A day out with Ara is bettered only by an evening at home with him and his family. Thursday was his youngest son’s birthday–8 years old. There was a big party with 16 kids and a cake in the shape of a chess board, complete with a white chocolate king. After all the kids had been ferried back to where they belonged, Ara picked us up and brought us to his home for phase two of the birthday bash. This was a unique opportunity for Valerie and Richard, visiting from the UK, to see how Armenians live, and to eat home-grown, home-cooked Armenian food.
Ara and Nelli don’t keep pigs themselves, but they know a man in Khondzeresk who does. A pig was duly purchased, skinned, butchered, marinaded and kebabed. Everything else on the table came from Ara’s garden–beets and green tomatoes pickled by Nelli, the last green beans of the season, and plates and plates of peppers and cucumbers with herbs, plus potatoes straight from the fire. We started with soup–greens and carrots, lentils, rice, potato and herbs in chicken broth that that came via a coop, not a cube. The women drank red wine, made with grapes from the garden, and the men drank mulberry vodka, which Ara makes by the gallon.
Toasts are a big part of any Armenian meal, and can cause problems for the unwary but somehow we all survived the full set. We raised our glasses to the birthday boy of course, and then to his parents as tradition demands. Then each person round the table gave a toast (there were 5 of us, not including the kids) and we finished by celebrating all the parents of the world–the people who made us who we are today. Ashot and Hasmik. Melsik and Sona. Brian and Joan. Chris and Mary. Wilson and Greta. Little wonder that Richard was then soundly beaten at chess by the eight-year old. Despite foregoing the firewater, I was also routed by the ten-year old. Sigh. Ara’s taxi stayed parked outside the house. We called someone else to take us home.