Tuesday, June 24, 2008


Walking the streets of Watertown was both exciting and weird. It's the kind of place that never changes, as if it prefers to be frozen in time. In the 15 years since I last visited, the section of town that was the large Armenian area remained virtually unaltered. Watertown has a large Armenian community, right behind Fresno and Glendale in California. Somehow they managed to carve out a community in this Boston suburb with great success and resilience. They have their own social clubs, cultural center, museums and newspaper.
I visited the newspaper offices of The Armenian Weekly where I had an internship in 1990. Though the people were different, nothing else about the building changed radically, though the paper's quality shrunk from the time I interned there. Back then, the content was meatier and articles copious - now, there was plenty of white space and precious few stories.
Everything else about those streets seemed archaic, as if the town lingered in the mindset that the rest of the world can progress, that development can continue unabated. The same old houses, businesses and churches remained, defiantly challenging the sweeping madness of the 21st century.

I stopped at a few Armenian grocery stores on Mt. Auburn Avenue. The first thing that hits you when you enter is the strong aroma of spices. You adjust, then see the displays of fresh fruits and vegetables, and the shelves of dried dates, apricots and bags of lentils, pilaf and chickpeas. A collection of waterpipes line one shelf, and ornate brass trays and packages of incense. Necklaces embossed with the evil eye of protection, souvenirs and flags from Armenia, Greece and Lebanon decorate one area, while refrigerated displays contain yogurt, dolma, kufta, lahmejune and other delicacies.
I remember living in the first-floor apartment on Quimby Street that summer, going to the local shops and buying Armenian bread and breakfast yogurt and having it for breakfast with fresh fruit.
Revisiting this place and taking it all in was a very rare treat. I understand now that that summer so long ago was an opportunity for me to experience something different and unique. I'd been heavily sheltered before that, and after my initial experience with living on my own, attending Harvard and meeting people, I came away with a sense of personal accomplishment. I know that you can never truly return to a time of innocence, but you can and should remember it.

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