Postcard from Yerevan
The View from my Balcony – Swan Lake in Autumn
I am stretching my legs with a walk up to the galley next to the toilets on the Fly Dubai plane on my way to Yerevan. Two men are chatting outside the service galley, look like soccer hoodlums to me but it turns out that they are missionaries from South Africa who come to Armenia each year to preach at a summer camp for young adults. Some kind of church to church support. As they tell me about their upcoming few weeks in the Armenia countryside. I am imagining a big tent with open sides and lots of people, singing and clapping and praying in tongues and saying how happy they are to be here and the people up the front saying how excited they are and using lots of words like majesty, savior holiness, redeemer, justified, kingdom and more about personal and you than about others and us. Who knows, anyway I liked them and their commitment and if it wasn’t about Jesus and in another place these guys would likely be ready to blow themselves up for some Jihad somewhere.
It was a long flight, fifteen hours from Melbourne, seven more as a stopover in Dubai and then on to Armenia, my new home. At the luggage carrousel, I stand chatting with a suave Armenian guy named Karen, who is in his early thirties and looks like he has just been unfolded out of a shirt box. He lives in Dubai and sells luxury cigarettes for $30 a packet. I ask him if he smokes and he says no, neither does his boss. And then one of the mishos comes up to me and says that God has given him a prophesy about me, he bows his head and moves in close and I am pinned between him, Karen and a concrete pylon and I look up to see if there are any vines to Tarzan my way out. The mishos shinny bright eyes look knowingly at me; I guess he thinks I am looking to the heavens. He says that the work I will do in the region will be much more impactful than I can possibly imagine and that the image he has is of an atomic bomb going off, it is so powerful. He is imagining grace, I am thinking self destruction. But for my first day here, seems like a good sign. Karen gives me his number and says lets hang out, I say why not.
Yerevan in summer is a dry heat 32C, wide pavements and big green lush tree lined streets, a city of parks and monuments and pillars with the bronze busts of poets and politicians of old grand Russian buildings and shopping. So many young women with shopping bags from the summer sales, the kind of girls who dress and laugh and walk intertwined arms and legs like sibling puppies and sway as they do in that kind of way that would make a bishop want to kick in a stained glass window. And there are churches here that go back to 300AD and now when they build new churches, they build them in the same shape and style as the old ones. If you are on a good thing you might as well stick with it for a thousand years or so. I think it is different where I come from, if you are on a good thing you tend to take it for granted and then grow unhappy and want to get rid of it, do a new design and make it bigger or smaller and more modern, more something. I wonder where modern comes from.
I have made new friends in the office, many people with names so different from any I am used to, like Armenuhi, Artak and Aramazd and surnames that are like some kind of scary Sudoku puzzle, Ghalamkaryan, Bezhanyan, Khaleyan and Saghatelyan. The good thing is all names seem to end in “yan” so I remember the first letter, and then mumble something and add yan at the end. Friends here are suggesting I learn Armenian, I am thinking I would rather be boiled in oil and I will be doing well if I can confidently get a few surnames right after a year. I do know two short phrases to get me out of trouble. “Problem cheeka” translates to “no worries” and “lave em” means “I am fine”. I am still working on “thankyou” which is pronounced “shnorhakalutyun”; seriously.
One of my friends here in the office told me a story about international development.
He says a man was traveling along a dirt road in a shiny Toyota Land cruiser, he is forced to stop as a large flock of sheep is blocking the road. The man gets out and walks over to the shepherd.
“If I tell you how many sheep you have, can I please take one for my research?”
The elderly shepherd nods in agreement.
The man from the car pulls out his Ipad, goes to a satellite App and after less than a minute says, “You have 353 sheep.”
The shepherd scratches the stubble on his chin and says, “If I tell you who you are, will you give me back my sheep?”
And the man from the car nods his agreement.
“You must be from USAID.”
“How did you know? Asks the man with the Ipad
Well I didn’t ask you to come here and you told me what I already know……… and now, will you please put down my sheep dog?
After an intensive search I found a two bedroom apartment right in the centre of Yerevan that will suit me well. The search itself was an adventure, with agents and agents of agents, sometimes five in a room speaking Armenian or Russian, one time I found myself mistakenly trying to do business with the guy driving the Mercedes, he turned out to be just the driver of the agent but he nodded a lot and seemed to like shaking my hand after each apartment viewing. Most apartments’ here are fully furnished. In Yerevan that means that every surface is covered by something, walls lined with grand cabinets and side dressers and little carts with little wagon wheels to put drinks on, paintings and chandeliers and mirrors. They find places to include some mirror in part of everything and if there is nothing to put mirror on in they just do straight mirror on the wall, size of a door. Like Louis the 14th meets Salvador Dali. I have been wondering what I am going to do with the 1800 kilos of furniture and personal possessions I shipped from Australia. I have found these things have a way of working themselves out but as yet I can’t see how this one will. Landlords here don’t want to take things out as they don’t know where to store them. My apartment is just round the corner from the Opera, which is one of the main landmarks in Yerevan. It was built in 1933 and has the Aram Khachaturian Concert hall at the back. Most people know Khachaturians Sabre Dance, it goes: DA DA DA DA DA DA DA DA DA DUH DA DA DA DUH DA DA DA DUH DA DA DA DUHDA DA DA DE DOODOO DOODOO DOODOO DOODOO WEEOO DEEOO WEEOO DA DA DA DA DA DA DA DA DA DUH DA DA DA DUH DA DA DA DUH DA DA DA DUHDA DA DA DE DOODOO DOODOO DOODOO DOODOO WEEOO DEEOO WEEOO BUM BUM BUM BUM BUM BUM BUM BUM,
I am going to the opera tomorrow night to hear Dmitri Hvorostovsky, who can forget his duet with Soprano Anna Netrebko in St Petersburg. I was lucky to get a ticket.
From my balcony: Swan lake, ice skating in winter