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The Literary Groong - 04/30/2011

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Meetings with Carla Vanamo #1

By Ani Boghossian

-There's something bothering you. I can tell... Miss Carla Vanamo,
60, was sipping her scotch, looking at me with her heavy eyes, with
legs in male shoes crossed and posed with such delicate feminine
strength that you'd never think it's possible to be that great.

I was perplexed, staring into my cinnamon apple tea, and looked up at
her, surprised.

-What? Oh... er... no, I'm ok.

-Nothing is that simple in life. `OK'... huh... that is so American.

She was Finnish. Dark haired with a large lock of gray at the left
side of her forehead swaying back into her bun of shiny hair. She
never drank wine. Never.

-That is so French, she used to say. Almost everything in life was
either too French, too American, too something this, too something
that. She was awesome, that's what I thought and still do. The fact
that she loved dressing like a man made her more feminine. Her face
was never old, but classy. And perfect.

-You don't become old, you just become a classic, she said.

Carla could talk you out of your regular self and make you drink the
oldest vintage alcohol she had in her apartment. I loved her, but I
always asked for tea.

-That is so English. What are you? Lord Byron?

-He was a `who' not `what'?, I said automatically. I adored Byron.

-The bastard was a narcissistic pedophile.

-He loved Armenians.

-Is that an excuse?

I smiled.

-So! she always said when throwing herself on the couch, not afraid to
spill the drink in her hand, the tie around her neck loosened, but the
vest still with a neat handkerchief poking from the front pocket. Her
hair slicked back, as always. I never saw her hair loose or ruffled. I
imagined them to be very long...

-Tell me, Ani, what is it like to be in your skin?

I shrugged.

-Actually, Carla, I was wondering if you'd tell me a bit about your
travels. About some weird place no one I know has ever been to.

-Hmm, she gulped some of her whiskey. -There is this small lost
village in the Balkans. When you stand at the eastern part of it and
look at the hills at exactly 6:21 AM you can see very clearly a very
thin line of light between the hill and the self-announcing dawn. That
horizon is not straight but curvy. But in that pale yellowish blue
light a pack of gypsies dance in a straight line. You have to make
slits of your eyes to see them, because they are almost invisible from
afar. But the wind changes from their dance. And you can smell their
bare feet. They smell like squished tulips high on tobacco. The most
amazing spectacle I've ever seen.

She drank it all up. As did I, wondering why. And I had to leave.

-See you tomorrow then, Ani, she said without getting up.

I smiled `of course'. And stood still. Walking out of the apartment, I
saw the Brooklyn Bridge from the window. That's where Carla lives
now. The place where it's too American, I sighed.

Meetings with Carla Vanamo #2

So one day, as me and the wonderful Miss Carla Vanamo were walking
through Central Park on a promising humid still day, I swallowed my
doubts and asked her with caution.

-Have you ever been married?

The feather on Carla's fedora hat flicked back and forth ever so
politely, as she passed through and greeted the New York air. Her gaze
looking straight on, a strict smirk and the world's best dark
eyebrows. And that long tan coat damped with a scent of great wonder
ruffled the edges of her world. Every step of her clicking male shoes
said I know and I-don't-give-a-damn.

-Oh honey, she said both evenly I-knew-it and yet was still surprised.

You could always tell from the way she started her phrases the leaning
her words would take, yet you could never guess even slightly what she
would drive towards ad conclude with in the end.

-My husband never existed in this universe. So I never went searching
for him.

-How did you know he never existed?

-I checked, she said then put her hand in her large pocket and pulled
out a box.

-Let's sit down, she said gesturing towards a lovely empty bench as we
were passing by it. I sat down and looked around at the greenness that
was alive. Carla sat down and opened the box. Inside it was a
pipe. This lady never seized to surprise me.

-So, you smoke?, I asked

-Only flowers, she smiled and got a small bag of dried colorful
petals. She took a pinch and put it inside her pipe. Then lit a match
and there it was.... a flower garden was burning. She froze for a
second then blew out a long thin line of lavenders and poppies.

-Actually Ani, I knew this woman once. An amazingly charming
thing. She had a husband. A quirky writer. A good one though. Never
read one book by him, anyway... He loved her of course. But this
woman... she loved what he was with even the smallest particle of her
being. She did not expect him to love her back the same way. What she
expected was that she'd be able to inspire him, be his muse. For her,
it was the truest meaning of her existence. To serve for his art. To
exist for his art.... Years passed and all he wrote about were
chess-players and gnomes. So she killed herself.

I just sat there, my hands on my lap, the trees eloquently still but
always plotting to grow, the sky wrapping ropes around the space
around us, and a runner every now and then passing by and snorting and
creaking, by and by.

So I asked another stupid question.

-So you never really loved?

She grinned with an ancient warmness of a mother.

-I loved and love every day.

-I mean a man, I fought, to get some specific answer out of her.

-A man. Of course. I loved Bach, I loved Monet, I love Babadjanian, I
love Dostoevsky for goodness sake...

I sighed, and I just had to laugh.

-What I meant was...

-Ani, she said with a smile. A reassurance.

I never asked her those kind of questions again.

We were silent for a time. I didn't count how long. Then she said
suddenly with wonder and excitement, staring at something I couldn't

-Ani, I was in Yerevan back in nineteen ninety-something. You were a
little tyke, you won't remember. But I first met you then. Poverty was
thick all around us. But, my God, I loved that place. Your dad was
holding your little hand and we three were walking as he was telling
me the names of the streets. We were passing Abovyan at that moment. A
cobbled marvelous street.

`Not cobbled nor marvelous any more',I thought.

..And your father told me about the writer Khatchadour Abovyan. The
creator of secular, worldly or common and not classical Armenian
literature. And how he went missing, supposedly to climb Mount
Ararat. And how people still don't know where he is buried. And the
idea that people named a street after him not knowing where he is For
God knows, he might have run away to some other country or something
that seamed so wonderfully new to me. I loved that. It's like you
Armenians created a place where he is always present, even if only
with a name. You created an artificial grave.

She looked at me when she finished.

I smiled back. And did not tell her that Armenians loved graves and
the meaning of them. And how we turn graves into art. Like the cross
stones.I kind of loved that too and was at the same time worried just
how I will make my Armenian family not put me in a grave when I die
but throw me to the wind in powdered pieces. Let me be free from the
heaviness of the wonderful Armenian art of gravestones.

I think Carla read my thoughts then because she said.

-The wind is nice, isn't it? Let's go get some decent Jewish coffee.

-Jewish? Not Guatemalan?

-No, not Guatemalan. Guatemalan coffee is nice, Jewish coffee
stinks. But I love that Jewish coffee place and those Jewish fellows
all serious, sitting around, complaining.

We got up.

-Oh look...Kookaburras, she pointed to a row of funny curious birds
on a branch.

Ani Boghossian was born in Echmiadzin back in cold, dark 1989. She
still lives in Echmiadzin, yet went to school in Yerevan ("Aghasi
Ayvazyan" Varjaran). She studied International Relations at Yerevan
State University and currently works at the Armenian Assembly of
America and also at the Foundation of Preservation of Wildlife and
Cultural Assets. Ani translated David Phillips' book "Unsilencing the
Past" into Armenian. She maintains a blog:
She writes in English and in Armenian and draws and paints as well.

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