Sunday, April 22, 2012

The road to Yerevan


We went the 'quiet' route - through the hills of Georgia, down narrow valleys, bursting with Spring, along fragile roads, to a border post where we were the only one's crossing. The Georgians had a better post, spruced clean, computerized and efficient courtesy of the EU and the Armenians had the better road. Their new post was imminent, promised by UNDP. I delayed things as I noticed my name spelled wrongly on my visa, necessitating calls to the boss for clarification on what needed to be done.

The countrysides were a stark contrast - the lived in, human scale of Georgia gave way to the bleaker, higher mountain views of Armenia, with snow capped peaks and treeless expanses of brown, showing green. Both beautiful after their own fashion - though the Armenian villages were very poor in comparison (and indeed simply very poor). But prettier as you descended towards Yerevan as the blossom - cherry, apple, apricot - is out.

We stopped at a motel on the way down - it was making an effort, being refurbished (though in a rather odd colour scheme of green and purple) and the food was simple and excellent. It did have a pond, out into which had been constructed a roofed platform - a romantic dinner for two except it overlooked the pig sheds from which an aroma wafted that was anything but romantic.

Yerevan (indeed Armenia) is in election mood - as you close in on the capital, most of the roadside hoardings are given over to portly politicians trying to appear amenable and saying that they truly care. As I sit and I write this the distant sounds of a political rally can be heard.

It is also the week of genocide memorial: April 24th is the day and many of the hotels are full of diaspora coming to commemorate the tragic events of 1915. It is an event clothed in ambiguity - it is important and Turkey's inability to fully accept its importance is wrong; and, yet, often you feel that it is the diaspora's principal focus, rather than on the present and future development of a deeply isolated country (80% of whose borders are closed and where many young people's only hope is emigration).

I struck as always by how memory re-shapes places - they are an admixture of the correctly familiar and the re-imagined. The hotel is the same but re-furbished - post-Soviet has succumbed to place-less modern. The bed is happily firmer (and longer). I think I remember sleeping sideways last time!

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