7 years ago
“… I had never been there before and I knew nothing about it, and neither did anyone else,” Paul Theroux wrote of Albania in 1995 in The Pillars of Hercules. “… here on the most heavily beaten path in the world, the shore of the Mediterranean, it was still possible to travel into the unknown.” Still remote, Albania – for 40 years the most isolated country in communist Europe – is blooming.To me, Theroux's blank slate is the best way to approach your first trip to Albania. You'll never be disappointed if you don't build your expectations. You'll also be directly observing the country rather than looking to confirm the things you've "learned" before you arrive.
|These Guy's Slogan Must Have Been: "Get Your Sh*t Straight!"|
The film is an excellent study in farce, and claiming to be based on real events, it is a very welcome and healthy progression for Albanian society to be able to laugh at the absurd, almost Orwellian blind alley they once stumbled down. Indeed, 'Slogans' takes many delighted pot shots at the futility of the locals' single-minded determination to pepper the hills with important-sounding slogans - the meanings of which they are unable to actually explain, such as the declarative 'American Imperialism Is Only A Paper Tiger' and 'Finish Successfully The Campaigns Of Our Harvests And Sowings'. The loss of a generation of children, so tired from spending their days building giant letters for phrases they cannot hope to understand that they have no energy left for actual studies is all the more tragic because of their excited determination and uncomprehending devotion to the task, reminiscent of the first generation of the children who grew up in Mao's China, becoming the most devout party members of all, yet the most ignorant.
'Slogans' also shows the way in which the real world continually steps in to foil the Party's designs and is punished for doing so. The giant letters are continually unearthed by fauna, romances evolve, and children play, all resulting in stiff penalties for the unwitting transgressors. One of the most touching scenes for me features Andre and a dirt-poor, illiterate herdsman, who implores the teacher to help him convince the local government to provide him with better housing. The poor peasant, whose lack of education precludes him from understanding anything of the local politics, is ultimately destined to be condemned for his ignorance, his plight an excellent metaphor for the absurdity and failure of the Communist ideologies, which have been stripped away of every last scrap of meaning and do nothing for the people who actually matter. Ultimately, any such efforts at normality are quashed, and the final message of the film is clearly that the people are slaves to the system they themselves willingly perpetuate, which is ultimately too powerful to resist. Thankfully, history has proved this not to be the case.
|"Socialist Albania Marches On" and "Glory to Marxism and Leninism!"|
|A River Runs Through It|
|Striking Ottoman Architecture|
|In The Old Hamam, Looking Up|
|Offered Without Comment|
|League Of Prizren Museum|
|Snow-Covered Albania In The Distance|
|Thethi - Not So Bad When It Doesn't Rain|
|Nderlysa - Maybe Next Time|
|Shala River In Spate|
|This Is One Of Those Times|
|So Is This|
|Kir River In Grykemadhe|
|Please? That's My Bad Side!|
I have given away my business, sold my apartment for break-even, and moved with a few suitcases of random possessions to Albania -- specifically to Northern Albania, the District of Tropoja, to this point possibly one of the most backwards, impoverished and forgotten regions of Europe. To absolutely damn the impracticality of my decision, I should add that I have no income, no plans for any income and no clear thoughts about what my future looks like.
On the television, we watch as a handful of men mill around the side gate to the Kryeministri. Suddenly -- the video has no distinguishable sound -- one man falls silently to the ground. He has been shot by one of the snipers on the roof of the government building. The old man nearest him looks down, as if to say, "What are you playing at?" Then realizes. He moves to stand over the body, his arms thrown out at his sides as he cries and calls for help. Others rush in to carry the body to safety. Do you see what I see? Nobody ran away. They didn't run from bullets. They ran in, to help.
Just before we leave Kamenica, I am sitting in the snow on the edge of the wall surrounding the entrance to the house. One of the daughters of the house crouches beside me. Together we gaze out at the snow-covered hills, absolutely silent and gloriously empty. An enormous mockingbird plays in a frozen fruit tree, knocking lumps of snow to the ground. "You like Albania?" she asks. "Oh yes," I say, "I love it." I turn and we look into each others eyes, smiling happily "You?" I ask. I watch her as she returns watching the mountains. "Oh yes," she says, still smiling. "Yes.".