Category Archives: Albania

Fondue instead of turkey for the New Year


Christmas came with a very nice gift from my parents-in-law: A Cheese Fondue Set. Since one of my favorite Fondue restaurants in Hamburg, Schweizweit, is sadly permanently closed down, I thought it is about time to start experimenting with the Fondue at home.   Why not try this delicious dish for New Year’s Eve.

A Cheese Fondue in Albanian context is very exotic or in other words insignificant, unknown. In order to survive the XXL Albanian New Year’s Eve dinner more in Thanksgiving style, with huge turkey and numerous salads, you have to fulfill a couple of criteria:

1. You have to have a strong stomach in the literal meaning. Even if your stomach is strong enough, you still have to consider that you might feel sick for the next couple of days. The menu is enormous, delicious and heavy to digest.

2. You have to be a skilled and an excellent cook to impress the circle of family or friends invited to celebrate with you. Which means no matter how much you try there’s no way you can compete with your mom’s or your in laws cooking skills. You are and still remain an amateur.

3. There is no option as such as screwing up the New’s Years Eve dinner. You better be good at cooking and there’s absolutely no place for experimenting a new recipe.

 

Knowing I’m usually blessed with beginner’s luck, I took the risk and decided to try Fondue this New Year’s Eve. Just in case it didn’t work out, I had a back up plan, a ready make Fondue from REWE. Before starting with the Cheese Fondue I prepared the dipping ingredients, such as cubes of white bread, champignons, boiled patatoes, dill pickle, grapes, etc.  So I finally start stirring on medium heat the grinded cheese of Emmenthaler and aged Gruyère with white whine and 40% alcohol Kirschwasser. A strange chemical reaction to me appeared. I freaked out at first as the cheese appeared sticky and not melting down, but I kept stirring the sauce. In the end it turned to be just fine, smooth and creamy. But while cooking it, I felt already tipsy from the alcohol and strong smell of Gruyère.

My husband was very impressed with the results and did enjoy it. I proudly couldn’t resist sharing my little Fondue success story, so I start sending photos to my family and friends. The reactions were from – nice, looks good, you’re brave experimenting with it, to” A  soup!!! That’s all what you cooked for the New Year? If my wife cooked this “Cheese Soup” for this sacred day to the tummies,  I would have seriously considered breaking up with her…” Well, different countries different customs. Cheese Fondue was great for a change. As for the next time guests are welcome 🙂

 

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South Albania: Mountains, Sea and Sharp Contrasts


One of the best get away places in Albania is the south costal area. Not just because of its beatific and spectacular coastal area, but especially because of its highly contrasting forms and ubiquitous heritage. Driving through the mountains along the seaside is a special feeling. For me as a native, it’s a bit like „some things never change“ – type of feeling, and for nostalgic purposes, it’s good that way.

The mountains, deep blue sea, and curvy roads often occupied by a little army of goats or cute sheeps are still there. So are the beekeepers harvesting bio honey and selling it along the road. The further you advance along the coastal line, leaving behind little villages nowadays hipped as cool places to spend the summer, the more you realize that time has stood still here. That’s what I felt when I visited the castle of Ali Pasha in Porto Palermo.

The fortress of Ali Pasha, built in the 1820, is important not only for its historic value as it used to be first the centerpiece of bloody conflicts with burgeoning Ottoman empire, but also for its transformation during the centuries. There’s something spooky about it. It starts with being the fortress of a controversial personality such as Ali Pasha.  And furthermore its transformation from the legendary residence of Ali Pasha to the Albanian Alcatraz in the late communist year.

I refer to it as the Albanian Alcatraz for two reasons. First, its location a castle in a triangle shape and round towers built by the sea.  The second reason is that many political opponents of the former Zog monarchy and the Hoxha communist regime were imprisoned in this castle. Many of their names have been written in the walls of the castle.

There is hardly no other place in Albania where history was so overlapped and left such scars like here. Around the Ali Pasha Castle and the church build from an Italian architect as his gift for his beloved christian wife Vassilikia, are ruins of communist army depot holding still communist slogans such as „ Viti 1972 vit i fitoreve të reja” „1972 is the year of new victories“.

This mixture of history traces together with the lack of restoration of its surroundings and  a certain negligence in preserving the past historical values give this place a special authentic touch – but also these photos urge a restoration need.

Ignorance or Arrogance? How German Sport Anchors Commented on the Albanian Team at Euro 2016


Three brainies were gathered at the Europapark Rust to analyze the game Rumania vs Albanian (#RUMALB) for SAT.1. Indeed Frank Buschmann, sports anchor for SAT.1, Marcel Reif commentator legend for decades, and the brother of German national defender Mats Hummels, Jonas.

