| Once when I wrote
an essay about trying to understand the Genocide,
a reader said (warned?) that I was "really
becoming Armenian". I suppose it was intended
as a compliment. In any case it showed some insight.
But if there is truth in such evaluation of the
influence of this place on this outsider, then
my "becoming Armenian" might better
be revealed in the following unflattering but
I hoard plastic bags. There, I said it. The first
step toward recovery at any Armenians Anonymous
meeting. "Hello. My name is Hovhaness. I
Go in any kitchen in this country and you'll
come to understand that the red, blue and gold
of the National Flag is no more symbolic of the
people, than the sickly green and yellow of low-grade
plastic. Look, usually on a top shelf, or perhaps
hooked onto a kitchen doorknob and you'll see
If you live in the Environmentally Correct West
- specifically in places like California, or places
in the UK that are trying to be like California,
except with bad weather - the bag thing may not
seem so odd.
You'd call it a "recycling bin". Here,
though, if the bag bundle had a name it would
be more like "Cheap way to tote stuff."
Go to any major airport, train station or bus
depot and if you're looking for an Armenian, look
first at the hands. Plastic bag? Armenian. Specifically
so if the bag is printed in English on one side
and Farsi (Iran seems to have the corner on poly-vinyl-chloride
import here) on the other.
I've got a bag of bags in my kitchen. Next to
the sugar canister and strawberry preserves, it
bulges like a badly stuffed pillow. I know that
it wasn't there when I moved in, and I don't remember
consciously starting it. But like learning to
say "no problem" as an answer for everything
here, it just happened.
And while I'm in a confessional mood, I stipulate
to another sorry fact: I have sometimes planned
produce shopping based on which markets give the
best plastic bags. (They've got really high-quality
bags at the corner of . . . No, I'm keeping it
When I first moved here, I found it curious that
while carrying groceries or whatever along the
street, passersby always stared at the load. For
some time I thought they were trying to snoop
on what the goofy American had purchased. I've
come to believe, though, that they were checking
out the quality of the bag.
A sort of common man cell phone, plastic bag
quality is something of a status symbol.
Top of the line are the ones from Duty Free airport
shops, followed closely by the ones advertising
American cigarettes or French perfume. Those are
the ones I keep deep in my bag of bags; they're
not coming out for just any old transport need.
If you haven't spent time here, you probably
think I'm making this up. So I offer the following
anecdote as defense of my cultural hypothesis:
Earlier this week an associate and I went to
the bank to withdraw monthly expenses for the
"Should we take a plastic bag to put the
money in," I said to him. These are not words
I've ever said concerning an act of commerce abroad.
But even that is beside the point and less evidence
of the bag influence on this society than the
My colleague replied to me: "They'll probably
give us one at the bank. Anyway, I think I've
Just like that. Do I need to tell you that he