Diary of an Armenian Journalist (Part IV)

Day 7

Another rainy day in Armenia. Since we had no definite plans, I spent three hours dodging crater-like puddles at Vernisage, a huge outdoor shopping mart where bargaining becomes a ritual.

I had my orders: dolls for Sossy, a miniature of Moush for my wife, whose mother came from that village, a cross for my mother, and token gifts for my friends. I was on a shopping spree. I managed to complete the list and escape unscathed before other merchants beckoned my call.

I ordered a bean salad at one of the roadside cafes and got chili for lunch. With little time to spare, off we went to the Opera House for a stirring performance of Verdi’s “Requiem” dedicated to the martyrs. What a bargain and a treat! For $7 a ticket, that got us a center aisle seat closer to the front than back. On stage were the Yerevan Symphony—75 musicians (I counted them)—and 100-voice chorale. The two-hour concert left an indelible impression, being a lover of classical music. I was amazed by the number of children in the audience who sat attentively through it all. Children are very attuned to the arts in Armenia, as we discovered repeatedly.

I have competition when it comes to interviews and stories. He’s Vrej-Armen Artinian of Montreal (Araz’s father) who has written books and articles for as long as I can recall. We’ve known each other for 50 years, didn’t know one another was headed for Armenia, and met at Artbridge one morning. He and his wife Naz appeared to shadow me everywhere, including in Artsakh where we wound up in the same hotel unexpectedly.

The only English on TV comes from CNN but more England than the U.S. I did see the Boston Celtics defeat the Bulls in Game 3 of the NBA play-offs to take a 2-1 lead in the series.

After a brief search, I found a cyber café and sent an email to my wife who instructed me to keep connected, either by phone or internet, which is far cheaper. Such places are very brisk in clientele.

All said, the trip has more than lived up to expectations, even though it’s been a week and we have yet to leave Yerevan for the outskirts—and the real Armenia I’m told.

Day 8

Cloudy and cool was pretty much the weather on this Sunday. We never got to attend church as I had hoped, sidetracked by an acquaintance we met during breakfast. That’s the way it is in Armenia. Walk down the street and you meet people you know.

There are no strangers in Armenia—only friends waiting to be met. I chose a tomato omelet for breakfast. My Dad from Gurin loved tomatoes and eggs. I used to consider the combination odd until I tried it myself. Joe settled for his favorite—basterma and eggs—and the odor followed him throughout the day.

At 1 p.m., we met the Svazlians, a mother-daughter writing duo who had 23 books between them. All but one belonged to the mother Vergene, the latest being a compilation of 400 genocide testimonies.

Daughter Knarig is well on her way. Her book, an extensive work, covers the Armenian community in America from the 1600’s and Martin (the first naturalized citizen) to the 1800’s. A sequel is in the works now, penned in English.

That evening, I ventured off on my own and caught up with a woman named Larissa, who has acted as surrogate mom to 16 foster children, including blacks. We met at Hotel Ani for an interview with one of her sons present. The conversation was productive and led to one of my favorite stories.

Dinner was at “Our Village” restaurant with Armenian musicians playing period instruments and singing traditional folk songs that had your feet tapping and heart soaring. A modest cover charge was worth the admission and the food was superb.

People are in no rush to go anywhere, judged by the vibrant nightlife in Yerevan. With a driver for hire, we shall leave Yerevan tomorrow for the outskirts and newly found adventures.

(to be continued)

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Tom Vartabedian

Tom Vartabedian is a retired journalist with the Haverhill Gazette, where he spent 40 years as an award-winning writer and photographer. He has volunteered his services for the past 46 years as a columnist and correspondent with the Armenian Weekly, where his pet project was the publication of a special issue of the AYF Olympics each September.
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1 Comment

  1. Hye, Tom,
    On my last visit to Haiastan I arrived in Yerevan, met many friend from USA, and in looking about, as a visitor, was proud to see the activities of the city of Yerevan, almost like  being in NYCity…  but my
    visit was to take me almost 4 hours away, close to the city of Kapan.  This ride, was sensational!  I saw
    my Armenia, the rocky formations, barren of peoples;  the green valleys where the farms and the homes were snuggled and, all along the route, were the waters – cascadings waters, cascading  falls.
    Ayd bagh chooreh – soolal chooreh… all along the ride.  Even at resturants, they had ‘pools’ filled with
    fish – to be cooked/served.  I stayed at a family farm… and when the fruits/berries ripened, one person climbed the tree, others together held up a large sheet, and as the tree branches were shaken, we enjoyed the ripened fruits… and the animals, the farm growing foods for the family to provide
    for the winter ahead…  visitors,  historic sites to see.  Unforgettable… too, as I enjoy reading of your own and your wife’s trip to Haiastan.  Truth is Tom, I look forward to reading all that which you share with us – some memories, some from the now… all enjoyed, all entertaining.  Thanks.  Manooshag

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