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Sunday, October 11, 2009

Albania 7: True Karma

[NOTE: This blog/diary of Mykel's Italian-Albanian trip starts several entries before this one. Due to the oddities of Blogging, the entries appear in reverse order. As much of the reportage is built on the previous day's, I recommend reading from the start, at the entry ALBANIA 1.]

BARI (Coldsore day 4,5) or KARMA

  I arrive in Bari more nervous than usual. A bookclub pal of mine in New York told me of his adventures in this city.

  “I was mugged,” he said. “I was just walking down the street and these guys on a bicycle... They just passed me by and grabbed my bag. Pulled down hard. Hurt my shoulder, then took off. This guy... toothless... cudda been fifty, cudda been eighty, saw the whole thing. He laughed. That's what I remember most... him laughing like that at what happened.”

So on the train, I get out the steel security net I carry with me. Wrap everything in it, and slide it between the seats.

 Then I try to sleep. Last night I slept only two hours. It was Rome, and I fell asleep at one and woke up at three... and stayed up. That's when I blew the fuse.

 Today although I have a window seat, and no one is talking to me because of my coldsore, I still can't sleep on the train. Last night I slept well at the Bari Pensione.

 Right now I sit in a “restaurant” at the Bari port. I'm waiting for boarding on the ferry to Albania. I'm suddenly very tired, but I'll try to hold off sleeping until I get on the ship. I'm using my portable battery now as no restaurants in Italy have available sockets (and all Wifi connections are super encoded with passwords like: 557B2EO3AB3E86DF13C11A71D3).

Back to my arrival yesterday: When I get to Bari, I walk out of the train station to look for a hotel. Actually, I look for the hotel booking agent, like in every European train station, right? Yeah right. Oh well, I'll just get out and walk around. There should be a hotel close to the train station, right? My bags are in a wire cage... safe right? Yeah right.

My bags, in fact, are safe. But there are no hotels. It's about 7PM. Discouraged, I return to the train station. On the way back I spy a little booth with a big i on it. Yeah, says the helpful woman at the desk, they can find a place for less than 50€ a night. It's Pensione Apollaire, a short walk through a park.

It's on the second floor of an old building The proprietress and her daughter are waiting for me. The place is only slightly less apartment-looking than the Rome one.

The daughter is the English speaker. A cute girl, about 15, with high cheekbones and a long ponytail. She takes my passport, then looks at me.

You're American,” she says, “It's like a dream.” (She'd be all over me if it weren't for this coldsore.)

The room is nice. Alcove, shower, wifi (with a huge code), toilet and bidet. I thought only the French had bidets! I remember Jack Keroac writing about them. Saying how he was sitting on the train, looking at all the people, thinking that among them HE had the clean asshole.

I go out for dinner, wind up at a kebob place. The put paprika-covered French fries on the kebob before they wrap pita around it. Not bad, but do I come to Italy for kebob?

Back at the pensione, I plug in my computer battery to recharge it. The plug falls out. I fix it. Again, it hangs there, not making a connection. The Hitch-hiker's Guide to the Galaxy is wrong. It's not a towel you always need, it's DUCT TAPE. So I tape the plug to the wall socket and the wall around it. It holds, and I have the best night's sleep so far.

In the morning, I wake up at about 10 to 10. Barely figuring out the Italian notice on the wall, I see that checkout was at 9. I hurriedly pack up, take the taped plug from the wall... and taking a good chunk of wall with it. Damaged, paint and plaster. A big white mess.


Does Mykel:

  1. Admit and pay for the damage

  2. Not mention the damage and take his chances they won't notice it.

  3. Complain about the damage and say they should take better care of their rooms if they're gonna charge so much money.

The answer will appear below, but those who think they know me can see how well by guessing right now.

I leave my luggage at the pensione and go out to take a tour of the city. I also want to get a different, snugger-fitting adaptor. While walking around I notice that nobody in the town looks over 25. I know it's a student town, but who teaches them? The shop-owners are normal ages, but everyone else?

I take out my camera and hold it hip high, snapping street pictures on the sly. Only a few capture any people at all. I want to show you what a typical street scene looks like. Then you'll see. I think I'll try the park. I went through it last night on the way to the Pensione. Seemed like a pretty friendly place, and I don't remember any adults.

This town is a ton more relaxed than Rome. I only hear Italian on the street. And while people are not especially friendly (Note: not ONCE in Italy has anyone offered to help when I was standing on the street with an open map.), they are not particularly hostile. If you ask directions, or for electric converters, they'll work until they get it... even if they don't speak a parola of English.

In the park, there is one older guy. African-looking, in a purple robe with a necklace of what looks like ebony. He's standing, talking to some local Africans, sitting on a bench. He looks like an important person. The people around him, wearing bright, but not African, colors lap up what he's saying.

He's not my quarry, though. I surreptitiously snap some picture of some younger-looking people. So you can see.

I walk further into the park. I cannot walk further into the park. One of the Africans, a stocky guy wearing a bright red Beneton shirt blocks my way.

“You took a picture,” he says.

