Summer Fest, where no one sings live


So I was watching Summer Fest 2013, a sort of song and gogo-dance festival in Albania and noticed that not one performer sang live, or had much of a dance routine, however, when given the chance to speak to the crowd they were out of breath – from what little they did move.  And of course there was a huge crowd watching and singing along, but to what end?

What pleasure does one get out of watching someone mime?  Why not require these pseudo-singers to showcase their “vocal abilities” live but go on with a farce? Why willingly deceive yourself that you are actually watching someone perform, when they are in fact, miming?  Is it only the music that’s attractive? Is it the euphoria that one gets from large crowds in a state of enjoyment?  A combination of the two?

As usual, I have more questions than answers with whatever goes on in Albania.  My only attempt at an answer would be to suggest that the House-Dance DJ culture, which has seen much success in this part of the world, has condition audiences not to expect live performers.  So long as there is sound (music to some), and loud sound at that, all’s good.

It’s also worth mentioning that this is an Italian practice. Most Italian TV shows, programs or festivals (save for the annual Sanremo), are all in playback.  And as with most things, Albania is always looking towards Italy for cues, be it political or something as trivial as shows and festivals.

Meanwhile, try to get through some awful miming:


Vamos a La Playa in front of Town Hall

Here is the video of that wonderfully original civil protest against beach privatization in Durres’ main square and in front of town hall. Organized by The Office for Consumer Protection (ZMK) and the REAGO (REACT) movement, headed respectively by Altin Goxhaj and Leonard Dedej. 

Do you think the mayor, Vangjush Dako, paid any mind?  Do you think he was even there? My bet is he is on vacation in some exotic place, where he’s shelling out for a secluded complex and not having to pay a dime to walk or sit on its  chaise-longue free sand.  I could be wrong.

Non-profits protest against beach privatization, in front of City Hall

Two local non-profit organizations, The Office for Consumer Protection (ZMK) and the REAGO (React) movement, headed respectively by Altin Goxhaj and Leonard Dedej, have made a timely and bold statement on July 28th regarding the privatization of Durres’s entire coastline by setting up beach chairs, in beach attire, in front of the town’s  City Hall.

The privatization of public beaches is a long-standing issue in coastal Albania and remains an open wound. Sometime, someone, somehow decided that it was ok to sell off the coast, piece by piece, parcel by parcel, leaving locals and tourists to pay for a place in the sun.  Should one attempt to try to find an inch of space, a strange man will most likely show up and order you to leave or pay up for a beach chair and umbrella.  Prices range from 300 Leks (2.15 Euros) to 500 Leks, depending on the conditions of the area. Those charging are usually cafe, restaurant or hotel owners who’ve built their monstrous edifices meters away from the shore and who’ve decided that the sand in front of them belongs to them and is chargeable.   Of course this is nonsense. So is the fact that beach chairs are not a necessity in a sandy beach and are rather annoying and add to the congestion and pollution.

And so the NGOs decided to protest in front of Town Hall by having their members strip down to their bikinis, in an area that is public space. The area is considered to be the center of town, housing the palace of culture,  governmental offices, the city’s main Mosque, City Hall and an Italianesque fountain (one of the town’s hallmarks).  Interestingly enough, that fountain, as seen in the photos, was dry as dry as a concrete desert on one of this summer’s hottest days. I wouldn’t be surprised if it is still just a dried-up well.

And privatization of public beaches is just the tip of the ice-berg when considering the many problems facing this town.

Durres’s current mayor, Vangjush Dako, appears to be adamant in letting the city decay.  There’s a visible change in the city’s infrastructure and overall maintenance since my last visit in 2006.  From unpainted buildings (which are the responsibility of City Hall as taxpayers pay their dues for this service), and decrepit old historical town houses being destroyed to make room for new ghastly buildings, unpaved streets – motivated by political spite – and alleyways, to the town’s staple – its palm trees – having dried up and becoming extinct in this sub-tropical city.

