Saturday, June 30, 2001
Friday, June 29, 2001
Wednesday, June 27, 2001
and holding my breath
in wonder, I wonder what happens next.
A new world, a new day to see�
-From the song New World by Bjork from the Lars Von Trier film entitled, �Dancer in the Dark�
My last night in Yerevan was a tough one. It was like being at an Armenian summer camp like Camp Hayastan or AYF Olympics on the last day. I knew the end was near, but I was still there. I was trying to take in all of the sights, sounds, and emotions of my present situation although I knew it had to end. While I was with some very close friends on my final night in Yerevan, I was already mentally preparing myself for the trip ahead of me back home to Boston the next day.
This time around, my trip to Armenia was about the little things. The way people interacted with each other on the street, the way children played tennis against the wall in their pag (apartment courtyard), the way people bought food, the way people danced, and finally, the way diasporans made Armenia their home. It wasn�t like my first trip where I was trying to connect an idealized Armenia I had heard about all of my life with what it really was. No, this time it was about the little things.
As with any society there are positive and negative aspects. People tend to like to talk about the negative aspects of Armenia (me included). Various reasons for this could include having something emotionally loaded to talk about at the dinner table, a genuine concern for the greater good of Armenians, or just plain pessimism. Take your pick, we all have our reasons. Yet, people tend to forget that the positive aspects of Armenia can be just as seductive and satisfying. For example, Armenians from all backgrounds volunteering their time on Saturdays to build shelter and homes for the needy is something Armenian Habitat for Humanity is doing. Or, teaching English to schoolchildren. How about going to church at Echmiadzin on a Sunday? Cheap living, great scenery, and wonderful food are some others.
Yes, there are problems in Armenia and you will encounter them when you go. After all, don�t we see societal problems wherever we live now? Poverty is poverty, crime is crime, and so on. I think what made Armenia so accessible this time around was that I wasn�t thinking on such a grand scale. I just took things one day at a time and enjoyed the atmosphere of being in a beautiful country where my original language was spoken. After all, wasn�t that what our parents and grandparents wanted for us all of these years. All those years of Armenian school, AYF meetings, Olympics, Sports Weekends, social functions and the like. Weren�t they in preparation for the real thing?
These were some of the things I was thinking about during my flight back to Boston. What was the downside for moving to Armenia for me personally? A favorite TV show, baseball games, certain foods? I didn�t even think about these things once when in Armenia. Instead, I asked myself how much I could live without Armenia for the time being? The language, the people, the culture, a change in scenery, and modest living expenses, everything.
I suppose that we all are chasing ghosts when we see Armenia for the first time. Trying to get a glimpse of yesteryear and the present all at the same time. It�s an emotional journey that either signals the end or beginning of our Armenian experience. For those who are entering the twilight of their years, seeing Armenia for the first time is the bookend to a long life. For others, it�s an opportunity to see dreams of past generations and future generations come to fruition. Folks, Armenia is there, waiting for us.
June 26, 2001: I just bought my one-way ticket to Armenia today. I will be moving there in September.
Postscript: I was asked to clarify a few things by some friends via private email pertaining to my take on the log postings. I thought I would share my answers with the readers. My log postings were adapted for the Armenian Life Section of www.cilicia.com from my own personal diary and journal. The process of adaptation took place while here in Boston over the last three weeks (June 3- June 26, 2001) after I got back from Armenia. Most of my experiences were recorded in my journal within a 24-hour period of when a particular incident happened. This technique was intended to capture the spirit of the moment.
�What�s up with the quotes?� In the process of adaptation, certain songs and films came to mind that I was able to associate with a particular posting or episode. They usually dealt with the general theme I was trying to convey about my experiences. Music and film helped jump-start certain emotions that were lacking in my journal. I later gathered all of the songs that I associated with my trip to Armenia and burned them onto a CD to give me a musical imprint of my trip to Armenia. You are welcome to a free copy of this CD. If nothing else, I think it is a collection of great music. Just email me at: email@example.com and I�ll send you a copy for free. Here are the songs in no particular order:
Grey Gardens: by Rufus Wainwright
Rebel Prince: by Rufus Wainwright
Poses: by Rufus Wainwright
New World: by Bjork
Sarera: by Gor Mkhitarian
Hasta Llegar: by Les Negresses Vertes
Easy Girls: by Les Negresses Vertes
The Oud and the Fuzz: by John Berberian
Petit Pays: by Cesaria Evora
Don�t Tell Me: by Madonna
Armenian Navy Band Excerpt
Complainte De La Butte: by Rufus Wainwright
It�s Not Right but It�s OK: by Whitney Houston
August Day Song: by Bebel Gilberto
Finally, since this is my last post about this trip, thanks to my friend Aram Hajian for hosting me and Raffi Kojian of www.cilicia.com for allowing me to share my experiences with the readers of the Armenian Life Log. I hope I didn�t bore anyone.
There was almost a weird urgency to my day on Tuesday May 29th. The sand on the hourglass was slipping and there were only three more full days left in Armenia. I had two appointments that day. Both of them involved obtaining audio samples of musicians. My day started at around 8am by meeting Gor Mkhitarian at the Armenian Volunteer Corp offices. Gor was ready to pick up his guitar and make the trip with me to the Nairi Hotel in the Marash District of Yerevan. The studio was waiting for him. We went to the Metro stop right next to the legendary Vernisage area, took the subway, and then walked a bit toward the Tram. In getting to the recording studio, we decided to take the Tram instead of the autobus. For the cost of 30 cents, we boarded the metallic air buggy, waited for a few minutes for the vehicle to be filled, and then the doors shut. The Tram started the incline up toward the Marash district of Yerevan. Think of a Tram as a sort of mass transit (in this case) pulley system that is used to go up a mountain or hill. Kind of a public transit ski lift is the best way I can put it. For 30 cents, you get some of the best views of Yerevan and a ride up to Marash.
At the conclusion of the ride, we stopped by a small shop and Gor bought some candy for our hosts at the studio. I quickly noticed something that I hadn�t seen much of this time while in Armenia--- Turkish products for sale. Personally, I am kind of down on the idea of Armenian merchants that resort to selling Turkish goods. Do we need Turkish Pringles that much? After picking up the box of candy, we continued our hike up to the Nairi Hotel and finally arrived. As you may recall, Armenians from Baku were settled at the Nairi Hotel after the pogroms in Sumgait and Baku of the late 1980�s. As we strolled into the lobby, we both noticed a kind of calm and peace surrounding the place. Old women were plodding up the stairs avoiding the elevator while men dressed in tattered sports jackets stood around passing their time by chatting with each other. It was my impression that the Baku Armenians were isolated from the rest of Yerevan. It looked as though they felt like outsiders. They lost everything in the barbaric acts that the Azeri�s meted out to them.
