A Country That Knows How To Make You Like It: Armenia. Part 2
What to see?
Armenians treat their national patrimony – khachkars – with great respect and reverence. These are worked and refined stones with unique ornate patterns. UNESCO included them into World Heritage list because one cannot come across such things in any other culture.
There were times when Armenians used to carve khachkars on every occasion: on a wedding day, day of successful military expedition, birth or death. Every line and whorl is like a code for descendants, a story about the past.
And they keep their significance for the Armenians till now. People are saving for years so that after their death their relatives are able to fix up such a distinctive monument on their graves. When walking around a cemetery among ancient khachkars I met an old man who came to sit near the graves of his predecessors for a while. He said he had been saving money for a stone like that although it would cost him about a thousand dollars. It is expensive for a pensioner but to collect money for such a memorial is considered a must-do.
What to try?
In supermarkets of Yerevan one can find virtually same things as in Ukraine. There is a plenty of our chocolate and vodka. So I was passing by those shelves in ‘yeah, hi again’ manner. However one can spend hours near shelving units with cognac. Not to advertise anything: abundance and diversity to suit every taste and pocket.
Great lavash, shashlik, trout and kebab made of crayfish meat a served in roadside cafés. It makes you want to eat everything including a tablecloth. It is all generously flavored with spices and sauces as well as dressed with greens. And that lemonade!
When I felt like drinking a bottle and happened not to have an opener at hand, I spent half an hour fidgeting with a metal cap, gradually unbending its edges off the bottleneck with a chair’s leg, with a radiator and, hotel employees forgive me, with a varnished bed rim. But what a pleasure it was to taste the drink when it finally gave in.
We came to have lunch at one of the villages once. Former photographer quitted his job and launched home business together with his family. He sets tables for foreign delegations in a pretty spacious yard. In the same place they bake bread and infuse apricot vodka. The master has only a vest with numerous pockets for cables, lamps, holders and lenses left from his former life. He was condoling for a long time about the fact that photography didn’t stand high in Armenia currently and also told about peculiarities of his present occupation. He, for instance, called Germans the best eaters. They try to taste everything and are lavish for tips while Italians are awfully noisy when at table. A group of fifteen of them has no problem silencing a hundred Japanese. The latter ones eat very quietly – except they champ, the master complained.
Where to find enlightenment?
Nearby a cliff-carved monastery of Geghard a young priest met us. Or more precisely, we deranged him. He was fiddling with beehives. He complained that a bear had come in the night and treated himself to the contents. And that wasn’t the first time the beast came around for a desert. Lay brothers even started putting a separate plate for him with last year’s honey but fresh one was still tastier.
Now that we’ve mentioned it, monks are no rarity in the place. Legend has it that first ones appeared here as far back as in 4th century. They came with Gregory the Illuminator and stayed by the providential spring that, if fables are true, cures maladies of both body and soul. So no wonder there are always so many tourists in Geghard. Everyone wants to try and drink miraculous water and have a look at the spear that Jesus was wounded with.
Besides soul curing (and that, of course, is a strictly private business), Armenia can offer things that men of science seek – glorious neighborship of ancient alphabet and modern technologies. Huge book depository, the largest in the world, is a pride of Armenia. Official information reads: there are over 17 thousand manuscripts as well as 100 thousand ancient documents in the funds of Matenadaran.
Alongside Armenian ones, manuscripts in Russian, Hebrew, Latin, Arabic, Syrian, Greek, Japanese and Persian are preserved. There is a fare amount of personal archives of famous people concerning heritage, giving, marriages and birth certificates in the archive. Rarities are worth a pretty penny. But there is no intention of selling them. They say that it will be more secure for heirs of the tomes.
I met an old lady with a girl in a hall upstairs. They were examining an electronic version of an ancient bible. The kidling was spelling queer and very beautiful whorls. I wondered where she learned ancient Armenian from. It turned out that she was growing up in a family of philologers. However the schoolgirl looked at me proudly and said: “Well, I am an Armenian!”
Before the take-off, when in the plane’s cabin, I was gripping every chance to have another look at Ararat, at the sun rising over the mountain. One of the most charming countries sheltered in the foot of it. Believe it or not, it seemed to me that it was smiling to the plane that was gaining altitude