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Saturday, 13 October 2012

Celebrating Vardavar in Yerevan - A Water Feast


Am I lucky or what? Last year while I was doing a research to write a column about "Water Feast," an old Armenian tradition of dousing each other with water, I came up with pictures shot in the streets of Yerevan, showing the kids throwing buckets of water. And I wished one day I would have the chance of being there in person and watch those kids in action and take my own pictures.

The date of Water Feast, called "Vardavar," rotates. Like Easter it falls on Sundays usually in August. I remember when I was young in Tehran the coming of Vardavar was bitter sweet. Of course there was the joy of dousing each other but then it signified the end of the summer.

So, this year, making arrangements for my travels to Armenia, I didn't pay attention to the date of Vardavar, thinking: "No question, I'll be there for Vardavar." Because my plan was to be in Yerevan by the middle of July.

Yerevan welcomed me with a bang. I arrived Saturday July 14, and realized that the following day was Vardavar. On Sunday morning I looked outside of my window and saw young kids, walking with buckets in their hands. My heart skipped a beat.

I was so excited to go outside and see how they celebrated the feast. Our celebration of Vardavar, in Tehran, was subdued. I usually woke up with a splash of water on my face from my younger brother. Later in the day we went to a swimming pool to use the excuse of Vardavar to splash each other. And in the United States while my kids were growing up we hardly have celebrated the feast.

But now in Armenia I was excited like a kid to watch the revelers. First I was hesitant to go out, because I had heard there is no mercy. No matter what; you would be doused.

I put a light outfit, took my iPhone to use it as a camera, and went outside to our courtyard, where the young kids were so well behaved. I could tell that they were from America because they were all wearing the latest fashion, American outfits and sneakers.

Then a young mother came with a bucket of water in her hand. She started splashing the kids from the bucket. I took a few pictures and then joined the gang to go outside of the apartment complex and continue the celebration.

In Yerevan all over the city, there are drinking water fountains. We proceeded to one of the fountains and the kids filled their buckets and doused each other. They respected me and didn't splash water on me. I was able to catch a few nice pictures. Satisfied with my work, I went back home. Then my friend called and asked me if I'd like to go to the main square where the real action was.

"Curiosity killed the cat." So we drove to the main square where the kids were soaking wet. They were using the water from the pond at the main square to douse each other. Their fight was fierce and without mercy.

My friend sat in front of the Marriott hotel to have a "marojni" ice cream. I proceeded to the battle ground by the pond. While I was standing at the red light to cross the street, a car stopped and someone from inside sprayed me with a water gun. I quickly hide my iPhone so it won't get wet.

With doubtful steps I reached the other side of the square and entered the war zone. They were older kids and they were wreaking havoc. First I took pictures from the fringes, but then realizing my iPhone was not equipped to take nice pictures from far, I proceeded slowly to the center.

My escapade was over when someone emptied a bucket of water on my head from behind. I got soaked from head to tow. I was pretty darn sure that was going to happen. At least I had a towel in my purse which absorbed the water. When I got home I had to lay down all the paper money on the table to dry. The damage was not grave and the joy was worth the dare. I was able to take only one incredible picture.

At age 64 that was the best vardavar I had ever celebrated.

Sunday, 7 October 2012

A Stroll in Yerevan on Independence Day

Friday, September 21 was Independence Day for Armenia. Two days earlier, I had taken a taxi to Zvartnotz airport to pick up my cousins who were coming from Denmark for their first visit in Armenia.
On the way back to Yerevan, as we were crossing the bridge over the Hrazdan River, by the Ararat Cognac Company, I pointed out the billowing tricolor flags along the two sides of the bridge and told my guests the flags were hoisted in their honor.  There were very amused.
Independence Day holds a special place in the hearts of all Armenians.  It signifies an important milestone, and a realization of a dream held for generations that suddenly and unexpectedly happened twenty years ago.
Friday, Independence Day, was a crisp beautiful fall day in Yerevan. The temperature was around 25C.  I had a few errands to do around the town.  I asked my guests to walk with me so I could “show off” the beautiful city and take care of a few things at the same time.
Since schools and banks were closed, there was little traffic. We started from Freedom Square, where the Opera is.  We took a few pictures of the tricolor flags set in the center of the square and waving gracefully in the wind. Then we proceeded to the Opera, where I wanted to check on the upcoming cultural events at the box office.
What I had always heard is definitely true: the best time to visit Yerevan is at the end of September.  Indeed, it was so enjoyable to walk in the shade of the tall and mature trees along the wide sidewalks.  Yerevan was sparkling with refurbished sidewalks and streets. Everything looked so fresh in the crisp weather.
From the Opera, we passed by a few cafés and then came to the Swan’s Lake. We took photos of the lake and the swans swimming there.  Then we took a few more photos of the abstract statue of Arno Babajanian playing piano.  I was full of pride – as if I owned the city.
A scene from the independence day celebrations in Armenia

Then we continued on Tumanian street east to the corner of Nalbandian, to visit the Apple computer store. I wanted to pick up my iPhone, which I had left there so technicians could transfer my pictures onto discs.
Although the Apple store in Yerevan does not compare to those in the United States, the service is pretty good and the technicians are knowledgeable.
While I was at the Apple store, my guests went next door to “Hyur Service” to check on their tours in Armenia. We eased our way further east on Tumanian street and came upon an outdoor Chinese café.  Out of all the cafés in Yerevan, we chose to have a snack there.  The TV was showing last year’s military parades celebrating the republic’s 20th anniversary.  This year there were no parades, only an event in the evening at the Republic Square.
My cousin wanted to order prescription glasses.  She had heard that the price in Yerevan could be cheaper than in Denmark.   So, we went to an optician’s store on Vardanantz street.  And, yes, she ordered her glasses at a fraction of the price she would pay back home.
From there, we wound our way to the Republic square where last minute preparations were under way for the evening celebration. A show of light and a concert was supposed to bring thousands to the square.
We encountered a full throttle of Independence Day spirit at the pedestrian street at Northern Avenue.  There we met groups of young people marching with flags wrapped around themselves or hoisted in their hands.  They were chanting upbeat patriotic slogans, and the sound carried across the street.
It was so heartwarming to see those kids, our next generation of leaders, keeping the spirit of the Day alive.  I had thought that they had no idea how dear Independence Day is to us.  Most people were wearing either tricolor or orange shirts.  Young women were wearing fashionable tricolor headbands. And most carried  mini flags in their hands.
My eyes traveled to all corners of the street, soaking in the spirit of the day. It was sprinkled with young artists painting tricolor tattoos on young peoples arms or faces.  The charge was 200 dram (50 cents).  I regretted that I didn’t purchase one.
More than not having a tattoo, I regretted that we had missed being on Northern avenue during the morning hours when the state philharmonic orchestra and state academic choir had put together a “flash-mob” concert. But, thanks to YouTube we can still have the pleasure of listening to it.
That’s how the laid-back city of Yerevan celebrated Independence Day.