Chronicles from our Final Event

8 Oct

You know when you go out with your friends at night, you have a lot of fun, you look at the watch thinking that just half an hour has passed and instead it’s already 5 o’clock in the morning? You know that feeling of surprise and bewilderment when it happens? Well, that’s what happened to us when we looked at each other sitting at a table at MIMINO, in Dilijan, after our final event was over, last September, 21st . We felt like 3 months of project had gone by so fast, without us realizing it, being so focused on organizing, researching, realizing, writing, meeting, enjoying… and all of the other things involved in our project.

The final event has been the best way for us to realize this, though. Dilijan’s unpredictable weather has been kind enough to give us a wonderful hot and sunny day right in the middle of a rainy and grayish week, so we have sung and danced with the amazing background of the sun going down behind Dilijan’s mountains. However, weather apart, it is Dilijan’s people that we have to thank the most! Maybe because they wanted to enjoy the summery day or maybe because they were actually interested in what we do (or maybe the two things together…) so many people came that the amphitheatre was literally packed.

The audience

The audience

Drawing Italian flags on Armenian skins!

Drawing Italian flags on Armenian skins!

They were both old and young, male and female, Armenian and not, humans and animals… and altogether they were pretty nice to see! We have tried our best to please our audience with the songs and dances that we had prepared for the event, which we sang and danced together with the boys and girls from the courses we organized during the summer. With our performances we have transformed the amphitheatre into a huge mixer: we put together Italian and Armenian cultures and traditions, we shook energetically through the good vibes of songs and dances, and in the end a nice and tasty cocktail came out. Here are the ingredients:

Two italian songs

Bella Ciao

Alla Fiera dell’Est

and two Armenian

O Qami Qami

Astghazart Nkar

Two Armenian dances

Ververi

Tamzara

and one Italian

Taranta (Zimbaria – Baciu ‘nvelenatu)

(Go on the links and check them all out. They’re pretty nice.)

Maria and Ester dancing the "taranta".

Maria and Ester dancing the “taranta”.

Happy about Maria's and Ester's dances

Happy about Maria’s and Ester’s dances

Throughout the event, there were always music going on and we’ve always invited people onto the stage to dance and make some noise with us in order to wait for the sun to go down and go on with the second part of the performance, which required darkness.

In love with Italy!

In love with Italy!

Meline is in love with Italy, too!

Meline is in love with Italy, too!

Sara is in love with Armenia

Sara is in love with Armenia

After the sunset we in fact showed on a big screen some videos about our project with the monasteries and our life in Armenia (by the way, you are going to see them uploaded on our YouTube page during the next couple of weeks) and most of all we performed together with Silvia and her burning poi-poi. Truly atmospheric and… no one got burnt!

Silvia's poi-pois are on fire!

Silvia’s poi-pois are on fire!

At the end of all this we were all so exhausted that even eating the delicacy  which MIMINO’s kachapuri is was quite an effort… Nevertheless in the following days we found our energy again and finished installing the benches in Goshavank. A new post about this is coming soon! Stay tuned!

P.s. Thanks a lot from the bottom of our hearts to all the people who have come to the event! We really hope you have liked it!

Brochures are coming!

17 Sep

In these days we’ve  all been very busy working on the brochures about the three monasteries we have been working on (Haghartsin, Goshavank and Jukhtak Vank… you should know by now!).

As already mentioned in the previous post, those of us who have been mainly in charge for the texts are Olga, Sara, Maria, Ester and Isabella. They all spent the last month doing researches wherever they could find useful publications and using any connection available to put their hands on interesting books or to have a talk with helpful people. The result has been an amazing quantity of material to choose from, requesting quite a few days of work. That’s why what was initially conceived as a plain and simple brochure has become an extensive informative leaflet about the Tavush region, Dilijan and the monasteries of Haghartsin, Jukh… well… you should know by now! The wonderful thing about this work has been that the writers have sought to give an original cut to their parts, not simply writing descriptions of the places and monuments.

Writing, editing, revising, drawing, documenting...

