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Showing posts from May, 2007

Albania From the Air

Thanks to Llukan for pointing me to the website of Alket Islami. Alket Islami flies around the sky in one of those flimsy looking contraptions that I now know is a paramotor - a seat attached to an engine hanging from a parachute. While he's up there he sometimes carries a camera. Recently a book of his photographs was published: Albania From The Air . The images are both spectacular and beautiful and you can see them at his website . I've reproduced a few of them below to give you a taster. Unfortunately, I haven't been able to find it for sale on Amazon so I'm not sure if it is available outside Albania. In Tirana you can get it in bookshops for 5500 lek.

Tirana Jazz Festival

Thanks to Laura who sent some information on the Tirana Jazz Festival which starts tonight - 29 May - and runs until Saturday 2 June with performances every night. I'm not a big fan of jazz so I have no idea who most of the artists are, but that's probably all the more reason to go along to a few shows and find out. The venue for all performances is Lollipop on Rr. Pjeter Bogdani. You can read more about the festival at Moving Culture and in the festival booklet .

It Just Might Work

At midnight on Friday Albania went non-smoking, with a complete ban in all public places. I was sceptical - everyone I know was sceptical. Albanians are too addicted to the weed, we thought; the law is just for show for the EU; it will never be enforced. It looks like I was wrong. Tonight, day two of the ban, I was walking around the city with Bella the dog in tow. Bella is a leisurely walker - she likes to stop and sniff - so I had plenty of time to glance in the cafes and bars as we passed. In smaller local bars, the picture was mixed. Some places had cleared the ashtrays off the tables; in others the customers were puffing away as normal. In more central areas, the change was more noticeable. Most places had removed the ashtrays; one had placed a large no-smoking sign on the entrance; another had multiple signs on the walls; a third had individual no-smoking signs on all the tables. The timing of the ban has been helpful. Since the days are hot and the evenings are warm, many people

Look Away Now

Dougal the dog was entertaining himself in the garden a couple of days ago. As I watched from the porch he stopped, picked up something grey, furry and dead and carried it around for a few seconds. Then he dropped it and went to sniff a bush. I had a look and as expected found the stiffening corpse of another rodent foolish enough to cross paths with Dougal, scourge of rats. I had always been under the impression that rats were intelligent creatures, but evidently this one hadn't been paying attention at rat school and was not simply passing through but had chosen to build its nest in the garden. I only discovered this the next day when Dougal, ably assisted by the lovely Bella, started collecting up the mini-rats and dropping them in the grass - five in total. After some tidying up work with the shovel and a plastic bag, it was biscuits and sausages all-round.

Getting Ready

To coincide with President Bush's visit there is going to be a photographic exhibition at the Pyramid (or the Pjeter Arbnori International Centre of Culture as it's officially known these days) starting this Sunday and continuing until 10 June.

Euromax Express - An Apology

In an earlier post I may have suggested that Euromax Express treat their customers like criminals by requiring them to leave their bags at the door and having staff weigh and seal bags of loose produce. I further suggested that some of the goods on sale had passed their expiration date. I now realise that in offering facilities for customers to leave heavy and awkward bags at the entrance so that they can shop unimpeded and by providing staff to facilitate the purchase of loose produce, Euromax is, in fact, providing valuable services to its customers at no extra charge. Furthermore, on my most recent trip to the store I can confirm that none of the items I checked had passed the expiration date. Finally I would like to reassure everyone that that there is no connection between the previous comments and the fact that I recently bumped into the manager of the store who is a thoroughly decent chap and the brother of a fellow blogger.

The World Centre Of...

Ask those handful of people who have even heard of Albania what the country is the world centre of, and you are likely to receive depressingly predictable responses - human trafficking, drug smuggling, organised crime and the like. These assertions are, of course, disputed and not only by patriotic Albanians. But what is truly indisputable is that Albania is the world centre of Bektashism. Many of you may well be saying to yourselves at this point 'What?' And it is true that Bektashism, to say the least, is not well known. So I hope, in a number of forthcoming posts to say a little more about Bektashim, and perhaps, in the process, say a little more about Albania. For today, here is a little background information. Bektashism is a Sufi order. Sufism is part of the Islamic tradition, and is often described as a 'mystical' tradition. The order was founded by Haji Bektash Veli in the 13th C. Haji Bektash Veli came from Nishapur in Iran but spent most of his life in Anatoli

Red Flag

I've never been in the sea at Durres, though there are plenty of brave people who have. Most Western embassies here strongly advise against swimming in the waters off any of the major towns since they are all severely polluted. Now a study from the Ministry of Health has reached the same conclusions, singling out Durres, Vlora and Kavaja. This is hardly surprising in the case of Durres since the entire beach front has been blighted by uncontrolled development, and you don't have to be a genius to work out where all the sewage from those new apartments, hotels and restaurants is going. Quite apart from the dangers to public health for the local population, this level of pollution means that Albania will never develop into a major tourist destination in the way the government here seems to assume it will. Without clean beaches and clean water Albania won't have any tourist industry worth speaking of. Whether anything will be done about the problem is unclear. There is much l


Yesterday's Daily Mail carried a lengthy story on the Gumball Rally that recently blighted Albania and the region by a reporter who was travelling in one of the cars.