The match prediction given by the ‘sport experts’ were 3:2 (Hummels), 1:0 (Reif) and even 3:0 (Buschmann) … all in favor to Romania. No brainy mentioned what, if, in one in a million, what if the Albanian National Team would win tonight. No, this possibility was simply not there. Strange, especially after the excellent performance of the Albanian Team against France, in Marseille last week.

What was there instead was a laughter, a touch of sarcasm underlying their commentaries. On top of that „A Social Media Genius’’ analyzing the web started ironizing the birthday party of the Albanian coach Gianni De Biasi. The Albanian team has prepared a birthday cake for their beloved coach. De Biasi gave a thank you speech in Italian which was more of a motivating speech of how proud he was for his team’s success. Captain Cana translated shortly the substance of the speech.

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The laughter of the brainies questioned the communication between De Biasi and Albanian team with such short translation. In other words: Imagine how do they work together if they don’t understand each other. What they failed to mention – or to know –, though, is that almost every young Albanian speaks or at least understands very well the Italian language.

Maybe with a little research they could have found out that the young generation of Albanians is raised watching Italian TV shows, Italian movies, songs, etc.  Speaking Italian is for most Albanians of my age not an achievement, but a natural know-how.  Not to mention here that many Albanian football players play or have played for Italian clubs.

That implies also for the De Biasi team. The language barrier between the trainer might be there only for few players. Not to mention that De Biasi speaks impressively well Albanian, holds a double citizenship Albanian and Italian, and takes active part in the Albanian life, like at this local comedy show, Portokalli.

Ok, back to Euro 2016. Sorry brainies for the disappointment. But you got it all wrong. Albanians not only dominated the game against Rumania, but also scored 1:0. And now still have a chance to qualify for the round of 16. Uppppsssss!

The generally known arrogance of Marcel Reif when asked after the victory of Albanians referred to it as nothing else, but as football romance – in other words, people want that losers win, here you have your football romance. But he couldn’t stop there; „The Albanians have won their European championship today, they should celebrate it, we should celebrate it with them, but that’s it“ – in other words let’s not talk about them anymore. As a long-time TV Journalist (Sky) Mr. Reif should have know better and, holding the Swiss citizenship, should be a bit more thankful to Albanians, especially since 2/3 of the Swiss Team in Euro 2016 consists of Albanian players (Shaqiri, Xhaka, Behrami, Mehmeti, Xhemali, Kasami, Tarashaj).

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But it didn’t stop there. Aaaaaalbanien!!! Like in constant disbelieve commentator Hansi Küpper emphasized Albania’s name all over the match. First how could they make it to Euro 2016, since they only scored 7 goals, one of which was an auto-goal. Original-Ton: “Die Albaner haben eine bekloppte Qualifikation gespielt, sechs Tore in sieben Spielen – it was actually eight –, davon ein Eigentor durch Armenien. Der armenische Eigentorschütze kann sich also als albanischer Rekordtorschütze fühlen, da kein Albaner mehr als ein Tor geschossen hat .”

Translation: Albania has played a barmy qualification, scoring only six goals in eight games – and one was even an auto-goal by an Armenian player that now can claim to be the record-scorer in the Albanian qualifier since no Albanian scored more than one goal.” It’s hard to image to be more ridiculed in prime-time television than that.

And now that they made it here, they have to score, but how, hm…? The irony continues with the next sentence: „Unvorstellbar, wenn dieses Albanien das Achtelfinale erreichen sollte’’ –  “Unimaginable that THIS Albania will be perhaps in the round of the 16“.

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Well, unbelievable THIS Arrogance of Hansi Küpper. From a Euro 2016 commentator, where values such as encouraging teams new to this competition, acknowledging their effort such as tying the former world champions France for 89 minutes, no matter if they will make it or not in the next round should be a standard language. Unfortunately what I felt throughout the whole match was a language of arrogance, lack of positivity, looking forward to the next goal with Schadenfreude.

I support my team, though I am not a football fanatic. This event should be more about inclusion, about fairness, about acknowledging and crediting players and teams  for their effort and performance instead of undermining them. Go Shqipëri!

IMG_4159Albanian and French Fans cheering together in Marseille 🙂 

How to Plan my Vintage Albanian Wedding…


To plan a retro wedding you have to desire it and be in a vintage mood while planning it. I always loved looking at old family pictures, going through happy moments of my loved ones or reanimating the spirit of the good old days. In the end celebrating a wedding itself is an act of reviving the past lovely moments while imagining a bright future ahead.

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“The devil lies in the detail” – is one of the most fitting phrases I can think of while planning a wedding.  Despite the fact that you might have carefully thought every single detail – there is always something. Starting from the invitations, wedding dress, cake and wedding menu, to the first dance, song selection, video, photos and so on. The list gets longer like a complicated usage manual of some product you just purchased.