We hopped into the elevator and got off on the eight floor where the studio was. As we walked through the hallways of the hotel, I noticed a sign on the wall that said something to the effect of �Russian Radio Studios�. Gor and I walked in and he asked for Mikayel. The woman went toward the back of the room and into another room located through another door. As we looked left from the foyer, there was a mini-kitchen. Tea and coffee were being prepared perpetually it seemed. To the right of us was the bathroom. The woman who greeted us initially popped her head out of the other room while opening the door and signaled for us to come in. We waded our way through the initial room passing a guy doing resume translations while manning a massive mixing board. A Samsung TV-VCR Combo unit was at the end of the room on a basic TV stand. The room looked plain and somewhat unkept. However, there seemed to be a few people milling around in this office area either finished with their recording session or just hanging out. We finally stepped into the studio room and were graciously greeted by Mikayel Margarian, the recording engineer of the studio. Gor and him knew each other previously. They caught up for a few minutes while Mikayel�s wife offered us tea or coffee. I took tea with a few hits of sugar and sat back and watched Gor and Mikayel discuss some technical issues of the impending recording session. Mikayel was a youthful looking 26 years old, married, and seemingly loving his job as a recording engineer. He was previously in a band called �Angels� and preferred hard rock. He kind of looked like Wally from �Leave it to Beaver�. Very pleasant, Mikayel engaged us in some conversation about various rock bands in the States and had said that he would love to attend Berklee College of Music in Boston. He cut away for a second to tend to one of his clients who was finishing up transferring his keyboard composition onto disc to Mikayel�s system. The Korg keyboard was pumping out this medley of music that ranged from Latin pop to American smooth jazz. It was about a 20-minute piece of pure keyboard sounds with the composer looking on in glee. He looked at me and said in Armenian, �it�s sounds good, right?� Although it wasn�t my style of music, the guy had come up with sounds that I just did not think possible to create on a keyboard. I responded, �definitely�. The atmosphere was laid back and Gor and I took our tea and headed out onto the balcony right behind this massive satellite antenna. Like a �Direct TV� dish magnified by 20. He told me of the three songs he intended to record and looked poised and confident. After our �composer friend of the great Korg machine� finished taking his bows for his masterwork of keyboard brilliance, Mika called us into the room and directed Gor to the soundproof room where he was about to lay down the guitar tracks. Gor had forgotten his guitar pick back at his place and we searched for alternatives. No one had a coin on them and there were no extra guitar picks. So, Gor broke off a piece of a plastic cassette cover. He looked at the broken piece of plastic and said, �let�s go, this is good enough.�
Gor closed the door and adjusted his microphone. The soundproof room was in the back of the general room. There was a glass window that allowed Mika and I to peek in and see Gor play. Mika played around with some of his computer equipment and got ready for the recording session. Gor did the sound check and indicated that he was ready to go. For the next half hour, Gor strummed his guitar and did no more than three takes on his songs. The sounds of the acoustic guitar were crisp, clear, and precise. Mika looked satisfied and we moved on to laying down the vocal tracks of the songs. After a slow start, Gor hit his stride and was able to finish off the remaining songs in just under 40 minutes. Mika and Gor began the process of mixing the two tracks together and adding some effects such as echoes, etc. Once that concluded, we had our demo. Just as Mika finished up with Gor�s demo, a group of four people walked in that caught our attention.
The site was interesting. Three heavily made up young ladies in skintight outfits graced our presense. One of the young ladies had a cut- off shirt that accentuating her chest. She had her navel pierced and looked the part of a diva. The other two were dressed in black outfits and seemed pretty bubbly while flanking a man who looked like her was in his late 30�s. He was a rock musician and composer. The whole posse was going into the studio to record some samples. The three women were backup singers in his band and appeared to be taking on the roles that African-American singers often are relegated to in white bands. That of the backup singers giving the song or group a �little soul�. We introduced ourselves to each other and they explained that they were part of a group that was dedicated to playing Armenian rock music in Yerevan. One of the women asked where Gor had played before. He said �Lav Elie�. Once those words were uttered, the three girls who could not have been older than 20 years old blushed and said, �YOU�RE the guitar player from �Lav Elie�? They were incredulous and obviously in �hero worship� mode. In typical Gor fashion, he humbly stated �yes� and the women started to tell him of all the times they had heard of his music on the radio. They could not believe they were next to a member of one of their favorite Armenian bands. The conversations lasted about 5 minutes after which the women were beaming from meeting one of their local rock idols. We thanked everyone for their time and left the studio and headed out of the hotel to catch the Tram back to the center of town. I looked at Gor and asked him, �Gor Jan, how come they didn�t recognize you at first?� He stated that even though his former band �Lav Elie� had heavy rotation on Hye FM and his band was famous in Armenia, the lack of music videos and distribution of their CD�s made their faces anonymous even though their sound was so recognizable. Therefore, people knew Gor as the �guitarist from LAV ELIE�, but didn�t know him by sight. We took the minibus back into the center of town.
After grabbing some pizza for lunch and doing some city wandering in the afternoon, it was time for �Hover�. A diasporan Armenian from America who is now living in Armenia had alerted me to a choir group that he believed was outstanding. It was certainly both his and the choirs desire to get some more exposure and hopefully secure some sort of a recording contract. So, Tom and I headed over to videotape �Hover� at 7pm.
Hover is a choir group that recently won the International Choral Olympics in Linz, Austria. They are headed by Sona Hovanissyan who has molded this group into an international caliber ensemble. Their general repertoire includes Armenian, American, European music. On this particular night, they belted out a full range of pieces including works by Komitas, Britten, and Sayat Nova. This 25-member ensemble consisting of males and females sung with passion, conviction, and purpose. From this edifice the 25 people who called themselves �Hover� sang beautifully. The practice room they were in had a leak on the roof, which caused rainwater to drip into a bucket that was stationed on the floor.
Tuesday, June 26, 2001
Sunday, June 24, 2001
While Jeff was having his meeting, we wandered around a small village it was taking place in called Chiva which we had never been to before. As the meeting was wrapping up, we were sitting outside talking to the farmers wife, and I remembered something I decided to throw out there. On the back cover of the guidebook I had published, I included a picture of a guy riding a funny three wheel motorcycle/truck thingy. It was a picture I took on the road while both of us were moving and it came out perfectly. I remembered I took it in this general area and wondered if the woman might know him. She got really excited when she saw it as it was her next door neighbor. We went over the 50 meters to his house and he wasn't home, but as we headed back to her house he was again driving by in the same contraption and we waved him over. He was just amazed and remembered when I took it. He recounted how we were tailing him at about the same speed and he thought we must be cops so he was ignoring us... then just as he finally looked over I snapped the perfect picture.
On Sunday, after waking up to a great breakfast at the bed and breakfast we stayed at, we headed out to a monastery I had never seen. Armen, Jeff's coworker is from the area and he drove us and told us all sorts of fascinating background to the region. On the way to the monastery we saw amazing fields of wildflowers, and kept going higher and higher through village after village. We stopped at one point to check out an ancient (1200's) Jewish cemetary. It was in an amazing spot and it was funny to see Hebrew on Armenian style tombstones. The community here was prosperous and the only known place in Europe at that time where it is known that Jews could own land. After driving past there a while, we reached Arates Vank. The monastery was half collapsed, with beautiful ruins, carvings, arches, tombs and views. I couldn't take enough pictures. On our way back down we detoured to a beautiful waterfall, where Armen and Zabel jumped a few meters into the ice cold and crystal clear water. Me and Jeff were satisfied with dunking only our heads in the water. After that we headed back on the main road, only stopping to check out a rare and well preserved pagan tomb. After a nap and some food we are about to head off to Zvartnots Airport to pick up Zabel's cousin Michelle...
Saturday, June 23, 2001
Friday, June 22, 2001
Walk the streets of Armenia and Karabakh and you will see that the set price for a shot is 25 dram, which amounts to under 5 cents a for a shotglass of sermuchka. Never had sermuchka? Its what they call sunflower seed here on the streets. Actually it works for just about any kind of seed and some of the enterprising vendors have more than one kind of seed... Salted and unsalted sunflower is always 25 dram. Pumpkin (called spitak, or white) seed is a fancy 50 dram a shot. Ajar (beechwood) seed is much less common with its three cornered brown shell, but worth the higher price also. Some people use much bigger glasses for a higher price, but that is uncommon, the regular shotglass is the street standard. Back in 95 there was only salted sunflower and no other choice. I don't know if this tradition is from Soviet times, but now it is hard to walk more than one minute without finding seed for sale. I also don't know if any other of the surrounding countries have this, but it is just perfectly fitting for Armenia I think.
