Why did I laugh when I felt sad?

Liana Ayvazyan poses in front of a living sculpture in a Yerevan park; copyright Keith Kenney, 2012.

We were having a very pleasant evening in Yerevan, Armenia, with our hostess Liana Ayvazyan. Susanna and I enjoyed looking at all of the large beautiful sculptures in the downtown area, including sculptures by Rodin and Botero. As we walked along, Liana told us about the children’s gallery, the children’s library, and the children’s puppet theater. She proudly showed us the Opera House, around which young people flew by on rollerblades and older people rested on newly installed park benches. Of course, we were impressed by all of the parks and cafes. So many people were walking about on this comfortably warm Thursday evening. Even as we headed home at midnight, the streets of Yerevan were full.

So why was I sad? Because I had asked Liana what she remembered about Columbia, a city of 400,000 people in South Carolina. As a Muskie Fellow, Liana was able to spend 3 months at USC (University of South Carolina) in 1998. I was the official host for all international visitors to the School of Journalism and Mass Communications, so I helped Liana get settled into an apartment and into life on campus. Liana spent most of her time collecting research materials and reading in Thomas Cooper Library, but she also made a visit to Washington, DC to interview officials and visit friends. When Liana learned that Susanna and I would be in Yerevan, she volunteered to show us around the current capitol of Armenia. So what did Liana remember about Columbia, the capitol of South Carolina? Depression because Columbia’s streets were (and remain) empty of people at night. Compared to Yerevan, there are few cafes. And the windows in her apartment didn’t open, so she lacked fresh air. I think Liana would have been happier in Greenville, where the streets are alive at night. Overall, Liana had a very positive experience, but the lack of people on the streets and the lack of fresh air inside her apartment were depressing.

So why did I laugh? I don’t know. Embarrassment, perhaps?


About keithrkenney
Keith Kenney is a professor of visual communication at the University of South Carolina. He is living in Tbilisi, Georgia, for a year. This blog is about several topics. "CSJMM-Journalism" is about the students, faculty and staff members of the Caucasus School of Journalism and Media Management in Tbilisi, Georgia. "USC-Journalism" is about the students, faculty and staff members of the School of Journalism and Mass Communications (SJMC) at the University of South Carolina in Columbia, SC. CSJMM and SJMC are recipients of a "Journalism School Partnership" program grant from the US Department of State. The purpose of this $750,000 grant is to improve CSJMM and ensure its sustainability. "Tbilisi, Georgia" is about Susanna Melo and my experiences in Tbilisi. "Columbia, SC" will be about our experiences in our home town--Columbia--when we return home. "Georgia" is about Susanna and my experiences when we travel in Georgia outside of Tbilisi. "United States" is about our experiences traveling in the US. "Films and Photography" is about two documentary films I'm working on in Georgia. One story follows how Adishi handles the rapid tourism that is being developed in Svaneti. The other story follows Tamaz Jalagania, who is a craftsman of swords and guns, an opera singer, and an extraordinary storyteller. "Scholarship" is about my current books, articles, reviews, and grants.

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