In contrast to what I initially thought, planning every detail of my wedding was great fun. As I did not want to be lectured about something so personal and special, I decided not to hire any wedding planners. They can be very useful, but in the end weddings are personal, and so is our taste…

So we split the duties. My husband was in charge of song selection, DJ briefing, keynote for our guest, photos and video arrangements while I took care of the rest. Picking the location was easy. It had to be a place filled with beautiful summer memories. And since wedding parties are pretty formal in Germany we decided instead to do it in my home town Tirana.

The first thought that crossed our minds was Chateau Rexhekri, a beautiful resort between valleys and hills in the outskirts of Tirana. We spent there in utter amazement of escaping the heat and noise of Tirana many summer days. Since weddings in Albania tend to be big, with a minimum of 120 guests, it was unusual in this small resort to celebrate a wedding. When I told to my younger cousin that I would only have 50 guests, he started laughing and in typical “dark” Albanian humor said : “…but that’s a birthday party…lol”.

Decor was important to reflect my personal taste. I spend hours surfing at Etsy online store or Pinterest as I wished for a vintage touch to my wedding. And it was all worth it! It certainly was a nostalgic mental journey in connecting the past dots while looking forward to the future. A glass of wine surely helped us writing down the invitations, wedding menus, preparing a keynote presentation for our guests, selecting the songs and so on. The retro sounds during cocktail hours featuring Sinatra, Tony Bennett and Barry White followed by Lana Del Ray  “Young and Beautiful” created a sizzling atmosphere, perfect for the photo shooting session with our guest. While the first glasses of champagne start kicking in, so busted our mood…

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The opening dance could not be retro enough. We both loved  At Last – Etta James. The decision felt naturally without further thoughts. A pretty tight wedding dress looks undoubtably classy and gorgeous, but it’s does not allow too much room for the extensive long Albanian dances or Rock and Roll. Great that our guests were eager to keep the dancing floor busy or to leave surprise video messages for us.

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While planning our wedding turned out to be a pretty inspiring and fun process, executing it was quite demanding. It’s like we were the key actors casting a movie. We both agreed in advance that it doesn’t have to be everything perfect. Important is to enjoy our special day. So we did. As for the next time, we wish we could be guests in our own wedding 🙂

 

A Short Story about my Bike.


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This is my Bike. It’s a Raleigh, a mountain bike. It’s the oldest item in my life that I still use on a regular basis, it’s older than my oldest Mac – and I bought 6 Macs over the last 20 years. I got my Raleigh in 1995 for approximately 1500 DM. There’s still a sticker on the Bike: Zweiradhaus Ehrig. It dates back to the days of double digit postal codes: 2000 Hamburg 67.

I rode 10,000s of kilometers all over Germany and it still makes me tremendously happy to feel the warm breeze through my hair when riding on rare, real summer days like these lately. I feel alive. Precisely, there are few things in life that bring me so much joy. It’s a pure kind of joy you know from your childhood days.

I tend to forget about the joy that riding my Bike brings, though, in the cold winters and autumn…

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Eurovision 2015: Which Fan Club will win this Time?


I don’t remember a time in which I followed Eurovision Song Contest like now. I’m not a big fan of Eurovision for reasons that many might relate to. I generally view it as highly subjective, political and on top crowned by questionable voting methodology – good neighbors support each other – vote trading – as if trading CO2 emissions within European Union.

This year’s Eurovision is an exception to my general rule of not following it. But my favorite Albanian singer, Elhaida Dani represents Albania in this year’s contest. I had no other choice, but to support her journey. I have to admit, I loved her song ”I’m Alive”, her incredible voice, humbleness, passion and youthful energy from the start. I found it incredibly catchy and I guess I wasn’t the only one. I hope her talent will be recognized and valued also at this Eurovision.

I got curious and started looking at odds and polls. Not that surprisingly the results of the official Eurovision’s polls at Wiwiblogs are not reflected in analysts’ predictions. Why should they? Readers’ opinion anyway doesn’t count…

Poll: Who should win the Eurovision song contest 2015? 

Who should win Eurovision

Poll: Who is the best female vocalist at Eurovision this year?

Analysts say: Men dominate the odds this year, plus Russia’s Polina and Serbia’s Bojana.

But take the Wiwiblog’s readers poll here to see by yourself: I did and those were the results:

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I know, I know what Eurovision is mostly about when it comes to selecting the winner. Does the best vocal, the best performance or song always win? I am not sure. It’s all about daring of being different from ’’metal monsters’’ to transgender acceptance in our societies. It’s about embracing it, going around and screaming out loud ”Hey I’m different” – ”I should be the winner”.

Eurovision – this artistic event of broadly conveying politically-correct messages within the EU frame of values, such as fight homophobia and stereotypes on marginalized groups, being different is cool, it’s ok to be obese, world peace and so on. But the inattention toward merit-based criteria and voting of your neighbor just because it’s your good neighbor, doesn’t necessary makes Eurovision my cup of tea. It’s like watching the Champions League final between the two teams with the biggest fan clubs…

20 Places that will change your Mind about Albania


Colorful landscapes, lakes, high mountains, rivers and valleys. Natural beauties that blend in cultural and historical heritage, inherited from our forefathers. All blended in the hospitable Albanian traditions that will follow you through your journey in Albania. So guys are you ready?