Thursday, June 21, 2001
Aaanyways, work is going well. Again, I will wait to tell you more about it. The only thing is I have to dress nicely which means no shorts and it is incredibly hot these days! I mean really really hot!
So the person I know who is going to head across Western Armenia via Georgia in a van is still looking for travel partners now that I backed out. If you are interested and can leave from Yerevan in very early July let me know so I can put you all in touch with each other. You would naturally share the cost of petrol, but it would not amount to that much. Camping etc would be the usual accomodation. (it is a camper van)
One of the great aspects of Yerevan that I personally enjoyed was the abundance of museums that one can visit during either a short stay or as part of you general living experience. Yerevan is a walkable city that lends itself nicely to taking casual strolls to and from these museums if one should choose to do so. During the last few days of my visit, I had the opportunity to take advantage of some of the more interesting cultural sites the city had to offer. The Parajanov Museum was my first stop. I have been a big fan of Sergie Parajanov ever since my parents took me to see �The Color of Pomegranates� as a kid in Chicago at the Music Box Theater. Parajanov�s use of folk art, music, imagery, and storytelling was so unique that it had a profound effect on the way that I eventually viewed film, music, and art. He is rightly regarded as one of the most influential filmmakers of all time. A contemporary of the great Andrei Tarkovsky, Federico Fellini, and Akira Kirosawa, he was a world-class filmmaker who was extremely talented- but not just in the medium of film. The museum pays homage to the full spectrum of Parajanov�s art-including his paintings, collages, and photos. Staffed by a few loyal employees who actually personally knew the great master, it is my opinion that the Parajanov Museum is the best museum in Armenia. The woman who runs the tour in either English, Armenian, Russian, or Georgian -depending on your flavor- gives an extensive background on every portion of the museum but is never intrusive. If you have questions, she will answer them. Otherwise you are given your own space to revel in his masterworks. There are two floors to the museum that include about seven sections in total. One of the major sections of the museum is the area in which Parajanov was going to live for the rest of his life. The museum was originally intended to be his residence and was actually replicated to look like his former residence in Tblisi, Georgia. Although it looks tastefully dated, the structure was actually built in the 1980�s and is a dead ringer for his former residence. He passed away before the residence was completely finished and it was then turned exclusively converted into a museum. The entrance to the museum features a courtyard featuring a bust of Parajanov along with some if his signature symbols, including the pomegranate. Some of the highlights of the museum include stills from his four feature length movies. My favorites include �Ashik Kerib� and �Shadow of Forgotten Ancestors�. The various stills of his Sofiko Chiaureli are stunning.
From the Parajanov Museum, the friend I was with took me to a surprisingly moving site. As we got out of the mini-bus, she directed me toward the area of the park where Parajanov, Komitas, Aram Khachaturian, and William Saroyan (among others) have been laid to rest. Some of the most influential Armenian creators of art, music, and literature were all in one area with fresh flowers respectfully laid on their gravesites. It was a particularly moving experience for me and certainly one I will never forget. Thanks Number 9.
Other Museums well worth noting are the Aram Khachaturian Museum, Saryan Museum, Museum of Modern Art, Museum of Armenian History, and of course, the Madenataran. All of these museums are accessible on foot or by public transportation. The one site that I visited that was a bit of a hike was Erebuni, the original fortress of Yerevan. From city center, it is about a half hour mini-bus ride to the site.
In Armenia, there are various modes of transportation. The metro is a clear cut favorite of mine because of the convenience of the ride. It is a smooth ride but limited in where it can take you. The metro costs about 10 cents to ride. In some sections of the city there are trolleys that can be taken. Other modes include regular style city buses. However, on this particular day, my friend decided to introduce me to the world of the mini-bus. The mini-buses in Armenia are actually the most versatile way to get around town due to the various routes they take. Varying in quality, each mini-bus is about the size of an airport shuttle van in the West. The system is fascinating. You wait until your bus line is present. If the autobus is not filled, you open the van door on the passenger side and hop in. If you are lucky during rush hour, you squeeze in and get your seat. If no seats are available, you kind of have to get in anyway and do a yoga-like contortion and just pretend you are �light as a leaf, floating on a river�� to get comfortable. The level of intimacy is much more pronounced than in the West. In Armenia, getting used to using a fraction of your ass to sit on a seat is a skill that takes some practice. Also, it is not uncommon for people to sit on each others lap and seem pretty damn fine with it until another seat opens up or it�s time for you get off at your stop. There is always your fair share of drama to behold on each bus trip. On the trip to Erebuni, the full autobus stopped to let a passenger off (I grabbed a seat quickly!) and was about to take off when a man wanting to catch the autobus jumped into the vehicle and slammed the door shut. The driver hit the brakes and said, �What the hell is your problem, aghper. Did you have to slam the door?� The new passenger stated, �yeah, what�s it to you? The door wouldn�t shut otherwise. Keep driving�. Well, would you ever want to piss off a bus driver? Not I. The bus driver started driving and at the next stop told the guy to leave the bus. The new passenger didn�t budge and told the bus driver to �Relax� and just keep driving. The bus driver and the passenger stared at each other while he was driving for a few seconds. I was surprised to find how calm everyone was because my heart was pounding as we almost ran over a pedestrian. The new passenger eventually blinked and got off at the next stop. The bus driver refused to accept his money.
Once we arrived at Erebuni, the museum was closed and we decided to hike up to the ancient fortress. The view of Mt. Ararat was extremely clear that day and as we reached the top where the site was located, it was time for another shakedown. This time though, it was well done. At the �beginning� of the site, there was a middle-aged woman sitting on a blanket that obviously looked weathered. My diasporan instincts kicked in and I said hello to her and asked if she could explain the site to me and my friend. That was it, I was hooked. A quick call to the bullpen and a cute young girl about seven or eight in age came out with a flower bunch and gave it to my friend. I gave the girl a couple of bucks for the gesture (again you pick and choose your spots) and then the closer came strolling out of the bullpen. The veteran right-hander who was about sixty five years old warmly greeted us and started the tour of Erebuni. See Kiesling and Kojian�s �Rediscovering Armenia� for the details on the site. The site was fascinating and is referred to in Armenia as �Mayr Kaghak�. Equally as impressive about the Erebuni site are the views overlooking parts of the city of Yerevan and Mt. Ararat. If you get over there on a less crowded (there were only a few school kids there the day that I went) it�s a great place to meditate, reflect, write, read, whatever. As the tour ended, there was the usual momentary silence when you don�t know if you should give the unofficial tour guide/resident some money for his time or if it is insulting to even offer the gesture (like the villagers outside of Yerevan). Well, I figured I am in Yerevan so it was time to reach into the pocket. I gave him one U.S. dollar folded up. He took it, stared at it, and took his time unraveling it. When the dollar bill was fully extended using his two hands, he put it in front of his eyes and looked up toward the sun as if to check the authenticity of it. I knew I was in trouble at this point. In front of my friend, who happened to be a woman (in the shakedown process, this is when you are at your most vulnerable) he let me have it. He said, � Do you know how much this is? Do you know how much meat costs in this town? Aren�t you ashamed of yourself for giving me only this much. What is this? Are you kidding me?� I am standing here getting a lecture from this guy and all I am saying to myself is �Dude, do you have to embarrass me in front of my friend? Come on aghper, in front of her? All right, you have me, what do want? More money, my first born, my blood, what? Let�s get this form of extortion over with.� At that point I got pissed. I�m saying to myself, �What the fuck, this guy is a pro.� Game over, I gave him a disgusted look, I lunged into my pocket and gave him about 3000 dram and said, �Here, you want money, here�s your money. I thought you were giving me this tour because you are proud of this place.� Granted, it is probably the only way that he makes a living. However most would agree that we equate kids with purity and old men as sources of wisdom and treat both of them with respect. The people who execute the shakedown know this, and use it to their advantage. He thanked me for the money and wished me a good day. I turned away and looked at Mt. Ararat and Erebuni and wondered aloud if I would ever resort to what the old man did to me. If I were in his shoes- unemployed, too proud to beg, a family man trying to feed his loved ones- would I ever do what he did?
