Here's the situation:
It is -7 Celsius degrees outside. That's about
18, for you in Fahrenheit world. By any measure,
I'm wrapped in multiple layers and looking onto
my balcony where snow is deepening on the tile
where I was sleeping to stay cool just a couple
months ago. I watch the glistening flakes fall
like broken panes from heaven's window.
Nalbandian Street is quiet as only snow can make
it. Not even the garbage can dogs are stirring
and I suspect their fate has been determined by
the nose-diving temperature.
There has been no water in my flat for five days,
except the bucket full I borrowed from my gracious
I'm told the pipes to my flat are frozen. Am
told, too, that the person making that determination
is too busy to do anything about it.
But that in itself settles a problem for me.
For, if I had water, I'd want to heat it for bathing.
But if I turn on the water heater, I have to turn
off the room heater, because the circuit is too
weak to handle both.
Good, one less decision to make. One less question
to answer. But one more question raised: What
the devil am I doing here?
Thoughts of Southern California sunsets and jacuzzis
and tan lines at Christmas have me about a breath
away from self pity when my chilled brain goes
I wasn't even here then, but I've heard the stories
so often that I feel like they are my memory too:
Electricity an hour or two a day; no cars on the
streets because there was no petrol; park benches
and even piano legs chopped up for fire wood.
The thoughts don't make me warmer, but they do
remind me that I'm just not programmed for survival
- not the way these I live among are. Or maybe
I've lived too comfortable a life to be naturally
In a place I used to live I was the only resident
who spoke to the third-floor neighbor. One day
I learned why: During the 92-93 winter, he ran
electrical wires from out of his window to a main
municipal transformer and was getting plenty of
power in his flat, but shortcutting the supply
Thinking these things, watching my breath freeze
on a window pane and staring into the Yerevan
night, I become aware of an unfamiliar light below.
Strung across Nalbandian Street is a thick string
of holiday lights. That part isn't new, as I've
pondered those lights often from my balcony, trying
to guess which decade they come from. They appear
to predate independence. On warmer nights and
in unflattering condition I have thrown peanuts
at them, but during four holiday seasons here
I've never seen them burn.
But now they are glowing. Sort of. There's not
much that's more pathetic than a string of old
holiday lights half lit. A few white bulbs are
burning, a few of the faded blue and red ones.
Still, I appreciate the effort, and the site almost
sends me off on some philosophical rambling about
endurance and times changing and the symbolism
of holiday lights in a once-dark country, and
. . .
And then I start imagining how I might run a
line from my flat and splice into the string of
lights and maybe get enough electricity to run
more than one heater at a time and . . .
And maybe I've been here too long.