Wishful Thinking?


While our friend Ken was visiting us for a few days he managed to capture these pictures of a charming traditional Albanian street scene.

Poppy, Lizard, Garbage

We had another visitor with us at the weekend, so it was off to Kruja once more. I came across this poppy growing in the garden of the Ethnographic Museum. While we were walking down the cobbled lane towards the Bektashi teqe this lizard ran across the path in front of us then headed vertically up the wall, stopping long enough for a photograph before scuttling off again. There were plenty of other visitors there, including a few parties of school kids on end of year trips. Unfortunately, nobody seems to have taught them to clean up after themselves and their teachers didn't care so both students and teachers dropped their litter everywhere. As a result, this is how the area round the castle walls and the tower looks: I felt sorry for the guy at the Skanderbeg museum who always tries to keep the area around the museum clean, picking up litter and emptying the bins. It must be frustrating to see such a lack of respect from so many people.

Summertime and the livin' is easy

Taking Eurovision Seriously

The Eurovision song contest has entered Serbian politics. The BBC reported that Serbia's victory was used by one moderate representative to explain why the nationalist leader, Tomislav Nikolic, should be removed from his post as speaker of the Serbian parliament. According to the BBC: opposition MP Nenad Canak said Mr Nikolic's nationalist and anti-European stand no longer had a place - especially as Serbia had just won the Eurovision song contest. Mr Canak said Serbia's neighbours had all awarded his country maximum points in the contest. But Russia, described by Mr Nikolic as Serbia's only friend, had only awarded his country five points. While I am on the subject of Eurovision, let me pass on thanks to the Albanian voters who gave Ireland 5 points and thus saved the country from the infamy of 'Nul Points' - even though it was a lousy song and would have fully deserved it. Albania's own entry came 17th in the semi-final with 49 points.

Orthodox Cathedral

These are some pictures of the new Resurrection of Christ Orthodox Cathedral under construction in Tirana. The website of the architectural partnership behind the church has images of how it is planned to look when finished.

The Fort Dix Six

My Google Alert for Albania turned up this article on a US website, The Conservative Voice. It's an anti-Albanian rant for the most part, and the people producing it seem to belong to the black-helicopter brigade - the kind who think the UN is going to come and take away all your guns and force your children to learn about evolution. Nonetheless, these kinds of people do tend to get a hearing in some sections of American society, and it did turn up on Google. I did think it was funny, though, while browsing their website to come across their repeated assertions that they stand for truth against relativism and then to read the small-print of the disclaimer at the bottom of the article: and accept no responsibility for the accuracy or inaccuracies of any story or opinion. I suppose irony is lost on these people. Perhaps the news that Albanian soldiers, continuing their worldwide odyssey, are now off to Lebanon in support of NATO might reassure


Tragically or happily - depending on your point of view - Frederik Ndoci failed to make it through to the finals of Eurovision . Since he was up against belly-dancers, sword-fighters and drag queens that's probably not surprising. The sword fighters were part of the backing act for Sopho from Georgia. She made it through to the final but I can't help wondering when Georgia became a European country. Israel, I can understand - you wouldn't give the Iraeli entry in a MidEastVision song contest much of a chance of survival, never mind votes. It seems that the European Broadcasting Union has a rather generous notion of Europe including among its full members broadcasters from the Middle East and North Africa, and having associate members from such unlikely places as Bangladesh, Zimbabwe and Chile. Radio Vatican is also a member, though I don't think they enter Eurovision, which is a shame. A papal Eurovision entry, or a boy band made up of cardinals could go a long way in

From Sky Tower

Rinia Park and the Taiwan complex with Skenderbeg Square in the background. In the centre is the old Dajti Hotel; to the right is St Paul's Catholic Cathedral. This small patch of land, which had been sealed off for a long time, has been turned into a pedestrianised square. St Paul's Cathedral, the European Trade Center, the edge of the Pyramid and one of the Twin Towers. The Parliament building with the Rogner Hotel, the Palace of Congresses, the Qemal Stafa Stadium and the Sheraton Hotel in the background. The Palace of Congresses and the Sheraton with the park in the background. Looking over the Bllok with the former residence of Enver Hoxha in the foreground. More on Flickr .