“Sure,” I say, “but not of you guys.”

Suddenly I'm surrounded. No escape. “Show us,” says one.


Does Mykel:

      1. Erase all the pictures in his camera, then hand the card to the Africans?

      2. Shout for the police ... in English, at the top of his lungs.

      3. Shrug, smile, and invite the crew to the nearest bar for a drink.

The answer will appear below, but those who think they know me can see how well by guessing right now.

[Starting here, I write this inside the ferry boat from Bari, Italy to Durres, Albania. I lay in the bottom bunk of a two bunk bed. Helen booked me this private room. Sockets with plugs that don't fall out. Full bathroom (shower, no tub), pretty good. I'm here about 2 hours before the ferry is scheduled to leave. I already took a tour of the boat. Restaurant, bar (showing Tom Hanks and THE GREEN MILE), a video room with 2 small TVs and a bunch of luxury theater-type seats in front of it. I hope they're not planning to show THE TITANIC.]

Back to the Africans: I'm surrounded. With a tight grip on my camera, I turn it over and run through the pictures one by one.

“Wait, go back,” says one guy looking over my shoulder.

I go back. No pictures of them. Then I run through the rest, up to the picture of the toilet and the bidet. No one laughs at it.

“See,” I say. “No pictures of you guys.” I start to walk off.

“You are not leaving,” says the first guy to stop me. It suddenly occurs to me that the guy in purple has disappeared. These are only the disciples. It also occurs to me that I'm in a shitload of trouble.


People stop, look at this poor little whiteguy surrounded by Africans. Then they walk on. It's not as if they don't understand what POLICE means. It's just that they can't be bothered to fish out their cellphones and dial 911. Maybe they'll tell their friends after, over some red wine. Ah, Italy... let me count the way.

But my shouting does scare the Africans enough let me get out of there.

I walk. In a daze. In shock. Anywhere, just away. Toward the pier, I donno just someplace. They'll be looking for me. And then my mind starts working. They'll be scouting for me. Waiting all over the city until I show up. Next time they'll be prepared. Just hit and run. It's amazing they didn't hit last time.

At this moment, I see the foundations of racism. I look at every black face as THE ENEMY. After I pass one on the street I walk on, then quickly turn to see if s/he is on the cellphone. They all work together, I'm sure. They're scouting for me. A description passed through cellphone lines around the city. Racism doesn't come from your parents. It come from your life. Let one bad thing happen, and it's a whole race who did it. Not even a continent. Not even an individual, but a whole race.

I can't hide. I can take off my hat. I can put on a white shirt. (I'd have to buy one first.) But I can't hide THE COLD SORE. They'll find me. I go to a restaurant with outdoor tables, on a very busy street. No black people pass me. I eat something I can't pronounce and have two beers with it. Then I go back to the pensione... the long way, avoiding the park by several blocks.

Oh yeah, I almost forgot. Earlier that morning, when I asked the proprietress to hold my bags, I also reached for my wallet.

“Scuzzi,” I said, “io damage la pared y quiero pagar.”

She doesn't understand.

I take out my wallet and show her twenty Euros. Then I motion for her to follow me and bring her into the room, showing her the section of wall I wrecked. “I'm sorry,” I said, “I want to pay.”

“It's nothing,” she says. “Nothing. Don't worry.”

Makes me think that the only nice people in Italy are pensione owners. Ah well, no good deed goes unpunished. It's the karma of the bitch-goddess. If you're honest in your daily dealings, you WILL get fucked over. God knows, that's how God works. (My Israeli pal, Nadav, once said to me, “So the existence of evil in the world PROVES God exists for you.” He got it.)

So Italy (except Torino, and a few quality people) has joined a very small list of places I DON'T like:

  • Venezuela

  • Austria

  • Seoul

  • Hong Kong

  • Salt Lake City

There are good people in all of those places, but the bad-annoying-unfriendly overwhelm them. It's a shame I have to leave for New York from Italy... I shudda chose Greece. Ah well, what trip doesn't bring a boatload of shuddas?

Oh yeah, the end of the day. I spent it in the ferryboat bar. My first Albanian, met in New York, told me I'd never be able to drink alone in an Albanian bar. Hmmm, the Ferry is ONLY Albanians (and only men, except for a couple old ladies and one taken female of incredible beauty). I find it all to easy to drink alone.


Daniel Lampinen said...

Been there. Was using the camera to film a group of very loud-acting black men in Burger King in New Orleans.

They took the camera. I managed to get it back without them deleting anything else than that particular file.

It actually worked fairly good to say "but you guys are doing a SHOW". Some of them laughed at that. You practically say your exact motives, and then they might re-value it a little bit.

I think it's more of an european thing in general to not care to step in to help. A way more relaxed view on crime and punishment. Mainly because we don't have it as bad as USA when it comes to crime (or just have the impression that it is like that). Europeans are more focused on straining stuff out after they have happened. It would be interesting to measure and compare how often people really call the police in different parts of the world.

JIM HAYES said...

hey that's a great column! good luck! Jim