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.

Italy in the Balkans: Durres, I

Sunset over Durres

Sunset over Durres

It’s both unnerving and fun being in a fast-food joint in Durres. For one you get a great view of what is undeniably a Mediterranean lifestyle: Waiters, chefs and busboys eying -up a statuesque blond innocently looking at the menu and walking away to the dismay of the boys who hurriedly and lustily run after her all the while forgetting the plexiglas between them and the sidewalk. Ouch! “Where’d she go, where’d she go”? cried the chef. “Man o Man what an animal, get her, get her man!”, urged the busboy, gasping for air in confusion when he hit the glass and returned without his siren. Such scenes are typical Durres, one of Albania’s most ancient cities and proudly Mediterranean in all manners look, feel, food, music, style, boys, girls, lust, passion, sex.

Famous Italian singer Alessandro Sanfino proudly said in his Miss Globe 2004 (Held in Durres’ Roman Amphitheater) appearance that Durres reminded him much of his boyhood Sicily. The hungry-eyed, greasy, olive-skinned boys at the fast food place couldn’t help but remind me of a hilarious scene from Jack Lemmon’s Avanti, where a curvaceous blond Brit is chased about a small fishing town by a crew of dark, greasy Sicilian fishermen who abandoned their boat mid-sea at the sight of the Nordic beauty.

But Durres is more than just lusty boys and flirty girls. As a 2,500 year old city, it boasts layers and layers of history, literally. Much of the town’s ancient ruins remain hidden under a motley of Italianate, Balkanic, Ottoman, Communist and post-Communist homes and buildings. One would have to do away with these and the core center in its entirety to unearth Roman baths, beautiful mosaics, and public forums in the fashion of glorious Rome. This long and ongoing flirtation with Italy seems to be only increasing as most of the town’s residents hopped on boats in the early 90s and sailed for Italy, only to return every summer fully Italianated, sporting the hippest, chicest clothing that immigrant money can buy and oh so beautifully chirping the Italian CIAO. Mama mia che bell ragazze e ragazzi! Bronzed beauties returning to their hometown during peak August heat, strolling and strutting down the main boulevard (Bulevardi Tregtar) while boys cringe with unbridled passion on sidewalk cafes, eyeing up every Bella brushing past them. Oh, that Boulevard of cruelty!

I took a few chances on this giant catwalk only to be hissed at and sometimes even followed down to my destination until it dawned on me that the men would always be there, sipping coffee, the local raki brandy, hoping to chat up some nice girl. So one day I detoured and ended up in a dead-end street with my heels in my hands (needed flip-flops for those unsteady rocks), circled about a couple of times and finally found my way to the gallery, a few blocks away from those pesty, lusty men. I jetted into a restaurant all the while keeping my head straight, lips tight: Oh Malena, Malena!

So I learned something i didn’t understand before: The women that seemed to never smile, that seemed rude were actually pretty darn warm but as Malena showed us, good girls don’t walk around smiling and turning their heads. After a couple of weeks I got the hang of being tight-lipped and stone-faced when walking the cat-walk.

This Italian connection continued to follow me as I chanced upon this “Italian” and his buddy one evening. I wanted to know what he thought of the town and whipped up the best Italian I could and to my delight we were chatting about how beautiful the town and the atmosphere was until I detected the giveaway: instead of pronouncing the r roughly the guy did what all Albanians do: he belted a soft roundish r. Gosh darn it! Another Italo-Albanian, Albanian-Italian, refugee, wannabe…… ah the city itself lusts for Italy, its Mediterranean aunt.