I don�t know. Would any of us?
Wednesday, June 20, 2001
Today I should sign a three-month work contract. Yes. Employment. Me. Full-time. I am not sure if those can still be mixed, but I will let you know. This means that I cannot go on the two month road trip starting July 1 to Georgia, Turkey and Syria which I had been planning, but then it also means I will make money instead of just spending. I will give you more details after I sign, but it is a really cool job. That should make the transition much easier and believe it or not after not working for a while you get the "itch". I would never have believed it if you had told me ;-)
It is already light out at 6am (right now) and there is not a light on in the city, not a car in sight, not a person on the sidewalks. I really like that sleepy town feeling in a city that doesn't really wake up till 8am or even later on Sundays.
Tuesday, June 19, 2001
Monday, June 18, 2001
Four years ago a group of Lebanese Armenians started the village. They had an Armenian and a Lebanese flag, thus Ditzmairie got known as the Lebanese village.
Currently the majority of settlers are from Ardashat. The founders of the village believed that the land is fully liberated when it's inhabited by its people; believe that the people and not the army will protect it.
The shortest way to Ditzmairie is thru Nakhichevan; we opted for Khntzoresg-Gubatly-Ditzmairie route.
Zangelan-Ditzmaire area has beautiful habitat. It is mountainous covered with forests, grape vines, fig trees, red and white wild mulberry trees and pomegranate bushes with red flowers.
The settlers are cultivating a tiny portion of the land using primitive tools. If the water irrigation system is fixed Zangelan area has the potential to yield tons of grapes and wheat.
We visited the villagehead who has camped under trees of Sossy, each more than 200-700 yrs. old. The site is between two rivers, bear, deer, wolf, wild cat, boar, rabbit, pheasant, blue bird, woodpecker, and snakes are found in the woods.
Nigol and I organize fishing and hunting trips for the adventurer or send them to unexplored parts of Armenia and Karapagh. We took some pictures and will post it on our website www.parev.am at the end of the month.
During our visit a group of doctors visited the village to vaccinate kids under six. Zangelan area has its new hospital and a professional, dedicated team of doctors. Most illnesses are caused by water, Ditzmairie's rivers are clean and drinkable but Zangelan's well water is not.
Didzmairie trip was similar to camping experience very exciting because it was new, beautiful, adventurous and short. Would I be able to make their move? Start from the very beginning, build our own house, or live in a 'domic' (prefab house), forgo city life and culture, go back in time? There's electricity in the village but no water and sewer system. It is beautiful and it feels like home, as a lady visitor from Abaran said 'it's as if I've known this place for 100 years' when we were washing plates in the river together. Nigol said he'll move only if we had our satellite dish and computer with us. I say, maybe, when we retire�
After a Saturday night of hard drinking, shameless dancing, and getting the hook from Relax as a DJ, it was only appropriate that the next morning I headed to church with a hangover. This trip, however, was one for the ages.
The ten of us piled into two Niva�s including at about 9am and headed out to the Lori region of Armenia about a 40 minutes from downtown Vanazor. The drive is a picturesque one that takes you through Spitak as well as countless other villages and town. As one leaves Yerevan, there is a sense of relief getting out of the semi-congested city while taking in some fresh air. The Sunday (5/27/01) we took the trip was sunny and because of the recent rain, the scenery was green as can be.
No road trip taken in Armenia can be complete without visiting a rest-stop. The particular rest-stop we decided to park ourselves for a half an hour was a classic. Rabiz music blasted from a boom box greeting us while the kebabs were promptly ordered and consumed at 10:30am. Armenian string cheese with some greens wrapped up in some lavash was the other alternative for us. This rest stop was cool. It featured a UFO prop that could be used as a place to gather about 6 to 8 people to eat or drink in case of bad weather or some other urge. There was also an animal that was half dog- half fox roaming around seeming friendly enough.
After our half hour rest, we jumped back into our 4x4�s and proceeded toward Vanazor. Driving through Spitak, I was moved by the resiliency and determination of the residents of this once devastated city. The overall feel of the city seemed upbeat with its aluminum church as the major landmark there. The temporary housing structures called �domeegs� put up by the Swiss, Italians and other European countries were also interesting to note. As you may recall, Spitak was one of the cities leveled by Armenia�s massive earthquake in the late 1980�s. As we approached Vanazor, my thoughts were distracted by the lingering presense of the ugly old Soviet factories that seemed so out of place in an otherwise breathtaking part of the country. The former Kirovakan, also hurt by the famous earthquake, is Armenia�s third largest city. It is also home of Gor Mkhitarian, a budding young musician and one of the people in our group that day. Gor�s presense was key as he able to play tour guide to a bunch of diasporans eager to learn more about his hometown.
The 40-minute ride from downtown Vanazor to Kobayr was breathtaking. Lush green colors with a sprinkling of red poppies and other assorted flowers adorned the countryside. Steep cliffs overlooking valleys commanded our attention as the cameras were all out taking pictures during the ride. Many of us tossed out ideas of owning homes in the region someday. From there, the usual daydreaming occurred out loud as some of us explored the possibility of owning land in the area and developing it, etc. The ideas were not far fetched considering that most of the ten people on the trip had made the commitment to move to Armenia. Hey, the hard part was over!
The twisting and winding roads lead us just north of the town of Tumanian. We stopped and parked near a tiny elevated train station right next to the train tracks. The climb to Kobayr would be no more than 15 minutes from where we parked. The few villagers we encountered along the way up to Kobayr were friendly and more than happy to encourage us to see the sights. One of the highlights of our climb up was the encounter we had with an elderly couple sawing wood at the base of the trail. As the ten of us were gathering our Kilikia Beer, Khorvads, Jermuk, two guitars and other necessary provisions, we noticed the couple in question. When we saw the male half of the duo in the middle of sawing a massive piece of wood, we all jumped at the chance to help the old man with his task. Feeling like the good Samaritans that we all were, there was the customary �Let me help you� mode that ensued. The old man and his wife were pleasantly overwhelmed by the presense of a group of so many diasporan Armenians and engaged us in a conversation about the area, the church, and his age. Green Day (Armen) became the designated person to help out sawing the wood. The old man tried to warn Green Day that this business of sawing wood could be tricky. After a few clean strokes of the saw, Green Day soon encountered trouble moving the saw. The old man laughed a bit, took the saw and just mauled the piece of wood with a flawless wood-sawing technique. We all were kind of stunned at the strength of this 70-YEAR-OLD MAN! We were all kind of stunned and figured he could handle the rest of his task. We offered him 500 drams to watch our car at which point he protested and declined our offer. In general, it could be said that the villagers of Armenia had a simple, dignified, and noble way about them.
