Most expats and travelers find Armenia a beautiful mountainous country abundant in lovely wildflowers and glorious fruit during spring and summer.

However, try arriving in the middle of an arctic Armenian winter and you’ll find that this is not the best way to start a new expatriate experience, especially not when you’ve just come from a cheery tropical country. This happened to me and my man some years ago and you can read all about that in Expat Lament, one of my earlier posts. I look back at this experience with pride because we were tough! Cold, but tough, and full of good intentions too! Like, we were not going to buy a car! Really!

We’d found a house in town – that being Yerevan, the capital – and we’d decided to try to manage without a vehicle, do more walking and live an urban life style. We could use taxis when necessary and rent or borrow a car if we wanted to explore the countryside. We would be responsible global citizens and not add unnecessarily to the air pollution and the size of the hole in the ozone layer. I’m sure, dear reader, you’re impressed. Unfortunately, we were weak. And cold. Did I mention we were cold? Here’s the story:

The Glories of a Russian Car

For weeks now my mate and I have been stoically hoofing it most everywhere in Yerevan. We even do our food shopping on foot, which is a drag. Cabbages and beets are heavy. It’s frigid inside the covered, unheated produce market, and the uncleared, icy sidewalks are especially designed for slipping and falling. My hands are frozen stiff around the shopping bag handles. My nose is growing icicles. My toes are numb. Schlepping around my heavy bags, I’m feeling more and more like a mule in a down coat. This is not good for my self-esteem.

We want a car.

Our neighbor, Canadian Nancy, has a car, sort of, and we’ve ridden in it. It’s a Russian-made Lada, Niva model. It looks cheap and basic because it is cheap and basic. Standard transmission, no air-conditioning, no suspension to speak of. Only five thousand five hundred US dollars, cash, for a brand-new model. Everything on the car that counts is solid as a tank, everything else is crap. There are lots of these cars all over the place. All white.

“Buy a Niva,” Nancy counsels. “It’s got four-wheel drive, it’s high so you can drive all over these mountains with it and everybody and his dog can fix it when something breaks.”

My man is seriously interested in this Niva. He loves to roam the countryside wherever we live or travel and he’s a practical sort. He wants a car that can conquer rocky mule tracks, a car any peasant can fix. Besides, in a Niva, we’ll be invisible, and we like that. If you drive a Mercedes Benz you are not. Armenia is a country where status and image are supremely valued. So if you belong to the elite and/or have money and you want to make sure everybody knows it, you drive a Benz. When you drive a Niva, nobody will look at you because you have no class. You’re just a working stiff in a cheap car. This works for us.

We go to the Niva dealer where we find a spiffy young salesman who speaks a bit of English. He does a masterful job of selling. My mate test-drives the car while the salesman sits in the front passenger seat singing the Niva’s praises, waxing lyrical about how good it is, how strong, how wonderful this Russian car. I’m in the back seat enjoying his spiel. He has a great future ahead of him in the new capitalist Armenia because he has clearly embraced the philosophy of the consumer society. He’s going to sell this boxy little car to us if it’s the last thing he does.

Back at the dealership we crawl out and my spouse asks him to show us how to flatten the back seat so we can transport larger items if necessary. Our helpful salesman tries, but the handle is stuck and the backrest won’t budge. He tries a little harder and the handle breaks off. He looks up at us and shrugs.

“Russian car,” he says philosophically.

Not to worry. It’s easily fixed and we buy the car. We drive it for six years with only minor issues. We bounce around all over the Armenian mountains, on potholed roads, stony goat tracks and even up a couple of rocky stream beds. We sell it for a thousand dollars less than we paid for it.

It pays to have no class.

* * *
Do you have any car stories? Or maybe your transport is a rowing boat on a jungle river, or a camel in the desert. Or maybe you have a single engine plane to get you out of the bush! Do tell!

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How can you be crabby on a balmy Italian summer evening sitting on a moonlit terrace with a stunning view of the Bay of Naples?

I asked myself that question one night, when my prince and I were in Italy enjoying a bit of rest and romance. Let me tell you the story:

A Night of Romance, or Not

From our modest B&B hidden in an ancient building, we walk to the waterfront in search of an Italian repast. We pass a number of large luxury hotels – the 5-star variety – with rooms that offer a view of the Bay of Naples with Vesuvius looming on the horizon. (You pay dearly for this view, trust me.) Several outdoor restaurants live along this stretch as well, to cater to the tourists. We settle ourselves at an alluring terrace bathed in soft candle light and resplendent with white table cloths, sparkling glasses and shimmery silverware. Straight out of the movies, I tell you.

We order wine and a plate of seafood antipasti and do a little people-watching. I love people-watching, don’t you?

Romance in Italy

In front by the road several teenagers are hanging out as only teenagers hang out. They come and go, on motorcycles and Vespas, or on foot. We watch the girls and boys playing out the ancient mating rituals. They hug and kiss, they grope and fondle. Ah, all those hormones running rampant! Such exquisite torture!

