Archive for the 'Tirana' Category

Pillow Talk, Tirana (Well, Don’t Make Me Beg)

Tirana, I want to lay
my head on your naked chest,
one ear to the heartbeat, hear
the ragged breath,
1000 cars wheezing,
careening,
screaming—
a cough
like smoking meat.

Can we lay like that?—
in the morning,
between the mountains,
sun through no curtain,
this bedroom of a city
and everything that contains us—

You cut a river
through the middle,
build your bridges
likes slits across wrists—
Stare at the soggy trash
they’ve thrown there and say
“It’s a real river in the winter.”

Tell me how you’re better
at 4am,
when the wheezing unrattles itself
and the city falls silent,
each dog a lonesome bark
and we climb to the top
of that tattooed pyramid
and look at it all,
laid out there
blinking
naked
smoldering trash

and the police will chase us up
and cough at the top,
place their hands on their knees,
ask for our documents
and I’ll be too scared—you’ll laugh:
“You were scared, scared.”

Tirana, I want this:
your bone
against my ear,
hearing your organs groan,
black breath rattle
between those mountains,
your breastplate—

where you keep it,
you keep it.

Advertisements

Tirana Took Some Piece of Me, Under Seige And Too Far Away

The Pyramid, where protests took place

Sometimes when you travel, a place will steal a piece of you. And sometimes you’ll leave a little piece of yourself in a place—which might be the same thing—some piece of you you hadn’t really known was there, that took the foreign air (smoking chestnuts and car exhaust) to be awakened or realized. And you’re sure you can only ever know that piece or be that piece there—which probably isn’t true but is nonetheless how it feels. Because all it can do is feel, not quite be articulated or explained or rationalized. Which is part of the magic of traveling.

Tirana is one of these places for me—not perfect, far from paradise, but a place I just slid into, like a peg in one of them little holes. I think about my Albanian homies often, and we keep in touch (like everyone else) via Facebook. So I knew when it was snowing there last month, saw pictures of familiar rooftops hazed in a dingy white. I saw pictures from New Year’s, from parties that looked like the ghosts of parties I’d gone to—or rather, parties that had never stopped, kept going, where some piece of me might still be dancing amid the smoke.

And so I knew this morning that shit had gone down. Before I looked at the New York Times or Reuters or listened to NPR, I saw via Facebook. Which made it impossible to detach from, which made it all the more real.

Vincent had been a fellow traveler when I’d been in Tirana, but the lure of the city had inspired him to move there (and helped me to acknowledge that it wasn’t just me being crazy, that the city really does have a kind of special something). He’s been the most vocal of my Tirana friends, though I did get word that everyone I know is okay.

Vincent posted this first-hand account, far more compelling than any news story I read:

I was surprised how well cars can burn, they make hissing and exploding sounds as they slowly die, and usually after two or three minutes, their horns and lights switch on until the circuits are burned through, its like their dying lament.

It’s a funny feeling, I can’t explain it, but I want to be there. For what? To protest? It’s not my fight. To watch shit burn, to run the streets and raise my fist and feel the sting of tear gas? No, that’s not it. To be curled up in someone’s apartment, watching newscasts and hearing the echoes of sirens and shouts and maybe gunfire? Perhaps. To feel that that piece of me I left there, that was so so alive there, is safe?—and that all those people that saw that piece, that shared that piece and maybe even a small piece of themselves, that they’re all safe too?

Because nothing is really safe, and no one is really safe, least of all the parts of you you don’t know, that you’ve littered all over this planet like loose change, like strands of hair, like earring backs and lines from old forgotten poems someone else remembered and reminded you of, when you least expected it, on Twitter of all fucking places—and it sounded like an echo of an ancient sadness and you don’t know what the fuck all this is or means, but just that it doesn’t feel safe, or doesn’t feel like you can save it—which is not at all the same thing, but is all too easy to confuse. And you’ve been confusing it your whole damn life without knowing it.

All of which is to say that you can never predict how this shit will make you feel, what it will bring up. Which is my own way of saying I hope all my Albanian friends—that I love without really knowing, the way I love a part of myself without really knowing it—are safe.

Americanness on the Road, Part II: It Ain’t All Bad

Yes, really: George W Bush Street, in Tirana

“America is the best country for a person with a disability to visit.”

This was Rob, sitting cross-legged on the roof terrace of the Tirana hostel. He continued, “For deaf people, it’s like a dream. It’s like going to Disneyland. Actually,” he ashed his cigarette, “Disneyland is great for people with disabilities too. Wheelchair accessibility and all.”

Chad looked confused. You could see the information smacking up against the wall of prejudice, his brow wincing from the pressure.

Chad didn’t like the US, and Chad was American.

Rob continued on, citing the revolutionary wonders of Civil Rights legislation and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in his English accent. Rob was in Tirana doing NGO work in the deaf community; Zhujeta, Rob’s girlfriend who helped run the hostel, also did work with the same NGO. Rob rattled off the comprehensive services available to deaf people in the US—from resources in public schools to telephone interpreters—vastly different from any other country in the world, including his native England.