Albanians in Fort Dix

Patrick Poole, whose recent article on Islam in Albania generated a large volume of comments, has published another piece in the same online journal. This article, Kosova and Anti-Jihad Bigotry , looks at some of the responses to the arrest of a number of ethnic Albanians in the US on suspicion of planning attacks on the US military. There is also some comment from Poole on responses to this article on his blog .

Idiots in Fast Cars

Last Wednesday, the 'Gumball Rally' was in town. This is an event involving rich, stupid people driving fast high-powered cars in countries and over roads they are totally unfamiliar with. Since Albania is already cursed with more than enough stupid people in powerful cars, I ignored it and went to dinner instead. Sadly, instead of telling the organisers where to go, the Albanian government, aided and abetted amazingly enough by the UN, bent over backwards to accommodate these idiots. According to the Times , the UN claimed the event would "highlight Albania’s potential as an eco and cultural destination" - possibly the first time ever the concepts of 'eco' and 'lamborghini' have been associated. The same report quotes Prime Minister Berisha saying, "I guarantee the organizers of our highest esteem and willingness to fully support Gumball 3000 in its endeavour in Albania." Full support turned out to include a get together with the Preside


Balada e Gurit

It's Eurovision time again, and I bet you are as excited as I am. So for those of you who have not yet heard Albania's entry for this noble cultural experiment, here it is in both Albanian and English (the volume on the English version is very low so turn yours up if you can't here anything.) The song is Balada e Gurit in Albanian; Hear My Plea in English. The performers are Aida and Frederik Ndoci. You can also read this interview with Frederik. For what it's worth, I think the Albanian version is better, though I think they will be performing it in English on the night. Also, Frederik should shoot his hairdresser. Good luck chaps.


Three cars were involved in a collision near our house yesterday evening. One of them ended up in a wall. One older man was injured, possibly a child as well. I was in the yard, so I heard it but thankfully I didn't see it. I was impressed by the speed with which the ambulance turned up - it took no more than 15 minutes before it arrived. In one way it was surprising it has taken this long for a serious accident to happen in our street. It's not that the street itself is dangerous - it is straight, wide and well paved. The problem is that because it is straight, wide and well paved it attracts every idiot in a car and on a motorbike in Tirana. Once, I was pleased to see the road being paved, now I wish it was still a rutted dirt track - it was a lot safer then. I regularly watch cars speeding on this street, overtaking more responsible drivers at high speed, slamming on the brakes for no other reason than the thrill of hearing shrieking rubber and more. Just a few days ago I wa


BIRN published a couple of interesting articles on Monday. The first, Foreign Minister’s Departure Takes Albania By Surprise , revisits the resignation of the foreign minister with a bit more information and speculation. The second, Albanians Pay High Price for Power Games , is an investigation into overcharging and mismanagement by KESH.

European Week

Today marks the start of European Week. I thought I would check on the website of the European Commission Delegation to Albania to see what is happening. As some of us have come to expect from any institution associated with the EU, they hadn't quite managed to provide any information yet, but not to worry, it's only the first day. There is a link to European Week, but it is for 2006. So I turned instead to the website of the German Embassy. Needless to say they had links to the full schedule of events in both English and Albanian - but strangely not in German. Some of the events sound tremendously dull - Lecture: EU Treaties - or slightly Soviet - Hand-Painting: The EU in the Imagination of Albania Children. But there are some good films and concerts lined up. My personal favourite is Monday night's exhibition at the Tirana International Hotel. Italian Coffee Machines and 'Espresso' is An exhibition of coffee-making machines made in Italy over one century: histo

Conspiracy Theories

Sometimes Albania reminds me very much of Northern Ireland. When President Clinton came to Belfast, people came up with all kinds of suggestions - some mildly credible; many totally implausible - as to the real reason for his visit. As Albania prepares for the visit of President Bush, the same kind of speculations are in the air. So far I have come across three. (These have been reported to me second-hand, so I can't be sure how accurately they have been reported to me, nor how many people believe any of them.) Theory 1 - Kosovo. According to this one the US government is about to reach a deal with the Russians over the status of Kosovo that will fall some way short of independence. President Bush is in town, the theory goes, to sweet talk the Albanian leadership into going along with the deal. Theory 2 - Guantanamo. The US wants to close Guantanamo but won't send many of the remaining prisoners back to their home countries. Since Albania has already taken some Guantanamo inmat