Yerevan: City of Stares

In an effort to bring you an ever better blog and make you happy to live in Washington, DC, I am traveling the globe to compare other capital cities.

As ever, the four criteria for city liveablity are transportation, eye contact, weather, and culture.

Yerevan, if you don’t already know, is the capital of Armenia, which, if you don’t already know, is between Turkey and Georgia.  It’s a city of near-extremes, but not in the infuriating way cities in India are.

However, Yerevan is just plain weird.  With a history dating from the 8th century BCE, Soviet architecture from the ’70s and ’80s and modern glass buildings shooting up like saplings, the city seems in a bit of a muddle.

Transportation is poor.  There is a small metro system, which is something, but the presence of mutatu-like vans zipping around, filled to the brim with grim-faced citizens just leaves a bad impression.

Eye contact is worse!  There is eye contact in that everyone looks at you like they are a dirty old man and you are standing locked outside your house in your towel.  When Armenians look at you, they start at your shoulder, travel down to your shoes, then back up and away.  And I know I don’t have something in my teeth.  I checked.

The culture, however, surpassed my expectations.  At the Armenian History Museum I saw a leather shoe from 6,000 BCE, huge urns for sacrificial wine, tiny bronze statues of bulls, and on and on.  But as if history wasn’t enough, Yerevan has a real-life jazz club, done in a distinctively Armenian fashion.

The band sits up on a shallow dias, and the crowd lounges in armchairs while smoking cigars or hookah and drinking cocktails.  Around 11:00, the Russians roll in and order trays of brandy.  At midnight, the sweaty owner of the club makes his entrance, plays three numbers on the piano with a cigarette hanging precariously from his lower lip, then laps up the applause and leaves.

The weather, in my experience, has been rainy, overcast and downright foggy, blocking any and all views of Mount Ararat.  The summer is supposed to be warm and lovely, but for now, the rain is a welcome break from the fog.

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2 Comments Add yours

  1. jkc says:

    wow, and i thought DC had crazy eye contact!

  2. MCF says:

    I think you need to adjust your livability standards to accommodate Europeans. Prolonged eye contact with strangers on the street is, in my experience, gauche in many places in Europe–or even inviting trouble. We can’t just take our American standards and apply them to other countries without taking into account their local culture. That’s common.

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