- Independent Journalism From Today's Armenia
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 January 17, 2003 

Outside Eye: A non-Armenian's view of life in his adopted home

There is a beauty to this place that is seen only in its ugliest condition, something that defines the difference between "pretty" and "attractive" and flirts with the soul.

It isn't revealed by the short skirts of summer when another kind of beauty, intense and welcomed, stifles itself in self absorption. Nor is it seen in autumn, Armenia's best season, when nature seems confused by herself and can't understand imposed change or its consequence.

No, there is a beauty here not preened for tourists or done up unto itself for the sake of cosmetics.

It is innate and survives scars and may be masked by the need to cover up from cruelty, but it is not hidden.

And winter is when it shines brightest.

It is the beauty of a woman I watched yesterday moving across the ice-covered yard of my building to unload trash, her feet wrapped by plastic bags she'd no doubt saved from her own refuse in preparation of winter and her struggle to face it.

It is in the face of an old man I sort of know named Alexander. I took a picture of him a couple years ago this time while he hauled firewood on his back down the slick alleyway to his hovel of a home. And he, rather than being offended at my voyeuristic intrusion into his burdensome routine, invited me to his home for tea.

At the time I wondered how many winters Alexander had left in him.

Yesterday I saw him selling sunflower seeds while goose-feather flakes of snow fell in that same neighborhood where he'd been hauling wood.

Sunflower seeds in the snow. There's some beauty there, too.

It is the beauty of my neighbor who, knowing I was about to return from holiday to a flat with frozen pipes, hauled a bucket of water up five floors and left a thermos of green tea out for me to have upon my return.

This winter-only beauty is the account of a friend telling me he and his wife greeted New Year's in their bedroom because it's the only room they could keep warm. And laughing about it.

It is the sight of shopkeepers sweeping the dirt off ice-layered storefronts in a battle of pride against the affliction of harshness.

I watch the efforts against elements that can't be controlled and the symbolism is of course apparent, of these whose very existence is owed to the awful beauty of their survival.

And I hear a friend who herself possesses the best of rare beauty refer to the hardship as "an Armenian story".

And I wish it would stop, these assaults by nature or by man. But I'm grateful for the beauty.

For someone coming from a society that frequently confuses convenience with necessity and comfort with extravagance, there are lessons to learn here, seen best when the cafe society enjoyed by the outsiders who know a different place than this has long gone into hibernation.

I have learned the meaning of struggle here. And seeing the beauty that escapes from it is an image that will shape the rest of my seasons.


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