This past weekend I visited my friend Kath in her site. Vanadzor is Armenia’s third-largest city – or maybe second-largest, since Gyumri keeps losing population. Gyumri has those historic buildings from the Tsarist era and all of the evidence of earthquake damage. Vanadzor has tree-lined streets, lots of shops and shoppers, and parks – it’s a pleasant place to be. We did a lot of walking, going through the market and touring the Art Museum. I went with Kath to the YMCA, one of her partner agencies, where I was (on the spur of the moment) the guest speaker at the English club. I thought I would check email while Kath did the club, but one of the young adults in the club suggested I talk about Morocco, and Kath thought it would be good for them to hear another native voice speaking English. After I gave a short introduction, they did most of the talking; I asked questions to keep the discussion going. If you had asked me beforehand, I would have said that English club not my thing, but the time went quickly and it was fun!
I also wanted to see her other project, a proposed park; a while ago she asked me to review her proposal, and every so often I’ve given her suggestions and leads. We didn’t get there, but my brainstorms this time were a Peace Pole and a Sister City. One highlight of the visit was the cooler weather; it’s always about 10 degrees cooler in Vanadzor than it is in Yerevan. Another was a pasta dinner that we made – she had carbonara in mind. We looked at the Peace Corps Armenia cookbook – no carbonara recipe, but there was a recipe for pasta with garlic and dried apricots. That sounded appealing, so we found a carbonara recipe on the internet and added dried apricots that we had soaked in white wine to soften them a little. It was fantastic, as were the fresh raspberries we bought!
On Sunday I went back to Vayots Dzor; interestingly, both places were almost exactly two hours from Yerevan (and so is Gyumri). Beckey is the PCV who has been working on the Jewish cemetery (she built the web site - http://yeghegis.syunikngo.am/) and I’m glad she was available to show it to me. The road isn’t repaired yet, but they figured out a detour that doesn’t require a 4x4. The cemetery is overgrown and needs work; she has a grant application in the works and will be looking for more funds. The bishop was walking by and noticed stones with unfamiliar writing; a group of visiting dentists was in town and one was Jewish and recognized the Hebrew. This cemetery is an incredible historic find – it shows that in medieval times, Jews were present, and also that they were prosperous and integrated into the community. Finding this means that previous scholarship has to be examined in this new light. An archaeologist has done some work, and Beckey is working on a grant proposal for both restoration and study. I’m really glad I took the trip back down there to see it. All of the pictures in this post are from this excursion; I’ll put Vanadzor pictures into the next post!