There is a direct correlation between sex drive and creativity. There is an inverse correlation between my BP
pills and my sex drive. It isn't a blue pill
I'm reminded of cases reported on by Oliver Sacks. He interviewed people with Tourette's who when asymptomatic due to various wonder drugs felt life had lost meaning. So while they didn't exhibit facial tics and involuntary epithetic spurting, their worlds had become monochromatic.
I'm reminded of my own history, sitting in my father's sickroom while he died of cancer watching episodes of "Xena: Warrior Princess." In some of his last words to me he said, "I don't even care about that anymore." I didn't understand what he meant until recently, or why he refused to change the channel.
I am my father's son. If a day went by where an episode of "Xena: Warrior Princess" or some other sex-charged offering didn't stir even the slightest vibration, I would presume life had given up on me. It's not an issue of sex. It's the feeling of being part of the universal life force from which all creation rushes forth.
When that is gone, there is only darkness.
And he lay there, praying in vain for the feeling to return.
This past weekend I bought the bluray DVD of the movie "The Fountain". It's a "wonderfully flawed movie," as reported on by reviewers on "Rotten Tomatoes". I like the movie very much, though my original interpretation of the plot did not match that of writer/director Darren Aronofsky.
My woman says to me, "When they publish their poetry, poets are often surprised to hear the interpretations of readers. But once it's out there, it's out there."
"It would have been better if the part that seemed like a dream was actually a dream instead of real."
"None of it is real. It's a movie."
"But the dreamy part was supposed to be real."
"But it can't be."
"He meant for you to accept it as real. That's the story arc. If you think it's a dream, the story doesn't fly. In my head I had a different story that was okay with it being a dream. But I was wrong."
"I know why you like it so much."
"Because it took them seven years to do and it was a massive commercial failure?"
"Because it's exactly what you would have written."
"I think I did write it already, in fact, only in my story the dreamy part was a metaphor."
"It's totally you."
"Thanks. I take that as a compliment."
"That a massively beautiful picture that took a measurable percentage of a lifetime to make could be such a huge commercial flop that only a couple people who write like Darren Aronofsky actually like it. Yes, that is exactly how I see myself. Creating a beautiful mess. My fears have become reality in a way that doesn't hurt me. I can watch someone else make my movie and take all the downside impact while I sit back and criticize. It's a winning strategy for me. I find people who write like me and watch them fail from a distance. Sort of like televised suicide."
"I'm going to bed now."
"I'm going to watch it again with the director's commentary turned on so I can see how wrong he is."
Haik is driving, as they say in translated Russian, "like maniac". Apparently you can assemble a legal sentence without a verb in Russian, which is Haik's second language after Armenian. English is his third.
"Brakes not working," he says, pressing the buttons on the SUV's sound system. Ten DB of static mutates to Joe Cocker's distorted voice blasting from six incapable speakers as we bounce out of an Armenian pothole at seventy miles-per-hour and catch air. "First time this happen."
"That's the ABS," I say to Haik, then lower the volume on the stereo - "You're going too fast. The tires are losing grip on the road."
"But I think it's okay," Haik says, aiming away from a pothole the size of a Bengalese tiger trap.
This could be a commercial for the Isuzu Trooper. I wonder if they ever anticipated their vehicle being abused in this manner. I wonder if the Korean welds will hold.
"You could slow down. We don't need to be at the hotel so quickly," I say, getting late-day angry. We've been out sight seeing and picnicking with our team all day. We're coming down from the summit of Mt. Aragats, the tallest mountain in Armenia, following unnamed roads that were originally carved by Alexander the Great and a couple of the Apostles.
Since the Soviet pull-out in '92, Armenian road maintenance has been the subject of history books rather than an hourly job. Outside the capital city there are no roads in the sense of continuous ribbons of pavement. There are pathways that had been roads in the glory days of Brezhnev and Khrushchev. Now teams of archaeologists are necessary to remind people the way it must have been before all the taken-for-granted municipal services disappeared. Welcome to capitalism, a land with no electricity, clean water, or asphalt.
And we are moving as if we need to make good time at the next rally checkpoint on the way from Paris to Dakar.
"Haik," I say.
"Je'ne oublai jamais," says Joe Cocker.
"What does this mean," Haik asks. "I think you speak some French."
"I will never --" I'm interrupted by the ceiling descending to smash the crown of my head, "forget. We don't have to go so fast."
"It's okay. It's fun."
The medical infrastructure is in a shambles in Armenia. When people get sick they fly to the UK or Austria. If they can't get a flight out they drive to Iran.