The climb up to Kobayr was steep and challenging. The hike started off with a series of concrete steps that actually passed more than a few private residences. The homes were basically little more than shacks that were thoughtfully put together from odd pieces of wood, aluminum, and plastic with some large pieces of stone thrown in for good measure. If these homes were located in any big city, they would be modern architectural masterpieces. The residents peeked outside of the wooden fences that separated their property from the trail. As we huffed and puffed up the trail, the pavement turned into dirt and the heavy climbing began. While no one took a tumble, our limits were tested on more than one occasion. As we finally reached the top, we looked down and across the valley down into the village from which we drove up and climbed. We all gasped in awe as we overlooked greenery, a gorgeous river, and churches with a few eagles hovering over us. More than one of our group members stated that the tiny hamlet of Kobayr and its churches were one of the most beautiful overlooked sights in Armenia. For a detailed background on the Kobayr Monastery, pgs 46 and 47 of Kiesling and Kojian�s Rediscovering Armenia should do the trick. In short, the site features the beautifully frescoed remains of the Katoghike Church, built in 1171. There are three other smaller churches that are part of the Monastery.
Our group relaxed out by the main church after which we immediately went to work by preparing Khorovads. Both Ashod and Hratch prepared the meats and vegetables by putting them on skewers. The rest of us gathered wood and started the fire. The Khorovads experience in Armenia is almost ceremonial in its approach. Bragging rights are to be had as to who can produce the best Khorovads (kebabs). While our Khorovads specialists (Hratch and Ashod) prepared the meat and put them in the fire, the rest of us cracked open some Kilikia beer and listened to Gor Mkhitarian give an impromptu performance consisting of him and his guitar. His mix of traditional and original Armenian songs captivated us as we admired the simplicity of the setting and the moment. After Gor�s set, a few others took turns playing guitar as the chessboard was finally unveiled. �Grandmaster� Aram took turns eliminating his opponents without mercy.
Finally, the food was ready and ten hungry men took turns taking the Khorovads, putting it in the fresh lavash and throwing in some onions, tomatoes, cucumbers, and greens into the mix. The perfect meal. We washed down the meal with a combination of Lemon Fanta, Coke, beer, and Jermuk.
Of the ten member of the group, two were from Armenia, one was from Egypt, and the other seven of us were from America. I was startled to realize that of the eight diasporans in the group, I was the only one not living there. The others had made the move to Armenia giving up whatever lives they had in their native countries. From the look on all of their faces, none of them seemed to miss their former residence, instead, embracing their new country. Or, for some, a return home.
Sunday, June 17, 2001
I collected all of my tunes that I had brought with me and headed out with Ashod in the infamous Khachig (his 4x4 Niva), picking up friends along the way and meeting others there. They said the place was filling up. That was all I needed to hear. I usually don�t get nervous DJ�ing in front of crowds anymore. It�s been about five years since my first gig. I have played at some of the best clubs in Boston including the Hard Rock, Atlas, Cheers, and numerous others. After a while you get used to the crowds and begin to understand the kind of music they want to hear just be glancing at them. I had a taste of Relax the night before as an observer and a dancer, thanks to Number 9. Yet, I still had a �touch of the Turk� (a phrase coined by my friend Antovk Pidedjian) in the stomach.
As the door opened to the club, I was greeted by one of the owners who told me to go to the booth and start doing my thing. The one I have learned in DJ�ing is to always play what the dancers want. Not what you like. I employed that mantra starting off with Madonna�s �Don�t Tell Me� and next with Janet Jackson�s �All For You�. Next with with a Latin song followed by Ricky Martin�s �She Bangs�. In the middle of �She Bangs�, I was approached by DJ Arsen, the house DJ who wanted his seat back. The dance floor was moderately filled with women dancing in front of the mirror and hired gals strutting their stuff on the dance floor. The place looked fine to me, but I got the hook from the house faster than a performer at the Apollo Theater in Harlem on Friday night. After �She Bangs�, I was thanked for my contribution and was offered a free drink on the house. I gulped it fast, took my stuff, and made sure that I threw away that Ricky Martin CD. So much for my DJ career in Armenia. As I walked back to my legion of ten fans in the lounge, they were surprised that my set had ended so quickly. I just gave them a line and asked for another drink. Straight Vodka please!
During the night, some of us got the courage again to dance to the same crap that had been played the night before, skips, repeats, quick-cuts and all. The dance floor eventually filled up again and after a while the gang was back on the dance floor dancing together again in full force. I think I�ll hit Star Time the next time I come back.
Another Vodka Please!
More to come later...
After doing the necessary research as to the better dance clubs in Yerevan, it was decided that the Relax club was the best choice for this Friday night. Other clubs had been bandied about such as Star Time or Tornado. However, the consensus was that Relax was the right combination of dance club, bar, meat market, and cheesiness to capture the mood of the night. Our group included Lena, Jason, Anna, Ashod, Gor, Aram, and a host of others. It was our first time out together as a group to a dance club since I was there, so curiosity abound. Relax is located around the Opera Square area and is unrecognizable because there is no sign outside of the establishment. It is next to the restaurant Maestro and across from the artists market where painters sell their works. From outside the club, you walk down about ten steps until the door is opened to another side of Yerevan. The music is blaring, the air is humid from all of the bodies in the club, and the lights are dim. To the left, the bar area and lounge sit with plenty of people ready to serve you drinks or otherwise. To the right, is a small dance floor with the DJ booth in the back -center, raised a bit from the rest of the patrons. The walls are flanked with booths and chairs, which are usually filled. The atmosphere is your traditional club with a few exceptions. The first major difference was that the music was difficult to dance to because there was never a continuous beat from song to song. Rather, the DJ relied on a style of quick cuts from song to song. Often times, a song would be cut in the middle and jump to another one only for that song to be cut again. Being a DJ myself, it is hard for me not to critique the style and pace of the DJ. Other differences that I noticed were that a single song was played as much as four times in one evening set (Madonna�s �Music�). The music skipped a lot during the night. However, the biggest letdown was that in the four hours that we were there, only one Armenian song was played. Tata Simonian�s song �Left or Right� got the biggest ovation and dance floor of the evening. I was curious as to why Armenian music was shut out- IN ARMENIA? More on that later.
While all of the differences in approach and style that were employed at Relax were easy to pick up and critique, we all had a great time and danced our asses off. A funny note and cultural difference that could not be ignored was that the women of Armenia constantly dance in front of the mirror if they are not accompanied by a guy. Women of Armenia are generally fashion conscious and care a great deal about their looks. In the nightclub, it is of no exception. Where there is a mirror, there will be an Armenian woman dancing with herself making sure she looks great doing it!
