, trying not to feel too indulgent or romantic, as solitary hills at night often make me feel. The lights went on and off for a while and a few cars looped slowly through the town, as if they were looking for each other in a maze. Before I walked down, a light went on in a nearby house that I could see well, and a little boy’s shadow spilled out into the street, his arms folded over the window sill, quiet and contemplating.
When I came down, I found myself next to a woman standing alone. She asked me a few questions about what I thought of Armenian girls and when I was going back to America. I didn’t want to talk to her, but I did anyway, answering her questions softly while looking up at the sky. It didn’t have anything to do with the woman, I just didn’t feel like talking, but I also felt listless enough to stand there talking to her all night as long as she kept asking me questions I understood. We said goodnight after a few minutes and I continued up the street, in the direction of a barking dog, who I came to see was behind a fence in the most comical position. The fence had a solid barrier about a foot up from the street which stopped about a foot further up, the rest was bars, as a result of this oddly designed barrier, the dog had to lower its head significantly to see what was going on in the street. At this angle the dog was unable to bark, so, as I passed, he kept quickly lowering his head to check my progress and then raising his head to bark for a second, before again stooping to again see where I was. The constant back and forth motion made me laugh a little, as the dog seemed to have the manner of a really nosey neighbor, rather than a dog, behind a fence at night.
When I got back home the birthday party still hadn’t ended and the sound of laughing and the sudden slapping together of hands (a very characteristic gesture of mirth here) continued well past midnight.

They say you learn things about yourself in the Peace Corps, that, in fact, many people are motivated to join the Peace Corps out of the motive of self discovery, rather than helping their fellow human beings. I would be inclined to agree and add myself to this camp, although I do like to be helpful, when I walk through the relatively crime-free streets of the Armenian capital and see very little homelessness, agony, or spent syringes, I have to own up to the idea that it probably would have been more helpful for me just to stay where I was in the states and try to help that lady on my corner who was always screaming or that guy by the taquaria who could never seem to get his pants pulled up all the way. No, I came to the Peace Corps looking to help, but, moreover, looking to temper myself in the bright crucible of life outside the occidental world.
Along the way I’ve learned a few crucial things about myself, and though I usually don’t go in for such self aggrandizement, lately one thing has been so prominent I cannot help but to mention it here, as I feel it sheds no little light on the learning experience of a Peace Corps volunteer. This is, namely, that I apparently really enjoy baking and consuming cake.
Here in Armenia most village stores are quite limited in the selection of foodstuffs available, especially in the winter when you’re not going to get much produce other than those dirty, subterranean vegetables that can be grown when everything is buried under three feet of snow. I don’t know if I could ever really get sick of eating potatoes, but I’ve never been too crazy about cabbage and I probably never ate more than a single entire beet before coming here. There are also some crazy-looking radish things that I am almost entirely indifferent to and carrots make everything taste like its supposed to be a stew. Nonetheless, I passed a fairly enjoyable winter here, preparing these items along with onion and garlic in different ways until I became tired of eating and began to subsist on cigarettes and aimless walks. It’s not that I ever stopped getting hungry, but after months of eating the same thing my stubborn American palate began to revolt, and faced with a cold evening in the company of potatoes, I chose to stay where I was on the couch and smoke another cigarette, or make some coffee and drink cup after cup until I began to feel that anxiousness that can be converted easily into anticipation, and after a few pots I was tracing my finger all over a map I have hung in my kitchen and dreaming of a million possible trips and accomplishments that the coffee had brought to life. A few times, late at night, I even considered immediate departure, walking down the rain-macerated roads, following the Iranian trucks into Tabriz and Peace Corps Armenia history, as the kid who just up and left one night. I also spent inordinate amounts of time thinking about the minutiae of my life in the states, trying to reconstruct a Peet’s Coffee café near the 19th street BART stop in Oakland from memory, even though I only went there once, thinking how I’d sit in there for days once I got back.
Sure, I guess I was learning about myself through all these experiences, but I already knew I liked coffee and travel before I left, I mean I must’ve started and named this blog right after I got here and I guess that’s probably testament enough to these two influential stars of my existence, in fact I probably didn’t really even need to go into most of that. However, I never knew baking cakes could be so much fun until I was forced to do it through my boredom and nicotine addled nerves.
One bright Wednesday morning (which is my Sunday in my current schedule) I woke up and felt a keen desire to cook something, but as it was still early I was repulsed by the idea of making some lavish beet and cabbage dish, and found myself pining for the days when I used to be able to go out to a café that had vegan pastries and spend the morning eating donuts, drinking coffee and reading comics. I took stock of my situation and realized that I had some comics that my mother mailed me for Christmas and, as always, there was plenty of coffee just waiting to be brewed in the kitchen, but the sugary keystone was missing from this tantalizing fantasy, and I was about to just roll back over and go back to sleep when I realized that I could probably make a cake.
The day before I remembered seeing powdered sugar and vanilla packets at the local store and I had some arrowroot powder (for eggs) and plenty of powdered soy milk. (Thanks again, Mom!) I also had a stove that would probably be capable of baking something and a whole day with nothing to do other than my laundry. Immediately, I launched myself out of bed, driven by a furious desire to bake, and later eat, cake.
One thing I have figured out about cake, or at least regarding my own attitude toward it, is that cake is no good unless there’s a lot to eat. A little morsel of cake only fuels the desire to eat more and when you’ve got nothing else to do and you’re feeling haggard and worn out from teaching and writing lesson plans, eating an entire cake can actually be quite salubrious, both mentally and physically. But the first great gift of the cake lies in its preparation.
Everyone should enjoy listening to music early on a Sunday morning. No matter what your musical tastes everything sounds good on Sunday morning, but, I have always preferred to do something while listening to music and I have since found that baking is probably the ideal thing to do while listening to Sunday morning tunes. Other Sunday morning activities such as writing letters and doing the dishes can also be enjoyable when accompanied by music, but something about a mouth full of cake batter, the warmth of the oven and Smashing Pumpkins kinda’ trumps cold dishwater, bits of scrubbed off leftovers under your fingernails and Smashing Pumpkins. So while I am whipping a bunch of ingredients together, the music rolls through the Sunday-bright kitchen and I’m looking forward to an afternoon with a cake in it.
There is a bit of a lull after you put the cake in the oven and clean all the dishes, but the anticipation of the cake, soon to be borne into your meager, peeling-paint kitchen, makes this period easy to ride out with a few hurried paces around the room and a couple of good long stares at the map on the wall, also you could always, I dunno, call somebody, I guess, but me, I like to let the suspense hang like the rich notes of cake that accent the late February, almost like spring, air.
Soon enough you’ve got the thing out of the oven next to a pot of coffee and a good book, and I guess these are the moments when our experience in a foreign country really opens our eyes and we see that deep down we’ve always wanted to spend a day baking and eating cake, we just never realized it in the midst of American cornucopia. Sometimes it takes a grey cloud and an unfamiliar country to bring out the cake obsession in all of us. They should probably include that somewhere in the goals of Peace Corps.