My Hometown Tirana


How do we relate to our hometowns? I think we are like verbs that love, hate, run away, forget, feel eternal affection, or never leave that single unique spot on earth we were brought to life. In the meantime our hometown is like a rock-solid noun that never goes away. It follows us unconditionally, throughout life and beyond death. I was born in here on a settled Sunday morning. Since then, I don’t know how this deep connection for my hometown Tirana was rooted on me. May be was ingrained during early childhood or by some unexplained mystical feeling that gets socially inherited in us. I can’t word it. It’s strange, since it’s not the best city in world; it yet needs to be urbanized; there remain many MUST developing areas; it’s far from being perfect, with no beach or river going through (Lana is not a river). Still it’s the only single place I call home, I feel at home, makes me homesick when I’m far away, triggers my madness, my joy, or my sadness like no other city in the world.

Today is yet another day and that’s how this lovely day looks like in Tirana.

It’s a long sunny weekend and I go for a walk at the lake. On the way back I stop at my favorite street, the Pedonale of Tirana. Surprise, surprise! The Albanian models have occupied the outdoor expo of the well-know Albanian photographer Fadil Berisha. Great setting with all the beauty queens proudly confirming their exquisiteness and splendor in various frames; traditional, attractive, symbolic,  magnificent, contemporary, goth, and spicy. 

Further up I notice these colorful umbrellas floating up in the air. Underneath this colorful ceiling visitors go through the walls of another interesting expo “Let’s pull off the boundaries”. A student majoring in urban planning at POLIS University starts explaining the idea of how the housing boundaries have developed in our history from the period of fortification of castle-cities to nowadays formal and informal urban areas. Great effort for a good cause, Congrats guys!!!

But I’m not done yet as I decide to watch Das System a German movie showing in framework of German October activities which are organized every year in the capital.

The movie was a good choice, heavily dramatic referring to the pernicious influence of the former East Germany’s very corrupt system which even  20+ years after the reunification continues to be felt in today’s Federal Republic. Great plot to watch.

When I thought this lovely day was coming to an end, the iPhone rang. Yes, my friend I’ll sure join you tonight at the Living Room for some VIP cameo appearance of the SP left wing opposition leader, and for a long time former Mayor of Tirana Mr. Edi Rama

Why so?

Nor I’m too crazy to be part of some VIP snob party, neither too nuts about aligning myself with any political groupies. Just that I found quite intriguing to see him in that setting, invited by a right wing political analyst who happens to run a private university, and Rama appears to greet its FRESSH Students. Complicated, but still very amusing.

In the end Tirana is a very small place. Still, it’s my Hometown, like Bruce Springsteen smoothly played in his beautiful heart felt song – My Hometown.

Taken 2 – Hollywood’s Albanian Complex 2.0


So here I am at the Millennium cinema after a week of persisting my girlfriends  to watch Taken 2 by using social research arguments. I don’t even know how I succeeded to convince them, knowing their specific and rather alternative movie taste. Thank you girls for joining me, I own you a drink! 

What really triggered my interest in Taken 2 is plain curiosity how Hollywood directors portrait my people, customs, and cultural elements especially in some oriental set up setting like Istanbul.

The sequel of “Taken 2 ” is very simple, as simple as 1+1=2 for first graders is. The Albanian sex traffickers who kidnapped Kim (Maggie Grace) in Taken 1 are after her father, retired CIA agent Bryan Mills (Neeson), seeking revenge on Bryan and his ex-wife, Lenore (Famke Janssen) who happen to be in Istanbul together with their daughter.  After the first 10 minutes there was nothing left to imagine or to look forward to. It was very clear who were the winners, the losers, the good guys, the evil ones, and who will be slaughtered in name of some Albanian tribal revenge. It’s a movie advertised as an adrenaline-fuel thrill ride with a pretty hot thriller staring like Liam Neeson, but unfortunately with no substance and weight behind its contend. Not even a charismatic movie star like Liam could compensate, it’s that bad that the action thriller PG-13 turns out comic and ridiculously cheesy. But ok, Rotten Tomatoes critics can rate it. 

