Yerevan – Friday

Got back from Yerevan last night, and woke up this morning with a nasty sore throat, so I thought I’d spend the morning before my Georgian lesson posting some pictures from the trip.

Stopping for a kebab on the way to Yerevan

Stopping for a kebab on the way to Yerevan

Originally Ben and I were going to go with Ian, who also needed a visa update and with whom we’d gone to Turkey in December.  However, he was busy with work this weekend, so instead Elene and Aleko came along.  As far as I know, Aleko works for the BBC here in Tbilisi, and he arranged to have the car of its director take us to Yerevan (the silver BMW on the right).  So we met at the Opera at 7, and were on our way.  About an hour into Armenia, we stopped at this roadside pit stop to stretch our legs and have some kebabs.

marshrutka4

Me & Ben

The car was pretty convenient; quicker and safer than a marshrutka (our original plan), and we could stop at various points if we wanted to.  The border with Armenia is about two hours from Tbilisi, and the acquisition of visas was straightforward and relatively quick.  We tried to get the 3-day, $20 transit visa, but since we didn’t have flight tickets or other evidence that we were leaving, we were forced to pay for the 21-day, $50 visa.  A while into Armenia we all fell asleep; we were awakened briefly by the car jolting around, and saw that we were high in the mountains, in the middle of a savage blizzard, the kind where the snow blows horizontally and one can’t differentiate the snow-covered landscape from the foggy, cloudy sky.  We all fell asleep again, and later, in Yerevan, it all seemed like a dream.

Ben at lunch

Ben at lunch

When we arrived in the city the driver dropped us off by the Opera, a large rotund building painted in a military

Me & Aleko

Me & Aleko

green-grey.  We walked around for a while looking for a place to have lunch (we arrived around 12:30), and finally decided to try Marco Polo, a fairly standard-looking place near Hyusisayin Poghota in the middle of town.  Ben and Aleko tried this Armenian beer, which was pretty decent.  Food was edible.

Since our hosts wouldn’t be home until after work, around 6-ish, we thought we’d explore the center of the city for a few hours.  We’d all found places to stay with Couchsurfers, and though we were spread out over the down-town section of the city, we were all within a fifteen minute walk from one another.

The covered market on Mashtots Paghota

The covered market on Mashtots Paghota

The big bazaar on Mashtots is near the museum of modern art, which is also near the Yerevan mosque, and my hosts lived right behind the museum, so we thought we’d stay in the area until we went to our respective hosts’ houses.  We found the museum easily; it’s a series of three large drum-shaped structures on the corner of the street–hard to miss.  But it looked like it’d been closed for months, or even years; layers of peeling posters flaked from the glass doors and windows, and inside it was completely empty aside from miscellaneous construction debris: piles and archipelagos of fallen plaster, a decrepit ladder, a few empty paint cans, thin wooden beams strewn around the place.  So instead we went to the bazaar a little farther down the same street.  It was quite pleasant–a large indoor space with two aisles running down the middle of it with stalls of fruit, vegetables, nuts, dried fruit with nuts tucked

The bazaar (Shuka No. 1)

The bazaar (Shuka No. 1)

inside them, candied fruit, churchkhela (correct transcription?  That’s how the Georgian word for it sounds…).  This last item is a confection of walnuts threaded on a long string and then covered with numerous layers of a sort of viscous syrup made from grapes that hardens into a gummy consistency.  In the markets in Georgia the vendors call them “Georgian Snickers”, which is relatively apt.  In the market in Yerevan one vendor, pointing to his collection dangling from a drying frame, called out “Armenian Snickers!  Armenian Viagra!”  As with all the vendors, the fellow in the picture above was pretty aggressive in hawking his wares, though in a friendly way.  He gave us each samples of each kind of fruit and nut, telling us (in a mixture of Russian, English and German) that all of his produce was natural, no additives or toxins, and all made by his grandmother.

The Blue Mosque

The Blue Mosque

Just across the street from the bazaar is the Blue Mosque, the only mosque in town, as far as I know.  A number of people told us that Armenia is probably the most homogeneous country in the world, with virtually no minorities–Muslims, Jews, Azeris, Georgians, etc.; reasons ranged from a fierce nationalism to the possibility that no-one wanted to live here.  Financed by Iran, the mosque is a large, pleasant courtyard with a tiled blue facade and a dome at the other end of the same colour.  The sides of the couryard were lined with what looked like class-rooms of some kind, with the main praying areas on opposite sides of the courtyard.  There wasn’t that much t0 see; in one of the class-room things there was a small exhibition of Iranian crafts, mostly enamelled plates and small carafes; a few books and pamphlets in Arabic, some with pictures of Ahmedinejad smirking on the cover.  We strolled around the courtyard, and saw what there was to see, and moved on.

The Cascade

The Cascade

So all this took a good deal less time than we had anticipated, so we walked around the city for a while, and eventually sat at an outdoor cafe (which was covered with a tent of transparent plastic) on Hanrapetutyan Hraparak (Republic Square), the largest square in the south of the down-town area.  We drank tea and chatted for around two hours until it was around 6:30 and we each went to our respective host.

The view from Trixi & Judith's flat

The view from Trixi & Judith's flat

Trixi & Judith were great.  They lived on the 9th floor of one of the apartment blocks behind the defunct art gallery, and welcomed me warmly.  We all sat in their living room, a studenty arrangement of sofas, a table covered in red cloth with candles, notebooks, pictures, ashtrays, lighters, magazines; a single bed to one side; a coffee table covered with bottles of vodka, juice, mineral water, another ashtray, cigarettes, packets of rolling tobacco.  On the walls there was a poster of Che Guevara, iconic black portrait on a red background; a large Turkish flag; and a number of other pictures and posters.  It turned out that they were quite unhappy in Armenia; one

The view west from T & J's balcony, towards Ararat.