Writing, editing, revising, drawing, documenting…

In particular, Olga, taking care of the historical part, has examined the three monasteries focusing on the influences of the pagan substratum on Armenian Christian culture, architecture and rites. Sara, in charge of the art section, has made a comparison between the ornamental elements found in the khachkar (tomb-stones) of Goshavank and those in Haghartsin. Maria, our architect, has realized a set of comprehensive architectonic prospects (elevetions, in jargon) about the monasteries. The punctual architectonic description which has been realized is the result of a collaboration between Olga and Katherina. Ester and Isabella, after their many ethnographic researches amongst the people of Dilijan and the surrounding villages have written about folkloric tales concerning the monasteries and the popular knowledge and perception of them, Ester focusing more on the figure of Mxit’ar Gosh and his relationship with the community of Gosh village, around Goshavank, whereas Isabella dealing more with the shift in the functions of the monasteries during and after the soviet period.

Now the writing process has finished and all the texts and pictures are being laid out by the skilful hands of our graphic designer Erica, who is working overnights to meet the deadlines. We are in fact determined to present our work to the community during the final event which we’re organizing and that is going to take place next Saturday, 21st September.

And the rest of the group? What have they done? We’ve all helped writing, reading, revising, giving suggestions, coordinating… during all the process of the brochure’s realization. Even though most of the merit goes to our experts it has really been a collective work (like all of the work we have done so far in our project, to be fair). We will publish an on-line version of the brochure (in English) by the end of this week, after its official presentation during our final event on Saturday. The paper version will be spread around Dilijan as soon as possible. A translated version in Armenian, Italian and, hopefully, in Russian and German will soon follow.

Our working station (one of the many uses of our ping-pong table!)

Our working station (one of the many uses of our ping-pong table!)

We really hope that this little effort of ours will not only be an original and helpful way for tourists and Armenian culture lovers to know and understand Dilijan and its sightseeings, but also a valid instrument through which local people will re-discover and re-evaluate the cultural richness they have two steps from home.

Things Change…

7 Sep

 

It is already 2 weeks since we got back from our holidays and during this time we’ve had enough time to realize that a lot of things have changed: people, places, timings, commitments…

First of all, we feel that WE have changed. For our holidays, the group split and we traveled separately: Isabella, Sara and Silvia left for an on-the-road trip to Turkey; Agnese, Ester, Maria, Katherina and Erica went to Georgia and travelled around there for one week or so; Olga met with her fiancé Alessandro in Tbilisi and they later went to the South of Armenia and to the Republic of Nagorno Karabakh. Francesco also went there on a solitary trip.

Staying away from each other for a few days, we’ve realized how our group has become like an atypical family… we’ve all enjoyed our trips but we’ve missed each other so much… it has been awesome to come back to the old Dilijan and meet each other once again with more stories to tell and photographs to show! Besides travel stories, another topic that has emerged in our chats is the “d’you remember the time when….?”. We have been living together for almost two months and half now and we have plenty of shared memories and experiences that we can pick from.. probably talking about this stuff is a way to fight against the time which is bringing the end of our project closer and closer… ( just three weeks to go guys…sigh…). Actually we’ve already started to say goodbye to someone along the way. When we got back from our holidays we found out that Tigran, our mentor, had left for Yerevan because he had found a new job over there. We wish him all the best, he deserves it! Today it’s been the turn of our flatmates Igor and Monika who have already left Dilijan and are taking off for Poland on Sunday morning from Yerevan. Our flat won’t be the same without them! Dziekuje guys!

Another thing that has drastically changed in the last week has been our weekly schedule. The boys and the girls from our courses last monday started the school and university, so we’ve decided to move all of our clubs to Saturday afternoon to allow them to come and forget about all the stress accumulated during the week and just have fun with us preparing and rehearsing for our final event in Dilijan’s amphitheatre. This is going to be big, big, BIG! CNN, BBC, AlJazeera, and all the major international networks are already talking about it! It’s going to be on the weekend of the 21st-22nd September, there’s going to be plenty of Italian and Armenian music and dances, acrobatic shows and an exhibition of our pictures! You’re going to see some informative posters about it quite soon around Dilijan, so watch out!

With all our clubs condensed in just one day, all our daily commitments have also radically changed. Our day-by-day activities are in fact focusing on writing the material that will end up in the brochures which we will issue about Goshavank, Haghartsin and Jukhtak Vank and the informative panels that we will hopefully install on them. Particularly involved in these activities are our history-, art-, anthropology- and architecture-experts (namely, respectively, Olga, Sara,Ester+Isabella and Maria). Kudos to all of them for all the effort and enthusiasm they’ve been putting on the research- and writing-process! Soon a new post will come out explaining more in depth what they’re writing about.

