"It isn't shopping, or the arts, that makes a community but that duty we all owe to each other as neighbors." J.G. Ballard
I start to write this, my last blog entry from Albania, in one of the scores (hundreds?) of coffee shops in Durres. I sit overlooking the plastic debris on a narrow stoney beach
Out in the Adriatic, the water color changes sharply. From dark to light, in a tipped rounded M, like a sideways McDonald's arch. As I type, the light water expands slowly to the North and East.
To my left, three ships are visible in the distance. One looks like a ferry. One is a container cargo ship, its crane down, pointing like a gun, at the Durres harbor. The other is too far away to make out clearly. Further in the distance is land. I don't think it's Italy. That's too far. My guess: the other side of the Durresi Bay.
I am not the only one here.
Of the thirty or so tables, about half a dozen are manned. Actually three are manned. Three other tables are womanned. None are mixed.
This is my last full day in Albania. I have a few minor errands to run. Then it's over. I have lots of free time, but I'm bored. I cannot shake the need for stimulation. I need people. I need laughter, arguments, adventure.
Peace... the time to write... sitting at the seaside... watching the boats... I SHOULD need these things, but I don't.
[Suddenly a loud disco bass thumps from somewhere behind me. I have to be careful what I wish for.... Speaking of which, last night. In bed in the Durres hotel...windows closed... shuttered. There was some time, five minutes? An hour? I donno. But there was silence. Absolute silence. Silence like all there was was the disco thump of my heart and the high whine of my nervous system. No sound outside of me. A wonderful new experience, like skydiving, I imagine. But like skydiving, I might want to visit, but certainly not live there.
Now the thump of the disco distracts me. How can I be so sensitive to noise and live in New York City? (Note to self: BUY NOISE CANCELING HEADPHONES or at least bring earplugs next trip. Unfortunately, they'll be much more useful than condoms.)]
There are a lot of characters here in Albania. Many of them street crazies. One walks the streets shouting fake reportage of a soccer match... AND HE KICKS, MISSES, AND PASSES THE BALL TO... Not that I understand it, but a local translates for me. There's more tolerance of characters here than in New York. This is a pretty tolerant country. Maybe it has to be. It's been through a lot.
Example: Except for hotel registration-- and not always then-- I have been asked for my ID a grand total of zero times since I passed through customs. I've had to open my bags zero times for inspection by store clerks, building staff, transportation officials, police or anyone else.
Once, I had to leave my bags (actually a book!) in a locker to go shopping. I was royally pissed off at that. But it happens every day in New York. Here, I feel neither watched nor controlled. Maybe that's the way it is most places.
Next day: I'm pissed. I was just now sitting outside at the awful Continental Bar-Restaurant here in Durres. The bar reeks of snobbery and xenophobia, but it takes me awhile to smell it.
I thought they forgot me because I was on the wrong side of the sidewalk, or each waiter thought the other took my order. Nope. A proper little Albanian family walks in after me. Sits at the next table. The waiter is right there. What can I get you? Not one waiter has approached me. It's been half an hour.
Ah the joys of the Internet, and-- if not revenge-- the feeling of revenge. Trip Adviser Dot Com, how do I love thee?
Right now, melancholy is my main emotion. I try to distract myself with worries about my plane to New York, accommodations in Italy, my fallen out gold inlay (in my wallet). But the melancholy returns. That's what happens at the end of a trip, any trip.
It's mostly about leaving behind. I left a pair of jeans... worn beyond repair, in my hotel room. I left innumerable pairs of sunglasses in innumerable cafés around the country. I left thoughts, feelings casual acquaintances who I wanted to be friends... and real friends (Andi, Harold, Maurizio). All these I leave behind. They'll fade from my life like the shore will fade as that ferry pulls out this evening... STOP! This is getting maudlin.
I have a list, now up to twenty-five things, I have to do when I get back to New York. A haircut, trimmed nails, fix that tooth, visit Dad, commiserate with my sister who flew all the way to the tip of South America for a cruise to Antarctica... and the boat breaks down... a cruise ship... luxury line... breaks down. That doesn't happen in real life. Things like that happen to me all the time, but I do not lead a real life.
Now, I write lying in on the bottom bunk of my cabin in the boat back to Bari. I'm slightly soused (2 beers on an empty stomach). The ship has no bank, so I I'll be stuck with the 1800 lek I have in my wallet. Not too bad, actually. About $18... not so much of a loss.
I do have a few Euros, they only thing they take on board. I don't want to spend them on the crappy food and drink in a ferry. MAYBE I'll get some breakfast tomorrow. Usually, I like ferries. I meet people... hang out with a beer... but now I'm in no mood. I've already hit my head twice on the upper bunk. I nearly tore the bed apart in end-of trip rage after the last time.
It's an isolated ignominious way to end the real part of the trip. My Italian couch-surfing contact has not answered his phone or CS email (what a surprise!). I'll call again when I get to Bari, but I don't have much hope. (Why don't Europeans have voicemail?)
I dread returning to Italy. The country is expensive and unfriendly. I'm not in a hurry to get home. I just want to get out of Italy.
Ah, but what about Albania? What last words about a country so filled with history that it piles it on itself in layers. Car-loving capitalists on Communists on Turks on Byzantines on Romans on Greeks. A country where Christian religious icons show mosques. A country where the hotel concierge wants you to say hi to his son in New York. A country of high foreheads and high pollution levels. A safe country filled with child beggars. A country that talks about the American dream, but refuses to serve us in their fancy restaurants. A country where if you speak three words of their language, they compliment you. Four words, they laugh. A country where everyone drinks. Everyone smokes. And no one eats.
What about Albania? A country with thousands of concrete bunkers and as many sidewalk cafés. A country where the women are neck-breakingly beautiful, and the men... er... are with these beautiful women. A country of awful Cochos and wonderful Andis. A country with a Jesus Christ Café and a Synagogue-Basilica.
A country where, right now, I watch a woman in tight jeans and super high heels drag a baby carriage over a gravel street.
What can you say about such a country?