"Unknown towns are fun. That's when and where it's possible to imagine that everybody you meet is nice.” -- Louis Ferdinand Celine
“Sometimes, there are towns when and where everybody you meet IS nice!” --Mykel Board
Monday: The plan is to meet my couchsurfing host at the hostel at 9AM. Check-out, move in with him, and let him show me the town. Albanians are punctual people. They tell me that, and up to now I've seen that. So at nine, I'm waiting in the lobby. At nine fifteen, I go back to my room, take out the computer and begin to write. At 9:20 comes a knock on my door. It's Freddy's father... I think.
He motions to me and I walk out into the lobby. A tall blondish guy, about 30, is standing there.
“Christoph?” I ask.
“Yes,” he says. “I thought we would meet at nine. I was waiting outside.” The guy has a weird accent. More German, than Albanian.
“I was waiting inside,” I tell him. “Sorry for the problem. Should we go now?”
“I'm sorry, Mykel,” he says. “My roommate returned unexpectedly. He absolutely refuses to allow couch surfers here. I cannot host you.”
“What a surprise!” I don't say. “Something goes wrong.”
“Let's at least have breakfast,” he says. “I know a place that serves seven different kinds of breakfast.”
“Fine,” I say. “as long as it's not a breakfast pizza.”
“What's a breakfast pizza?” he asks.
So, I finally get real eggs. Christoph just orders toast and jam.
It turns out he is German, not Albanian. He's here teaching German. He shares quarters with an old guy... more than fifty years...The guy is set in his ways and he won't allow couch-surfers. It's a pity, he says, he usually has people almost every day.
“In Tirana?” I ask. “In Tirana you get guests every day, from where?”
“America, Australia, Italy, everywhere,” he tells me.
Damn, isn't there anywhere I can go where Americans haven't beat me to it? How 'bout Nuk? It's worth going there just for the name!
After breakfast, we hike way up hill to catch a cable car (the hanging kind like to Roosevelt Island, not the dragging kind like in San Francisco). There's a famous 15 minute cable car ride up the largest mountain in the Tirana area. I love those kind of areal trams. Just over tree level... you feel like a bird, ready to lose the ability to fly every second. Fun and slightly scary. Knowing the karmic debt I must be paying (is there a Jack-the-Ripper in the woodpile?), you probably figure that after arriving at the cable car entrance, we find out that it isn't running today. You figure correctly.
The hike back down does bring a nice break for a decent pizza, great cheap ice cream, and FANTA. I never drink soda in the U.S. But the Fanta here is delicious. Something real, tasty. Christoph says all his American visitors say the same thing. (That hurts. I hate being like all the American visitors... I even hate that there are all the American visitors.) He thinks it's because they use real sugar in the soda-- not high fructose mono-glyceride corn-derived benzical. He may be right.
One positive adventure was finding one of those bunkers... right near the base of the cable car. Christoph says there are 70,000 of them in the country. I saw at least 200 of them on the trip between Gjirokastra and here. But I never got a chance to see one up close. Here it is. I just need to push through the weeds and climb on top of it. Do I do it?
After the hike back, the soda and ice cream. We split. I go back to the hostel, sweaty (It's warm again.), ready for a shower. I can do that in comfort, it's 2 in the afternoon. No one stays in their hotel room at 2 in the afternoon. My Italian roommate will at least be gone for enough time to bathe, and towel off in naked comfort, right? Yeah, right.
Why is he here? In the middle of the day. Playing on his computer.
Ok, if you've got a lemon... So we go out, hit a coffee stand or two, look at the perfect gluteal fullness of Albanian women. Then we go to dinner.
Young Albanian women almost always wear high heels. I think that pushed-up butt is the real attraction of high heels on women. Some people think it's something phallic. You see fetish mags where some guy is sucking a high heal. Doesn't attract me... I figure it tastes like dirt. But those heels, push up the whole leg. The wonderfully rounded lower-back-connection-points bulge out like the top of a turkey drumstick... Mmmm, just as tasty.)
After a bit of jean-tailed warbler watching, we go for some dinner We do not go to 24 Non
After dinner, we stop in at the TIRANA ROCK. We're the only two customers-- and it was packed yesterday.
We sit out on the balcony, overlooking the city. It would be romantic with other company (sorry Maurizio, but I sure you understand), but in any case it is fun and an interesting exchange of philosophy:
I think Tirana could be the next Prague which was the next Paris. Maurizio thinks before that happens, it needs some infrastructure and a bit of pollution reduction.