We’ve all been so absorbed by the activities concerning the brochures and the final performance that we even had to temporarily suspend our Armenian classes for this week. Anyway we are getting back to our teacher Marine starting from next Wednesday, as soon as we will be done with the brochures.

To end with, since this is a post about change, here is a list of all the things that have changed since we are here:

the place of the groceries shop in front of our hotel, the function of our ping-pong table (from game-device to wardrobe), the location of Olga’s luggage (several times on the route Istanbul-Tbilisi), the number of wine bottles lined up on the closet in our common room, the length of Francesco’s beard, the looks of several Dilijani people on us (passing from the “Who the hell are you?” look to the “ah, here is one of those crazy Italians!” look), the smell on the first floor of our hotel, the amount of dirt on our dining table, Agnese’s musical skills (she now dabbles with harmonium and duduk), the number of our Armenian friends, our confidence with Armenian transportation network and sightseeing (now we could put on a travel agency…), the amount of souvenirs piled up in our rooms…

That's Us

Our first group picture, taken just before our departure from Venice, on July 1st

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Our most recent group picture, taken after the arrival from our vacation, together with Andrea and Christian from Eurogems (our sending organization) who came to visit us for a mid-term evaluation. Do you notice any change?

Let’s get philosophical…

19 Aug

the-thinker

One month and a half has passed since we have arrived here in Armenia. We’ve still got one month and a half to go, we’re “nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita”, as Dante would say. It could be a good time to take the stock of our project so far. So let’s get philosophical, let’s contemplate the sky, light up our pipe, start smoking and ask ourselves: what have we done? how have we gotten here? what are we doing? where are we going? where do we want to get to? and so on and so forth…

We have done plenty of things so far. First and foremost, we have learned some Armenian. During our first few weeks in Dilijan just buying a bunch of things in a shop was quite a challenge: we became experienced mimes, using gestures and facial expressions to make locals understand what we wanted to buy, accompanying our moves with weird mumblings (mhmhmh – ahaha – ohoho). Now, after just a couple of weeks of Armenian language course with our wonderful teacher Marine, we are pretty good in the average Armenian cheap- street- pub- talk and we can limit the mumblings to the minimum. Aghber! Inch ka? Sutti Mutti…

We haven’t been just attending courses, though, we have also been teaching courses. Our Italian Language and Culture, English, Drawing, Environment, Music and Performance clubs are still working at their best. By getting local young people involved through the bond and the exchange that we are creating with these clubs, we are trying to draw them closer to the beauty of the monasteries we are working on, a beauty that here is often too neglected when it should be protected and cherished instead. It has been a joy and a satisfaction for us to work side by side with the Dilijani boys and girls from our courses cleaning Jukhtak Vank monastery from weeds and mud. We’re hoping to stir an enthusiasm in them in order for them to go back to the monastery and take care of it also after our departure. That would be a wonderful way to make our effort here much more long-lasting and effective. C’mon boys and girls, we know you can do it!

Another thing that we have been doing has been travelling extensively throughout the country. Amongst the 10 of us, we’ve been virtually all around Armenia. This has allowed us to better know and understand Armenian history and culture and meet plenty of awesome Armenian people.

Some of us have gone much more in depth into Armenian historical and cultural heritage. Sara and Olga (our history and history of art experts) have spent so much time and effort in Yerevan’s libraries, looking for books and  pamphlets about the monasteries’ history and art; Ester and Isabella (our anthropologists) have been interviewing so many locals about their contacts with the monasteries and the popular beliefs around them; Maria (our architect) is living symbiotically with her laptop to prepare some drawings of Jukhtak Vank, which are presently missing. “Why?” one could ask… Well, all of this, mixed and combined, will end up in the brochures that we are planning to issue for Haghartsin, Goshavank and Jukhtak Vank and on the information boards that we are considering to put in Haghartsin and Jukhtak Vank.

Apart from brochures and information boards, we are also working on realization on the site of Goshavank and Jukhtak Vank of some benches in order for the visitors to sit and better enjoy the beauty of the monasteries. We’re hoping to get them done by the first weeks of September. Cross your fingers!

The other major commitment for the upcoming month will be the final event with which we will present the work and achievements of our three months in Dilijan to the local community. We will show our pictures and videos, the drawings of the drawing club and do some dance and music performance with the kids from our performance club. So, keep your evenings free if you’re in Dilijan in the second half of September!

There you go, that’s all.

