Safe Landing

On August 28th, I arrived in Yerevan, Armenia for the first time since the summer of 1977: Then via Beirut, now via London; then to a Soviet Republic, now to a vibrant, complex independent state; then after living in Yemen for the year; now from my home in the mountains of Vermont.

After a year of teaching school in Yemen, where fresh fruits were limited to imported oranges, mealy red delicious apples, local limes in abundance, and the occasional watermelon, I still remember the luscious strawberries of Beirut. But it wasn’t till Armenia that I tasted the intense golden sweetness of my first fresh apricot.

The flight from Beirut to Yerevan, on Aeroflot of course, was filled with diasporic Armenians, most of them fleeing some sort of political upheaval in the lands in which they hand landed. Lebanon, Ethiopia, Iran. Throughout the flight, the engines roared as though they were a little closer to the inside of the cabin than usual. Water dripped from the sloped ceiling. Massive Russian stewardesses shouted in their mother tongue at passengers, who wandered freely around the cabin, lit cigarettes in hand, despite seatbelt signs that were also lit.  As the peak of Mt. Ararat ascended toward us, all passengers rose from their seats to dance in the aisles and celebrate their homecoming.

The British Midland Airways flight, from London to Yerevan to Teheran, was so empty and quiet, that each passenger could spread out across three seats. Seatbelts were fastened even when lying down. Tea was served. The sparkling new Zvartnots Airport passenger terminal, built thanks to Argentinean investors, gave me the first inkling of how profoundly Yerevan had changed. But meeting Catherine Yesayan, my good host these past few weeks, at the “Black Cat” in downtown Yerevan, was like stepping into a dream.

The Black Cat— “Gatto”—is a  sculpture by Columbian artist Fernando Botero (b.1933), installed in the sculpture garden of the stunning Cafesjian Center for the Arts, a complex that begins at street level with two blocks of sculptures surrounded by arabesque plantings and fountains, and then continuing as a massive stone staircase with sculptures, gardens, and fountains rising hundreds of feet up the adjacent hill. Construction of the “Cascade” (Kas-cad) began in the 1970’s under Soviet rule but the project was never completed as the U.S.S.R dissolved. In 2001, Gerald Cafesjian began transforming the grounds and the space behind the massive staircase into the exceptional museum that it is today.

I have come back to the ancient land of Armenia, as a Fulbright Scholar, to make art and write stories about the experience of growing old in Armenia. What luck to landed in a museum “dedicated to bringing the best of contemporary art to Armenia and presenting the best of Armenian culture to the world.”  When I climb the steps of the Cascade each morning, to see Mt. Ararat, beachhead of Noah’s ark, rising in the sky beyond Yerevan, I float between the old and the new.

Another woman, had  arrived at the Cascade just before me: Botero’s “Woman Smoking a Cigarette.” Built like a stewardesses from that 1977 flight, she lies nude on her onyx black stomach, looking out over her cigarette at the Armenians who surround her, all of them with ready opinions.

Catherine and I joined them before going back to her apartment where she had a bowl filled with the last golden apricots of the season waiting for me.

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35 Responses to Safe Landing

  1. Daphne Kalmar says:

    A wonderful beginning, Dana. And apricots! Yes, loaded with meaning now from reading your work. Here’s to adventures!

  2. Charlie Hosford says:

    So nice to hear your thoughts and images….they are as sweet as the apricots…With love from Vermont, Charlie H.

  3. Tamara Smith says:

    Oh Dana…have an amazing time…you will, I know… yell hello to Derek! He’s in the Republic of Georgia right now…

  4. Barbara says:

    What a succulent description. I’m so glad you are doing this. Southern Vermont is still rather green, though there is a snap in the air and I have given up hope that my gourd plants will produce this time.

  5. Melissa says:

    Just fabulous, Dana. I look forward to seeing more! An adventure, indeed…

  6. Nancy Levine says:

    How lucky I am to know you and see Armenia through your eyes and words.

  7. Lee Rosen says:

    Dried apricots were served at the PCR faculty meetings this week, Dana. Keeping the tradition and thinking of you! Can’t wait to hear what happens next.

  8. Sarah Lamstein says:

    So happy to be sharing your wonderful journey!

  9. Rindi says:

    Lovely to share your adventures in Yerevan from here in Bloemfontein!

  10. helene langevin says:

    This is beautiful Dana, thank you for doing this and sharing with all of us. Helene

  11. Bill Mitchell says:

    Dana, Congratulations on your Armenian blog! I’ll look forward to getting it and keeping up to date on your artistic and anthropological adventures!!
    A beautiful sunny Saturday afternoon here and I am hiking up Elmore in a few minutes. Wish you and Peter could join me. Have fun! Love, Bill

    • danawalrath says:

      Thanks so much, Bill! I love picturing you hiking up Elmore. I am outside of Yerevan this weekend with a view of a mountain that resembles Mt. Mansfield called Ara’s Mountain, with Ara’s nose pointing up to sky.

  12. Joni says:

    Well done Dana
    Congratulations on beginning a facing ring project and adventure!

  13. mima tipper says:

    Dana! Such an exciting journey! I am aflutter for you. I know you will take every advantage.
    xo and look forward to more.

  14. Yurij Bihun says:

    Dana — lovely writing and photos; keep us posted and we will follow your adventures as if they were our own… Take care. Yurij & Irene

  15. Nathalie says:

    Hi Dana,

    So wonderful to read of your first few days in Armenia. Your writing is captivating and makes one feel as if one is right there along side you – thanks for the treat! Fascinating too to read of how even your contrasting journeys to Armenia in 1977 and 2012 reveal so much about how the world and certainly the region has changed. Cannot wait to read more.

    Nathalie

    • danawalrath says:

      Thank you Nathalie for your kind words! The world certainly has changed in that time, but here in a post Soviet Repulbic those changes feel more drastic. We of course have stayed young in the meantime!

  16. Hello Dana. Let me be the last to say how delighted I am to hear of your safe landing and settling in. I look forward to reading more about your adventures. I have been thinking about you.
    Denise

    • danawalrath says:

      Lovely to hear from you, Denise, and many thanks! I’ve thought of you too! Have you been here at any point? This nation state has kept things I never knew before alive and well for me to find now. Powerful.

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