I imagine it's going to be a long flight with a crushed vertebra and a ruptured spleen. I wonder if I'll be able to crawl from the wreckage.
"I think we will be there early," Haik says, accelerating over a smooth patch, then braking immediately as we nose into a ten-inch deep fissure.
"I think we will be there yesterday," I say, reminded of the saying in mountain-biking: at speed you don't have time to fall. We fly over the ditch. Haik hits the gas.
Joe Cocker has stopped. The laser can't track. Static issues from the Isuzu's speakers like the floodwaters from a breeched dam.
"We can slow down," I say.
"I think it is okay," says Haik, hitting the gas.
Armenians like to say that Mount Ararat is the world's tallest mountain. Everest, it seems, is puny by comparison when measured from the practical base of the mountain to the summit. The landscape surrounding Jongmalunga is already at 15,000+ feet, so the peak is only a couple thousand feet higher. In contrast, Ararat rises from a plain nearly at sea level. There's over fifteen thousand vertical feet between someone at the base and someone at the summit.
The visual effect is as stunning as the view of the Grand Canyon. The mind is not prepared to accept something so huge, and so we at first misinterpret the snow cap for clouds. Then we realize Ararat simply is the sky to the east of Yerevan. We become nothing.
"Of course they picked this place for the ark of Noah," says Haik. "It is highest place."
"Incredible," I say. "Beautiful."
"Unfortunately it is in Turkey. Armenians can't go there."
So for our outing we went to Mt. Aragats. Puny in comparison, the summit is slightly over 10,000 feet. There's a facility at the top, accessible by a road that snakes through the snow fields. The road may have been paved at some point, but it's not now. From the top of Mt. Aragats, Mt. Ararat is even more monstrous. It seems capable of scraping the sun from the sky.
As so often happens to me when visiting other countries, our hosts have plans that have only been marginally communicated. We wander around the snow fields amid a cluster of World-War II era buildings, some of which are on the verge of collapse. Despite prior conversation in which we were given Armenian history beginning with the ancient Greeks, I'm told that at least two of the buildings had been built by the Third Reich.
"I thought the Nazis didn't get to Armenia in World War II."
"Just this buildings," says Harut, one of our young charges who moved from the Soviet physics institute to the world of commercial software development. He lived up here for four years. One of his experiments is up here. A cosmic ray detector. He tells me we will see it.
The bus arrives with the rest of our team who are joining us for this day out. Harut leads us into one of the very Bavarian looking structures, and we go through a small doorway down an unlighted wooden staircase that seems to lead to the basement.
Flashlights come out of pockets. My hosts are all prepared as we climb downward through a concrete corridor dripping with melt water from above. The air is crisp and becoming colder as we descend. The wooden staircase ends and we follow a long passageway barely six-feet at its highest. The tallest of us has to crouch. One hundred yards. There's a dim light from a bare bulb ahead. For about twenty seconds it's all I can see and becomes my destination. Once past it, we're in total darkness and cold. Water dripping from overhead. Air becoming colder.
My host’s conversation becomes agitated. Most of our team has not been here before. "Harut!" They start calling him but he's so far ahead he's out of sight.
I remember a conversation I had with a friend before I left for Yerevan this time.
"See the American Embassy there? It's huge. The Armenians who built it say it's three times as deep as it is tall. Know why?"
"To spy on Iran?"
"They're renditioning prisoners there, for one."
I'm fixated on another bare bulb ahead and I can't help but imagine how good a place this would be for people to simply disappear. A deep cavern in Mt. Aragats, accessible only part of the year by a dirt road that was forgotten after the Soviet pull out.
What did the Russians do down here? How many people never made it out?
As if to prove it's possible, it gets colder and darker. Now there is ice on the floor and icicles hanging from the concrete ceiling. We're slipping. Fall here, crack your head on the concrete, and if you don't die before you wake up, you're next sight of light will be the fluorescents in the ceiling of an emergency room, probably in Tehran.
And then the tiny corridor ends and I move into a cavernous space. The ground underfoot is composed of various heavy metal beams which form an irregular grillwork through which light can be seen emanating from dim sources even farther below. Before us is a massive presence. Vast and huge, darker than the gloom around us, it rests in a pit. It seems to be the size of a two-story house. I can barely make out what seems to be miles of rope, now I realize cable, electrical, thousands of strands each as thick as an arm.
"How you say -- magnet," says one of our team.
"Big," I say.