After a night of fun in the club, I decided to take matters into my own hands in regards to the music. I asked a close friend of mine if it would be possible to have me guest DJ at Relax for an hour or so the next night. After a few calls to some of his contacts in town, I was secured some time to DJ at Relax on Saturday night. I had to meet the owner at 2:30pm the next day for �rehearsal�. I showed up at Relax the next day at the appointed time and met one of the people who worked there. After some name-dropping, she eventually recognized me as the DJ who would play that evening at her club. As she took me around back to meet the current DJ, she asked, �if I needed any women?� I was kind of stunned at the question and how forthright she was with it. After some thought, I stated that I was OK in that category and thanked her for asking. She then introduced me to the current DJ whom she called �the best DJ in Yerevan.� He was playing Nintendo in the back room and warmly greeted me. He showed me to the DJ booth and told me to play whatever I wanted. After looking at the system, it was no wonder why the music was skipping the night before. The system was a hodge-podge of professional and home electronics that made it difficult for any DJ to use. There was no cross-fader and the two CD players that he had were home units. Therefore, there was no instant start up on a song. The speakers used were two lone speakers located on the bar side of the room that were directed toward the dance floor. The sound wasn�t bad as I put in some newer music as well as some club classics. Janet Jackson�s �All for you�, the new song from �Moulin Rouge� by Christina Aguilara and Lil Kim, and �Dinata� by Elfteria Arvanitaki were just some of the songs I played around with. Other songs like �Easy Girls� by Les Negresses Vertes, a reworked �Didi� by Khaled, and �Don�t Tell Me� by Madonna rounded out my sound check. I toyed with the idea of playing Tarkan�s �Kiss Kiss�, but balked at the fact that it would be in poor taste to play a Turkish song, no matter how popular it is. (I heard it on the radio later that day in Yerevan). My friend Ashod stopped by to check up on my progress and as soon as we wrapped up at the club, we went over to grab some chicken Shawerma for a buck nearby.
After my brief lunch, I decided to take a Siesta and head back to the place I was staying at to take a brief nap. As I settled in on the couch, I grabbed my copy of Raffi�s Khente (The Fool) and continued the story of the author�s �call to arms� in the late 1800�s.
And here I was preparing to make my Yerevan debut DJ�ing later that night.
During the week of May 21st, I spent three days locked up in my friend�s apartment finishing my final paper for my MBA Organizational Behavior class. E-mail is key when it comes to this sort of thing. The e-mail system in Armenia is interesting. The closest thing they have to DSL and cable modems are super expensive radio modem/satellite Internet connections that move fairly fast. Otherwise, you are left to the mercy of ArmenTel. Here is the lowdown. ArmenTel is pure extortion. It charges so much for an internet line that providers have to pass on the super high cost to the end users. It�s about $20 bucks a month for unlimited usage from 8am to 8pm. There is absolutely no way anyone making an average wage in Armenia can afford that. On the other hand, there is FreeNet (www.freenet.am), which is like the NetZero equivalent of free Internet access. Only problem is that it is tough to get on line because of limited capacity, and it only gives you e-mail access from your dialup connection, not web access. I finally sent me paper through on Wednesday the 23 rd and also fought off the last remnants of my cold.
During my three days of illness and writing, I encountered several interesting things. The first was the Tuesday night game of pickup basketball over at the Yerevan State University gym. Yes, I was sick. But I had cabin fever and I just had to play a game of basketball. The gym was down near the Chess House and was kind of nestled in the back of the campus. The gym floor was hardwood, but not parquet. The color of the floor was a lime green and the court was full sized. Some kids had just finished up with gym class. They were doing these relay races with the gym teacher screaming at them. It was great.
The pickup game featured a combination of �Stansies� (Hayastantsis) and Spiurkahyes. The teams were mixed and even included an 18 year old woman named Lucine. The game was not much to write about (even though I am doing it now) but there was something special about playing basketball at 8 pm and looking outside of the gym windows only to see Mt. Ararat at full force. In the summer, the sun doesn�t set until about 10 pm. The game was organized by an Armenian-American who just moved to Armenia and now works there for a software company. It was a great idea to get everyone together to play some basketball. There aren�t too many courts and the game isn�t in much demand over there. As with the rest of Europe, soccer rules. Now if we can get baseball going over there�
Other places in the area of YSU of interest include the famous Chess House. My friend Aram runs the website www.armenianknight.com and is quite attached to the Chess House. For more details on the Armenian Chess scene, please visit his website. It is unique and filled with detailed information on the Armenian chess scene. The chess house is bustling with chess fans and players alike of all ages. From the smoke filled lobby downstairs crowded with people playing and studying chess to the elegant grand Tournament room upstairs on the top floor, the chess house is vitally important to Armenia. The main reason is because the Armenian Chess Team competes on the highest of levels internationally and is considered one of the most feared teams in the world. The Chess House has a gift shop, a caf�, and is centrally located in Yerevan. It�s really worth it to check it out for an hour or so. Pictures of Garry Kasparov and Tigran Petrossian can also be seen in the Chess House. It is one of the hidden treasures in Yerevan.
Although I am not religious, I still have a healthy respect for the institution of the Armenian Church as well as Armenian architecture. Of course, you can�t really sightsee in Armenia without visiting churches, so why not a Sunday with a few friends. We decided to make the one-hour hike to Aghjots Vank from Garni Gorge. For a detailed description of the church and how to get there, please refer to page 36 of Kiesling and Kojian�s �Rediscovering Armenia�. The hike we took was moderately challenging, however the payoff was well worth it. Rather than talk about the beauty of the church, I would rather comment on the fact that accessing wonderful hikes that actually have a remarkable architectural (or spiritual, depending on your point of view) payoff is one of the surprises I encountered in Armenia. Less than an hour ride from Yerevan and there we were, the Garni Gorge.
After our hike, Raffi K. alerted us to a few other sites in the area. The 11c. medieval bridge and columnar basalt cliffs were quite a site. Unfortunately, we were not able to fully enjoy the cliffs because of a money shakedown from a 70+-year-old man. As Ashod�s Niva, Khachig, drove down the road toward the cliffs, an elderly gentleman stopped us and tried to issue us tickets that cost about 1000 dram each. For what? He claimed that his son now owned the land that the cliffs were on and that we would have to buy tickets to enter. We protested and said we would just proceed a few meters to make a u-turn. However, as we came closer to the cliffs, sure enough, there was a younger looking man in army fatigues that was collecting the tickets. With a few groans from the car directed at the man in fatigues, we turned around and headed back to town, wondering if the ticketing scheme was legit.
It was my impression and the opinion of others that have been in Armenia for a while, that you pick and choose when to pay petty extortion. It really depends on your mood, the way that you are approached and the circumstances. Given the terrible economic conditions for most of the people in Armenia, giving someone a buck or two for a great tour is cool in my book. However, most people with self-respect will not accept the money and feel insulted. So, giving money can be an emotionally loaded act. My advice is to have a general mantra of how and when to give money and stick to it.
Back in Yerevan, the mood of the city continued to be upbeat and calm. One of the aspects of Yerevan that I really liked this time around was the wide variety of eateries available. You really can find almost anything you want as far as variety. Mr. Pig is a great place to get Western style subs including a killer tuna salad sandwich. Middle Eastern Cuisine with their Falafel Friday�s is also a great place to grab some eats for about $2 a plate. Other places have also turned up like the inevitable Bourj Hammoud. I�m sure all of the Beirutsi�s are going nuts over this. There is also a great Shawerma place near the Opera House you can get a great sandwich for under a buck. The service is also getting much better. On that particular Sunday, Aram brought me over to a friend�s house that made the best Khorovads I have ever eaten. Screw the eateries; the best food in Yerevan will always be at a private residence. There is nothing like eating Khorovads, drinking homemade Grapefruit Oghi and listening to jazz on a Sunday night. Is there?
But first, a little about me. I am a 31 year old MBA candidate at UMASS-Boston and a part time DJ. I currently reside in the Boston area and grew up in an Armenian- American environment as a member of the Armenian Youth Federation (AYF). As with most of us, I was thrilled when Armenia became independent again in 1991. However, as with most of us, the mixed reviews coming from Armenia made me want to seek out this newly independent country for good or for bad. During my 1998 trip, I had the typical �first time diasporan experience�. The emotional highs and lows were tough to describe and left me in a dazed state of mind when I returned to the States. So many problems, but so much hope. With this trip, I came in with more of a level head and with a built in friend base to plug into. This really helps for all of you thinking about either visiting or living in Armenia.
