Monday, July 27, 2009

Bleach (not a basic ingredient)

Every day (including yesterday, which was a Sunday), an old woman walks around the grounds of the building I live in calling out "Javeli spirt!" She is selling bleach. I live on the 10th floor (the top floor) and there are a number of other such "tall" buildings in the area. Can you imagine having such a loud, shrill voice that carries to the top floors of buildings and with which you holler "bleach!" on a daily basis?

In the last few days, a new song has been reaching my ears through the open window. It is a man's voice yelling "malina! malina!" (just like that: saying the same word twice in a row). He is selling raspberries. Her voice has a different tune: it is held longer. Whereas his are staccato notes, the words short and punctuated. Between his younger male voice and her older female voice, there is a kind of harmony. It is the soundtrack of my day when I am at home. This melody, along with the pauses inbetween, forms the rhythm of the space where I live.

Sunday, July 26, 2009


Every morning, I have my organic fair-trade coffee imported from Canada and she has her thick Armenian coffee made the easy way: one spoon of coffee, one spoon of sugar and boiling water poured on top. No assembly required. Well, more specifically, no jazzve required and no need to turn on the gas stove. Simple, fast, and it does the trick. That cup of coffee, plus a cigarette, wakes her up in the morning. These small gestures indicate to me the beginning of each new day.

I’m starting to feel like these blog posts are taking the shape of chapters from Elif Shafak’s The Bastard of Istanbul: instead of pomegranates and figs, I write of water and coffee. Perhaps I’ve simply returned to the basic ingredients?

Saturday, July 25, 2009


There are two settings for the tap in the kitchen sink: not hot and cold as you might assume, but rather one setting for when you have water coming directly from the pipes and the other setting for water coming from the container above the sink (when you do not have water coming from the pipes).

We live on the 10th floor. And because the pumps at the base of the building are not powerful enough, we only get water twice a day: once early in the morning and the second time, in the evening (after 6 pm). You never know the exact time; you can only estimate. But what music to my ears when I wake up and hear water trickling into the container above the sink.

The bathroom sink and bathtub have two taps each: confusingly labelled hot and cold when in fact it’s the same system as in the kitchen. One tap for water directly from the pipes; the other, for water stored in a large plastic container above the bathtub for when you do not have water.

Now imagine planning your day (doing laundry, cooking, taking a shower) around when you do and do not have water. You could decide you want to take a shower in the middle of the day only to realize that you do not have enough water stored in the container and you will not get more water till after 6 pm. And since the water you get is never hot water, you also have to plan ahead by heating up the water in the container. All it takes is a flick of a switch, but then you have to wait at least an hour to an hour and a half for the water to heat up. And of course this depends on how much water you have in the container to begin with (more water = more time to heat) as well as how hot you want the water to be (so you have to keep checking it as it heats up). Once it heats up, you can’t adjust the settings to make it more or less hot: it is what it is. And therefore, you can’t let it get too hot or you’ll either have to endure the overly hot water or wait another half hour to an hour for it to cool down.

If you think about it, it’s quite a process and the number of decisions and actions you have to take throughout can really take up most of your day. Of course to Asya it’s second nature: she doesn’t really think about it. She goes through these rituals half-asleep in the mornings :) For me, I’ve gotten used to this system, but still find myself grappling with the odd decision or so. For example, when you do get water coming from the pipes, you can allow it to trickle into the container (so you can store it for later). If you open the pipes too much (because of course you have to open and close them), you will pay more (since more water is coming in). So you have to open them just at the right point where water trickles in, but not too fast or too much. With the kitchen sink there is the added fear of overflowing from the top container. So we keep a closer eye on that one :)

Also, the arrangement with this particular household is using water between 11 pm and 8 am is much much cheaper than using it during the day. So if I can get up before 8 am and take a shower (I prefer morning showers), we’ll be better off. But I never seem to be organized enough and end up taking a shower (and heating up the water, thus paying for gas too) during the more expensive day time.

In the bathroom, you have the choice of filling the container above the tub or filling the toilet: you can’t do both simultaneously. So, do you need to take a shower first? or do you perhaps need to make a big stink in the toilet (and therefore you should probably fill the toilet first so you can properly flush after you go)? Have you ever had to make such mundane and constant daily decisions in your life?

And since there’s two of us living here, I have to remember to check with Asya: do you want to take a shower this morning (or this evening) or do you need to use the bathroom after I go (in which case, I won’t flush; I will wait till you go and then we can do one big flush :) If there’s not enough water in the container above the bathtub, who gets to take a shower (if only one of us can)? Is it laundry day today? In which case, we’ll have to gather lots and lots and lots of water (so maybe no more water left for a shower). Have you ever thought about water to such an extent? It’s really quite something...

19,000 dram later...

