Wilderness and Empathy

Arpad Dobriban

Every time I travel somewhere, I have to create an intense connec- tion to the place. I do this by eating. Through various dishes one is pushed into an intimate connection to the country in which one nds one self. Because there is nothing, which brings one closer to a place than that which one eats. Food tells one about how people adhere to their world, how they see it, and how they deal with it. One sees this in the care that is spent in preparing food. And there is no country where you can recognize this aspect at rst glance. It takes time to ‘discover’ or get to know the essential items of daily nutrition that are sold on street corners or in markets.

Dilijan has no central market. Instead people sell their goods in plastic bags and buckets on the roadside. These are almost always wild plants that they have col- lected personally. During short seasons they are picked on a daily basis in small quantaties and are offered for sale straight away. No storage, transport, packaging or refrigeration is necessary, and one can purchase products of the highest quality.

Plants that grow in the wild in Dilijan are highly appreciated and there is a large variety of plants with green leaves. Even the most unspectacular plants have been tested for edibility rst. Each one requires a speci c method of preparation: some are more suited for drying, some are fermented and others are boiled or simply eaten raw.

Dilijan’s citizens hold nature in great esteem. They wax lyrically about each plant. Here one nds no hierarchy in how they treat the natural world. Their careful preparation of food is both visible and palpable. The speci c character and taste of each plant remains at the forefront. No radical change is made. No ideol- ogy is imposed. It remains simply what it is and thereby represents the loving, careful handling of the nature. Invisible, yet tangible, it demonstrates the ability of Dilijan households to stay close to their immediate surroundings. — Arpad Dobriban