It was certainly great to see my old friend Aram (Hajian) at the airport to pick me up on May 18th at Zvartnots. As we drove from the airport to the City Center, the familiar scenes of Armenian street life jumped out at me. Products on stands lined the streets at two in the morning. Flowers, soda, candy, furniture, beer, wine and the like were featured. The streets seemed very clean as evidenced by old women with brooms in the street sweeping away. What a change from the littered streets of yesteryear in Armenia. Indeed, Armenia had changed dramatically since 1998. During the light hours of my first day back, I was stunned as to the high number of bars, caf�s and shops that had gone up since my last trip. Places such as Marco Polo, Cactus, Don Pepe�s, Thomas Twining, and others seemingly came out of nowhere to occupy some or Yerevan�s most posh streets.
My first few days were spent meeting Aram's spiurk and local friends, like Gor Mkhitarian, Minas, Anna, and the rest of the gang. It was refreshing to see other diasporan Armenians there making Armenia their home. In addition, the process of meeting Hayastanis became easy with the help of my new circle of friends. The first order of business was to scope out the music scene in Armenia. As a music buff, Armenia and Armenian music has always held a special place in me. While Armenian music is strangely absent from everyday Armenian life, seeing Armenian musicians play Western music was even more intriguing.
As it turned out, our group had musicians among us. To celebrate Gor Mkhitarian�s birthday, a good-sized crown ended up at a �blues bar� in the third district of Yerevan on Davidashen. Ashot Margaryan�s blues bar featured Gor�s band consisting of his long time collaborator, Mher from Lav Elie (one of Armenia�s most famous rock bands of the late 90�s) Jason on drums and non-Armenian Peace Corp volunteer Aaron on the axe. I did not realize that there was such a strong Peace Corp presense in Armenia. The bar
was packed with about 40 people listening to the band play as �Stansies�, odars, and spiurkahyes danced and drank until the wee hours of the morning. In Armenia, the bar closes when the last man standing leaves. The music played by the band ranged from classic rock, Armenian rock, blues, and jazz. A young woman accompanied by her mother sang some standard American jazz
pieces in the middle of the celebration. Her voice reminded me of the great Datevik Hovhanessian from Armenia who now lives in NYC. It was interesting because she had an entourage and certainly a captive audience. Among the wild ones in the crowd were Minas, who was preparing for a �business trip to the States� and Ashod, who knows how to dirty dance, man...
To be continued...
Recently I met a diasporan visiting Armenia who has some tentative plans to move here, so I asked him to write some entries about his trip when he got back home. Since this may happen again I have created a guest account which he will be writing from. His name is Raffi Meneshian and his entries will tell you all you need to know! I like the idea of guest writers, so if you are in a similiar situation, let me know...
On Saturday afternoon me and Zabel went to Yerevan's north-end bus station with Aaron and Sarah, two of the approx 70 peace corps volunteers in Armenia. Aaron is stationed there and I had passed through a few times and from what I had seen, really wanted to spend more time there. From the bus station, we caught a minibus to Ijevan for $3 and began the 2 and a half hour ride (2 hours by car). The countryside is still quite green and a bit after passing Lake Sevan the minibus invariably stops so that passengers can hop out to purchase fresh fish as long as your forearm which cost about 20 for a dollar (30 dram each). Just after this point, the countryside is thickly forested for the rest of the way. Winding down the switchbacks to Dilijan you are happy knowing there is only 20 minutes to go to get there.
Ijevan is a medium sized town, with 14,000 registered voters. (Whatever population that may imply). Built in a comfortable river valley between two steep forested mountain ranges, it has a lot of traditional architecture, parks, sculptures, and great great weather. The people are friendly and welcoming, with their own slow and abbreviated dialect. Although we have been greeted with all kinds of hospitality, this is the first place people just stopped to say welcome ("Pari Kalust") and continue on their way. The town had a very lively feeling and a nice little river running down the center. After all of the Soviet architecture of Yerevan, the red tile roofs and wooden balconies are a really nice change of pace, and the thick forests around and in the town make every walk a pleasant one. The one tree which caught me off guard was the palm tree. There were a few of these growing in the town. I know the weather is much better than in Yerevan (warmer winters, cooler summers, more rainfall) but I just was not ready for even these little trees which I had never seen growing anywhere else in Armenia. The only other place I have ever seen them around is in Marduni, Karabakh. One park, the site of an on-the-spot Soviet sculpting competition is jammed with dozens of interesting scultures that are quite fun to explore. There is nothing concrete that you "must-see" in Ijevan, but a few days and nights there are very rewarding and relaxing indeed.
That evening we met two other Peace Corps volunteers stationed in Ijevan and a friend from Yerevan joined us for a refreshing gazpacho (sp?). After turning in early at Jesse's house and a good nights sleep, we explored a lot more of the town before slowly heading back to Yerevan, wondering when we would be back for our next visit.
Saturday, June 16, 2001
It was quite an experience paying the electricity bill today. The process itself was quite easy .The strange part is that there is no privacy at all and so when you make a payment the whole Post Office hears your place of residence as this is given to the cashier. At least I found out today that I could also pay my telephone bill at the same post office rather than going to the main Armentel office.
I also had a discussion with my �Varbed� today. I was trying to explain to him the concept of payment system. He installed the front door for me and was charging for labour, fair enough. The other part of the story is that the workers had to lay thick stones and cement around the edge of the door, so rather than giving me a quote for the latter job and ask me to shop around for prices, my �Varbed� simply tells me the amount of money I owed. I was rather frustrated but have to learn to deal with this system.
Apart from the discussion, I had a great day at AVC, had dinner at Middle Eastern Cuisine for falafel day (Fridays) and finally sat at a caf� near the Opera with friends.
Friday, June 15, 2001
Looks like we may head up to Ijevan tomorrow... a lush, green, beautiful part of Armenia. Hope it happens.
Thursday, June 14, 2001
Monday, June 11, 2001
In a few days J'rashkhar (Waterworld) will open for the summer season. I did not bother to go last summer, even during the heat wave, so we'll see if I hold out again. You can see the whole waterpark from the highway leading to Lake Sevan and it looks pretty decent, but I hardly went when I was in SoCal, so no reason to start going now, right?
Sunday, June 10, 2001
For the first time since starting working on my remodeling job, my remodelers are taking a day off. I certainly never expected them to work on Sundays to begin with, so I had been surprised the last few Sundays to see them working away. So much for stereotypes about post-Soviet work ethics.
Saturday, June 09, 2001
As for used books, I absolutely love browsing through the used books at Vernissage and under Abovian/Issahakian. I have found some absolute gems and will have to tell you more about them later. Finding them involves thumbing through numerous books, but then you strike gold and for a few hundred dram your day is made.
Friday, June 08, 2001
Books are my love and for the last four years I saw bookstores close their doors one after another. The trend was for every bookstore closed another casino appeared in the middle of the city.
In Soviet times books were published in thousands and were very cheap. Every household had a library and ideological books had their major share in it. During dark years of Yerevan many of those were used as fuel.