So, do we feel wiser after our philosophical self-analysis? Mhh… I wouldn’t think so. Satisfied and proud, I would say, seeing all the things that have been done, and much more enthusiastic for our future projects, of course!

 

Francesco

P.s. For the next week the blog will be on break since we are all going on vacation! Some of us have already left and others have their backpacks already set for the trip so we will come back with so many new travel stories to tell! Stay tuned and see you soon!

 

Our first works in Jukhtak Vank

14 Aug

Last Tuesday we have been for the first time to Jukhtak Vank to work on the site. After taking the 11 o’clock marshrutka, we have met with some friends from Dilijan at the last bus stop of the town and then hiked together to the monastery for about one hour. We had a good lunch altogether with the food that all of us brought and shared, then we rolled our sleeves up and started working.

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Group photo just after lunch

Fully equipped with shovel, rake and spade we have cleaned the whole lower building of the monastery complex tearing off the weeds which had grown on the walls of the church and freeing the stone blocks leading to the main entrance from years and years of vegetation around them. Even though we are not professional archeologist or restorers, we have been particular attentive in our interventions trying not to damage the bricks and rocks while cleaning them and doing everything within our capabilities not to move every single little stone from its original spot. It has been some hard work but we’ve also enjoyed it: we have listened to some music, chatted with our Armenian friends and in the end the time flew away.

And the cleaning starts...

And the cleaning starts…

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Monika and Garun tearing weeds off the monastery.

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Keeping up the good work!

We have tried to make the space in front of the monastery as tidy and clean as possible

We have tried to make the space in front of the monastery as tidy and clean as possible

Cleaning the stone blocks in front of the monastery

Cleaning the stone blocks in front of the monastery

At the end of the day, before getting back home, we’ve been really happy realizing how much work had been done. Our thoughts went to the people who had lived and worked in the monastery and protected it throughout the centuries, we hope through our little efforts to have honoured the memory of their lives. We also hope our work will allow future visitors to better appreciate the beauty of the monastery. We don’t want to take too much credit for the work that has been done, though. We are just doing our job here and the European Union is paying our expenses for that. A lot more credit is deserved by all the Armenian people who have deliberately decided to follow us to Jukhtak Vank out of their friendship and generosity. We hope this could be a start for a new found interest and involvement in the care for the monuments that Dilijan (and Armenia at large) is lucky enough to host. Thanks a lot Yeghbairner and Kuyrikner!

The entrance of the monastery after our cleaning. No more weeds in sight!

The entrance of the monastery after our cleaning. No more weeds in sight!

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Our job is done! Exhausted but happy

This Friday we are going back to Jukhtak Vank to work on the upper building. Come on and join us if you’re around! All the informations on our Facebook page.

The Mulberry Tree

6 Aug

ester2

In this post Ester talks about Isabella’s and her folkloric/anthropologic researches in the village of Gosh, where Goshavank monastery is.

While we were going to Goshavank, the monastery 25 km far from Dilidjan, Isabella and I were staring at the window, captured by the landscape. The light reflected above a willow’s silver green which covered the bank of the Getik river while on the horizon a big mountain revealed a red shade between the conifers. Indeed, the view of this beautiful picture postcard of Armenia acquired for us a new sense, one which is related to the fact that we are always someway attracted by the ‘exotic’ behaviours of the people and intrigued by their original gibberish. Along the way the surrounding as a neutral stage suddenly disappeared when by chance we looked at the wasted eyes of an old woman seated on the roadside, selling mushrooms in a plastic bucket; the same happened few minutes later, observing the slow movements of a farmer who was setting a pile of sheaves of grain to dry. In our brief survey about Goshavank, using an ethnographic perspective, we assumed the premise that to understand the distinctive traits of a location, we needed to concentrate our attention on the relation which the inhabitants maintain with the environment, ascribing a series of meaning to it. These meanings, which are sensory and affective, translate into mundane way of life and you can find them nestled between the leaves of a featureless tree.

Around the monastery there is Gosh, a little village of approximately 1200 people who live mainly of cattle breeding. There is also a moderate flow of tourism, especially during the summer season, which decrease with the cooling down of the temperature. In winter, as the vice-mayor told us, the snow covers everything and the residents take refuge in their homes, taking care of the cattle by giving it some bay and eating what they have gathered during the warmer times. The forest represents a natural resource used by the population for the breeding practice but it is also essential to collect and gather some type of nourishment, such as mushrooms, aromatic herbs and wild fruits, which are worked and conserved with specific skills, handed down through generations. Despite the presence of a consumerist model of economical exchange and the significant percentage of people who go outside the country looking for an employment and come back with new habits and lifestyles, the people remained attached to their land, which is someway connected with their religious belief. At least 60 inhabitants of Gosh spend regularly part of the year in Russia, working mainly in the field of building trade, while the grandparents take care of their children. Jevorgh, a little guy who gleefully followed us during our ethnographic walk, spends his holidays with tatik and papik (grandma and grandpa), trotting along the monastery with his best friend David.

