Sunday, December 30, 2007

Armenia journal: December 30

12/30. We slept really late. The power had been out for a couple hours by the time we woke up, and stayed off for a good while. Thanks, Armenia. Read a 60-page chunk of C&P, though. We had oatmeal for breakfast -- why don't I eat more oatmeal? I will do that more in the new year.

Eventually we walked down from Lee's house into downtown Yerevan. As we picked our way through the broken sidewalks and rubble of the neighborhood, down these switchbacks as cars clattered up the road, a stray dog started following us. He was just emerging from puppyhood -- he looked to be mostly yellow lab, maybe some german shephard too, padding through the dirt and dust and broken glass and street cap and keeping up with us. Immediately I imagined us taking him in, giving him shots, getting him through customs and teaching him to be a city dog, with a name like Armen or Army, but eventually he jogged past us and went his own way, as we trudged along the rubble and dirt, and I thought to myself: this country is fucked up.

We made it down into the main part of the city and walked around an outdoor art market, the art vernisage. Lee told us that most of the statues in the city are of poets, writers, and artists, and we saw one of film directors and actors. This, combined with the idea of an outdoor art market in the first place, softened my impression of the city and country. It was nice to see some visual art, some color to break up the monotony. Yerevan lies in the middle of all these mountain ranges, and due to some meteorological force called an inversion, there seems to be a gray grim cloud of dust hanging over the city constantly -- as a result, we can't see the mountains nearby, and this scrim of dust and grime mutes all the colors as well. So seeing this art was like a breath of life.

We walked past an outdoor skating rink, where they blasted tunes in English and where the Zamboni had not made a recent appearance, leading to a thick layer of snow on the ice. We walked through another vernisage of all sorts of junk: mechanical parts, trinkets to fix a toaster or something; more art; beaded and glass jewelry; samovars, china, figurines; wooden gameboards and inlaid art pieces; old soviet medals. Men in dark coats and hats smoked and hung around as people shuffled through the aisles. I am no fan of these kinds of bazaars (don't like them in New York either) but it's interesting to see another country's stuff, I guess.

Ate lunch at this very American-seeming cafe, Square One. Nice break from the freezing cold.

We walked through this huge new area of Yerevan, a wide pedestrian boulevard with tall new buildings rising around it; they are to be mixed-use places, condos and restaurants and shops. Expensive stuff for corrupt officials, diasporans and mafiosos. Real estate is booming around here -- all those cranes signify something -- but who is to buy this stuff? Seems like the economy is built on nothing real at all (the money of diasporans who come in occasionally, or money tainted by crime) without any real broad economic base to back it up. To see these bold new high rises next to the pathetic old soviet buildings was striking. The soviet buildings are so run-down, so mottled and ugly and abused, dwarfed by these imposing structures, maybe 9 or 10 stories high, ready to be filled with new money. But you wonder where it will all go. Today was good, Yerevan is becoming a more textured place than my first impression indicated. What a country.

Tomorrow we head out to a small village, Goris, for New Year's. During the soviet era Armenians weren't allowed to practice Christianity, so they tried to make New Year's a substitute, secular holiday, complete with a Santa Claus figure and his beautiful granddaughter. Kind of strange. Happy new year = Schnor havor nor tari. Schnor havor nor tari!

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