At the table next to us sits an American couple in their sixties with bad body language and no love hormones running rampant. They look disenchanted and make snarky comments as they discuss the menu. She’s a dumpy woman with bleached hair, he’s a paunchy guy with a bald head and a flabby face. I’m not trying to be mean here, but fact is fact and unfortunately the truth is not always flattering. There’s nothing charming about these two, and they spew fumes of discontent into the balmy Italian night. There ought to be a law, is what I think.

Octopus for sale in the market

I can’t hear everything they’re saying, which is just as well because it isn’t love talk, and I don’t want my happy mood spoiled. I’m enjoying myself, sitting here with my man, sipping wine, and munching on a plate of mixed seafood antipasti. It features a lot of octopus, which is very popular in these parts.

The crabby couple apparently does not like what‘s offered on the menu. They don’t like the octopus stuff and everything else is also weird (I just know that’s what they’re thinking.) I’m guessing they’re staying at one of the nearby posh hotels; they are well dressed, and the lady sports a huge diamond rock on her finger and an impressive string of pearls around her neck.

As I sip my wine I watch her take her purse and leave the table – to go to the ladies room, I presume. Her two-piece dress does not look cheap, but it somehow manages to look hopelessly frumpy on her. Sadly, menopause has not been kind to her, and too many calories are showing up in uncharming ways. None of this is alleviated by a sparkle in her eyes, a smile on her face, or even a whiff of Joy perfume. I think I’m smelling Poison.

Grumpy husband stays behind and drinks his beer, staring into space, the very picture of grouchiness. He does not see the Bay of Naples. He does not see the charm of his surroundings, the snogging teenagers. He sees something else. Inside his mind. And it’s not pretty.

And then I do what I often do: I try to imagine what their story is (I’m a writer and I imagine and make up lots of stuff). Maybe they’ve had a fight. Maybe he said this was a waste of money, coming here, even though he’d promised her the trip for 20 years. Or maybe earlier in their luxurious hotel room he wanted sex and she didn’t. Or the other way around. I wonder if gloomy people like this dyspeptic duo still have sex. They don’t look like they enjoy each other. They don’t look like they enjoy much of anything.

My heart aches for them. How can you be unhappy on a balmy Italian summer night sitting in this charming terrace with a view of the Bay of Naples? The moon is ripe, the hills sparkle with lights and the yachts are ablaze with kilowatts. The wine is intoxicating and the octopus is yummy. How romantic can it be? What does it take?

I drink my wine. For me it doesn’t take that much, but then I’m easy. I may have traveled the world but having dinner with my man in a romantic restaurant anywhere still does it for me. I glance over at the horny teenagers who clearly don’t care about the Bay of Naples because it’s always there and has always been there and what’s the big deal? What they care about is sex and finding a place to have it. It’s a problem, you know.

The morose matron returns to her seat. Between the young lovers in the street and the choleric couple next to us there’s a contrast of serious sexual magnitude.

I’m thinking of the hormonal issue of menopause. Granted, this is not the most romantic subject to consider while on an idyllic outing with the love of your life, but there it is, sprung up mischievously in my mind (must be my age). I’m wondering why many women after menopause still feel the desire for sex while Mother Nature has taking away the ability to conceive.

I look at my mate. “What is the purpose of sex?” I ask, chewing octopus.

“Fun,” says he.

“No, I mean-”

He raises his brows. “You don’t like my answer?” His tone is dry.

“That’s not it. I am very happy you think the purpose of sex is fun. Let me rephrase my question: What is the biological purpose of sex?”

“Fun.” He sips his wine and gives me a seductive look.

“No-”

“You don’t like the answer? What answer would you like?” He pours me some more wine.

“What I mean is, the biological purpose of sex is the continuation of the species. Procreation.”

“So if you know, why ask me?”

Well, yes, why. “I was going somewhere with this. I have another question I was setting this up for.”

“All right,” he says agreeably, “sex is for the continuation of the species, for procreation. And for fun.”

“Fun so you’d want to do it and so procreate.”

“Right.”

Now we’re getting somewhere. I’m on my second glass of wine. I’m trying to think clearly and pose the question rationally. “Now, why do the females of the species still want sex after their childbearing years are over?”

“Because it’s fun.” He breaks off a piece of bread.

“But why would it still feel like fun?”

“Because it is.”

“Okay, true.” I stab a chunk of octopus with my fork. “But the hormones necessary for procreation aren’t functioning anymore after menopause. They’ve dried up and gone.”

“Is it the hormones that make sex fun?” he asks.

“Of course.” I point at the necking teenagers across the road. “Look at those kids over there.”

“But after menopause they’ve dried up,” he reminds me.

“Right. But it’s still fun, anyway.”

He nods sagely. “Well, if it isn’t the hormones, then it must be mass hysteria of the post-menopausal brigade.”

Mass hysteria of the post-menopausal brigade! Of course! What was I thinking!

I glance at the dour woman at the next table. She stares dully at her food, then glances up and looks at her husband, boredom and malcontent radiating from her. She doesn’t look like she’s into mass hysteria.

Too bad for her.
♥  ♥  ♥

So, dear reader, do you have a people-watching story? Or a tale about love and romance — the mysteries, the joys, the creepiness? And of course, an Italian adventure of any sort is good. Make my day!

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