Chad nodded, soaking it all in. “Wow,” he said thoughtfully. “I guess that’s one thing we didn’t fuck up.”

It’s easy for Americans to be jaded about our own country. There’s a lot of fucked-up shit going on in it, and we’ve caused a lot of suffering, both abroad and at home. It’s easy to fall into a sort of naive cynicism: our country is completely fucked. As young travelers, little ambassadors on hostel terraces, we feel it our duty to decry our country and lament its shortcomings, its sins, its unforgivable and deplorable acts. And there’s a lot to decry.

But it’s something like the Guilty White Person syndrome, the Bleeding Heart Liberal. This perspective—and God knows I fell prey to it for several years in my early traveling—lacks complexity, nuance. The US isn’t the evil empire, as easy and convenient as it’d be to think that. Just when you want to write it off, there’s something like the ADA to remind you of the revolutionary notion of equality written into the fabric, the very law of the land, that you can’t get away from—that, no matter how far we sway into the other side, keeps showing up and shaking things down.

It was funny to watch that information try to sort itself in the mind of someone who thought they’d neatly washed their hands of the issue: US = bad. Because the fact is, we only have ADA legislation as a product of Civil Rights legislation, and we only have that because of that little blip written into our constitution that declared all the men equal. Sure, it’s not what a bunch of rich white dudes in powdered wigs meant at the time, but too bad. And this is what, in my mind, makes our country such a complex, contradictory and ultimately fascinating place: this space for change, this tension built into it. That, and the incredible cultural cocktail that keep colliding, exploding, bubbling over and making something new.

It was even funnier to watch Chad struggle with the information that Bush Senior was the man who signed the ADA into effect.

Because things as big as people or countries are never that simple, never all one thing (“Do I contradict myself? Very well then, I contradict myself. I am large, I contain multitudes”—when in doubt, always quote Walt Whitman). It reminded me of a Middle Eastern friend of mine, an ethnic minority from Iraq, who told me her mother still thinks of Saddam Hussein as a great man, because he didn’t persecute Assyrians.

And there’s more than the ADA on the list of “things we didn’t fuck up.” But it wasn’t my job to teach or explain that to Chad; he’d have to figure it out for himself. I just sat back and watched the lightbulb turn on, a small flicker of awareness.

Later on, we sat playing music from someone’s iPod. “Welcome to the Jungle” came on, and I indulged in a moment of cheesiness. “To me,” I said, absently, not really thinking about it, “this is the epitome of America. This is what the US sounds like.”

Chad looked slightly taken aback. “What do you mean?”

“Well, it’s rock, good ole’ 80s hard rock. Which came out of rock n roll, which came out of the blues, which is about as fucking American as it gets. It comes from the core, you know, the soul of the country. And I fucking love it,” I added. “American music is my favorite music. In all its permutations—folk, country, soul, hip hop, grunge…”

“I guess I never thought of it that way,” Chad said. “I think of American music as, you know, the corporate Britney Spears shit.”

“Well, yeah, it’s that too. But that’s only a small bit of it.” I lowered my voice and leaned in. “No one can deny it: our music is pretty bad-ass.”

Americanness on the Road, Part I: Letting His Issues Be His Issues

“I hate your country’s politics.”

This was K, and this was the first thing he said to me.

We sat on the dark patio of a Tirana bar, table of ashtrays and beer bottles, the headlights and footsteps of surrounding streets obscured by a criss-cross fence. I’d arrived in the city only hours earlier, and had already found myself chasing fun with the group of people I’d hang with for the next five days.

K had just come in from Kosovo, in town for a gig where important record executives would be. He sang, or he played the guitar, or did both—it wasn’t clear. He had a red Adidas track jacket and the straw Fedora of male insecurity: a little too self-consciously cool.

He sat down at the table, said his hellos to old friends, was introduced to me. He asked where I was from, then crossed his arms, leaned back, eyes narrowed to a challenge, as if to say, “Come on, step to this, I dare you.” He announced his personal aversion to my country’s politics with smug satisfaction.

It was like K was trying to hand me a big bag of his bullshit. And I, in turn, got to firmly but without malice reply, “Actually, this is yours. And I’m just gonna let you hang on it.”

There was a time when I would have had to jump up and down to prove to K that I wasn’t one of those Americans. I would have cited my city of residence, my family’s long history in activism, personal lifestyle choices that reflect my commitment to anti-corporate, anti-imperialist values. I would have lamented the pervasive culture of ignorance and fear that paved the way for predatory politics, and when the bitch/blame-session reached its crescendo of discontent, I’d have thrown my hands up and announced my ultimate goal to marry someone with an EU passport and flee the whole mess.

I would have, in short, run laps to prove who I was to K, to win his validation and approval, this person I had just met, in some sort of attempt to resolve my own insecurity about my nationality.

Instead I shrugged, sighed, “Yeah, join the club, buddy.”

The rest of the tabled groaned at K. “What is that?” Robo asked, shoulders hunched and flicking ash, seeming a little uncomfortable at K’s underhanded assault on me. “That’s the first thing you say to someone?”

“Well, I do hate the US’s politics,” K defended himself.