1. You didn’t know there are so many canyons and waterfalls? Well, I have good news, there actually are and I wouldn’t miss this one, Valbona Canyon.

Valbona Canyon

© My Albania “Nature Explorers” – Valbona Canyon, North Albania

2. How about beaches – not bitches… Just head south and the crystal clear Ionian waters of Gjiri i Granës will certainly not disappoint you.

Gjiri i Gramës

© Arton Krasniqi – Gjiri i Granës, Dhërmi, – South Albania

3. Welcome to Thethi! The gate to the Albanian Alps, waterfalls and canyons. Simply an amazing place for explorers and nature lovers to visit.

Stone Towers of Thethi

© My Albania “Nature Explorers” – Kullat e Thethit, North Albania

4. Is hiking too much for you? You’re in the right place. There’s a touch of melancholia every time I spend a night or two in the vicinity of Ohrid lake. Inspired from the changing moods of these waters was the Albanian poet Lasgush Poradeci. He observed the mountains casting their shadows over the depths of its sparkling waters and blended those landscapes in his poetry.

Lake of Ohrid, Pogradec

© My Albania “Nature Explorers” – Ohrid Lake, Pogradec, South East Albania

5. The surrounding sea waters form the only marine park in Albania – Karaburun-Sazan National Marine Park.

Karaburun Peninsula

© Nëntor Oseku, Gjiri i Bristanit, Karaburun Peninsula

6. Another unique gem in Theth – Ujvara e Grunasit. So rare that it is considered a natural monument.

Wasserfall of Grunas, Theth

© My Albania “Nature Explorers” – Ujvara e Grunasit, Theth – Grunas Waterfall, North Albania

7. Time for history. Apollonia, the ruins of an ancient city in Illyria. It was founded in 588 BCE by Greek colonists from Corfu and Corinth, on a site initially occupied by Illyrian tribes.

Apollonia

© My Albania “Nature Explorers” – Apollonia, Fier

8. Ksamil Beach – A hideaway for many local and foreign tourists.

Ksamil Beach

© My Albania “Nature Explorers” – Ksamil Beach, South Albania

9. And many other valleys…

Valbona

© My Albania “Nature Explorers” – Lugina e Valbonës, North Albania

10. Dea – the Godness of Butrint, was discovered from the Italian archeologist Ugolini in1928. The Guardian recently listed the national park of Butrint as part of the top 10 national parks in Europe.

Dea

© Robert Hagen – Dea e Butrintit 

11. Kruja, the first capital of today’s Albania in the Middle Ages. It’s identified with our national hero, Skanderbeg.

Kruja

© Arton Krasniqi – Kruja, Albania

12. Mrizi i Zanave – Well known for its culinary delights and agritourism in the northern Albania. A lovely place to visit.

Fishtë

© Armela Bega – Mrizi i Zanave, Fishtë

13. More cliffs and rocky seaside…

The Pirates' Cave

© Armela Bega – Caves, South Albania

14. Too sunny and need some fresh air? Take the water motor bikes and head towards the Pirates’ cave. Afterwards, a stop at some of those hidden beaches is not a bad idea.

The Pirates' Cave

© Armela Bega – Shpella e piratëve – Pirates’ Cave, South Albania

15. Ok, let’s put it this way: If I were to retire today and I had to live somewhere in Albania, I would happily live in Dardha.

Dardha Village

© Armela Bega – Dardhë, Korca, South East Albania

16. Back to the 15th century there were no smartphones. During Skanderbeg’s fight against the Ottomans, the Petrela Castle, which was under control of Skanderbeg’s sister Mamica, signaled to Kruja Castle the coming of Ottoman troops using means of fire. Nowadays, it’s a pleasant bar/restaurant near Tirana.

Fortress of Petrela, Tirana

© Armela Bega – Kalaja e Petrelës – Petrela Fortress, Petrelë, Albania

17. Berat is known as the city of two thousand stairs or thousand windows, a castle on top, medieval museum and a beautiful river. Worth visiting this UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Berat

© Sarah Tzinieris – Berat, Albania

18. The Blue Eye is one of the most natural phenomenas in Albania. Crystal clear water bubbling in the surface from more than 50 meter deep karst hole (literally looks like a blue eye) and it’s surrounded by shades of green water. Here is a great video.

Blue Eye Saranda

© Sarah Tzinieris – Syri i Kaltër, Sarandë, South Albania

19. I can tell you that canoeing through Osumi River Canyon was a sensational experience. This spectacular landscape resembles a miniature Grand Canyon.

Canyons Skrapar

© Fadion Dashi – Osumi Canyons, Skrapar

20. Last, but definitely not least: This stop is the ultimate spot for your next Facebook poser shot. What a divine view and a deep sense of freedom! This daring traveller took the chance cruising through the steep and curvy Pass of Llogara…

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© Armela Bega – Llogara National Park, South Albania

Why Danes are so awfully happy?


The mega-commercial of Carlsberg appears in a stylish apple-like-design airport: “Welcome to the world’s happiest nation”, as proven recently. That triggered my curiosity further. It actually started earlier on board of Easy Jet. A group of bachelors were dragging the soon to be groom with pink eye-shades and headphones on, to a surprise party destination. Now I know why. The Danes definitely know how to party hard and in style. Since a glass of wine starts from 13 euros, the drinking starts earlier. By 1 am, folks are running around pretty loaded, chicks in bare feet and silky summerish dresses, happily bumping into each other. That’s great entertainment and tells part of the story. In addition I came up with funky impressions during my 48 hours stay in Copenhagen, that help understand why Danes are the so awfully happy.

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Taking the metro at the airport toward Copenhagen felt like being brought in a fast-forward time tunnel. A sensational ride, not to be missed. The underground world of Copenhagen shines not only in simplicity and smart taste, but also in timing.

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Once you leave the underground world, you get your eco-ride along water channels.

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Ahhhhh the water channels. That’s where people originally moved to the Freeport of Copenhagen as a free-taxation area. Nowadays is the new-old hot shit area, no chance for any tax exemption.

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A nice boat-trip in cold waters refreshing the city is not the worst idea either. Just make sure you have enough bread to feed the white swans and friendly seagulls along the ride.

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In the mean time enjoy the medieval footprints meeting the amazing nowadays architecture.

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If that’s a bit too romantic for your taste, no worries, there’s space for everyone. Go and get your ecological electronic Tesla that’s just finished charging. Or simply a taxi-bike.

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Make sure not to drive it in this unfinished bridge. It is designed only for bikes and pedestrians only.

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And watch out from the little mermaids. They are in every corner, here, here and here 😉

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Kids. Might be great to be a Danish kid, go to magical Tivoli every other day and read the original Andersen’s fairy tales while he proudly faces Tivoli entertainment park. Of course, I was a great fan of Andersen as a child, as his works were translated in 125 languages worldwide.

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Enough jogging around. It’s time for some serious shopping. Let’s see what these nice gentlemen have to offer.

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Still not convinced. Then go at the Happy Wall and write a wish or greet someone.

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“One glass of read wine, please!”, I asked the waitress at BioMio. “What kind of wine would you like? Really good one or an affordable one?” Good, there are nice people out there to save you the embarrassment…

Embarrassment! Does that mean anything? Obviously not for everyone. Rumors circulate that this body-jumping crane goes a bit further. Free of change jumping for those who wanna do that naked.

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The white nordic nights let the magic roll on the morning of the longest day of the year. 21st of June: It’s midsommar! Good morning! Or better: Good night…

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The Spirit of Albanian Protesters


Pictures worth 1000 words. Albanians protesting in front of their Prime Minister’s office waiting for the PM to say No to dismantling Syrian chemical weapons in Albania. The tension increased rapidly in the last hours, as the countdown for disclosing the decision of the government started. Plus PM Rama is known for his long speeches. Nevertheless the protest went peacefully, and ended literally in fireworks as government said NO to Syrian arsenal.

Never felt more proud than today, looking at youngsters, parents with their kids, and elderly gathered for the first time for an unanimous cause that went beyond any electoral party event. We love our country free from hazardous substances and today we said NO.

You Guys protesting rocked! Deep appreciation also go to the social media managers, the backstage people we don’t see, but who supported non-stop the protesters and the larger audience. Having said that now I can relax. Waiter, one cup of tea with no Sarin please…

 

Open Letter to President Obama


Dear President Obama,

I am a deeply concerned citizen of Albania, who like millions of Albanians is shocked by the news that deadly toxic chemical arsenal of Assad’s regime is landing to Albanian shores. For a small country of 28,000 km2, over-populated, with poor infrastructure, with countless problems in every sector of the economy, health, education, environment, agriculture, tourism, struggling for over two decades to fight corruption and organized crime plagued in every cell of our society, the decision of demolition chemical weapons in Albania is TOXIC. The lethal impact that this potential decision will have in the lives of Albanians and the generations to come is unquestionable.

