It’s springtime again in Yerevan. The crisp early-morning air smells like croissants and coffee and cigarette smoke over cologne or perfume wafting from a wandering passerby on a labor of purpose. A bustle of movement, new-construction around which deliveries – milk and meat and cheese parade hurriedly. The streets start to fill, Yerevan is a late riser – only the most dedicated or industrious out before the shops open, and those only after 10:30. A flower-vendor laying out his assortment – for Yerevan is the city of books and flowers after all. A minstrel plays his accordion and I stop to drop in 1000 Dram – two bucks and he nods as he keeps up the playing. “Please, come see,” a salesman standing on the sidewalk in front of his restaurant beckons me inside, but I refuse. I too have someplace to be.
Yerevan is waking up from its dark night of the soul. 2020, that worst of all years – I remember when the borders slammed shut, when the airlines stopped flying. This island in the Caucasus somehow gathering up its determination to accept a year with no tourism (like so many places, a lifeblood here) – a year with no diaspora visits for weddings and funerals and christenings – a year that we all knew would be like no other. And it was. There is nothing like the feeling of isolation, perched precariously on a mountain in the South Caucasus. Would the food run out? Would the imported gas be allowed through? What if we got sick – and there were no flights? But we kept our heads down, and weathered the lockdown – and began our glorious Armenian summer of 2020, strange to say because it was also tragic and hard but surrounded by the beauty of an ancient land that had seen so many plagues before, it became my summer with my little boy. And that made it epic.
But that was then; because then came the war. An unfriendly neighbor, an existential fight – that Armenia lost. A winter of sadness and mourning and loss. I will write more about that later, for it is still foremost in the imagination of everybody I talk to here – and rightly so. This year, they are again – as Armenians do – shrugging it off, ready to start fresh. To rebuild, as they so often have – isn’t Yerevan even older than Rome, after all? Were not people building their lives and going about their flower businesses when Romulus and Remus were still crawling inside the wolf’s lair? Yes, they build, and rebuild, and build again – and you can feel it. New hotels, people polishing their restaurants, painters out under the trees – it is springtime in Yerevan. Because they are ready to shrug it all off, remind themselves that the ancient story of Armenia has a lot of ups and downs – where the downs outnumber the ups – and see what the fresh new year will bring. I, for one, wish them well. Things are changing, yet the more they change, the more also the old ways remind us of why they are important and unchanging – family and faith and hard work and friendship. BBQ on a Friday afternoon, a cold stone chapel black with the smoke from the candles that took a millennium of prayers to God.
It is springtime in Yerevan.