"Superconductor," says another. "Part of experiment. Here is nother part."
We traverse the catwalk around the pit and mounted beside the platform in the huge underground hall are a few hundred small truncated pyramids with cables issuing from the top. The cables run in no apparent order through the spaces between the pyramids. We follow the cables and around a concrete corner a door is opened and suddenly we're bathed in warmth and bright yellow incandescent light.
"This is the control room," says Harut. "I write the program for these computers. For detection of particles. It is running now. Look."
On an 80's era VGA monitor text scrolls by, white against blue.
"We are detecting cosmic rays. Only particles of 500MeV or more can make it this far. We are 100 meters."
There are racks of equipment. Bakelite knobs on yellowed panels. Russian made oscilloscopes. Data conversion.
"Harut. This was a secret facility?"
"In Soviet times," he says.
"But it was cosmology. Was that secret?"
"And other things, too, I think. But now is just physics. Cosmology."
I wonder about radiation. I wonder what is behind the doors I can barely make out in the dim light.
Where has my life taken me? Why do I stand here, now?
One year ago I was in my office in Juneau, Alaska, watching the cruise ships come in and out of the harbor. I registered my car. I got an Alaskan driver's license. I had my address changed. I was all set to spend the bulk of my remaining time on earth watching eagles and whales.
Now I am inside a mountain I never knew existed, in a formerly secret Soviet research facility, twenty eight hours of travel, and twelve time zones away from my home in California.
I have explanations for all of it.
As if it mattered.
"All the women in Yerevan are beautiful," we say to our Armenian host.
We're sitting at a sidewalk cafe outside the Marriott on the square. The Place to Be In Yerevan, according to the marketing slogans.
I'm sipping vodka. Which is the thing to do in Yerevan as far as I can tell. The other thing to do with free time in Armenia is to go look at fifteen hundred year-old churches. And when the traveler is bored climbing ruins, there's getting trashed and watching women's midriffs and dreaming of Babylon. Thousands of years ago we would be a conquering army and these women would be ours.
Parts of the Bible were written not far from where I sit. Animals from the ark streamed down the side of mother mountain right past where we now sit sipping alcohol and telling each other stories.
The zebras had to walk all the way back to Africa from here. A woman dressed in black and white smiles at me.
"It didn't used to always be this way," says Haik. "But recently I think it's much better."
I remember the jokes about eastern bloc women. Times have changed. A woman in a cut up t-shirt and tight jeans makes eye contact as she passes. Her dark hair cascades around her shoulders. She's wearing gold earrings that shine when her head moves. I imagine heroes and heroines who rule alien worlds. I want to rescue one of these women from a burning skyscraper. I hear music. Words assemble themselves to poetry before my eyes.
"The men are butt ugly. They don't deserve these women," says another of our American party.
"I think they want go to America," says one of the Armenians. "But they must stay here."
I look at my watch. "But we must go there," I say. I toss a few thousand drams on the table. We get into Haik's car. He aims through a pack of Russian Latas toward the airport.
He asks, "I hope your visit is good, no?"
"Our visit was good, yes," I say in reply. "Thanks for everything. Great as usual."
"Something very bad is happening yesterday, you should know," he says.
The word for how he speaks is "sheepish", but I don't know how to translate to Armenian so I don't ask him why he is being so.
"Anna's son. When we are at cosmic ray center, he is playing on some building and is pushed off by another boy. He falls two and one half meters. Now he is broken his arms and ribs and also this thing internally, I don't know word for you in English. He is in hospital in surgery. Is thing with blood."
"My god. But Anna was with us." Suddenly, we Americans are sober.
"This is why I am driving fast. I hope is okay."
"My god. Of course it's okay. How is he?"
"He is all good now but one more time will have surgery. Today I think. She is at the hospital so Anna will not be to airport to say goodbye to you."
"Of course - of course. My god. You should have said something."
"You would just worry if I say something, yes? So why worry you? There's nothing to be done. We wait for doctors to tell us now."
"Please if there is anything we can do..."
"But there is nothing you can do so why worry? Please. Have good flight home."
And then we are over Mount Ararat. The Black Sea. Eastern Europe and Western Europe. We land at Heathrow.
I feel terribly alone so I send out a message to see if any noders are around to meet, but I've given no notice and so it's Thursday eve at the airport hotel with nothing to do. Anna's son is recovering from surgery to remove his ruptured spleen. He's in a big cast, says my e-mail. There is nothing we can do.
I watch the women in the hotel bar, but they're all business people like me. We are the same.