The Department of Tourism should start now to
prepare itself for a period of unprecedented bad
publicity when tourist season begins in a few
months in Armenia.
Beginning about mid-April, foreign visitors will
be cut down in the streets like tin ducks in a
I write today of the latest imported affliction
to hamper life here, something that has proved
a good idea in many civilized societies, but is
as useful as a second navel in this one: The pedestrian
To give you the background . . .
When billionaire Kirk Kirkorian (and by the way,
what must it be like when your unofficial first
name becomes "billionaire") gave $85
million to re-pave, re-sidewalk, re-curb Armenia,
apparently part of the package included signal
lights to tell us when to walk and when not.
If your first name is "billionaire",
you can probably hire someone to cross streets
for you, so it's not Mr. Kirkorian's fault that
this minor flaw in an otherwise splendid redevelopment
program is not only a waste of money but is in
fact a safety hazard.
What in many major cities is a means of traffic
control is, in Yerevan, an imposition to the inherent
right to independence's evil twin, anarchy.
Similar to society's reaction to politicians
here, everybody notices the crossing lights, but
nobody pays attention to them. Pedestrians ignore.
Consequently, the streets are neither safer nor
more dangerous than before. At least for the locals.
But: Turn a busload of foreigners loose here
- those for whom "walk" or "don't
walk" has some authority - and soon you're
going to see plastic bags of vernisage goodies
scattered in the streets next to writhing and
confused tour members fumbling for the foreign
office phone number of major insurance carriers
and business cards of personal injury attorneys.
The thing I like most about the new lights is
that they're sort of socially appropriate in their
design. Taking the more international tact, there
are no words, but little characters in the role
The "don't walk" character, appropriately
red, has a Lenin-esque stern baldness, which may
explain the rush to disobey his stoic order (which,
here, is at most a suggestion).
The little green "walk" character,
though, was clearly designed by someone who has
tried to cross Yerevan streets. I am not making
it up when I tell you that he is in a running
pose. The only possible improvement would be if
he were accompanied by a sign saying "good
Absent the influence here as a means of traffic
control, I'm thinking the cross lights should
have some value, so I suggest they be implemented
as part of the Presidential Elections.
I say we line the candidates up, perhaps at the
front of the Opera house on an average business
days in Yerevan, with instructions to cross all
four corners of the square. Candidates can decide
whether to follow the instructions of the crossing
lights, or go according to instinct.
The one who survives should become President
and would surely be the one who understands the