We took our bikes to a well-known bike mechanic (he works with professional cyclists) and 19,000 AMD later (about $52 USD), I have a well-oiled and well-tuned bike as well as a new cog for my front gears (I now have three gears instead of two; an additional smaller gear for going uphill in this mountainous terrain). The front cog cost 10,000 drams; the general repair cost 9,000. Might not sound like much, but when money's tight, it was an added expense I didn't expect to incur at this point. In any case, we have been assured that these costs will be covered by the funding that has come through for the bike tour. Right now, the main organizer of the bike tour is in Istanbul; she will return in a couple of days and then we will sort out the details of our upcoming trip. Yes, money, but also details of the route and gathering the things we will need. Right now, it's one day at a time...

Looking for paint (and paper and brushes and and and)

Friday, July 24, 2009

Just because someone didn’t pay...

The elevator has been shut off since yesterday because someone in the apartment building I’m staying at didn’t pay the bill. The occupants of the building have to pay the elevator bill to use the elevator: everyone has to pay their own portion. Because someone didn’t pay, the elevator has been shut down and no one can use it. And we live on the 10th floor...

Yesterday, we went to Cocoon, a bar known to be frequented by mostly gay men. Of course us queer women go too (where else are we supposed to go?). And now I know why it’s called Cocoon: not only is it underground, but it’s tiny. About 4 or 5 tables lined up against the wall, across from the bar area. The dance floor incidentally becomes the space inbetween. It wasn’t too busy yesterday (it was a Thursday night after all); apart from us and our friends, there were only a handful of other folks there. Soon they left and we had the place mostly to ourselves. Lots of dancing and good times :)

The day before yesterday was laundry day. I’m fascinated by the act of doing laundry. Here, it really is a day-long task. I have posted a few photos below and perhaps I will elaborate a little further on the process later. For now, there are thoughts simmering to produce an installation/photo exhibit incorporating this theme. Our WOW collective is planning on doing another exhibit in September and I’ve been thinking about my piece. At first, I wasn’t going to participate (too many other things to do and think about; no time for art), but I can’t help the ideas coming to me that take the form of either a photo series or an installation piece or something incorporating both. We’ll see...

Since I have arrived, I can honestly say that my time has been primarily occupied by two things: spending as much time with Asya (cooking, eating, sleeping, walking, watching films, talking, etc.) and meeting new people. At every gathering there is at least one new face. Lately, I have been spending more time with Europeans (and the odd American) who are artists and art curators here for various art events related to their career. There is the Summer School for Curators which takes place every year in Yerevan, though this year the school is more of a series of summer seminars occuring alongside an art symposium ( There is so much going on that I’m having trouble keeping up. Plus, the nagging thought that I should be actively looking for work makes it difficult to completely relax and enjoy the company and good times (often accompanied by beer). I have to remind myself that these new faces are visitors; they don’t live here. Which in and of itself is not a problem, but it doesn’t help when I am attempting to stay here long-term and thus, I have to count my pennies and work out details involved in finding a job and securing income, a regular internet connection and other tasks more administrative in nature which apply when you are settling down in a place instead of just passing by.

I’m getting into the pace of life here, but at the same time trying not to lose the drive to get things done. I’m trying to get into more of a working schedule; if I can get out of bed earlier in the morning, I can get more things done before the heat of the day sets in. Evenings are cool and an ideal time to work, except of course everyone wants to go to this or that cafe and share a drink or two with friends. So my goal now is to wake up earlier and get online. Slowly, things will come together. One day at a time...

Laundry Day (not today)

I have to admit: I'm too busy enjoying my days that I just don't have the chance to post regularly... so this is just the way it'll have to be for now (besides, my access to internet for long, uninterrupted periods of time is limited).

Random photos, different days

The view from our bedroom window. My friend Lusine and I (caught her inbetween trips to the city from Lake Sevan — it seems so many people are at the lake right now :)

Friends (some from out of town: queer women from NYC absolutely overjoyed in meeting other queer women in Yerevan... they are here filming for 2 months) and the last image: a large fountain left over from the Soviet period.... just a few random photos from different days :)

My friend's family's hostel in Yerevan

My first time at this lovely house which is a hostel just outside of the centre of Yerevan. They have a lovely kitchen and rooms with bunk beds (3-4 rooms, can accommodate about 22 guests or so) and an absolutely amazing veranda overlooking the Hrazdan river. Gorgeous view, clear, crisp air and lovely company :)))

Lake Sevan — finally!

The journey to Lake Sevan

So it seems one cannot just get in a car with friends and visitors on a day trip to the beach without a few stops along the way :))) This is one stop at a friend of a friend's house where of course we had to have a cup of coffee before we could continue along our journey... This building apparently used to be a national building of some sort during the Soviet era. It is now an upscale (read: gentrified) housing complex with a number of tiny (and over-priced apartments) close to the lake. There are more empty suites than occupied ones. Sad and beautiful and terrifying all at the same time...