What’s striking is that even simple facts and symbols were not straight.  Since we’re talking about a Hollywood movie, I find quite embarrassing this mishmash of symbols like the blue color of our flag with an eagle or some weird ES number plate. What a lousy research! After all is it that difficult for a crew of experts on multi million movie budget to check these facts? If you ask a 10 year old kid here can tell you that Tropoja a city situated in northern Albania and it is not bordered with Turkey (Turkish flag was showing in the borderline). Furthermore, as a matter of fact Albanians do speak Albanian and do not greet each other in Arabic with “Salam Aleikum” though the majority of us are Muslim. Plus what a confusion with traffickers’  names as father named Murad, sons respectively Mirko and Marko. Sexist was the ritual of burial ceremony with almost no women around, but rough dark skin looking men (for the record people living in northern part of Albania  are mostly blond, tall and blue eyed). Not that this matters, but just to straighten the facts. 

In addition, I found misleading using the stereotype of revenge/blood feuds in such a criminal context. First by involving the family in bloodthirsty revenge plot they’re talking no longer about Albanian gangs, but rather Albanian people of Tropoja seeking revenge for their lost son’s life. Second, by building up the scenario on one of the most controversial rules of the Kanun of Lekë Dukagjini , a code of rules dating back in the 15th century where is specified how murder is supposed to be handled, which lead to blood feuds (similar to Italian Vendetta laws) risk of deforming and generalizing this particular clustered phenomena into some randomized crime and unfaithful Albanian stereotypes. In other words, that’s again the danger of little knowledge.

To sum it up I can’t agree more with Wesley Morris of The Boston Globe: It’s a stupid movie by smart people who aren’t smart enough to realize it’s stupid. The absurdity grows like mold in the dank, dark of seriousness. So it’s fun for some of the right reasons, but mostly for the wrong ones.”

Shopping in Tirana, New Trends and Risks to the Shopping Paradise


It’s Sunday afternoon and I feel bothered for no groundbreaking reason actually. Well, it’s October 7th, sunny, +27 degrees, and stupidly enough I’m not taking advantage of Mother Nature’s generosity with these exceptional late summer days. But instead of laying on a beach chair or simply spending time with friends I’m caught by this lame state of being. Crumbling in dissatisfaction and pre-Monday stress I have this super dangerous buying desire that I can’t gratify unless I go shopping. But where actually!!! In the Block area, M. Shyri Street gets tricky with the parking.

Tirana has quite some nice shopping areas and centers. The newest one is Tirana East Gate (TEG),which is the bigger version of the oldest one, QTU.There are quite some popular shops I prefer like Mango, Koton, Motivi, Springfield, Cortefiel, Esprit, etc. Also activities and attraction for little children are not missing. I once even took a train ride with my little nephew in TEG. The super fancy shops and entertaining areas of Citypark, Coin, and ETC certainly don’t fall behind. Therefore, quite some shopping choices in this fast growing retail market targeting different income groups are already in place.

In addition to existing shopping centers spread throughout the city, a new Tirana Business Park facility is being built on the way to Rinas airport. As well Toptani Shopping Center which lays in the heart of Tirana is expected to finish by 2013.

For future nostalgic reasons I decided to take some snapshots of yet non-occupied land closed to Rinas area. In a couple of years these landscapes will be simply nonexistent with current development rhythms. But this is another issue.

But what makes this investment scene so vibrant in light of increased competition in retail market and newly build shopping centers in the outskirts of the capital? Despite the negative trickle down effects of the European crisis, the Albanian economy indicates still growth though at lower levels. Other favorable conditions contributing to these ongoing investments refer to increased demand for goods and services. The migration of population from rural toward urban areas is still present. Car ownership continues to grow, as well as improvements to road infrastructure. All these factors make Tirana a target for investors. The new highway connecting Kosovo to Albania in less then 3 hours potentially adds on to the purchasing power. So does the relocation of many emigrants “escaping” the economic turmoils in neighboring countries. All these combined with limited shopping space in the inner city creates good prospects for capital investments in retail.

As for myself, unfortunately I still use any possibility I have to shop abroad. I’m not quite satisfied with what I’m offered in terms of “products’ quality and prices”. Being in consumers’s shoes is rather difficult to find a balance between product quality and competitive prices. It is definitely not a shopping paradise. Even at seasonal sales and discounts, there’s a shortage of spiced up collections or choices at decent price levels. For the time being is difficult to find retail stores like Zara, H&M, Bershka, Promod that maintain a cost advantage to their competitors in their marketing activities. It’s great to invest in new shopping facilities and building up a sophisticated shopping culture, but the biggest challenge for many retailers out there will be maintaining business sustainability through calibrating their competitive advantages relative to their peers.