26.7.11

Armenia 08 p1

Yerevan

This was going to be a special trip, as there were 8 of us, all TaijiQuan or Wushu practitioners, and mostly Armenian, traveling together. I had no hand in the travel preparation, so let's just say I would have done things differently on a few accounts (nothing really serious). The most curious idea was for us to drive to Aleppo and fly from there, which was a truly terrible one. Still I'm sure that airport never saw anything like our taking it over with our usual, loud game of Uno...


My friends had arranged a one-week organized tour with a local agency which found budget accommodation for us: 3 rooms on the top floor of a university. Aside from the fact only 2 had bathrooms and only sometimes had water, this led to some amusing situations such as our returning from a day out or coming out of the shower while classes were on.


I fell instantly and durably in love with Yerevan. A small, charming capital, its city center is arranged within concentric rings. Despite its spacious feel, it can be crossed from end to end in 20-30 minutes on foot, and any taxi ride within the center costs the minimal fee. This simple map on a postcard I bought was all I ever needed to find my way around.


The real heart of the city is the axis that goes from Republic Square (Hanrapetoutioun) up to the Opera. I'll say more on the city and its design in a bit.

Stitched view of Hanrapetoutioun, a square in the best Soviet spirit.
The many little grocery stores dotted around the town were ideal to pick up snacks, in particular bread things that we couldn't get enough of.

... Partly because it was the only tasty thing we found to eat in Armenia. We were really sorry to discover this, and a second trip only confirmed it for me, but the amazing Armenian cuisine seems to have migrated entirely to Lebanon and Aleppo, leaving only bland Soviet fare behind. When we were forced by sheer hunger to try pizzerias or the like, we discovered that all sense of how to make good food seemed to have gone as well. That however was the only underwhelming thing on the trip!

Starting just off Hanrapetoutioun, and up to the statue of St Vartan, the "Vernissage" (a word inexplicably used in Russian-speaking countries to designate, I guess, an craft market) is held every week-end. It is quite huge and includes a second-hand/vintage section, but genuine and well-crafted specimens of local craftsmanship can be difficult to find in all the kitsch. We were there on our very first afternoon, attempting not to lose each other amidst the stalls. I quickly learned the words for "hundred" and "thousand" there.

Pomegranates are simply unavoidable, and a lovely motif.
Carpets as well as carpet-based objects abound.

The soulful-sounding duduk is a traditional Armenian instrument

At the end of his eponymous avenue, the architect Alexander Tumanian is immortalized in stone next to a plan of the city.


Tumanian was the architect of Yerevan, the man who, beginning 1929, single-handedly turned it from a provincial town into an capital worthy of the USSR which Armenia had just been absorbed into. He actually died of the effort, but the result of his defining the design of the entire city is an absolutely gorgeous urban composition where soviet monumentalism is relieved by traditional architecture, an abundance of delicate details in friezes or around windows and doors. Better yet, within the same facade different windows tend to have different designs, usually around a floral or other symbolic theme. It is a very rewarding place indeed for an urban photographer, and if I'm not posting more city photos, it is because we spent so little time in it during the day, and I had no idea where to start shooting. Here's one (poorly shot) example of what I mean, though:



Behind the monument to Tumanian there rises an extraordinary sculptural space, out of the city's bowl all the way up to the heights of the city. The upper levels were still under construction at the time, but the completed ones looked to me like something out of Moebius or Cit̩ Obscures. A superb series of abstracted sculptural designs with, each time, a single detail elaborated more than the rest, revealing a figurative motif Рand all of them, different iterations on the same motifs of the phoenix, the pomegranate and other highly charged local symbols. See for yourself the succession as one climbs from the ground level upward:






Each level comprises a cultural space of some sort: museum, gallery, theater.
The view from the second level of Cascade
Less monumental but a cultural reference point, Aznavour square holds the famous Moskva theater
 

Interesting visual effect for this government building, and several phoenixes, all
different, surround what should have been a fountain, below.

Yerevan is full of fountains, most of them dry and derelict. This masterpiece hidden
underground, crowned by the phoenixes above, could use rehabilitating!
To be honest, I don't think Yerevan was ready for the likes of us...

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