Really, its the road through Ptghni. Sorry.
Ptghni is a village on the road that goes north from Yerevan to Lake Sevan. It has nothing to do with anything except, come on... "Ptghni"? How can you not love that?
I was driving north with Jacob because I wanted to go hiking. We have a book of hiking trails, and it showed one in the village of Fantan -- right, I should make a list -- Fantan, about 30 km north of here. I have one of those baby-backpack carrier things, and Jacob still fits in it. So I thought, hey, Sunday hike.
Didn't quite work out... See, while Fantan is only 30 km away, it's about 700 meters or 2000 feet higher than Yerevan. So while the flowers are just about to start blooming down here, up in Fantan the snow hasn't finished melting yet. So we could drive to the trailhead -- through streets full of slush and mud, and gutters frothing with meltwater -- but the trail? Went straight up the side of a hill that was still covered with snow.
Beautiful view, though. I pulled over by the side of the road and let Jacob out. The sun was very warm, almost hot, despite the snow... well, we were almost 2000 meters up, so that can happen. Sheets of meltwater were running down the road, and Jacob happily stomped and splashed while I took in the view. We were there five or ten minutes and nobody passed us. It was quiet. Then we got back in the car and drove down through the village and back to Yerevan.
...the village. Fantan is a village of maybe a thousand people, and it's obviously seen better days. I've seen devastated inner cities, but never before a devastated inner village. But that's what this looked like. In the center of the village was a crossroads where several larger building stood. It looked like one had been a store, another a school, a third perhaps the town hall. All were empty and ruined, gaping windows and crumbling masonry. There were also a lot of empty houses, some boarded up, some just falling apart.
Rural Armenia has been hit by a double whammy: most of the able-bodied men and ambitious young people have either moved to Yerevan or gone out of the country to find work. Yerevan has nearly doubled in size since 1991, but almost all of the country's small towns and villages have lost population. The same is true in most post-Communist countries, but it's much worse here.
Also: lots of people standing around in the streets. Some were working -- shoveling snow so the meltwater could flow -- but most were just standing. When we drove through town in our big Ford, everyone turned and unabashedly stared. I could see them staring after me in the rear-view mirror until we were out of sight.
* * *
In other news, Armenia's Prime Minister died last night. I never met him. The official word is heart failure. The most interesting thing about this is, I heard it from a colleague this morning -- around, oh, 11 am -- by which time he'd been dead for a while. But the official news wasn't released until about 3 in the afternoon. In the West we're used to getting very immediate news, but things don't work that way here.