Vangjush Dako, je t’accuse!  You do not care about this 3000-year old town. You have allowed for rampant, arbitrary, haphazard development, chocking the city and its ancient sites, including its Roman amphitheater.  In addition to this, you have totally neglected to revitalize its archeological museum, home to antiquities from the pre-historical, classical and byzantine eras; The museum looks like it belongs in a ghost town with spiders and their webs as its only visitors.  You drive about the city in your luxury SUV while it is rotting under your feet.  The “cardboard” tiles (who uses tiles to pave a main boulevard, anyway?) you used in 2007 just so you would get re-elected didn’t last more than two years, forcing the city taxpayers to pay yet again for re-pavement.   You have ignored and contributed to the decay of nature in this once-very natural city, which used to be home to palms, pines, grape-vines, lemon, orange and olive groves.

Additionally, I do not know of any major (or even minor) city in any corner of the world that does not have a main or central park.  Yet, Durres remains without a park for families, children or the elderly. Or, for environment’s and aesthetic’s sake.

A glaring example is the main entrance to Durres, which used to be lined on both sides of the street with decades-grown pine trees: that road is now a a concrete desert, with hardly a tree in sight.

I am not even going to touch what has happened to Plazh, but I can say that since 2006 I notice its trees (whatever was left) are gone, its streetlights either don’t work or don’t exist and the inner neighborhoods lack streets – literally, I’ve had to hop and skip on a combination of mud, water, dirt and litter on Rruga e Shqipeve (quite ironic) just off of Rruga Bajram Curri in Hekurudha, oftentimes nearly falling, or destroying my shoes and skirts.   The street is still unpaved, looks much like a bombarded site, or a scene from a post-WWII Italian town.  The main street in this particular neighborhood is full of potholes and the aforementioned, causing not only personal accidents and injuries but vehicular damage.  You should be ashamed of yourself, Mr. Dako.  It is clear that you do nothing constructive for Durres, and are deliberately neglecting and destroying this once flourishing historical town.

Please do enlighten us visitors of what exactly your day to day duties regarding this once great city consist of.

P.S:  I do not belong to either of the main political parties in Albania. My main interest and motivation for bringing attention to certain issues is simply my care and concern for my town and country.

Coastal Breeze

I am fortunate enough to be living in a coastal town in these days of a scorching Saharan heat-wave.  Not that I’m at the beach, for it is just too crowded for my taste, but because here, unlike Tirana, there’s a gentle breeze flowing from the Adriatic even on the hottest days.

Just when I feel my skin burning and dry, a gentle breeze flirtatiously comes and caresses my sunburned shoulders and neck, only to run away, leaving me wanting more and thus prolonging my sitting out on the front lawn in desperate hope of its return. And I sit here burning ever more.

Oh, and the place gets an extra plus for no humidity. Yay Durres for its climate!

It is 40C today.

A Mosque in the Distance

Somewhere in this part of town, there’s a mosque, the minaret of which echoes 5 times a day.  I just heard the 1 PM call to prayer.  I am told that it is situated in the hills north of me – north of the coast, but its echo always has me looking toward the coast.  And so I’ve decided to find out the exact locale of this house of worship.

I mention the mosque as a NYC resident who never gets to hear anything of the kind, not even church bells (the City noise must be drowning those). And as such, the experience of listening to a call of prayer is singularly touching to me, as is the fact that none of the locals pay any mind to it.

On my very first visit to Albania, eons ago, I got shivers down my spine when I heard the call only a few steps away from Durres’ main and largest mosque.  Of course I did the respectful thing and stopped all activity, awkwardly doing my best to locate the southeast, to face Mecca.  I looked around, and the locals were walking, talking, selling, drinking, laughing and going about their usual business. It was so jarring to hear such a spiritual sound and to look around and see no traces of awe in anyone’s faces – except mine.

Speaking of mosques and Islam: It’s the last days of the month of Ramazan/Ramadan, and many Muslims are eagerly preparing for the big feast of Bajram (Eid), as they call it here, though they may not have fasted, save for one special night (night of Kadri) when it is supposed that the angels descend down to earth and hear everyone’s prayer and innermost wishes.  So, yes, in a few days, I should be witness, for the first time ever, to Eid celebrations in Albania.

I should mention that Albanians belong to three major religions: A Turkish version of Islam, Orthodox Christianity, and Catholicism, with the majority being Muslim.  Just as the Muslim population is lax and tolerant, so are the rest of Albanians, frequently celebrating together, and interfaith marriages are not uncommon.

Burra te etur, sa te duash…

Verej qe gjat ketyre viteve te tranzicionit (po, vendi eshte ende ne tranzicion), meshkujt shqiptar* kan pesuar nje goditje te rende psikologjike persa i perket seksualitetit – si dhe ku perdoret ai, fizikisht dhe verbalisht.  Shpesh here nuk dine se ku mbaron normalja dhe ku fillon anormalja.

Kam degjuar historirash nga njerez te ndryshem, si ne vendelindje, si ne diaspore, qe kan frekentuar shtepite publike. Dhe kte ves e kan per normale. Po ashtu, ky brez me jep pershtypjen se mesimet mbi seksualitetin i kan marr me shume nga filmat pornografike sesa nga klasa perkatese.  Filma qe mundohen ti imitojne ne jeten reale, qe i ndjekin si nje guide.

Gjithashtu, meshkuj te brezit te tranzicionit mundohen ta shfaqin veten si shume mendjehapur duke paraqitur nje maske qe vend e pa vend kerkon te shfaq seksualitet, me shpresa se tek ata qe banojne “jasht” kjo sjellje do ndikoje per mire, duke i bere te duken “perendimore”, “mendjehapur”, etj.   Ndikim i mire ka dy kuptime: te pranohen ne shoqeri te re, ose te ken partner seksi ate nate.

Duke qendruar tek etja e tepert e ketij brezi te keqinformuar, dhe tek keqinformimi mbi kulturat perendimore, do doja te theksoja dhe nje faqe propaganduese (nder shume) qe ka si synim ndrryshimin e shoqerise shqiptare nga nje shoqeri e ‘mbyllur’ ne nje te ‘hapur,’ duke vene vazhdimisht tema dhe lajme provokuese dhe kontraversiale.  Faqja Stop Injorances duket shpeshhere sikur do ta imponoje kulturen (ose, me sakte, subkulturen) te hiperseksualizuar te perendimit me nje shpejtesi marramendese, dhe me nje mentalitet revolucionar – pra, me impornim, me force.

Po ju le nje shembull te faqes, dhe te ketyre meshkujve “mendjehapur” qe pretendojne te ken lexuar mbi etiken dhe dege tjera te filozofise, por qe cuditerisht kan harruar te lexojne elementaret e deges qe kan te bejne me pjesen me te lart, cilesore dhe hyjnore te natyres njerezore.

Ceshtja eshte nje foto e nje cifti ne plazh Grek duke kryer maredhenie seksuale ne breg te detit, perpara frekentuesve, dhe komentuesit e faqes, qe jan dukshem me shume meshkuj se gra;  Nje lajm qe eshte publikuar ne shume gazeta online anembane, dhe nje akt me se tepermi i ndeshkuar nga komentues perendimor.

Humori menjane, eshte shume e lehte te ua shijosh etjen dhe deshperimin.

* Artikully nuk synon te pergjithesoj dhe sigurisht nuk flet per te gjithe.

Durres, Interrupted

forum I am dedicating my first post here in Albania to my hometown of Durres, an ancient city situated on the eastern Adriatic sea, about 136 milesfrom the shores of Italy.  A once-important Illyrian trading-post, that successively passed through Corinthian, Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman rule.

I no longer recognize this city save for the sea, which no man can touch……yet.  Durres has become undone. And I really want to address this issue, as its mayor, and its population seem to not care. But first let me clarify what I mean by undone, and provide you with some facts about this once-Roman colony.

Durres is one of the most ancient and pivotal ports of the Mediterranean world, both ancient and contemporary.  It was here that the Roman Via Egnatia, the route that connected Rome to Constantinople, began: if one does some research while here, one may still find traces of that ancient route.  It was  in Durres where Ceasar (Julius, that is) chased, cornered and defeated Pompeii in a duel.  It was in Durres where the classical historian Catulus felt at home and coined the city The Tavern of the Adriatic.  Lastly, it is in Durres where the biggest Roman amphitheater of the region (Southeast Europe/Balkans) is housed.   In addition, the town is home to many antiquities – from mosaics, to underground Roman baths, sculptures, art and artifacts- housed in the town’s Archaeological museum – a monstrous edifice of no architectural merit.

And, of course, there’s the beach – the largest and most congested in the country.

With that backdrop in mind, I will now with a heavy heart illustrate how the city has been systematically and deliberately destroyed – in the most common sense of the word. …..TO BE CONTINUED…