Friday, July 8, 2011

Independence Day and Constitution Day

Tuesday was Constitution Day in The Republic of Armenia, commemorating the document that was signed in 1995. It’s sometimes easy to forget that this is still a new country, even though the people have such a long history. Since the holiday fell on a Tuesday, businesses were given Monday off. Monday happened to be Independence Day in the United States of America, so it was a double holiday weekend for us. The PCVs here have a tradition of going to Lake Sevan for the Fourth of July, renting vacation domiks by the beach. I went up just for the day, but it was nice to participate in a slice of PCV-Armenia life.

Gordon and Jeanne had secured the services of the taxi driver who is a friend of their host mother. All along the roadside on the way up were stands selling inflatable boats, rings and other fun-at-the-lake items. Our first stop was Noratus. Even though I had been there before, I saw a lot I hadn't seen before, including many of the oldest stones, which tell the occupation or other stories of the buried person. I thought my camera battery had plenty of life, so I hadn't charged it after the Kapan trip. Mistake! I commandeered Gordon's camera (he was most gracious about it) for the day, averting a potential calamity. We then went on to Hayrivank, an old church by the lake, this one with crude crosses carved on the boulders outside and with a multi-colored dome.

On to the beach! I now think that when the tour guide compared Lake Sevan to Titicaca she was saying that only Titicaca is higher in altitude. The air was cool but the sun was hot! The water was also cool - I sat for a while and talked to people until I got hot, and then I stood in the water and talked to people until I got cold, in and out. All in all almost half of the PCVs in country were at the beach or the nearby water park that day. I spent most of my time with people I’ve gotten to know already; the ones I haven't really gotten to know were off in their own little group, which may explain why I haven't gotten to know them.

As the afternoon wore on and the potential grew for things to get rowdy, we moved on, stopping at Sevanavank, one of Armenia's most-photographed churches. On a peninsula that was once an island (and may be again - they are raising the lake level over the next five years), it was once a monastery to which wayward monks we banished - no women, no alcohol. There's a fine basalt khatchkar here, a Persian wooden screen, and of course a commanding view of the lake.

One of the (Mexican) restaurants in town has Southern Indian food every Monday night; there are many Indian students in the universities in town and this is their hangout. Gordon and Jeanne winter in southern India, and we'd been talking about going for a while. But dosa night doesn't begin until 8, which is late for them (and for me) to eat. Since we had been snacking at the lake, on this night we could wait for dosi (which are like crepes, but more substantial. Made from rice and lentils, they are served with a spicy soup and a couple of different chutneys) and eat light - it was nice to do that after talking about it for so long. Pretty good - and apparently quite authentic.

Constitution Day itself was great - I've been traveling a lot lately and it was nice to have a quiet Yerevan day. Museums closed, no Vernissage. I went out in the morning and sat by "Swan Lake," the little pond on the same block as the opera house (in the winter it was a skating rink). Then I met an all-star cast of women at Top Table - Kath and Barbara, two of the "1948 club" members, and Shannon, Zoe and Erin, the three PCVs assigned to the Syunik Women's NGOs. Because of fog on the pass Zoe hadn't made that first pizza dinner and OSCE meeting, and because of the broken ankle Erin was gone from the following week until just last week. They were giving a presentation at PST later in the day about working with women in business. Joining us was Stepan, the Community and Business Development Program Manager; it was great brunch with some lively discussion.

I then went to the Peace Corps office - surprisingly busy on a holiday - to catch up on email, and got my hair done. In the evening, I went up to visit Mel, just back from her vacation in Georgia. She lives in a hoppin' neighborhood not too far from but not close to downtown – let’s call it the Brooklyn of Yerevan. We ate at a Georgian restaurant and I heard about her trip; I then went back to her house and saw her living arrangements, the knitting and crocheting she has done here, and her Georgia souvenirs. I walked back to downtown - it took about an hour, so I still l Iike the Brooklyn analogy - and watched the Republic Square fountain show for a while. I thought there might be fireworks, but no such luck. The waterworks of the fountains, with their colors and choreography, might be just as delightful!

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