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Alvart, an elderly woman who lives nearby the monastery, is attached to the native vegetation and the best way in which she expresses herself is meshing with it. Two weeks ago she kindly invited us to have a soortch (Armenian type of coffee) by her place, showing how she loves to pick up the sweet white gems of a mulberry tree, spontaneously grown in the back of her courtyard, next to a grove. With pleasure we tasted how she can prepare a delicious jam, broiling slowly the fruits above a wood stove.

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One week later, to show that we really appreciated her kindness, we came back with six scarlet roses that made her heart smiling genuinely, hugging us with really graceful motion of the arms, which seemed to reflect the sense of her name. Alvart actually means ‘rose with a very bright nuance’ and we were not surprised to hear that before she came to live near the monastery 40 years ago, after being married with a man hailing from Gosh, she was a dancer in Yerevan. Today she lives with the two granddaughters and she supports herself selling fruits and vegetables on the roadside, like many other Armenian women do. Some of them try go with the travellers flow spending the days seated beside their stalls, pointing their gaze to the pedestrians and offering them dehydrated herbs and handicrafts. Next to the objects that recall a Christian symbolism, there are some which are decorated with botanical motifs such as fruits, mainly the pomegranate. The pomegranate acquired here a meaning which goes beyond its economic and nutritive value. Used to make a sweetish wine it also refers to a type of vital energy connected to fertility and immortality. The people tell that the seeds inside this fruit are 365, like the days of a solar year and the famous khatchkar, reproduced by the craftsmen with miniature made by wood or tuff, are also commonly decorated with it.

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In the mundane imaginary the products of the ground assume a sacred relevance while the practice of gathering and saving food is linked to the story which tells about the origin of the term Gosh. Also known as New Getik, Goshavank can be literally translated as monastery (vank) of Gosh, the Mekhitar monk who wrote the Armenian legislation between the 11th and the 13th century. Talking with the women who sell souvenirs and listening to Tigran, our passionate mentor and patient interpreter from Dilidjan, we discovered that the name derives from the more ancient term gush (cush), which was a sort of spoon made by wood or clay. The monk and legislator who rebuilt the monastery above an older site which was previously used for pagan rites, started to be known as Gush Mekhitar after he predicted seven year of shortage: “Cush Mekhitar, cush Mekhitar! Give me one cush, give me two cush!”, said the hungry people. Collecting eatable plants and fruits and opening his storage to the inhabitants he saved them, reaching an higher spiritual level.

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Ester

Our Courses: Why, Where and When.

27 Jul

In the last few days we have started some of our courses: Italian, English and Performance+Music. Two others, one in Drawing and the other in Environment are scheduled for next week.

Our Programme

Our Programme

Since our project is mainly about the monasteries, one could easily ask: why organize some courses?

Fair question. Here comes the answer. Amongst the main aims of this project is the reevaluation and cultural promotion of Goshavank, Haghartsin and Jukhtak Vank. This, though, should not be aimed only for foreign tourists visiting the Tavush Region but also for the local population. This activity is indeed much needed since, as far as we have seen so far, the monasteries are much neglected by Dilijan dwellers, especially amongst youngsters. The courses we have organized are therefore intended as a good opportunity to create a bond between us and the local people (either young or not) in order for us to better understand life here and for natives to better understand us. If this would allow us to bring Dilijani people closer to the wonderful monasteries standing in the valleys surrounding Dilijan, to understand and appreciate their beauty, well… this would be the best achievement here.