The view west from T & J's balcony, towards Ararat.

was teaching European law, the other German, both at the university, and had apparently had little choice in their destination.  They found the Armenians rather unfriendly, uncouth, and had difficulty making friends with them.  One couldn’t, they said, simply be friends with Armenian men, since it’s simply not done–or otherwise they assume that Western women are easy conquests and treat them with corresponding disrespect; and Armenian women were similarly socially stunted but for other reasons–immature, prone to bouts of giggling, and limited in their outlooks because of culture, tradition, and religion.  And then the practical details: an incredible inertia that mired institutions like their university, inherited from Soviet bureaucracy, made it extremely difficult and pretty unpleasant to work there.  Trixi related how she had once wanted to use the TV – computer room to show a film to her German classes, but the person in charge of the room wouldn’t let her use it, simply because it was his little feifdom and he didn’t want anyone else to have access to it.  The administration, let alone the students, never did anything they were supposed to, or if they did, it was weeks late and executed as though it were an arduous personal favour for which one should be humbly grateful.  Another source of vexation was their neighbours.  Trixi and Judith occasionally hosted couchsurfers, many of whom were male, so when the neighbours saw a different men coming and going from their apartment, they’d give them strange looks and mutter menacingly in Armenian.  And so on.  One form their dissatisfaction took was in the ostentatious display of various Turkey-related objects–the flag, refrigerator magnets, red drapes hanging languidly around the room, in fact the whole red-themed living room itself was evidence of their revolt.  They said the only reason they didn’t hang their Turkish flat from their balcony is that they were afraid of reprisals, and were considering doing it just before they leave the country. When I first asked them what they made of the city and the country, Trixi, tall and attractive, laughed a nervous laugh, with raised eyebrows, her eyes shooting briskly around the room as though looking for a way to express herself mildly.  Judith was a more solemn presence: curled up on a sofa with her feet tucked beneath her, eyelids lugubriously at half mast, she’d relate her experiences mostly in a dead monotone occasionally coloured with derision. A friend who was visiting them from Germany (but was leaving early the following morning) came back around 7:30, at which point he and Trixi started preparing dinner, while I listened to more of Judith’s stories which she told in her mild, even, measured sentences that seemed both emotionally flat and witheringly scornful.

After a dinner of pasta with a courgette-cream sauce, we left the house to meet up with Ben & the others, together with their hosts.  However, as soon as we left the main door of the apartment block, Trixi notices that her car, a little two-door hatchback, had inexplicable been moved.  It had been parked, she was quite sure, in a certain spot; now another car had taken that place, and her car was sitting in front of the new arrival.  As she explained this, we stood there, perplexed, and finally decided that whoever had done this must have done it both quite recently–within the past two hours, say–and quite laboriously: they would have had to either break into the car, take off the handbreak and roll it out of the way; then park their own car in its space; then roll her car back in front of their car; or, if they didn’t break into it, they would have had to simply lift and carry it first out of its parking spot, then back in front of the other car.  This didn’t explain why whoever had done it had done it, or why they went to such trouble to box themselves into that spot, since they wouldn’t have been able to leave had Trixi not moved her car after the short period in which perplexity gave way to annoyance and finally to anger.  As we walked out of the parking area towards the bar mulling the matter over she scribbled a hasty “FUCK YOU!” on the condensation of the rear window with a finger.  Weird.

We met the others in The Beatles Bar a few minutes’ walk from their flat.  A number of interesting people: two other Fulbrights, and a number of repats, most of whom had grown up in America but who wanted to get to know their ancestral homeland.  Most of the time I chatted with a recently engaged couple, she Canadian and he from San Diego, who had lived in Yerevan for a couple of years after both having volunteered with an American-Armenian Christian organization.  Both very nice people, with a touch of unoffensive oddness about them; they were both as (North) American as one can be, with a sort of all-American wholesomeness about them, but with a fierce sense of their Armenian heritage that expressed itself most obviously in their religiosity.  We were talking about the monastery of Geghard where Ben, Aleko, Elene and I were planning to visit the next day, and Ani’s eyes flashed with reverence as she talked about the holiness of the site and the Spear (the one that had reputedly pierced Christ’s side) that had been kept there, which was now kept somewhere in Yerevan (if I’m not mistaken) and taken out of its vault on rare occasions for some ritualistic purpose, I don’t remember exactly which.  It made me think of Klingsor, brooding neutered in his gloomy castle, covetous of his mighty Spear.  They were both fasting, and hence not drinking, and the fiance was heartily annoyed when Ani enthusiastically accepted a few puffs from Aleko’s cigar.  She laughingly lamented her absent-mindedness while Areg scowled.

So we spent a pleasant evening together.  Also met Maro, the woman with whom Ben and Aleko were staying, who seemed nice.  Armine, if I remember her name correctly, was another Fulbright, also pleasant and interesting.  It was amusing to have the German girls talk to the repats–doom and gloom on the one hand, and indulgent, sympathetic understanding on the other.  We left around 11:30, and by midnight I was asleep.

Advertisements

One Response

  1. Yerevan … I remember was there 5 years ago, liked the city ..

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: