Monday, February 02, 2009

monday in albania


i have albania on the brain. why would i do such a thing, you ask? who in their right mind wakes up on a monday morning with albania on their mind? apparently, i do. what causes such a thing which could probably only be characterized as a symptom of some deeper developing psychosis? is it the individual bunkers which dot the albanian countryside, one for every albanian?


is it a fascination for the only country in the world ever to be officially athiest (if one doesn't count the USSR, which doesn't exist anymore)? (it's not anymore, but it was throughout the hoxha regime.) is it a hankering to know more about mother theresa's roots (tho' she was admittedly a kosovo albanian, not an albania albanian)?



is it the memory of a conversation i had at lake ohrid in the summer of 1995 with a respected professor from skopje university, in which he informed me, in all confidence and seriousness, that bob dole wanted to become the next president of the united states in order to turn the US over to albanian interests because he was secretly an albanian? i'll admit to egging him on a bit and asking whether the albanians, who apparently had this grand plan for world domination, were simply trying to fool the world by walking around looking abjectly poor and living in hovels and shooting their AK-47s into the air and then wondering why the bullets rained down on their heads. perhaps they actually lived underground in opulent pleasure palaces, plotting the rise to power of a kansas war veteran. he agreed, without irony, that it was a distinct possibility and ordered us another turkish coffee. in retrospect, i think he may have just been trying to seduce me.  which i can assure you did not work.


or is it the fact that while i was in neighboring macedonia in 1997, albania collapsed in a pyramid scheme and my fellow fulbrighter had to flee to the macedonian border in a taxi, walking the final few kilometers across the border to the relative safety of macedonia? he was trying to avoid some of those bullets which were raining down from the skies as people broke into ammunition depots and shot off all of the ammunition they could find in their personal weapons (another residue of the hoxha regime, in which every citizen was assigned an automatic machinegun), doing quite some damage to all of the stolen cars and ancient mercedes which had made their way, like unwilling lemming, to albania to crumble and die.


or was it the memory of strange images of half-built houses dotting the countryside? apparently being built in stages as albanians abroad sent money home. mysteriously half-painted and half-shingled, standing alone and seemingly abandoned on hillsides, like newer versions of the bunkers.

i think it's actually paul theroux's fault, as i'm reading his pillars of hercules and i read the section on his visit to albania right before bed last night. he was there five years before i was, but i could see that nothing much had changed. my visit, in 2007, was mostly because we wanted to say we'd been there. both husband and i had gone to the border with macedonia at lake ohrid several times, but we'd never crossed it. so, in the summer of 2007, we drove into albania from greece and then crossed into macedonia at that same border near lake ohrid. it was two hours at the greek-albanian border, 45 minutes of driving through the albanian countryside, staring in amazement at the bunkers that were everywhere, an aborted attempt to eat lunch in the little town on the albanian side of ohrid (it was some sort of siesta time and nothing was open), another 30 minutes to check out of albania at the border and then pull forward to check into macedonia. not a vast experience, but somehow it felt like enough. i think an hour or so is all you really need of albania.

10 comments:

sunmamma said...

So interesting, thanks for sharing!!

Jane said...

Being from a relatively peaceful end of the world, the bunkers remind me of something out of Star Wars. Imagine living in an area of almost constant turmoil. Interesting! Thank you for the photographs!

It's Just Me said...

What a small safe world I live in. Things I am not forced to think about, much less live through. Thank you for the reminder.

Starlene said...

My father's best friend Roko Camaj was from Albania and he often spoke of the constant turmoil. He was a window-washer for the world trade center and sadly did not survive 9/11. Frankly, I never had any idea what he was talking about so these photos have really helped me visualize his words. Thank you!

Also that thing about Bob Dole is hysterical!

julochka said...

you're all very welcome.

and the bob dole thing is totally true, i couldn't make this stuff up...

Barb said...

Very interesting post ... I always love your word & pictoral tours of different countries. I travel vicariously thru you. Barb xo

Bee said...

If an hour is all you need, then this thorough post should satisfy . . .:)

Sad half-built houses! (The one that you pictured was a rather grand vision, too.)

It's Just Me said...

I was finally able to read your last interview and comment... thanks.

tangobaby said...

Earlier today I said that your post about being a Pageant Queen was your best post of February but I had not read this one, so now I'm changing my mind. This is the best February post of your so far.

I love your observations about Albania, a place I know virtually nothing about until this very moment, so I guess it's a good thing that Bob Dole did not win the presidency.

I am on a Paul Theroux kick because of you already so I guess after I finish the Bazaar book, I can move on to this one.

ps. These photos reminded me of a documentary I saw about Libya. Lots of bizarre abandoned buildings like this.

Jaime said...

Very interesting little structures. I was thinking Star Wars too. I wonder what they look like on the inside?

:)