Monday, June 24, 2002

Letter 04 : Amberd and Mount Aragats

Saturday, June 22, 2002

Today we drove to Amberd and Mount Aragats. We rented a minibus for the whole day (11 passengers from 9 till 18 hrs) and it cost us 15000 drams. The driver, Alig, is an actor-musician from the Spendiarian Institute. He plays percussion equipment and the Xylophone. Most of the Spendiarian artists have defected to the West. He decided to stay and earns his living driving the minibus. It was a beautiful day, and we were treated again to the beautiful sight of Ararat, all along. Amberd is a 12th century fortress that was destroyed by Timor Lang’s Mongol –Tatars before they sacked Baghdad in 1233. The fortress walls are still standing but the town below is destroyed. The Church outside the walls, however, has been repaired. (You can see the photos/description of this and other sites on www.cilicia.com ). The guide to the Church, Aram Manookian is a WWII veteran whose battalion was wiped-out during the siege of Stalingrad. He was wounded there but survived with 3 other companions and continued all the way to Berlin with Marshall Bagramian. You can see him in Atom Egoyan’s film ‘Calendar’. Of course the view of Ararat, from all angles, is spectacular. It is such a beautiful, clear and warm day. I cannot resist the call from the torrents running in the ravine on each side of the fortress. Soon I am bathing in and drinking from the limpid and cold water (sorry, no digital photo available).



On the way back, we take a vote: Shall we drive-up mount Aragats to the lake and the observatory? The yeas win, and Alig is happy to accommodate us. The paved road is a single lane, but reasonable. Alig is a good driver, but we have to stop in high altitude to let the motor cool down (and allow our bodies to adjust to the altitude. We pass by some shepherd encampments. The shepherds in Armenia are mainly Yezdis (pagan tribes of Armenia). Their encampments looked like Gypsy camps, but I noticed a car covered in cloth, to protect it (keep it new?) from the elements. Again Ararat seemed to grow taller as we rose up Aragats. I now know why: From Yerevan, unless you are on a very tall building, you really only see the two peaks of Ararat. However when you climb a mountain or a tall building, the higher you go the more you can see of the valley between Ararat and you, and the more you can see the full body of Ararat from his peak to his feet.



To reach the lake and the Aragats observatory, the road goes through eight feet high snow-banks, but in the sunny slopes, the grounds are bare and green. We are high above the tree line, and there are no trees. The air is rare. The lake is mainly frozen, but the beach is bare and the crystal clear water is inviting. Some of us dare go in, knee-deep. It is a beautiful sunny day. I am in short sleeves. Someone has planted a huge cross on the hill dominating the lake. The observatory buildings are modern looking. An enterprising family has brought-in a camper trailer which they use to serve light meals and refreshments from, to the visitors. There is a middle-aged man who has packed about 10 children in his 4-wheel-drive (new-looking) vehicle and brought them there for a picnic lunch. The children run all-over the snowy slopes… a great spring-skiing day (Toros: don’t forget your snowboard!). The man is eager to engage us. He insists that we join them. He offers us kyababs wrapped in lavash, delicious tomatoes and cucumbers, wine and oghi. Most of these children are not his, but he brought them up for an outing. In the rarefied air near the peak of Aragats, this man exhales Armenian pride and happiness. Meanwhile, Sarah has befriended the family with the camper-trailer. They offered her (and our group) ‘sourj’ (Armenian coffee), she has not yet finished her cup when we have to get back in the minibus. She had turned her coffee cup upside-down, but there is no time to read it… The young son of the café owner is bewitched by Sarah's charm. He predicts that they will read the cup when she comes back in a month. I am in a teasing mood, I can’t resist it, I start singing*: “Sareri hovin merrnem… Im yari boyin merrnem… Me amiss a Kenaliss… desnoghin achkin merrnem” .. Our group has caught-on to my teasing mood and roars the now well rehearsed refrain: “kena, kena, hedt yem hahahahahahaha!… Sarino yar djan, varino yar djan, our vor yertas modet yem-ha, sarino yar djan, varino yar djan” met by great laughter and accompaniment of the family. …And then, we hear this voice from the lake. It is that of a pubescent young male singing. His voice, unwavering, rises majestically over our laughter. Alig turns-off his engine. No one utters a word. We can see the boy standing, above the food spread on the ground, and his family’s picnic. There is no hesitation in his voice. He is singing about the longing for the fatherland…. He goes on and on… he names them all: the lost cities, the mountains, the valleys, the rivers on the south side of Masis …the whole song!…. It is as if time froze on this frozen lake on top of Mount Aragats. … Is the song finished? We applaud…. I don’t look at the others. I know, like me, they have tears in their eyes.





* « May I die in the wind of the mountains…. May I die in the beauty of my beloved… My beloved is gone for a month…May I die in the eye of the one who sees him/her ». Refrain : “Go, go, I’m with you hahahahahahaha! ..My beloved of the mountain, my beloved of the valley, wherever you go I’m with you-ha! My beloved of the mountain, my beloved of the valley”



Monday, June 24, 2002

We have just rented our own nicely furnished 2-bedroom apartment, starting June 30. So we have a guest room if you come. We are paying 270 USD / month plus heat & electricity.