“Yeah, but as the first thing to say?” Zhujeta cooed in her gentle, loving way. “Not even, ‘Nice to meet you.'” She titled her head in the same way as when she spoke to the begging gypsy kids that cruised past the table, “It’s rude, K.”

“Okay, okay,” K waved his hands as though they were little white flags. “Sorry, nice to meet you.”

I shrugged again. Whatever issue it was—whatever insecurity in K made him want to challenge someone, get them to prove themselves to him—I wasn’t going to get involved. That was between K and himself, not me. Or my Americanness.

Tirana, Tirana, The One I’ve Been Waiting For

If Tirana were a boy, it’d be the boy I’ve been waiting to meet.

You rumble across the border, furious windshield wiper and donkeys in the dirt road, hills dripping lush green. You dash from the taxi to the minibus, puddle-footed and soaking-hooded, grab the last seat as a man climbs into the trunk compartment.

You rattle like this through the rainstorm, through a landscape of sheeps and shacks, the smooth round dome of abandoned bunkers, half-built buildings with sleeping bulldozers stuck in the mud, the carcasses of stipped-down cars piled in empty lots. The minibus driver turns on some kind of Albanian butt rock, and you silently thank him for knowing the exact right soundtrack for your entrance into the country.

I’d meant to travel around a bit in Albania, see a UNESCO town or two, climb in a bunker, poke around some old Ottoman castle. Which still all sounds awesome. But four hours in Tirana, and I knew I wouldn’t be going anywhere.

There’s only one other city I’ve walked into and felt this feeling, this long “yeeeesss” coming from some place between my ribs, near my gut, a forgotten organ of intuition. Some places just fit, and you just fit them, and Tirana is one of them.

It’s got a certain electric insanity, that infectious energy, without being a total free-for-all. It’s just dirty enough, has just enough street dogs and decrepit buildings, just enough business men, the click of just enough three-inch heels, attached to smooth legs and slim skirts. It’s like meeting a boy with just enough of “the dark side,” as Luke would say—not a total depraved junkie, but not squeaky clean and wholesome either: a chipped tooth and an ancient wound.

So I walked Tirana’s streets, its run-down markets and posh cafes, past Mercedes Benzes negoitating potholes, 10-years-old smoking cigarettes, old women roasting chestnuts, old men selling gum and lighters, gypsies sitting cross-legged with outstetched palms, the blare of the horns and the hum of the engines and the swoon of the city.

Within a few hours of staggering into the frenetic swarm of this city, I’d fallen in with the artsy, alternative crowd, finding myself at a rock show in a tiny, smokey bar in an otherwise-shuttered mall. The next night was K’tu Ka Art, a weekly show featuring local live music acts. It felt a lot like being at a small show at home, until I had it explained to me.

Apparently, bands in Albania work like this: they play cover songs. God-awful, Top 40, English-language cover songs. A band will book at a certain bar for a year. And every Friday and Saturday, people will go to same bar and hear the same band play the same cover songs.

“Bloody boring as hell,” Ghenti surmised, an indie-rocker dude in a Sonic Youth shirt and a Kurt Cobain sweater. He’d moved to Brighton when he was 16, but came back to Albania every year for a few weeks. So last year he started organizing weekly showcases of local bands, who played their own songs, singing in Albanian.

It’s a small group of people, maybe 30 or so, that are into that scene right now, into something different from the imported cool. And after two nights, I seem to know all of them. Yesterday, I walked around town and kept bumping into people I knew. It’s a funny feeling of belonging, of fitting into a place you just met. (“I feel like I’ve known you for years.”)

Tirana’s also an insanely safe and insanely cheap city. I can’t manage to spend more than $40 a day, and I can’t manage to feel uncomfortable walking its streets, even at 2am. (“Heaven must have sent you from above…”) The people are startlingly friendly, and I haven’t received any street harrassment—just a lot of stares for being the one tattooed girl in the whole city (more on that in another post).

The only drawback of the city, I told Robo, is that I smoke too much. It’s too easy and too cheap ($1.50 for a pack). It was the K’tu Ka Art afterparty, in a basement bar playing a soundtrack of “Vogue,” “Highway to Hell,” and “I Love Rock N Roll.”

“No, I think it’s a good thing,” Robo replied, yelling over the music.

“Oh yeah? Why’s that?”

“It means you’re having fun.”

“Yeah, I’ll try telling my mom that,” I smiled, leaning in to the flicker of his lighter.

He leaned back, regarded me there: sitting at the bar, happy as could be with my can of Coke, singing along to cheesy hits with Tirana’s tiny clan of rock n roll kids.

He patted me on the shoulder. “You should be an advertisement for ‘Come to Albania.'”

I threw my head back and laughed.


Lauren Quinn is a writer and traveler currently living in Hanoi. Lonely Girl Travels was a blog of her sola travels and expat living from 2009 to 2012. She resides elsewhere on the internet now.

Join 3,719 other followers

Tweet this Sh%t

Error: Twitter did not respond. Please wait a few minutes and refresh this page.

Buy This Sh#t

Categories

Advertisements