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
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
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
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
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.