Armenians young and old listened engrossed as John Hughes, an American living in Armenia, read one of his emotional and heartfelt essays. In an essay entitled “…And Be Merry,” Hughes elaborated on his experiences in Armenia: “…And so I arrived at Hayk’s house in the morning hour with some expectations. Arrived to the smell of boiling cow and the laughter of a full house. Cousins, aunts, uncles. Friends on leave from the army. A table set for a banquet. The mother of all brunches. It was 10 am.”
A journalist for 20 years, in 1998 Hughes was assigned to write a series of articles about Armenia for the Orange County Register. He moved to Armenia to begin a life of research of a people who have “survived.” Hughes continued to elaborate on his first experience eating the ever-popular celebration meal of “khash.”
Hughes explained that while in Armenia, do as the Armenians do. His knowledge of the Armenian language was limited to a choice few words, one of his favorites of which is “lav,” good. He basically went along with anything someone suggested. This frame of mind in place, he had many new experiences while living in Armenia. Hughes along with award-winning photojournalist, Bruce Strong, decided to record these ever-strong feelings in a book entitled, “Armenia: The Story of a Place in Essays and Images.” The combination of Hughes’ poetic and realistic words with Strong’s ability to capture the true light of the country of Armenia is a wonderful portrayal of the beauty of our homeland.
With the images in our minds of the strong odor of “khash,” the audience listened attentively how Hughes made this dish of “cow’s feet” sound lovely: “Take that stack of lavash, I’m told, and break it into the bowl of broth. Lots of it. Reach with bare fingers to the bowl of salt and sprinkle generously. And from the bowl of ground garlic, dip spoonfuls, until the taste is no longer that of cow feet. The idea here is to put enough bread into the soup until you can eat the soaked dumpling with your bare hands. ‘Lav.’ Good. Whatever.” It takes a person of Hughes’ character to be able to live in a country completely different from his own – entirely opposite of what he has ever known growing up.
Hughes experiences are vividly recorded in this 133-page book. It is modern history. This isn’t a six inch text book which we are required to read in an Armenian history class that goes on and on telling about this war or that defeat. This is a coffee table book depicting the happiness and sadness of a country which has survived as Christians for over 1700 years. A people who have the strength and the will to continue another 1700 years into the future. This is possible with help from people like John Hughes, who dedicate small portions of their busy lives to let the world know about Armenians.
Hughes currently contributes to Armenian International Magazine on a regular basis. His current project is a children’s book about his cat, Brian.
The Armenian Studies Program, Armenian Students Organization of Fresno State, along with the St. Paul Armenian Apostolic Church co-sponsored Hughes’ presentation on Friday, March 8, in the St. Paul Haig Berberian Hall.
John Hughes shared with us his experience and life-long memories of the years he lived in our homeland: Armenia.