“Eat something” said the Doctor “and relax. Walk around a bit and then come back in an hour so I can take your blood pressure”.
I left Peace Corps’ building in Yerevan and wondered where the nearest food could be found. The weather was hot and sticky. Walking downhill seemed the best of two unattractive options. Were those soft chairs and cafe umbrellas I could see a couple of hundred yards away? The Voodoo Hookah Lounge. The name and decor didn’t exactly scream “old lady lunch” but the interior looked as though it might be dark and cool. I stumbled up the steep steps and through the heavy glass doors.
Inside voodoo icons merged with wall mounted record players, shelves of books and all the paraphernalia that says hip-urban-sybaritic-leisure. There was lots of upholstery and small groups of dimly lit young men sharing shisha. But there was air conditioning. It somehow felt more like owl’s house in Winnie the Pooh than a fuggy den of iniquity. But without a doubt I was not a typical customer: fat, flustered, female, sweating in office clothes,, tottering on rickety knees.
“Do you have food?” I asked the young man who walked towards me smiling in the gloom. “Sure” he said, and steered me towards a comfy seat. I asked for pasta with mushrooms and some water with ice. A young woman in a t-shirt and jeans turned up with a plate of fruit.
“I ordered pasta” I said.
“This is a gift” she replied. “Welcome”.
There were cherries, a sliced peach and plum, a couple of strawberries and a small apple cut in quarters and served on a piece of slate. The plate was white. The cutlery was heavy. When the pasta came it was delicious. I seemed to be the only person eating. All the young men drank coffee and smoked their Hubble pipes.
I drank my water and looked longingly at the cocktail advertised in chalk on a large vertical blackboard.: an Old Fashioned. Hmmm. Tempting. But really not a good idea before going back to see the doctor. I paid the $5 bill — this is the center of Yerevan– and thanked the young man who followed me to the door. “Was everything good? he asked. It was. I told him I’d be back.
My blood pressure passed muster and I walked back to work. The Old Fashioned played on my mind. A sugar cube. Two splashes of bitters. Still water. Ice and bourbon. I hadn’t tasted Bourbon in more than a year. Orange peel. A whiskey glass. A whiskey glass? I would almost feel the crystal in my hand…
At 6pm I left work and set out to walk home– doctor’s orders. Wind presaged a storm. Could I gimp back to my hostel before the weather broke? A sugar cube. Two splashes of bitters. Still water. Ice. Well the doctor had said to stay hydrated… Orange Peel. Bourbon.
I turned for the Voodoo Hookah Lounge. The lunchtime staff beamed as I again lurched through the plate glass doors unsteady with the effort of climbing the stairs. I was ushered to a cool corner of the lounge, away from the all-male shisha fans. The Old Fashioned– and its heavy glass– was all I could have dreamed of. I thought of my friend Tom, a bourbon drinker far away in Washington DC and wished he was there. I ordered a classic omelette with fries and a glass of wine. It might have been France, but with fresh dill on the omelette. There was a black pepper mill on the table. I had to ask for salt. This was enchanted UnArmenia.
The omelette over, I savored my wine. The waitress appeared with three or four cheeses and a tiny white bowl of honey on a plate of ringed wood.
“A gift” she said and smiled. By then they knew I was a Peace Corps Volunteer.
The rain stopped. 7:30 and time for me to go. (They are open until 2am). Again the young man walked me to the door. “Come back soon” he said.
Thank you Voodoo Hookah Lounge. You were good for the heart.https://m.facebook.com/loungeyerevan/