I spent half the spring at home, shut in my apartment in Yerevan, with no desire to go out or spend more time outside. I didn’t even want to walk any further than the closest store.
I didn’t stay in due to fear; I stayed in because I didn't want to see the capital empty, wiped clean of its sounds and textures--the people, the cafes and the noise. But then the Armenian government started to slowly roll back the quarantine rules and, even more slowly, the city center went through yet another transformation: it became a space where only the stubborn or the tough dared to go and sit at the cafes--acting out of a desire to hold on to their old habits or, perhaps, out of principle, an attempt to hold on to the old world even as it was vanishing in front of our eyes.
Seeing them from my balcony made me feel guilty about my weakness and laziness. I felt I must go out, go further than my usual store, maybe even visit the Haleb market nearby and buy sweets to go with the strong coffee I had started drinking more and more often.
The new route I took passed through a part of Arami Street that is close to Republic Square, near a small block of condemned buildings, a ruined neighborhood that has not been turned into anything new yet.
I walked through it and sensed a smell that reminded me of sweet buns. I turned my head to see if anyone was selling them on the street. But the street was empty, as was the neighborhood. The smell was very strong, however, and it clung to my thoughts as I continued toward the market.
After walking for some time, I realized that the smell had come from my memory, a strong memory of the city and this very neighborhood.
The experience was so vivid, it was like a piece of my life had been projected onto the walls, a corner of my world had collided with my past. And it reminded me of the wise words I heard not long before the coronavirus pushed all of us into our homes and out of the city, out of the world.
In times of instability, all you can hold on to is tastes and smells. Their stable presence may distract people from the damage of losing their homes, their jobs, their political freedom. Familiar tastes and smells make you suffer less because you feel in the comfort zone like nothing has changed,” a Turkish guide told me in February, when I was in Istanbul.
And so it was with me, when I happened down the street where an old childhood friend used to live. Her mother, who I called Mrs. Anna, used to bake sweet buns and sell them from their kitchen.