Posts By: Patrick

Surrounding terrain

The houses in the town are mainly made of stone, basalt I think, and there is a certain look to the streets I haven’t seen elsewhere. There are long shared walls running along the street, made of stone and mortar, the mortar in many of them shaped in such a way around the stone to give a leopard-skin pattern to the wall.

There are gutters between the streets and the walls, and each house’s wall has metal doors large enough for a car, painted eggshell blue with rectangular or curved gaps near their tops that are decorated with bars in a fan pattern or the pattern of a sunrise, or even one is curled into the shape of an eagle clutching a snake in its talons. When the doors are open you can see in and there are their stairs and balconies, their laundry and their gardens, like a photograph sitting there, or in the mornings sitting around their tea.

Personnel issues

Over the weekend, the math teacher had been dismissed, and the rest of the faculty only learned on Monday, when the vice principal introduced his replacement. He had written his own resignation, and he insisted to anyone, when he was willing to talk, that it had been his decision. But everyone knew he had been pressured; they only wondered what it was that kept him silent.

His replacement had never taught before, but he dressed better, had more self-confidence, and for once math classes appeared silent and busy. But others began to compare the school’s well-advertised hiring standards to the new teacher’s local college diploma, and wondered how he had such an in.

Conversational method

As you age, you don’t lose the ability to learn altogether, only you lose the the ability to learn things you’ve lost interest in. I’m learning Armenian probably faster than I learned Russian, and certainly faster than I did French. You learn how you learn fastest, and learn that way faster. I’ve never been able to sit down and study and I haven’t learned anything I’ve learned that way.

For me, I need a close relationship with a native speaker to learn a language well. I think I heard the expression learning on the pillow, I think it’s the fastest way. You are close to someone, you understand their trains of thought and the gist of what they are saying more quickly, with less words. Two streams running parallel, one perseveres in the same direction when the other dips underground, and they meet again further along when it returns to the surface. The dark body swimming near you goes along with you, the wet spitting head rejoins you when it returns.

Scenes from the south

The morning light on the back porch is the best light to read by. There’s an old bedframe there, the mattress support being thumb-sized metal rings, linked together in chain-mail style, hooked by springs to a square frame anchored on the end posts. The neighbor’s roof is by the left hand side and above there is a canopy of grapes, half-purpled and half still small and green.

In the space between the two, I can see the border with Karabakh, the spine of the South Caucasus. The clarity and coolness of the light between eight and nine match my book, and the air is so still my heartbeat seems to shake the bed.

A show

In his studio, the artist would be garrulous and would talk without gesturing, keeping his hand to the canvas and not averting his eyes except to clean his brush. He would speak steadily at any length or fall silent, saying that question is too difficult while I am painting, in the same slow voice. In front of the cameras he seemed innocent, and spoke too fast, with sudden facial expressions.

He had been living abroad but had never been able to learn the language. The slight puckering of his upper lip masked his missing front teeth, and his smile exposed them. Between two speeches, a librarian read translated a newspaper review of his paintings from another show, earlier that year, in that country.

Up to date

This year, Armenian schools went from an eleven-year system to a twelve-year system. Last year’s tenth graders are this year’s twelfth graders, last year’s ninth graders are this year’s eleventh graders, and half of the kids who started school this year are put straight into second grade.

The idea is that although it might cause a little chaos now, in twelve years it will be normal, and there’s plenty of time to develop a twelve year curriculum in the meantime. They haven’t quite done it yet but they’ve started. For example, there’s a new seventh grade book and a new fifth grade book for English, but the eleventh grade is using the old tenth grade book, and there is no eleventh grade book.

Pausing on the way

“I’m going to be a father!”

Had he never noticed how red his grinning brother’s face was? And stretched out all bumpy along the short length of his head. An old road with stones exposed and scars in the asphalt. At fifty, a new father, for the first time. And just three years ago the last divorce. This new one was young, she’d been driving a taxi when he met her, riding from the airport, returning from two years abroad. In two weeks they were spending a lot of time together, and only a month later he moved out of their mother’s house, and moved in with her.


I’m thirty today. My last day at work is Friday, I’m leaving Portland in twenty-one days, our furniture and other possessions are steadily disappearing from our apartment. Scheduling final meetings with friends near and far. Sitting on the porch I can see the North Fork of the Shenandoah. The water just keeps coming and coming and I don’t know how. It doesn’t look like that much water, but if you consider how long a time it keeps up that steady rate, and how steady that rate really is, even considering the rises and falls in the level; it’s really something. A great deal of water goes through that channel. And then conversely: how although the river is proverbially never the same, continually self-altering, it stabilizes and anchors the life and landscape around it.

Train trip

By the time this posts, I should be out of Portland, in transit limbo. I’ll be traveling to Virginia to visit my family. We’re going in style, on Amtrak, taking the Empire Builder to Chicago and riding in a room. So I won’t be around for the next few days to approve comments or answer… Read more »

Metric century

This afternoon, I’ll be riding a metric century, down around Salem. It’s a hundred kilometer ride. It shouldn’t be too hard, the course is pretty flat. I haven’t done a ride this long since before I was sick this winter, so I am nervous in spite of myself. But when I biked 100 miles before,… Read more »