[Note: The air in Tirana and Durress is really polluted. Why not smoke? The air is certainly no worse than what comes out of a cigarette. Every morning, I blow the soot from my nose... car exhausts, coal produced electricity, general dust I have to scrape out what doesn't flow easily. It's mostly from cars. Old cars. New cars. Mostly Mercedes, for some reason. I find myself with the constant cough I attributed to universal smoking. It's universal breathing.
I don't hate the pollution, though. I feel about it like I feel about crime in New York. Without it, the ugly rich move in and take over everything. You could never live there. Pollution keeps out the creeps.]
Being Italian, Maurizio prefers wine to beer. Since we're drinking beer, he stops at two. I have an extra for the road back to Freddys. Maybe it'll help me sleep better.
The next day, I meet Andi for lunch at THE LAKE. It's a little hike to the lake, and I see that Andi is still limping from the soccer injury. Of course the way is Uphill. Everything in this country is uphill.
On the walk, we talk about some of my observations about the country. For example, though you can usually find an Albanian yelling at other Albanians, you never see them fight. This whole month, I never saw one thrown punch. What's up widdat?
“If you are fighting,” says Andi, “the police come and beat both sides. They don't ask questions. You know, if you get into a fight, the police will beat you. So, you don't get into a fight.”
Interesting alternative to New York's shoot the blackguy method of problem solving.
We reach The Lake. Andi tells me it's a man-made construction at the edge of Tirana. It's where the locals go to relax. There may even be some fish in it. I see a skinny guy nursing three fishing poles. He didn't seem to have caught anything.
Andi buys some Albanian sausage cooked on a homemade grill. He talks to the large square-shaped cook who is being helped by a boy, about 10. I guess the kid is his son. It's Sunday, so there's no school. I wonder if Dad pays him a few lek for his help, or if it's just part of his duties as a kid.
[Note for non-American readers: In the U.S. there are two philosophies about kids' allowance. That is, the weekly sum they receive from their parents for their own discretionary spending.
One group of parents pays the kids for jobs done. You was the dishes, you get two dollars. You mow the lawn, five more dollars.
Other parents pay a fixed amount, say $10 a week, to their kids. This money is just for being a part of the family. The kids mow the lawn and wash the dishes because they're family members. It's all part of the same deal.
As you might have guessed, I favor the second way. The first encourages that awful work ethic. It also turns humans into economic machines. You do something, you get money. Your boss, your father. No difference.]
Andi and I sit by the lake and talk like old friends. I hope, now, we are old friends. I really like the guy and am sorry it was so late in the trip that we met.
Ah, we'll meet again in New York. That's an advantage (the only?) of THE CITY. Almost everyone you're likely to meet will someday get there.
After the lake, we part ways to meet after dinner. Andi has family obligations. He's been away from his family for four years in Paris. Now, they can't get enough of him. I understand.
So, after a short rest, I'm off for dinner again with Maurizio. We do not go to NON-STOP BAR RINA.
Instead we go to ERA, one of the oldest restaurants on the rejuvenated Blocku. Recommended by Andi. It's easy to find. Just walk around asking people Era? Era? Everyone knows and points with a long detailed explanation, none of which I can understand except drait (straight ahead).
Still, it's not long before we find it. It looks a little fancy.
Mostly, it's a closed in area, built out onto the sidewalk in front of the wall of the building. White table cloths. Of course, Maurizio wants wine. I give in, though I need water to quench my thirst.
The menu is several pages long. We order some bread, some yogurt dish, some meat dishes. The food is excellent, and the price much less than at Rina 24 Non-Stop.
Andi meets us at the end of dinner. He has his guitar with him. He sits with us for a bit and off we go. Back to Silver (or is it Steel) Wings. We meet Harold there, and it's not long before the two of them take the stage. My camera card runs out before I can get a whole song. But I did get part, and after I get back to New York, it'll be on You Tube. If you don't see it by the middle of November, remind me and I'll post it.
They play Another Brick in The Wall. They do not play Sonic Reducer or Anarchy in the U.K., so I do not join it on the stage.
I take pictures, Mauri watcheS and drinks. I sing Sweet Home Alabama when they play Hotel California. We all get a little soused. What a great night! What a great gang!
I make the mistake of leaving for Durress a day early. There's no hot water at Freddy's and it had been days since I had a shower. I was longing to lose the smell of myself, and to sit and write a bit without an adventure. Too late now. Durress is as boring as a cricket game. Nice, oceanic, but boring. Tirana was something else.
Ah well, better to have Tirana-ed for such a short time than never to have Tirana-ed at all. Thanks guys. I won't forget you.