For the most part, I feel safe in Yerevan. Being a conspicuously tall British guy who often needs a fairly extensive haircut, I usually have a tough time blending in. And I’ve made it clear in past articles that I’m not one to hide behind the popular Armenian uniform of a black sweater and pointy dress shoes. So, I’m easy to spot on the streets and usually, that doesn’t make my life any more dangerous. But there’s been one occasion where I’ve felt unsafe in Yerevan: it was January 2, 2013. I was in a busy supermarket at the top of Baghramyan Street and I was holding lavash.
You see, Armenia’s capital is usually on hiatus for the first week of each new year, due to Christmas being celebrated on January 6 in the country. Trash chutes in apartment buildings pile up and residents chaotically try to stock up on vodka and bread for the upcoming holiday celebration. A result of this holiday-time insanity? A severe shortage of bread in the capital city.
With this being my first winter in the city, I was absolutely unprepared for this onslaught. I hadn’t stocked up. A disaster, you’d think. But, fortunately for me, one of my many hitchhiking adventures in the country brought me to the near-miracle of obtaining lavash in January.
It happened in Tsaghadzor, which, for the uninitiated, is a premier ski resort in Armenia. Having spent most of my 20s in Canada, I’m pretty spoiled when it comes to ski venues. But Tsaghadzor, with its quiet, wide and easy slopes, is quite literally a breath of fresh air. It’s a different vibe from the hoards of people shredding epic pow (or whatever the popular term is these days) up on the North American hill, before getting bladdered on buckets of ice-cold Corona, washed down with nachos after the fact. But in Tsaghadzor, you get a quaint atmosphere and basturma for lunch. There’s nothing wrong with that.
In any case, Tsaghadzor was a fun and cheap day out. So I rented a slightly bedraggled-looking snowboard for the day, marveled at the mammoth, and hit the slopes. I even managed to take a wonderful photo from the peak of the hill, with Mount Ararat on the horizon of the brilliant blue sky. It’s a shot any proud Armenian would cherish.
But back to the lavash. After our eventful day in the snow, my friends and I were walking down to the village, where we planned to hitch a ride back to the city, when we came across a small supermarket. Still being somewhat traumatized from not being able to enjoy Armenia’s flat, flaky bread with our scrambled eggs every morning, we ventured inside to see if our day of wonder would continue. It did. I was met with the glorious sight of slabs and slabs of freshly made lavash bread. A joy. A miracle. We grabbed a pile and made our escape.
Fast forward a couple of hours and we’d successfully hitched our way past the shores of Lake Sevan and back into the city center. We swept down Komitas Avenue and our kind driver dropped us off right outside of a supermarket, just a short walk from where we were staying.
I got out of the car and walked directly into the store to triumphantly purchase a package of eggs for the following day’s breakfast. But first, I stopped by the lockers at the shop’s entrance to deposit my giant bag of lavash. That’s when the stares began.
Looks of suspicion, ridicule, and outrage followed my every move as I placed my fresh-baked bread in the locker. All eyes were on me and I knew why. Everyone was thinking it: “Just where the hell did HE get that lavash from? On this day in January?! The audacity!”
I heard a comment I could barely understand muttered behind me. There was a noticeable lull in the previously bustling store. And there I was, with a huge bag heaving with fresh lavash, depositing it into the lockers, where it was vulnerable. As I watched two young guys furiously fill a shopping basket with big bottles of cheap vodka, I worried that the lavash wouldn’t be there when I got back. Or maybe I’d be forcefully tackled when I left the store, pieces of lavash and raw eggs flying everywhere, in a pre-breakfast cluster grenade of sticky — yet delicious — doom.
But I was wrong. Paranoia had overcome me. Maybe I was still running on the adrenaline from being able to snowboard for the first time in a year. I paid for my eggs and approached my locker. The lavash was still inside. It was as speckled and beautiful as when I first saw it — a shining beacon of freshly baked paradise, from that small store in Tsaghadzor. The following morning, we cooked our eggs and sat by the window overlooking Hrazdan Gorge, marveling at how something so simple could make someone so happy. Eggs. And lavash. In January. Now if we could only have that trash chute emptied…