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ponchi101

Logbook to the middle ages. XIX

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I spend my last afternoon in Albania roaming the streets of downtown Tirana.
As I was driven there I could see a more modern side of the country. The road became a serviceable two lane highway, with cars zooming by us at considerable speed. The closer to Tirana we got, the more billboards and signs greeted us. We entered the city and I was taken to the same hotel where I spent my first night upon arrival. I was given an extra large room which indeed seemed palatial, and the larger bathroom and small hall in the suite were welcomed.
I walked outside and decided it was time for lunch. The hotel, located in the historical center, offered many options of where to go. I was tempted to Google something but instead took the chance and strolled. Eventually I found a lovely Japanese garden and settled for sushi and sashimi. I just needed something else, a little change of pace from the olives and feta cheese.
I walked to Skanderberg Square, in the center of the city, and where a magnificent statue of an ancient warrior on horse reminds people of some glorious past. The statue is almost generic, with a huge man riding a monstrous beast, in the pose designated by some urban legend that tells us that the man died of wounds sustained in battle (one hoof is off the ground). I do not know the man nor will I look it up, but such designations are always for the country founder.
Opposite to the statue stands the National History Museum. On the front, a beautiful mural from the Soviet era tells you of a magnificent revolution: a beautiful woman leads the brave people of Albania, represented by the workers and farmers (there are hammers and sickles aplenty) towards some sort of freedom, some sort of heroic battle they inevitably won. And to complete the trio of monuments, the National Opera building stands on another side of the square, a huge and beautiful flag waving its brave red and black colors in the summer breeze.
I continue and see more statues, a small ancient bridge, a mosque being rebuilt and I walk through a modern shopping mall, vertically constructed as it is 8 stories tall. All the usual brands are there, in the ubiquitous temple of consumerism that could be here in Tirana or Rome or Bogota or wherever. They are basically indistinguishable one from another, an America template to the power of money.
I like Tirana. It seems friendly and there are things to see and do. But it is small. It is a place to spend just a couple of days and I doubt it can challenge the other great capitals of the region. Which is Albaniaís conflict.
Albania is in a terrible neighborhood. When you sit north of the cradle of Western Civilization (Greece), West of what remains of one of the greatest Islamic empires ever (Turkey, the descendant of the Ottoman Empire) and East of the most powerful military Empire of Ancient times (Italy, the mutation of the Roman Empire), you have to work very hard to make a name for yourself. And Albania simply hasnít. I joked once, in what ended up being an inappropriate comment, that if your most famous citizen not only was a crazy evil nun operating an asylum for people with tuberculosis in Calcutta but was not even born in the country (Wikiknowledge tells me she was born in Northern Macedonia), you have to admit that you are incognito to a very high degree.
It is one of the reasons I really liked Albania. For us that will never amount to fame and/or fortune, Albania is just what I want to be and remain: friendly, small, humble but yet with a little mystery.
And if you want to remain a bit interesting, then be welcoming and let people explore a bit before telling them all your little stories. Like Summerset Maugham once wrote: do not keep all your goods in the shop window. And Albania does that in a fantastic way.
You have to come in and look at the boxes in the back. If only I could do that again.

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Updated 09-21-2019 at 12:47 PM by ponchi101

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Comments

  1. suliso's Avatar
    You had a great time, I see.
  2. ponchi101's Avatar
    Yes. I really liked it. I said it before. If you are not the kind that needs a Marriot or cheesy English coffee shop, Albania will be fun.
  3. suliso's Avatar
    I think I'd like it as well. It seems to me Albania was closer to Marriot than you usually get in your work assignments.
  4. GlennHarman's Avatar
    As I said in a personal note to Ponchi, I have loved every one of these blogs from Albania....I don't think I've ever loved anything on TAT more. Poncho made this place come alive with his wonderfully picturesque language. I've always had a desire to see this place that spent most of the last half of the 20th century isolated from the world. But these blogs have made it much more likely that I will really make the effort to do so. Poncho, thanks a bunch for these notes. And please keep writing. You do it so very well. GH