Monday, June 12, 2006

Peeled Narinj Peaches, Lost Zeal, and Doctor Seuss

Blog by David Underwood

When you’ve lived somewhere and begin to miss it, it’s the little things that come to mind. After living in Armenia for most of 2005 while Irina and I researched and wrote our book, it’s no surprise that I am sometimes unexpectedly returned to Hayastan by my memories. It happened recently when I saw peaches for sale at my local supermarket. The phrase “vitamina” echoed through my thoughts, thanks to Yeva, my big-hearted Armenian mother-in-law.

It was August, and Armenia’s peach harvest had begun. The bazaar stands had big, beautiful peaches stacked up waist-high. The best are the rosy Narinj variety, and sometimes they’re as big as softballs. And take my word for it, they are absolutely out-of-this-world delicious.

Yeva bought several kilos of peaches after haggling with the fruit seller to lower the price by a few drams. After we returned home, she put them in a big bowl. I observed her peeling them one after the other, as if she was peeling potatoes. I had no idea what her intentions were for those juicy Narinj.

She smiled at me and declared, “Vitamina!” with a strong stress on the second syllable. “ViTAmina!” It’s the highest praise for food, meaning it’s full of vitamins and great for your health. She brought the piled-high bowl of fruit right up to my face. “Eat, Davit-jan. Vitamina!

Peaches are one of my favorite fruits, but I had all ready eaten a bigger-than-usual lunch, so I had to respectfully decline at that moment. I went outside, and just a short time later, here came Mom-jan beckoning again with the bowl full of Narinj.

Che, che, Mom-jan, I am full,” I told her. She grinned, shook her head at my Armenian-like stubborness, and slowly went back into the house.

After I returned indoors to work on the book, the scene repeated yet again. Here comes Yeva, her bowl in both hands. “Eat, Davit-jan, eat.” I began to feel like I was in the famous Dr. Seuss children’s story, Green Eggs and Ham.

I will not eat them here.
I will not eat them there.
I will not eat them anywhere!

I truly like peaches, I really do, but I was just too full to eat at the time. I didn’t have any room left, as we say in English. Never discouraged, Yeva brought a saucer, placed it next to my laptop computer, and deposited three pieces of the juicy Narinj, each hunk bigger than my hand. And after awhile, the heavenly peachy aroma did its work, and I ate the luscious peaches. This pleased Yeva to no end. She was all smiles in her eventual triumph.

Dear Yeva is getting on in years, and she admitted that she no longer has the “hahves,” the zeal, for cooking that she did when she was raising her own family. An American would say, “After all these years, I got tired of cooking,” but that’s not the Armenian way. She said, “My zeal was lost.” It’s a particular pattern of the Armenian language that’s very noticeable, almost a linguistic dodge of sorts, a grammatical disconnection from direct responsibility. “Blame the zeal that left, not me,” one might say.

Another example, “Trashs ekela,” would translate into English as “I didn’t shave today,” but literally it means something like “My whiskers visited me.” In other words, “Blame the whiskers, not me.”

The phrase “I am hungry” goes as “Sovats em,” literally “Hungry am [I].” See what I mean? Unlike English, the pronoun “I” just isn’t there, isn’t used much. But that’s a food for thought for those who like “reading” society through the language in which people converse.

My dear mother-in-law may admit that her “hahves,” her zeal for cooking, has left her, but, in her heart, she still felt the need to serve and provide, especially for her visiting American son-in-law.

Until next time,

David Underwood

Read more about Narinj peaches and the reasons why Armenians are so obsessed with vitamina in Armenian Food: Fact, Fiction, & Folklore.

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