April 21st, 2011

Lola Rennt

The underappreciated spirit of nonconformism

Last year I frequently heard people complain. It would actually be fair to say that complaining seemed to be the main form of communication: anywhere from minor griping and bemoaning daily struggles to major dissent and protest. There were complaints about poor health and the deadly effects of the changing weather, magnetic storms, disobeying children, heartless husbands, and the neighbor’s “punk” daughter that came home at all hours of the night (“What do you think she could be up to? It’s got to be drugs, I can just sense it.”) on said poor health. There were complaints about the rising prices of buckwheat, sugar and toilet paper, and the government's and the mob’s involvement in that conspiracy to starve the nation. There were complaints about the poor condition of the roads and the overcrowded public transportation; complaints about howling winds and unbearable heat; about the lack of some things and the overabundance of others. As if nothing was ever good enough…

People would grumble under their breaths as they passed you on the street. People would gather in large groups and hold loud protests and demonstrations. People would sit at sidewalk cafes and, having set the mood with numerous cups of coffee and an endless supply of cigarettes (both of which just kept on getting more and more expensive – how was a person expected to live?!), would lament endlessly. Against their neighbors, against mother Nature, against God, and, most frequently, against the government: “երկիրը երկիր չի”.

(How quickly we forget that only a generation or two ago a complaint against the government would land you a steady job somewhere with a refreshingly brisk climate.)

And just like this, with the whole world in the enemy camp and frown lines set so deep so as to render Botox completely powerless, an Armenian takes on Life, tears down the established order of things, and sets his own rules.

It is typical for people to like order: it’s safe, it’s predictable. It eliminates the need to think: you just follow patterns, you color within the lines. The world, the universe, however, is not about order. Any kind of order, however seemingly good, is by definition (thermodynamically) unstable, and in that, it is not meant to last.
Unfortunately, sometimes these mavericks are misunderstood and criticized. One forgets that occasionally it’s not so much the action itself, it’s the thought that counts.

Take the example of the architecturally unbecoming add-ons onto the Khrushchev era “concrete box” style apartment buildings: aside from being painful eye sores, they are also the attestation of a nation not settling for the cards it has been dealt, but striving for improvement, for a better tomorrow. The eye sore is the price we pay for evolution, for growth, for progress.

And so, thousands of miles away from “իմ տառապած, իմ փառապանծ”, in a very ordered, structured, groomed and polished world of my lovely Colonial house I miss this spirit that makes Armenians contest orders, disregard rules, defy laws, and make their own homes (and futures) the way that suits them and no one else. I miss this spirit of discontent that drives progress.

So damn “the man”, damn established order, and let’s increase some entropy one “built out” balcony at a time.

P.S. How I miss my Yerevan!!!