Friday, May 26, 2006

More From Armenia Continued

There is an interesting characteristic in cemetaries in Armenia that I suppose one should be made aware of. There is the tradition of etching a photo of the deceased on the tombstone. Some are full standing figures, some are portraits, some do actually choose not to have a picture and simply have their name or a sculpture similiar to the graves in Europe or America. However, when I came across the tombstone above (first photo) I could not help myself and had to take a photo. Obviously Garlen Yeritsian was a chauffer or had a truck or something.... I think it's great. God Bless his soul.
The second photo is taken at Lake Sevan. Although it was much too cold to even consider going into the lake it was still beautiful to do a bit of horseriding around the area. (I need to mention that the horses were reluctant to do much walking around so it was more like forcing donkeys across the terrain). However, one cannot deny the wonderful feeling of traveling naturally and furthermore - there's nothing like being saddle sore for a few days. The lake was gorgeous and the snow capped mountains surrounding it were stunning.
The remaining photos are of Sanahin monastery. It is hard to believe that this sort of architecture existed in Armenia in the 1200's. The loftiness of the columns in the main part of the church reminded me of cathedrals in Europe. Here were the Armenians building in this advanced way and all of it on the top of mountains overlooking lush green valleys. They knew what they were doing.
I got a phone call from the electricity board this morning - they got a bit personal and irate with me because I wasn't aware when and where I was supposed to go to pay my bill. At the place (which is I think like a post office) there is no concept of waiting on line and people push through to get to the window first. I had to physically remove a woman's hand from in front of me while she waved the money in the tellers face. Despite telling her that she was rude she managed to get her way and pay her bill. Not every single thing in Armenia is wonderful!!! Now with the fear of having water, electricity or telephone cut off I can carry on living in my apartment but nevertheless continue to have the fear that they will randomly decide to cut the water while I am showering or cut the electricity while I am cooking. It has happened but I have pulled through like a trooper!
Armenia continues to be magical. A full schedule of recording, performing, and keeping an eye on the school renovation exist ahead. June will be a hectic month and I am sure it will fly by. Hoping I can get it all wrapped up by the 8th of July but will have to be prepared if I need to stay on. That means end of August. Just as well I am almost officially a citizen and passport holder here! I have the joy of returning to the Ovil (government building), where ex-Soviet style Armenian officials are awaiting my arrival with what I am sure will be sheer joy and hospitality. (not).
Can't wait.
Will keep you all posted on progress and perhaps more reportage style photos in future.
Peace, love, free-flowing water and endless electricity!!!

Thursday, May 25, 2006

More From Armenia

And another two weeks has gone by with yet another group of unforgettable experiences and impressions to be embedded in the mind for a lifetime. In two weeks we experienced the slaughter of a lamb in our honour, had a chauffer who drove a Volga with a BMW steering wheel and had to roll start our car, smoked a cigarette every 20 minutes, and engaged in gathering his phlegm and spitting out the window every 20 minutes. We've been to the crowded cafes in Yerevan where you can get a delicious Lahmajo at Tufenkian's "Mer Taghe" on Toumanian Street to the fresh kill of Marts where I avoided witnessing the slaughter and couldn't get any of the meal down my throat! What might have been a two hour trip to the village turned into a 6 hour ordeal with teh experience of milking cows and shots of Vodka all around.
Armenia is the land where the word "makeshift" must have been invented. It is here that all the unexpected happens and you become witness to the strangest things. We witnessed about 20 people trying to get into a "Yeraz" the green van in the picture below (previous blog) and a guy on the end stuffing in what looked like an 80 year old woman in the back of the car....
We explored the shores of Lake Sevan in the freezing cold and revisited some of my favourite places in the North. The monasteries of Sanahin, Haghpat and Kobayr. I shall add more pictures tomorrow.
On the music front I am getting prepared to start recording by the end of next week. Fingers crossed all will go well. It seems the preparation is endless and I am eager to start the recording process. As for the work in the village, the t's are being crossed and the i's dotted so that we are ready to roll by June. I have been preparing what is to come for the last two months and am looking forward to the action.
Promise to be back shortly!

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Interviews and "Dreams"