Isabella with some of the participants in our Music & Performance course

Isabella with some of the participants in our Music & Performance course

Our course activities are then structured in a way which is tightly connected to the monastic buildings we are working on. During our English courses we will ask the local boys and girls to tell us what they know of the monasteries and to exchange with us impressions and ideas about them; our drawing course will often consist on collective lessons of en-plein-aire drawings of the churches in Jukhtak Vank, Haghartsin or Goshavank; we will also try to do something with our environment course and adopt some re-used materials to install some rubbish bins and information boards in the monasteries’ sites. There will also be some occasions in which the activities of our courses will merge together and converge with our work in the monasteries. We are in fact planning some events at Goshavank, Jukhtak Vank and/or Haghartsin when we will invite the participants of the courses to come together and perform their activities in the beautiful context of the monasteries: we will spend some weekend-days hiking to our chosen monastery, eating some good Italian and Armenian food, playing and singing together, dancing, juggling, drawing, chatting in English and Armenian and so on and so forth… it’s going to be nice!

Learning how to use the "poi poi"

Learning how to use the “poi poi”

The most important occasion, though, will be the final event which is going to take place in September probably in Dilijan’s amphitheatre, right in the heart of the town. We are still planning the details for it but by now it is pretty sure that our performance and music club will take care of the show with songs and dances and there will be some exhibitions of photos portraying our work and the best drawings from our drawing club.

Do you like the plan?

And remember: our clubs are open and free, you can join any time you want!

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Some of the participants in our courses

Some of the participants in our courses

Trip to Debed Canyon

26 Jul
On the top of the cable car of Sanahin

On the top of the cable car of Sanahin

Here I am.. trying to find the words to describe thousands of emotion felt last week end when Sara, Erica and I went to one of the closest part to the border of Armenia: Debed Canyon, twenty minutes to Georgia.

The only rule of our journey was no plans, first because we are a bit lazy and we decided to move from Dilijan the night before, but also because public transports in Armenia (like in Italy) often don’t respect the timetable, something which make everything much more interesting!

We left our place in the morning supposing to catch a marshrutka (public little bus) in the north direction to Vanadzor, but after trying to find out more informations about that we opted for a lift, trying to be involved in a really “easy peasy trip”.

Let’s start the hitchhiking week end!

Our first lift was by two Armenian gentlemen who bought a few juices for us, making our journey very comfortable, nice and quite funny. We tried to communicate with them thanks to Sara’s little Armenian phrasebook, that actually saved us in few situations.

Once we arrived in Vanadzor we caught the marshrutka to Alaverdi and after one hour we were already in our B&B collecting tips about how to move around there and what to visit from the lovely owner, Erina, a sixtish, strong woman that for the next 24 hours took care of us like we were her daughters.

During the afternoon we walked in the surrounding mountains, stopping several times to take a look of the canyon created by Debed River. We stopped for a while in the great monastery of Sanahin, a UNESCO patrimony, but that happened only after a little heart attack, having been for 5 minutes inside a “old-fashioned” cable car that made us feel really close to the end.

Inside of Sanahin Monastery.

Inside of Sanahin Monastery.

After visiting the ancient Haghpat Monastery, a medieval complex placed during 90s on UNESCO’s World Heritage List (like his kin SanahinVank) famous for the traditional vernacular architecture blended of Byzantine memories. It was the dinner however that made us feel very close to the paradise; the price – less than 5euro each – of course stirred our happiness but it was what we found in front of us that made our eyes shining.. a laden table of Armenian delicacies, several types of cheese and bread, vegetables, shashlik (traditional pork BBQ marinated overnight in tasty spices), dolma (cabbage leaves wrapped around mince) and in the end Gatah (traditional pastry made with brown sugar).

Sara with Haghpat Monastery on the back.

Sara with Haghpat Monastery on the back.

Our dinner.

Our dinner.

The day after we went back on the road hitchhiking few times to visit Akthala, a very underestimated monastery/fortress decorated with spectacular mosaics in all its walls and ceilings. What made very particular our visit to that place was first of all the two hours waiting: we were supposed to go to another convent at the end of the morning but the guardian/monk decided to arrive only around 11, forcing us to cancel the visit to the next place. It’s been such a productive wait, though!

The monument to Lovers inside of Akhtala

The monument to Lovers inside of Akhtala

The frescoes inside are something really hard to describe, full of colours and details. They represent not only christian episodes but even muslim’s and pagan’s because in the old times they understood religions had to be a way to connect and not divide people, offering a roof whenever anyone needed that. Besides to the place itself, a big thanks also goes to the monk which, able to talk good english, explained to us the history and the mites of AkhtalaVank.

The frescoes inside of Akhtala

The frescoes inside of Akhtala

Terminated the visit we left for the long trip back to Dilijan earnign a couple of free lifts by, in the following order: an ice-cream’s van driver, a fancy travellers’ Mercedes Van, two students from Yerevan, a guy with an old Fiat from 70’s and, in the end, by a policeman friend of ours which, we realized that day, is also an abusive taxi driver!