I am addressing to you this letter for a couple of reasons. Our historic ties to US date back to 1919, when US President Woodrow Wilson intervened to block the Paris Peace Conference agreement, which divided Albania among former Yugoslavia, Italy, and Greece. US support followed until these days with President Clinton’s decision to halt the Serbian genocide in Kosovo, for which we as Albanians are deeply grateful.  But as dark days have captured the skyline of the Albanian people, our eyes are turned to you as a world leader in a desperate attempt to change the tragic fate of our nation. From a nightmarish dream we woke up few days ago to the horrible news that our government has volunteered to host the Assad’s arsenal of +1,000 MT of highly dangerous chemical weapons and materials, infringing our constitutional rights, without any transparency, public consent, REFERENDUM, or even any hearings from the interest groups. Our government is selling this issue of hosting Assad’s weapons as a request of NATO to our country as a member of NATO alliance, while there is no evidence that neither NATO itself is involved in the process of disarming Syria nor that NATO officially has submitted a request to Albania to host it. Plus in 1993 the U.S. supported Germany and Europe by shipping out of our continent the very dangerous German chemical weapons stockpile. How can one in good conscience suggest to bring now, in 2013, in the heart of Europe, Assad’s stockpile?

But what should ring the ALARM bells to the international community is the wrong evaluation of capacities of our country for handling an operation of this magnitude.

How can the poorest country in Europe deal with a potential accident of this nature? How can a country like ours deal with waste management of Sarin and Mustard gas if DID NOT yet manage the waste from its own symbolic destruction of chemical materials inherited from communism? The lives of those innocent people and children killed in Gerdec (army depot explosion) by the incompetence of public authorities do not signal any concern? What about the image of Albania worldwide pinned as the toxic ground of Europe? What about potential poisoned water resources, land, shores?  Who will pay the consequences of this irrational act? – The Albanian people!!! And the future generations to come will be condemned without being guilty for a crime that they did not commit.

In this dark moment of desperation, but also proud of being a citizen of a peaceful nation that embraces democratic values, seeking to join EU, we ask you President Obama to stop this move.

To end this heartfelt letter, I am going to quote our famous patriot and former Minister and Extraordinary Envoy of Albania to the U.S Faik Konitza. “If Albania will die, it will die because of its politicians” 

5 Reasons why we should protest at the Prime Minister’s Office


Here are a couple of thoughts on why I think we should protest in front of our Prime Minister’s office and not in front of the American Embassy:

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1. We are citizens of Albania and as such we are obeying by the rules and regulations of the Republic of Albania. The Article 56 of the Albanian Constitution guaranties the right to everyone to be informed on the conditions or our environment, its protection, which in combination with Article 59 “the right to have a healthy environment for today’s and future generations” set the stage for demanding these basic rights to our government. Any infringement of our constitutional rights is strictly our business, therefore should be addressed to our government. It is not like the infringement of US constitutional rights are at stake here.

2. We recently elected our government to represent us with a majority of 84 deputies in the parliament. It is our government’s responsibility and duty to protect it’s citizens and not in any way to jeopardize or put its lives in danger.

3. Call for REFERENDUM against importation of Chemical Weapons is definitely an internal measure addressed to our government and not to the US embassy.

4. US is one of the most historic allies of Albanians, and as such it will respect the common will of Albanians coming through a democratic Referendum for this matter.

5. Last but not the least, we are entitled of transparency on our government’s side related to this national issue. Arrogance is not welcomed and not deserved by the Albanian people.

The Affair of Destroying Syrian Weapons Arsenal in Albania


These days of heated debate for destroying Assad’s weapon arsenal, I can’t stop thinking of the same question. Why on earth Albania, I mean Albania is targeted as the backyard of destroying these mass destruction weapons? Our country does not have the capacity, any plant for weapon destruction, or real experience (what they call experience is destroying 16 mt chemicals inherited from communism). So, I start doing a little homework in order to better comprehend this operation.

Here is a view of the distribution of global stockpile of chemical weapons: two main stockpile owners are US and Russia which have destroyed about 90% and 74% of their own arsenal. Obviously it makes them experienced and resourcefully of handling such operations, but yet reluctant to host such operation. Patricia Lewis, from the London-Based think tank Chatham House, favors shipping the bulk agent out of Syria to a country like Russia. “Because Russia has taken the initiative here, they have that responsibility now to make sure it works.”Plus Russia has a naval base at Tartus in Syria”. But it is obvious that reluctance comes from a price tag associated with it, moving deadly chemicals is a risky business plus what you do with the waste coming out of Incineration or Neutralisation.

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On the other hand US is offering to bring this mobile unit developed by the US military called the Explosive Destruction System (EDS), which can handle up to six weapons at a time. The reason this mobile unit was invented is to avoid moving the highly dangerous arsenal from the initial storage, since transportation of chemical weapons can cause terrible accidents. So why Albania? Why bringing the EDS mobile unit to Albania if the weapon arsenal is in Syria and yet needs to be transported? Doesn’t it make sense to do this operation in Syria or near by where the arsenal is stored? Did our government volunteered to host the toxic stockpile or was asked by big powers? How big is the price tag to justify lives of Albanians? For these questions the Albanian citizens demand an answer. Not to mention here how is our government going to handle such accidents, potentially speaking? As we are talking about toxic chemicals like sarin and mustard gas that takes hundred of thousands of life’s in a blink of an eye.

