Friday, July 22, 2011

A Retreat of Sorts

The MCA-Armenia team went on a retreat today, and I took that as an opportunity to take a retreat of my own, with a tour to yet more churches and other sites in Aragatsotn and Shirak marzes. The western side of Mt. Aragats has a completely different landscape from the eastern side that I’ve traveled past several times recently – it’s dry and stony grassland (reminds me a bit of the Middle Atlas). First, we stopped at a caravanserai near Aruch – not as well-preserved as Selim, but still interesting. Aruch also has one of the biggest churches in Armenia. The cupola was destroyed and now the church is open to the sky, which makes the open air into an extension of the frescoes on the walls.

Marmashen, situated on the bank of a river (as opposed to a gorge or other high point), is huge and red and has interesting architectural details; it’s supposedly the church that is the most like Ani, the ruined former capital that is now in Turkish territory. Harichavank is the summer residence of the Catolicos, and is best known for a little chapel that is alone on a rock that was separated from the rest of the site by an earthquake, so it looks as if it was built on a pillar of rock. But my favorite part of the site was the decoration over the door, which reminded me of Moroccan patterns.

We also stopped in Gyumri, where we toured the craft and home museum. It was interesting to see the tools of many trades of 18th Century Gyumri – jewelry-making, wood and stone carving, tailoring, lace, haberdashery and more. Also interesting were the furnishings. The middle class (mostly the tradesmen) dressed in what I now would call traditional Armenian wear and had locally-made furniture. Rich people wanted a Western look and furniture imported from Europe. We then had a little time to walk around the city center – I’m glad I had such a good tour with Barbara, even in the pouring rain, because there wasn’t enough time for a thorough tour today!

On the previous tour trip, we stopped for lunch at one of those places that caters to groups. The food was all right and not a good value – so I decided to bring my own lunch today. I finished off the jar of peanut butter that I had brought with me. One jar lasted six months; I didn’t really need it at all here, but I had a spoonful or two as a snack every so often. Then again, maybe when I get home I’ll do that more often (as seen on the Everywhere Exercise Facebook page) -

The retreat was a good getaway – as I mentioned, I’ve been just a little stressed. When people ask how I feel about leaving, my first answer is usually, “ready,” and my second is, “stressed.” It’s manageable stress, but I feel it. I’ll probably feel somewhat stressed for the foreseeable future, so a nice day like this – or even moments of calm, when I get them – is welcome.

What will I miss? Well, my first answer there is the swallows/swifts in the morning and at night – I love watching them fly all over and listening to them chirp. And I’ll miss the bells that ring every half hour, not always on the half hour. I’ll miss some of the food at my favorite spots, but I’ve rotated through them often so I can’t say I haven’t had any particular dish often enough. I’ll miss the people I have befriended – I think I’ll keep in touch with some. I’ll miss the beautiful countryside, with the mountains and the wildflowers. I’ll miss walking around Yerevan; it’s been too hazy or cloudy for an Ararat view recently, but I’ll miss that too. I’ll miss Armenia in general, with its complex and unique character; I’m glad I’ve had a chance to come to know it.

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