What an interesting few days it has been! Firstly I had my first television interview on Rubicon TV station here and to my surprise sounds like it got televised to many different countries including Cyprus, Germany and England. It's fun to be recognised and have people ask if they can have a photo with you. Given the fact that I am just doing what I love it is extremely touching to be appreciated by people. I hope I will always retain the simplicity and humility of appreciating all people even if somehow the success of the music reaches leaps and bounds. It is always and will always be about my love for music and the ability to touch others with the emotion and energy it gives. This is the meaning of music, and stardom and all the rest that come with it are just temporary and ego massaging. The important thing is to love and to give love - always. It was a fun day out at the tv studio which sits in an area called Nork Marash. The views down to the city are astounding and I was just in time to catch the sunset.
Yesterday was the 9th of May which is something like Veterans Day over here. Most city folk will go out to the country and have a get together or go to concerts. I had the priviledge of being invited by my dear friend Anna to meet her family and have a "khorovadz" (kebab) together. Travelling by local martshutka which is a minivan that operates as our buses do in Europe, we first went to a more remote area of Yerevan where I met a string of relatives who all lived in a complex with their individual houses. Hidden behind Anna's apartment were beehives for making honey and a wonderful garden patch of fresh greens which her father proudly keeps. After grabbing a bottle of cognac for the folks we set of to Saghmos - to the village where her parents stay in their house.
Anna's family is wonderful. Her father is wise and proud, her mother is soft and clever, her brothers are good strong men and the family dogs, chickens, goats, and cocks - they are all fabulous too. We took the family "porsche" as they like to call it to the valley to have a khorovadz. I have never seen anything like this vehicle before. It is a fantastic acid green and could probably house about 20 people in one go (see pictures). In this car we had seats, tires, tools, a table, a bed, pots, pans, drinks, food, a gas stove, lighting, blankets, and bushels of wood. If I ever stay here and need a car - this is the car for me. The name of the car is "Yeraz" which means dream in Armenian.
On route we stopped at an old dilapidated church which apparently used to be in better condition but some people from America decided to renovate it so they took down half of it and then for whatever reason left it that way. It's a sad story. Around the corner from the church we heard live music and singing and saw that a group of boys had gathered and were playing traditional Armenian instruments on the slopes of the beautiful valley and drinking ample portions of vodka. They were having a lot of fun! After avoiding being roped in as this would be considered improper as they we all men and not exactly sober, we continued down the valley to a nice location near the river. Anna decided to make us some coffee when we got there but we forgot the jazzveh so she made it in a tin pan (see photo). I quickly learned why the name "Yeraz" was so perfect for this car. After laying a spread in the valley and cooking our meat, it suddenly started to rain heavily. We managed to relocate all of our belongings, all 7 of us, set up a table and seats and have our meal in the "Dream". Shortly after it began to hail but there we were eating khorovadz and drinking vodka with the hail stones pelting the metal above us and shouting to hear one another. It was fantastic!
We then went on to see Saghmosavank - a very old church which in recent years has been repaired and there we looked down on the valley at the Kasakh river which was breathtaking. On the way home we stopped at a park which had the Armenian letters carved in stone and I was pleased to see that S & V were together and so I posed for a photo. (how appropriate!).
All in all it has been an interesting few days. I am invited for another interview on Friday evening at 9:30pm on Yerevan tv and will also be doing the version of the Good Morning show in a few weeks which is on Armenia tv. The songs are currently being transferred into sheet music and God willing recording will begin by the beginning of June.
As for our dear school and village, I decided to use floorboards rather than parquet and managed to lower the budget by about $3,000 but we are still short on funds. I will address that in more detail by general email but we can certainly get most of the work done at this point... so onwards! I am excited to see the transformation take place.
When asked on my tv interview - what would you like to say to all the people that are not in Armenia? I replied - everyone should come to Armenia - at least once. It will change your life. And so it already has changed mine in so many ways....

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Becoming a Local

When you go to the local market and they no longer charge you 700 Dram for a lettuce and their faces light up when they see you and they call you "sister" and charge you 150 and throw in some spinach, when the taxi no longer charges you 1000 Dram for a central destination and you get there for 500, when you start filling up bottles of water to prepare for the hour when they shut down your water, when you systematically get up early to get laundry done and hang it on a washing line, when you start craving a nice strong Armenian coffee in the morning, afternoon, and in fact anytime their might be an excuse to drink it, when you stop trusting the traffic and bolt across the road when the walk sign turns green (in actual fact it is a "run" sign), when you start carrying a torch because you know the electricity is bound to go at some point, and when you start talking to everyone around you and start randomly meeting people in all sorts of places,....I reckon you start becoming a local.
3 weeks into my project and I feel a buzz and excitement that things are happening around me. I have had the priviledge of having some friends here as well as the priviledge of meeting many new ones. It amazes me that while walking the streets of Yerevan you can meet an Armenian celebrity and they will stop and have a conversation with you and invite you around for coffee. Yesterday, Armen Movsisyan, one of the musicians whose music inspired me to do what I am doing invited me to his house so we could listen to my music and think about my "poetry". I have been listening to his CD's since my return last August and I feel his music is pure and speaks to the soul. After introducing myself to him at the Art Institute he kindly offered to look at my music. I sat in admiration, awe, disbelief, and mostly with a great feeling of kindness, love and gratefulness while he shook his head, sang along to my songs, rubbed his head and commanded several things from his children that were clearly within reach. He chain smoked I think an entire packet of cigarettes in the 6 hours that he spent analysing my words but he paid me the greatest compliment. He mentioned that he thought it incredibly brave to do what I was doing as I am not a native Armenian and that he thoroughly enjoyed my style and music. When I spoke to him earlier today he asked if the time we had spent looking at my work had been helpful. When I said of course he replied by saying, "Well thank God for that"!
I had a nice chuckle!
The above picture is at Oshagan - where the inventor of the Armenian alphabet is buried. The letter I am standing in front of is an "S".
Currently I have got one of the girls from the village of Martz (Leili) down here for a few days. She is ill and the doctor has prescribed 6 different medications for her to take. I am not quite sure how this is possible or why but the cost is about 28,000 - which is close to $60.00. How they expect these people to pay for their medication is a mystery to me.
Armenia is still a mystery for me in many ways but I am learning about its beauty, its hardships, its history, its fears, its hopes, and its communion with the everlasting spirit of survival. They are survivors here - each and every one of them.
We shall see how I do the next few days!

Monday, May 01, 2006

Images of Armenia