BY CATHERINE YESAYAN
There I was… Finally back in the city that I can call home. I arrived in Yerevan late Friday night. After 45 days traveling across Europe, it felt good to come to a place I feel so connected with.
At the Zvartnots International Airport, before reaching the immigration check point, the arriving passengers are ushered through a gallery of luxurious duty-free shops. In a country that one of the main pillars of economy is tourism, I imagine this first walk primes people to spend money. It did for me.
As we were channeled through the maze of shops, I spotted a heap of colorful coin purses made from a kind of resin material. The price was equivalent to $10 – expensive for Armenia. I was so tempted to buy one, but I quickly came to my senses and overcame the impulse to buy something I didn’t need and ridiculously expensive.
It was midnight when I arrived at my apartment in the center of Yerevan. At that late hour, urban energy was brewing fresh. The sidewalks and streets were full of pedestrians strolling. Cars cruised by as if it was middle of the day. Throngs of people, from teenagers to parents pushing strollers to seniors, were leisurely parading. This dynamic late-night city life is one of the attractions that draws me to Armenia.
My friend was waiting for me at the apartment. Since I was hungry, we went out to have a bite. The courtyard of my apartment opens to the Cascade promenade where there are several outside restaurants. We were surprised to see a few of the restaurants getting ready to close for the night. However, we had a delicious meal at one of the many that were still open.
My friend, who had arrived a few days earlier, told me that we could walk to a Vivacell store (Vivacell is a local mobile phone service provider) and get a SIM card for my cellphone. Believe it or not the store is open until 2 am. However we didn’t end up going to Vivacell that night.
The following day, Saturday, I spent the day getting organized. I bought a SIM card for $1 and got a haircut with styling for $8. Now I looked more civilized, and I was ready for the opening of the Golden Apricot Film Festival on Sunday.
There is no dull moment in Yerevan. Sunday was Vardavar, the celebration of water feast. A few years ago, I had already satisfied my curiosity about Vardavar. I had taken numerous pictures of kids dousing each other and I had enjoyed acting like a kid myself. Here’s my story about Vardavar published in Asbarez three years ago.
For Sunday afternoon I had two options. The Cafesjian Center for the Arts was hosting a presentation and Q&A with Armenian artists who had participated at the 56th International Art Exhibition of Venice Biennale. The Armenian Pavilion had won the Golden Lion, the highest award of the exhibition, in May of this year.
At the same time, the 12th Annual Golden Apricot Film Festival was being inaugurated at a newly built church with the traditional ceremony of the Blessing of Apricots. I opted to attend the Cafesjian Center presentation
Afterwards, at 4 p.m. I threaded my way from Cafesjian Center through Saryan Park, then to Opera Square, then pass Swan Lake, to the Moskva movie theatre (kino Moskva) to watch the screening of the inaugural movie of the festival at 5 p.m.
The presence of art at every street corner is another aspect of Yerevan’s urban character that fascinates me. In the short distance from the Cafesjian Center to the theatre, an overwhelming amount of art and culture is displayed.
In the promenade area of Cafesjian Center amidst the immaculate landscape, multi-million dollar contemporary sculptures are scattered about. I passed the quirky blue penguin at the foot of the Cascade, then Botero’s “Woman Smoking a Cigarette,” then the giant Tamanyan statue. From there I turned left, crossed the street and passed the statue of William Saroyan. At Saryan Park, where all local artists display their paintings, I stood in front of the white-washed, massive monument dedicated to our painter Saryan and marveled about the genius of my people.
At Swan Lake, I came across the monument dedicated to composer Arno Babajanian, which has become a landmark in Yerevan. The monument represents Babajanian seated at an elongated grand piano, playing with an exaggerated hand gesture. All this art took my breath away.
I arrived on time for the screening of the opening movie, “Don’t Tell Me the Boy Was Mad,” by French-Armenian director, actor, screenwriter, and producer Robert Guédiguian. The movie tells the story of generations of Armenians in Marseille dealing with the Armenian Genocide. The movie begins in black & white with the first scene in 1921 Berlin, where Soghomon Tehlirian assassinates Talat Pasha. Then it moves to 1970s Marseille and follows an Armenian family and then on to the armed struggles of Armenian youth in Lebanon.
I watched the whole movie from beginning to the end with teary eyes. I was enthralled with this powerful and engaging movie about our people’s story. And this was just the beginning. The film festival lasted a whole week and covered a range of subjects including other genocides and recent wars. The entrance fee for each movie was the equivalent of $1 (500 AMD).
The weekend and the week following was an incredible reset for me. After flights and train trips across Europe, I enjoyed a grand re-immersion in my own culture and look forward to write more stories.