A special thanks also goes to my travel-companions Sara and Erica, sitting here next to me, who made our trip such a great, funny and unexpected experience. Hoping the next will be at least half adventurous than this.

Writing soon with more news!

Silvia

I love my sweet Armenia’s

I love my sweet Armenia’s word which is filled with the taste of sun,
I love our old lyre’s melody from its mournful and weeping strings,
The vivacious fragrance of the blood-like flowers and the roses,
I love as well the graceful and agile dance of Nayirian girls.
I love as well our gloomy sky, our pure waters, luminous lake,
The summer’s sun and the winter’s sublime wind with a dragon’s voice,
Also the black, unwelcoming walls of the huts lost in the dark,
And I love the thousand-year stone of the ancient cities as well.

No matter where I am yet I shall not forget our mournful songs,
Shall not forget our steel-lettered books which now have become prayers,
No matter how sharply they pierce my heart our wounds so soaked with blood,
Even then I love my orphaned and my bloodied, dear Armenia.

For my longing heart there is not, not even one another tale,
There’s no brighter forehead than that of Kouchag and Naregatsi,
Pass the whole world, there’s no summit as white as that of Ararat,
Like glory road, unreachable, I love as well my Mount Massis.

YEGHISHE CHARENTS (1897-1937)

Trip to Lake Sevan

19 Jul

Last weekend we decided to split in three smaller groups. While some of us enjoyed Jivan Gasparyan’s duduk in the capital city or a refreshing sporty bath in the amazing blue Sevan’s water, we (Erica, Maria, Olga and Sarah ) decided to get acquainted to some historical sites located nearby the lake.

After having risked our lives on the Dilijan-Sevan Marshrutka (it wouldn’t be the only time for that day though) and being dropped off on one of the most traffic-congested Armenian highways (guess what: no sidewalks of course), FINALLY we got to the Sevanank monastery, founded in 874 a.c by the princess Mariam as ex-voto for her dead husband.

Must say: the landscape all around us was outstanding. We found ourselves on the peak of this little hill, on the peninsula’s cape, facing the blue of the lake and the high mountains behind it. It was quite surprising for us to meet so many Armenian tourists, since in “our” beloved Haghartsin and Goshavank (we don’t even mention Jukhtak Vank, absolutely beautiful but in the middle of nowhere) there wasn’t anyone.

Selling art on the hill.

Selling art on the hill.

The few steps heading to the complex, carved on the rock side of the hill, were used as a means for some local painters and artisans to display their works. The whole ascent was beated by the sound of a nice old drunk native man, who was lazily resting on an orange khatchkar with a mandolin, which, even with only one or two strings, iwas able to annoy everybody around.

Erica and Olga with the mandolin player!

Erica and Olga with the mandolin player!

Honestly from an artistic point of view we found the two churches less impressive than expected;their highlights lie mainly in their stunning location over the top of the peninsula. Dodging a bunch of Japanese people (the first Asian crew we have met in Armenia since our arrival), we entered in one of the church and the atmosphere suddenly changed. Completely wrapped in the mystic air, we enjoyed listening to some sweet women’s voices, enlightened by the warmth of few candles.

After a humble pic –nic ( we ate more flies than sandwhiches), we tried to act as socialite women and hitch a ride on the above mentioned huge highway, but our attempt failed miserably when the only car which stopped by was an illegal taxi. Who could have known? This was the best thing of our day! Ovik, a funny middle-aged man with more pimples on the neck than teeth in the mouth, took us to one of the most amazing place we have ever been in Hayastan: the Noratus khatchkar cemetery, located on the south-western corner of the lake and known as the biggest clutcher of cross stones still standing.

It was quite surreal to be there, on this arid high ground, completely surrounded by about two thousand decorated cross stones, some of them placed there since the 10th century to mark the graves of famous unknowns.

We all had the feeling of a strange, unique atmosphere. We were all alone, except for two lovely grannies (they were trying to sell us some hand made socks- not a great marketing choice under a 40° sun) and three pacific cows eating some lemongrass among the khatchkars. There was also a modern cemetery, recognizable by the creepy and flashy marble statues and portraits of the deaths.