I don't think there's one single bookstore left in Yerevan that sells only books. The world economy caught up with us, most stores are offering books and other services. One such place, Artbridge, opened its doors last week and is bookstore caf�. The book department has Armenian and second hand and new English books. Got a couple of Armenian books about history: Armenia in VI-VIII centuries by DerGhevontian (1996) and Armenian emblems by Rafael Matevossian (1994). Each book is 500 drams (less than a dollar).
Harlequen Romance readers might find it interesting, I saw the same genre published in Armenian.
The biggest bookstores however are the open streets of Yerevan. Vernisage, underground passage on Apovian and other open markets carry old or new books not found in bookstores. Usually all they have on display are scholastic, dictionaries and computer books but if you place a request and follow your order, in time you can get your hands on many valuable publications. One of my friends got Raffi, first edition!
Thursday, June 07, 2001
The afternoon was more productive, after 2 trips to OVIR yesterday and yet another today, I finally received my one-year residency for Armenia. I don�t have to make another trip to OVIR for quite some time. This was my highlight of the day. The afternoon was spent brainstorming some ideas for an upcoming conference, which was quite refreshing considering all I�ve been concerned with lately, was the remodelling.
I then receive a phone call during the meeting at 8.30 pm advising that parquet would be delivered this evening. I rush over to make sure the workers are still at my flat and end up helping the guys take the planks up four flights until 10pm.
The distribution of my tourism book is going quite well. Only a couple more spots I want to get it to and then I will merely keep them in stock. I would like to find someone to do this for me, but in a country with skyhigh unemployment, nobody seems to want to do it despite a pretty decent cut. Oh well... I'll keep looking.
Wednesday, June 06, 2001
In the middle of the day I get a call from Lena... there is no cement left in Yerevan, and the tiny amounts to be found are much more expensive. I call my remond guys to warn them, and they tell me they had sent someone out to get some already and would call me with the results. Both me and Lena were practically done with cement. In a few days we wouldn't need anymore for the rest of our remonds. My guys finally call me and tell me that they found some at one place for a hefty price, and didn't get it out of concern that I would not be happy with that price. Well I am not happy, but I have to have it. Otherwise the price may double again tomorrow, and there is a rumor that the factory which caused this shortage may reopen on the 20th... I am not waiting till then to find out! So my guy was going to go back and order it, and I have not heard how it went.
In the evening we went to yet another new Arabic Restaurant, "Bourj Hammoud". It was not bad, except it does not have a bathroom!!! Later we went to Marco Polo to watch the soccer game on TV. It was a really violent game, lots of fights. Poland is the strongest team in our group apparently and we tied them, so that was a big accomplishment and the crowd went wild in the end...
I really wish you could get a DSL line in Armenia. If I had an internet connection like that, I could set up a web cam showing the view of Yerevan and Mt. Ararat from my balcony, I could show you how th remodeling is going, I could use the internet anytime without clogging up my phone line... When I visited California for Christmas, it seemed as if everyone had either DSL or a cablemodem, and I got used to it right away.
Tuesday, June 05, 2001
The draft submitted to the Council of Europe by the Georgian authorities in March 2001 concerns the population deported from the South of Georgia (the region of Meskheti) in 1944 and still waiting the right to be repatriated. (By the date, the total number of those deported and their descendants, scattered all over the former Soviet republics in more than 5,000 populated areas, is c. 300,000; it is the only "punished people" of the Soviet Union that is still denied the right to repatriation.) In 1999, the Georgian authorities had committed themselves before the CoE to create a legislative framework for their repatriation ("including the right to Georgian citizenship"), by April 2001. (The commitment was not fulfilled in time.)When is it the Armenian's turn to get repatriation rights to Western Armenia?
Anyways, the remond (remodeling) is coming along great! The tiled areas look great, the new windows look great, the front door should come tomorrow (postponed two days) and the outdoor windows are in as well... You can really start to see the finished product here and there. The outdoor windows actually have (insert drumroll) screens!!! That is such a rarity in Armenia, that I have forgotten what it is like to be indoors without it either being stuffy, or there being flies and mosquitoes circling the room. For some reason, they just never ever had screens in the old days, and even most of the new windows installed do not have screens either.
Monday, June 04, 2001
During my visit, Armentel �technicians� showed up to see whether I could have a new line installed. The �technician was talking to my �Varbed� for about 20 minutes completely ignoring me. He was trying to tell us that there were no lines available for my apartment when I knew perfectly well that it wasn�t the case. You see another Diaspora also lives in my block and he had a whole exchange put in only last year. In the end my �Varbed� explained that the �technician� was after a bribe. This is when I addressed him directly and advised him that I was a foreigner and would not pay any money to him, not even 10 Drams just so that he can do his job properly.
The �technician� got nervous and advised he would re check downstairs if a new line was at all possible. Ten minutes later he came back and advised that it was indeed possible and if I wished I could have TWO lines installed. By this stage I had my diary out to record his details but I guess miracles do happen.
Before last summer, local men would never wear shorts... that was something only boys would do. But during the unprecedented heat wave last August, more and more men chucked tradition and started wearing "shortiks" around. Once this barrier was broken it became acceptable, and this year already you see young and middle aged men walking around in shorts. True, it is far from everyone, but in this climate it is just a matter of time before it spreads to the majority, and outside of Yerevan.
Sunday, June 03, 2001
The heat looks like it will continue today with the cloudlessness, and hopefully the great view of Mt. Ararat will continue as well. It feels like we went straight to August...
Saturday, June 02, 2001
Is Hagop personally responsible for the corruption of the system?
Police corruption is gang practice, proceedings shared by superiors. Hagop might not be the brains of the operation, but by perpetuating the crime he carries full responsibility as everyone else in the gang.
The Armenian Parliament had The Issue on its agenda this week. We were under budget and shady economy is to blame.
How to change the situation?
I believe in changing one person at a time. Follow Raffi's example, don't accept and 'understand' police practices.
Some advocate for more radical approaches.
Whatever method we choose the change has to become from within, from us, people living in Armenia.
So if you have to read/ write/ publish/ circulate log entries, please do the negative along with the positive.
Focus of the negative is hurting the country more than helping it.
Let's not tolerate corruption on any level, but let's see what's new, what's building, and what's growing. We don't want to become our own worst enemies.
Middle Eastern Cuisine, which argueably has the best sandwiches in town, only serves falafel on friday. Why? So that there won't be the smell of frying falafels in the restaurant every day. Fair enough. So whenever we can, we head over there and have the falafel on friday, knowing that the opportunity may slip by for another week otherwise. Today we ran into an old Lebanese-Armenian aquaintence from the Lebanese Embassy there that we met when getting visas for Lebanon in December 99. We needed a visa in 2 days, although it usually takes a week to process. They said they would try and we were happy with that. Well on the second day we called, and asked the status and they said we could pick the passports up at 5pm with the visas. Well the guards said that no passports were left for us and we had a flight to Cyprus at 9am the next morning. The guards called this fellow who came to help us sort things out. He said it would have been ready, except for one of the applications said "artist" for occupation. Well apparently this is what "exotic dancers" usually describe their occupation as. So he had us change that to painter when he found out the type of artist and headed off to the Lebanese Ambassador at a very late hour to get the visas signed. We retrieved our passports at almost 11pm in amazement at the helpfullness and have been so grateful to them. This was in stark contrast to the US Embassy and their consular section which I swear was trying as hard as they could to stop me from getting a new passport issued. Well eventually I got to Beirut and interviewed my great aunt to find out my family history. She was born in Marash and is still alive. It was fascinating and I cherish those tapes. If you have a survivor in your family, you must interview them before that peice of our oral history is lost!!