Life During Wartime--The Balkans, 1994
Pages from the Journal: Serbia, Macedonia, Albania
Sunday October 23, 1994
So much to say. Where to begin? I guess the logical beginning is with Casey Kasem. Heard that slimebag’s voice from a café’s radio this morning, going off about some dork’s dedication in Massachusetts to some girl in Colorado. Albania needs a lot, but Casey Kasem? Is that the best we can offer?
I woke up early and just stared at the street. We’re about a mile east of Skenderbeg Square. The city buses here come from all over Europe. They still have their old stickers that say “Brussels” or ads in Italian, German, and Dutch. Even more donkeys and carts go by; the drivers sit on old car seats.
Saw a car with at least 2 meters of mattresses stacked on top.
The milkman came by with his daily delivery at 6:15.
Breakfast was great: sharp cheese, feta cheese, cocoa in warm, creamy milk, good bread and homemade jam. I still have some whole grain bread I got in Macedonia, but Silvana and her sister Irida weren’t diplomatic in their refusal to even try it. The dark brown color put them off and they were going to throw it out, convinced that no Albanian would touch it.
Like on many weekends, a group of Silvana’s co-workers and other friends get together for an excursion. I was lucky enough to be included. The weather was downright balmy, the warmest weather I’ve had in the last 6 weeks. We went to Krujë, a historic town beautifully situated on the side of a mountain.
The drive to Krujë and the subsequent drive to the coast and Durrës were trips I wouldn’t have been able to do on my own and in such comfort, so I feel fortunate. The views from Krujë were fantastic; the blue of the sea was visible. The land is terraced on the mountain. Near the Macedonian border the land is rocky and ill suited for agriculture. The company was fun and light-hearted as they were constantly joking with each other.
Driving is not for the faint-hearted here. (Silvana says the driver’s license story is bunk. Also, I’ve eaten lots of bread by now and have found it to be only delicious.) The roads themselves are not that bad, no big potholes, it’s just that the land is so mountainous and the roads narrow. Every vehicle of transport shares the road. In town, people just blast their horns through intersections, often at red lights.
I did see the aftermath of some sort of accident. A group of people was leading an old woman away. From her temple blood strew down her face. It looked ugly. We kept driving and not 100 meters away two police stood, staring idly. I asked one of the group what the police were doing and the reply was, “Hanging (out)”. I see that the police do a lot of hanging. They appear to be a relaxed group. They have “National Road Blocks” set up to do who knows what.
We went to a beach south of Durrës, the main port. We drove about 10km looking for a certain place. The thin stretch between the road and the beach is thick with pine trees. When you get to the beach itself you see the weird sight of bunkers next to bunkers next to bunkers for as far as you can see. They are clumped together here and there, not evenly spaced, yet all in a row. Garbage and broken bottles are everywhere, especially in the bunkers. A few lonely low buildings are along the expanse of beach, once vacation places but now occupied by northern Albanian squatters, I am told. It was still a beautiful place, if only for the fact that I didn’t expect such a scene. I didn’t know what to expect, really. I had some excellent fish with onions, potatoes, feta cheese, and bread, with some tasty beef afterward.
The sun set slowly, continually changing the hues of the sky. I attempted some artsy photos.
What a day! Little ol’ me getting this royal treatment! I feel unduly honored. Silvana, my incredibly hospitable host--I wasn’t allowed to spend one lek all day—is a woman that needs to be discussed, and she will be later.
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