So the risk of this potential operation is very serious and present. And if you are living in Albania and yet not convinced just look at YouTube videos of Syrian victims of chemical weapons. This could be you or your child.

Assad’s Chemical Weapons in Albanian Soil? No Thank You…


The breaking news that Syrian chemical weapons are most likely to be shipped for destruction to Albania has created an unanimous public reaction. Civil society, environmental groups, young activists, intellectuals, public figures, and citizens started a Ghandi-style marathon of protests in Tirana. Every day by staying in silence in front of government offices, protesters will gather to oppose the decision of bringing Syrian chemical weapons for destruction to Albania. Today, we all gathered in front of the Prime Minister’s (MP) office to protest. A Syrian woman, mother of two kids gave a strong message in the name of Syrians, victims of chemical weapons. “Albanian kids should not have the same fate as Syrian ones” added the Syrian woman bursting into tears. Other activists and prominent figures also issued strong messages addressed to the government.

Pics from the today’s protest in front of PM office:

Ironically, the first action of Rama’s government when took the office two months ago was to stop the importation of waste as a measure to ensure environment protection. This was one of the key promises in its electoral agenda. Now it’s being challenged by the decision of diluting 1,000 MT stocks of sarin nerve agent and mustard gas, which implies officiating the image of Albania as Europe’s toxic landfill. The silence of PM’s office on this issue is not only concerning and unacceptable, but raises further questions. Strangely the opposition, DP party is silent too. Meanwhile “the virtual war” has started. Online petitions are being signed, calls for referendum have initiated, daily protests are being organized. I doubt this will go easy and unnoticed. Albanians are irritated that on top of economic hardships and everyday struggles, they are being served a new threat to their health, environment, country image and most importantly the future of generations to come. I am sure that if Syrian weapons will make it to Albanian shores, Rama government will be nailed by the public opinion. It’s “New Born” reputation will fall off the cliff, it will earn the hatred of its own voters, it will face serious grassroots opposition, and will be viewed if not as evil, definitely as a weak bootlicker that puts in jeopardy the life of its own constituents.

Instead our government should work on promoting the country as a tourist destination not as the toxic dumping ground of Europe, as it is clear our country is lacking capacity, infrastructure, and experience in undertaking tasks of this magnitude with such high degree of hazard. Our neighboring countries should worry too. Are they really comfortable with storing tons of weapons of mass destruction in their neighbors’ backyard? 

HalloFrida


As Halloween is out there to be great fun and celebrated, I start playing with the idea of dressing up as pregnant nun. It immediately triggered hilarious laughter and questions like “Who’s the father?” Thought I loved the scariest divine idea that a pregnant nun costume represents, unfortunately I found difficult to get one. So start thinking more in gypsy-like outfits that are easy and yet funky to improvise. But still, that did not convince me. Luckily I was reminded by a friend of my beloved female character who’s love for life went beyond her long-lasting pain.

Happy Halloween from Frida!

Who was Frida Kahlo? A Mexican painter who suffered lifelong health problems due to a traffic accident in early teenage days. The longing injuries that isolated her from the rest of the world influenced her artistic works, made her best known for her self-portraits. Frida once said “I paint myself because I am so often alone and because I am the subject I know best”.

Red Carpet October: How Heiner Lauterbach made it to Tirana


October is quite charming to me. The melancholic feeling of the late Indian summer that seems like never wants to give up its place to the cold ruthless winter, is priceless. So are the colorful leaves falling smoothly to their seasonal routine and summer’s days revisiting once again for leaving us surprised. It’s end of October and yet the temperatures are sticking around 25-26 degrees. How nice to wander around the city streets in aimless way, without a demanding task to accomplish or a deadline to meet. I love those weekends in Tirana, but most of all when there’s something casual, relaxed, and yet distinguished to attend. And I’m not referring to those one-day wellness treatments someone rewards oneself.

A stop at the TIRANA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL (TIFF) that comes in full swing on its 11th edition is more then welcoming. I’m early, 10 minutes before the movie starts. I wait outside the Millenium for my friend Dari, when I find myself few meters away from the movie stars and film makers that I’m about to watch, HARMS. Undoubtedly I started taking shots like a real paparazzi, feeling all genuinely excited of photographing the local star, actor Blerim Destani as well as the famous German actor Heiner Lauterbach. A foolish idea crossed my mind in the enthusiastic mode, to have a picture with them. Didn’t ask for it though, felt a little foolish and embarrassed. Schade!!!! A lost chance as other local celebs occupied the red carpet to grasp its magic for that five seconds of glory. The moment was gone. But not for watching the next two movies once my friend showed up. Here it goes a short briefing of both HARMS and The Daughter.

