Today, I try to put myself more in synchrony with the pace of Yerevan, by walking more slowly and with more mindfulness. One senses that Armenia is a watchful country, a place where every small detail is taken in, where outsiders reveal themselves by their gate and patterns of movement in time and space.
A mannequin girl beckons shoppers to a chic children’s clothing store but becomes a part of the sculptural ecosystem of Yerevan, her presence a touching blend of exuberance and gravitas, especially in one so young, with so many promising years ahead of her.
Students, ballerinas in training, chat in front of the school of choreography, a massive, formal building. Sounds of violin and piano, arias and etudes, tumble from the open windows, like the tresses of Rapunzel, ethereal melodies disciplined by a pervasive Russian formalism leavened by Armenian folk culture--music, dance, and costume. An angelic novitiate kindly points me to the theater kiosk, where I pick up our tickets for the ballet.
A gaunt, bearded beggar (the antique parlance seems appropriate in this instance, if politically incorrect), statuesque and dressed meticulously in black--like death himself--mumbles something in my ear. Denied, he follows close behind me, tapping a heavy iron-footed wooden staff on the hot cobblestones, insistently, menacingly, the metallic click-clock reverberating through me, as if in protest, until an enticing bit of rubbish distracts him.
Setting map and mobile aside, I follow shade and shadow and let them take me where they will. There is the exquisite Katoghike Holy Mother of God Church, a tiny medieval structure dating to the 13th century, a sacred microcosm with a powerful aura, now a place of urban pilgrimage and spiritual refuge. As I approach the elegantly crafted stones, carvings, and ancient scripts, I am for a moment at the center of the universe. The diminutive scale of the building seems to admonish the pervasive Soviet gigantism of the city, yet the pairing is somehow aesthetically complementary, suggestive of the fleeting millennia.
Now, up a winding path to the Sergei Paradjanov Museum, which sits on a windswept ridge above the city yet seems to conceal itself in odd angles and hidden doorways, even as it announces its presence. A queer space, I think! Sergei Paradjanov was a brilliant visual artist and avant-garde filmmaker who was persecuted for most of his life and spent decades in Soviet prisons. He was an aesthetic rebel and challenged his society in a number of ways, including that of sexual identity. When he was unable to make films--repressed as he was by censorship--Paradjanov created stunning three-dimensional collages of found objects. These pieces, at once autobiographical and social--the personal wedded to the political--speak of a life of struggle, of great suffering, of triumph in art. Dolls’ heads, letters, family photos, diplomas, trinkets, mosaics, mirrors, an egg, locks of hair—reconstituted fragments of a shattered world.