Geographically speaking, Gyumri is somewhere else, the straight N to S of Armenia, the highway which connects all, doesn’t run through the city, doesn’t even come close. This is the face of Armenia facing W toward Turkey, old Armenia, Ani, the river, the desert there, the Armenia which does not exist, only a memory, rubble decaying under the harsh winds of the plains. The sadness of that loss, the dust of the forgotten city blows into Gyumri, covers all, the building, the streets, the people, always in need of a fix, to be repaired, to be saved, remembered, not forgotten. They take refuge from the pain through a blind belief in something greater, and physically barricade themselves behind the beautiful large walls and colorful doors, retreating to isolating themselves, and seeking solace within, exploring the creative side… how to build again, to reinvent, to express with iron, stone and wood, to scream for recognition through song and dance. Those who cannot do it alone, group together, hang onto each other, find a bond form their seat, and pride themselves on their group mentality, blankly staring, painting, and laughing as the rest of the world walks by, goes on to something else, something new.
Life is a stage and we are all actors, they don’t know how to forget. I’ve never been to the America, I went in England, saw Miss Saigon. I prided myself, that I didn’t fall asleep during the performance. The theater has a stigma, it was only for the artsy, the rich, it was out of my cultural and financial spectrum. But here, it’s a way of life, for the city, the people, it’s affordable, the viewers come back stage to congratulate their friends, people from all walks of life, they’re the people you bump into while buying bread at the corner store. It’s community theater in the second largest city in the country.
Gyumri felt, so different, because they stared at me, I was too foreign, I was 31 years old. I was asked by the host mother only on a daily basis why I’m not married. She would tell the joys of family… that I’m missing that I don’t have. She made me hold the baby she was watching for a friend, and tell her how it feels. Why don’t I have kids? She would hold b&w of her dead husband and tell me about hi, and how much she missed him for hours. It was too much. I wanted to leave. To run away.
The city of Gyumri is the theater of Armenia. It reflects the many walks of life, the extremes, the spectrum of happy, sad, rich, poor, dull and sharp, walks the streets, and takes to the stage here, whether a private performance behind colorful rotting gates or on the grandstand jamming aura blasting through speakers over the roar of the crowd. When Armenia doesn’t know how to express itself, they come to Gyumri. They look to Gyumri to see who they were and what they can be. The characters on this stage are bright and loud, colorful, so luminous that when the dark shadow of time falls on them, when the paint chips, when the stone crumbles, the fall echoes throughout the country and is heard across the world. It’s the struggle here, to live so bold, exposed in on the stage, that the good memories become legends and the bad memories are disasters. A city that here in the now, rooted in the past, and people who cannot forget, for good or bad they carry with them and remind us all of the worlds history with their cords, their songs, dance, art. At this theater the curtain never closes, and tickets are always cheap. I come to Gyumri, unknowingly become a character, play my part, with the spotlight shining on me, for all to see.