Monday, June 14, 2010

How Does It Feel?

I get a lot of questions about living in Albania.  People ask me "Is it safe?" "What do you eat?" "How does it feel?"   There's a question.   How does it feel?  I never thought of that.  Smells.  Tastes. Sounds.  All of those lend themselves to description and we Westerners deal largely in the visual and provide a little variety by focusing on the tastes every now and then.  Albania is half Western, half Eastern.  The sensual Orient intrudes despite Western logic and perception.  How does it feel?

My eyes were opened recently by a talented photographer who travelled around with me shooting the sights of this fascinating, ancient land.  He took the mandatory scenery shots and historical shots and quirky "only in Albania" shots. It was his fascination with texture that opened my eyes to the "feel" of the country.  I'll let his photos answer the question:  "How does Albania feel?"

It feels ancient.  Layer upon layer of stone.  Rough cut at first; later more refined.  Touch the strength, the permanence and ponder your own fleeting presence.  Time has a texture when measured in stone.

It feels of geology and erosion and tectonics.  The land shapes the civilization, the people, the culture....

... and the people return the favor.  They shape the land, the stone.  First by their mastery of masonry to build the cobbled way.  Then by their ceaseless passage.  The feet of traders, hooves of mules, wheels of Gypsy carts whittle away at geometric shapes.  How many toiling laborers bore their burdens over these stones?  What small changes wrought by courting couples' tentative footfalls?

Albania feels like forests.  In the hinterlands it needs only a blessed winter of ceaseless rainfall to dress the hills in a cloak of greens.

It feels like olives.  The dusty grey of groves plaster terraced hillsides.  From a distance they feel ethereal, ghostly...

Up close you feel something else.  Wisdom, telling of the vital link between man and nature.  The intertwining of a culture and a tree; each comes to depend on the other and the condition of one gives clues to the health of the other. Scarred by time, conflict, neglect - you feel the history of Albania as you explore the twisted trunks of centuries-old groves.

The sensation of  intertwining of man and nature extends to the table, in the velvety smoothness of a traditional breakfast of pace koke in Leskovik.  The olive oil, the rice, and the earthy flavor of lamb meat.  Earlier a frolicking part of the landscape, now sustenance, shared family joy.

No mistake.. Albania feels hard.  Like stones on a wave-tossed beach.  Demanding, but rewarding if you can steel yourself to its elemental side.   Albania rewards with textures as clear-cut as diamonds and as soft as...

... morning sheep.  Bathed in the forgiving light of a new dawn, they feel new, shaggy, and resilient.  Alive with possiblity. They feel like Albania...
and I feel privileged to cling to these timeless textures, struggling to survive and comprehend.  And I feel alive.