Τρίτη, 22 Μαΐου 2012

Thursday-Hit the North (and come back within the day)

I wanted to see the towers. I also wanted to see the sanctuaries. I wanted to see what the areas described in the journey of Gjork Berisha, before he was killed by the Kryjekukke family. I wanted to witness all the wonders witnessed by those American scholars that where chasing after the voices of those singing Homeric narratives. But no. The plateau of Kosovo, described by the creator of all those characters, Albania’s prolific writer, Ismael Kandare, was too far away for a simple day trip. The furthest away from Tirana we could move was Shkoder. Well that could be enough too. At least for a first visit to the Albanian North, or what they called “deep Albania”. The part of the country where the tradition of prince Lek’s orders still survived. The Kanun. That is the traditional law that every Albanian must follow on just about every issue of his everyday life, from simple day-to-day matters, ‘till the settling, or continuity, of the famous Albanian blood feuds. Honour killings still exist in the north. So does the right of every family to claim vengeance over its members that where killed by a member of another family. And though these laws where banned during the Hoxha regime, they came back in the nineties, partly thanks to Sali Berisha (a northerner) turning a blind eye to the phenomenon. The road passed through a Northern Tirana suburb where “no one wants to end up” , as my stepfather’s friend Solace once said. That is because a lot of Northerners migrated there. The place looked run down and definitely is in a bad shape. Loads of traffic too. We where on our way up north where everything looked abandoned and derelict. No evidence of development here yet, except a wide array of furniture stores and some mini malls. The weather looked typical of the Albanian North. That meant that it was cloudy, moist, and pockets of rain followed out Touareg in its every step. Towns and villages passed by, even when we where, again, what looked like the typical Albanian highway. A narrow strip of grass was standing between northbound and southbound lanes. To our left and to our right, the mountain ranges that form Albania’s natural landscape where closing slowly closing in on us. All of a sudden we where off the highway and moving along the perimeter of a mountain. The weather had deteriorated and by now it was purely raining cats and dogs.. Even visibility was, at times, very limited. Thank god by the time we had reached the outskirts of Shkoder there was a break in the bad weather. The sun was shining again and we where beginning to get the feeling we could walk around town. We where fatally wrong, in this sense. First of all as soon as we entered town the stormy weather came in again. And then, there was nothing much to see in town too. It looked like the only things we could visit, the castle and the lake, where a hard catch for the day. And as we tried to negotiate the narrow road that goes around the lake and into Montenegro, the weather went from bad to much, much worse. We where mostly unable to see or spot anything from the windows, except what lay a few feet ahead of us. And again, it looked in a dreadful shape. In the following days Djodjas would tell us that this is what the weather is usually like, over there. Moist and rainy. We ate nearby, and went on our way back to Tirana. Along the way my stepfather tried to fill the Touareg’s tank with petrol for the first time in his two year stay in the country. The employee in the gas station (someplace in the middle of nowhere), did not speak any English, my Italian did not come in handy either, but my stepdad managed to explain what he wanted to him, using his limited Albanian vocabulary and some signs. A few seconds later, and while the machine was pumping in gas, he overheard me making a silly joke on the price (while the price was in Lek, there was a Euro Sign (remember the Euro to Lek rate is 1:140) painted next to the display, because the machines had been imported second-hand from Italy), understood what I was saying and laughed with us (explaining in greek that the price was in Lek). The jokes continued, and soon another car came in, the occupants of which joined in the conversation and the laughter. We met five guys who where speaking greek, in a gas station, somewhere in the middle of nowhere in Northern Albania... The people I meet in my travel never cease to amaze me. Having a full tank now, we moved down toward Tirana, to gain some early sleep time. The next morning we where starting a three-day trek along the Albanian south….

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