Thursday, August 05, 2004

Red Army fender bender 

When people ask me by email -- working a little better now -- how things are different here in Armenia, I say relative to what? There are a few new buildings here as I mentioned before. People still seem to me, however, to have the same sense of loss. Loss of what? Let me explain.

I watched an auto accident on Independence Square two nights ago. A fender bender in which the car ahead, merging into the circle, was spun by the one behind. Two very large men in the second car come out and practically charge the first car. Police come; roughly 100 people are milling around waving hands, theatrically gesticulating. It looks like the scene of a traffic accident in Rome from some 60s Hollywood movie. A big police vehicle comes. Not one cop but eight. Why? And where is the ambulance? For that matter, why isn't Jerry Lewis in this movie?

What is lost really is a sense of order, a sense of proportion. Small things seem huge. The really big things here -- an economy improving but nobody believing it, a sense that poverty is getting worse despite numbers to the contrary, a peace that seems to endure, a government that seems impervious to claims of corruption -- none of this is discussed. So they spend much time instead worrying about a fender bender.

We went up "Barbecue Street" to a restaurant last night and ate overlooking the Hrazdan Gorge. Beautiful views of the city, people eating with families. I observe one table order three bottles of vodka. Another gets a bottle labeled "Red Army", with a bottle cap giving it the shape of an artlillery shell.

That strikes me as strange and sad. But I can't figure out quite why.

I'm starting "Burning Tigris". I tried to read more last night but I fell asleep quickly. No vodka assisted this effort, only jet lag. More later.