Finding the Middle East in The South

We just got back from a trip to Charlotte, North Carolina, where we had a great time with new friends as well as old.

Our imaginations were stirred by the charming homes and luxuriant landscape. We wondered: Would this be the right place to settle down in our semi-retired years?

Obviously, there are many factors to consider before making any move. As usual, Robyn boiled everything down to one essential question: Is there any place to buy Armenian ingredients?

We assumed so, as we know there is a large Armenian community. But we had to find out for ourselves. A trip to each of the local grocery chains satisfied part of the question. Not only did we find American lamb, we were stunned to see a bin full of fine, ripe quince — something we’ve failed to turn up so far this season here in South Florida.

This still left a long list of less-common items in question. The answer came from an unexpected source when a sticky toilet handle prompted us to call the hotel’s front desk on our first night in town.

A fellow named John showed up quickly to fix the problem. As I thanked him, he looked me in the eye and asked, “Are you from the Middle East?”

The question caught me off guard and I replied, “No, I’m from Florida.” Then I realized he was really wondering about my ethnicity and added, “We’re Armenian.”

John beamed.

“I’m from Egypt,” he said. “We’re Coptics.”

The Armenian and Coptic churches share an ancient kinship, and it was interesting to discover that both communities in Charlotte are large enough to support parishes. But it was our culinary commonalities that interested Robyn.

“Where do you buy groceries?” she asked.

John reached in his pocket and pulled out a receipt.

“I just bought bulgur,” he said, handing me the paper so I could copy down the name and address of the store.

Friendly people are certainly one of Charlotte’s major assets — and John from Egypt ranks near the top.

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