Not to be exaggerated, but when you see a 8 years old boy driving a car while his father is quietly smoking a cigarette on the passenger seat, you turn quite fatalistic and ready to stand even a handless’ drive as Ovik’s one.

Sitting with our taxi-driver Ovik (in white T-shirt) and the owner of the bar where we stopped by.

Sitting with our taxi-driver Ovik (in white T-shirt) and the owner of the bar where we stopped by.

Between “Lasciatemi cantareeeee con la chitarra in maaaanoooo” (no Ovik, it’s Cotugno’s, not Celentano’s) and “Buonasera, buonasera signorina CIAO” (unknown even by our grannies we suppose), we got to our last stop: Hayravank monastery, built among the 9th and the 12th century and located on another little cape not far from Noratus.

We all agreed that this has been one of the most beautiful churches we have seen since we are here. Its unique mark is surely the greyish and reddish tufa, which is known as one of the earliest use of the polychrome in the masonry in the whole country. Not only in the main complex, but also in the nearby area there is plenty of ancient khatchkars, carved from the same reddish stone, standing as wise witnesses of a glorious past.

Khatchkars in the cemetery.

Khatchkars in the cemetery.

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Two lovers nearby Sevanank Monastery…

After a nice coffee break (kindly offered by our lively driver) we finally headed to our hay home – going on in the desecration of our Italian musical heritage, of course. Last special mention for Ovik, brave saver of our young lives as far as he was able to dodge a cow which was peacefully walking in the middle of the street- pure Armenia style! That’s how we got back to Dilijan, surprisingly safe and sound, but with the promise of a plentiful dinner made up of homemade Shashlik.

Erica, Maria, Olga and Sarah

The Monasteries

17 Jul

If it weren’t for the monasteries of Goshavank, Haghartsin and Jukhtak Vank we wouldn’t be here. Besides being the main reason for our adventure here, we have decided that these three places are also going to be our connection with the local community, the symbolic fire around which we’re going to meet and get acquainted with Armenian people. It is therefore appropriate to write a post about them and our first visit on their sites.

One thing that really impressed us from the very beginning is how the three buildings are different from each other: amongst the three, Goshavank is the less isolated, being situated in the rural context of Goshavank village; Haghartsin is the best kept one, having been renovated recently thanks to some generous donations by an Arab Emirate; the one that most needs a maintenance intervention is instead Jukhtak Vank, lost in the woods surrounding Dilijan, on which weeds and musks have grown exceedingly. The variety of approach that the monasteries require is probably making our task working in them and promoting them more challenging but also more interesting and diverse. After our visit to Goshavank, for example, we have understood that its village setting offers us a great opportunity to have a talk with the villagers in order to understand how the place used to be in the past, myths and local customs about it (giving a lot of work to the anthropologists among us). We have already moved a few steps in this sense: during our first visit we in fact met Ter Sargis – the priest – who has been kind enough to welcome us in the monastery and to sing an old prayer with his low and resounding voice in order to wish us luck. The Monastery of Haghartsin, thanks to its renovation, is now tidy and clean but lacks in facilities. Our job there is therefore going to concern mainly this. At the moment we are planning to build and install wooden benches, information boards and possibly some rubbish bins. As Jukhtak Vank is the one that is the most easy to reach from Dilijan, our idea is to work on it with the local young people of the town, getting them involved in our project, raising their awareness on environmental issues and exchanging thoughts and ideas.

Places are like people, it takes time to know them properly. You don’t have to rush it. We don’t want to give too much technical information about our monasteries all at once… it is instead going to be a ongoing thing throughout the whole duration of our project: the more we’ll learn about them, the more we’ll write. In the meantime, if you’re curious, these are the wikipedia pages for Haghartsin, Goshavank and Jukhtak Vank.

And now, some pictures of our first visit at the sites.

The Goshavank site.

The Goshavank site.

In the distance, Haghartsin Monastery

In the distance, Haghartsin Monastery

The main church of Haghartsin

The main church of Haghartsin

The first glance at Jukhtak Vank Monastery

The first glance at Jukhtak Vank Monastery

From the back of Goshavank monastery.

From the back of Goshavank monastery.

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Isabella in Goshavank

Maria in Haghartsin

Maria in Haghartsin

Francesco at the entrance of Jukhtak Vank

Francesco at the entrance of Jukhtak Vank

Olga being impressed by Jukhtak Vank.

Olga being impressed by Jukhtak Vank.

Our group photo nearby Haghartsin.

Our group photo nearby Haghartsin.