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The feature film competition starts with Harms, a German production of Nikolai Müllerschön with staring actor Heiner Lauterbach. Not to downgrade it, but if you’re after those bloody gang action movies, this is the one for you. It makes Tarantino’s blood-splattering scenes look quite inferior. Harms really had some graphic violent scenes. Nevertheless the character role of Lauterbach made it special.

The next movie under feature competition category was “The Daughter” by Greek producer Thanos Anastopoulos. This contemporary plot starts with an clear allegory about Greece’s economic crisis. What I find very interesting in this psychological thriller was the drawing of parallels between individual and societal drama coming through some questions : “What do you do when things go wrong, when life doesn’t turn out as you thought it would, when you feel alone?” …. “You fight…”

Faust from Tirana


After reading the title of monodrama “Faust from Tirana” a showpiece in an alternative setting, I was keened on going to this event. I’m glad I did, since it turned to be beautiful piece, perfectly adopted in the our context, done with an absolute low budget, but still reflecting much care, passion and desire to convey a powerful message to viewers. Staged at the premises of Tirana Express, in a modest, improvised stage located in a run-down post industrial environment of communist era, created the perfect setting for this performance – the transition of Faust from Tirana.

But let’s get to our personage and his inner drama. Faust from Tirana is an upset, disappointed intellectual looking back 22 years later after the fall of communist regime in 1991, displeased about the failure of his generation dreams and high hopes. It carries a powerful political message of a lost generation of the early 90’s, young intellectuals who’s dreams and aspirations for a democratic society adhering to EU values and integration are shattered. Transition between systems was longer then expected, full of unresolved issues which have captured every cell of our society like a chronic disease.

As in the original legend where Faust decides that a pact with Mephistopheles (devil) is the only way to fulfill his ambitions, Faust from Tirana suffered a deep emotional drama, an inner conflict on which path to follow: A pact with the devil (here it refers to politics) is the way to succeed, with the condition that as individual he will loose his privacy, his identity, his soul, become a clown in the eyes of his family and lead an absolute mediocre life. The lifestyle of a man who wakes up in the morning, drinks his coffee, goes out and bargains, comes back and sleeps. While shutting the door to Mephistopheles, abolishing the pact with the devil means being left alone, idle, un-accomplished, unrealized, without the dignity and the respect that an intellectual like Faust deserves. It’s the portrait of an unhappy “looser” who never went that far “to succeed”.

The dilemma of our Faust intensifies the moment in which he questions the very foundation of his life. Whether his reality has any longer a meaning, value or purpose triggered by the traumatic loss of his dear Margaret, is indeed a crucial moment in his existential crisis. In one hand, becoming a politician is both pragmatist and mediocre solution which he never found appealing. While feeling alone, isolated from the world, with no external meaning, he appreciates his own mortality. But ending it would that make a difference? Would that impact the world if he doesn’t wake up on the next morning? The harsh reality hits in. The life of the mediocre will continue with the same habits, in the same patterns. Therefore, committing suicide does not seem to be the solution either. The resolution of Faust from Tirana is left to the public to decide. The message stays strong and powerful, given in an artful and professional way by the production team and tremendous acting of Alfred Trebicka. If you get the chance, don’t miss this monodrama.

Mrizi i Zanave – The Culinary Delights of Northern Albania


A restaurant with its farm, vineyard, and vegetable garden, its own olive plantation, delicious wine, lovely nature of the countryside with historic significance sets the ground for a unique experience for many visitors. I’m referring to Mrizi I Zanave in village Fishte of Zadrima commune. This place apart from the historic importance as the birthplace of Gjergj Fishta known as one of the most prominent figures of the Albanian literature and politics of 19th century with significant contribution to the Albanian cause, sets a fine example of a newborn social-economical tourism pattern in traditional Albanian gastronomy. Last weekend i visited Mrizi i Zanave for the first time and I was immediately impressed. The food was delicious, modern touch spicing up local tradition. Everything 100% BIO, 100% Albanian. Freshly picked vegetable from the garden cooked and served in ceramic plates from a nearby ceramic business, dairy products such as goat or cattle cheese processed by the restaurant staff, country ham preserved down in their basement, red Kallmet wine from the local vineyards, local fruit dessert, originate an authentic dining experience even for us locals.

The owner of this place Altin Prenga, who’s passion goes beyond the ambition of a young passionate Albanian cook, had a broader prospective of his investment. The core of his business is offering delicate taste of rural culinary in its natural habitat with absolute fair pricing, through promoting not only values of environment preservation, but also by enhancing the development of local economy in the region. I found this extremely useful as certain Agritourism initiatives are new in Albania. This modern form of intra-cooperation between local businesses in building sustainable Agritourism can sure lead to an increased interest in the quality of regional products, as well as awareness of replicating such business models in other parts of the country. 

Agritourism is not widespread in Albania though people are becoming more interested in knowing how their food is produced and what food they consume. A honey and wine tasting activity, learning about cheese-making, picking fruits or vegetables, or shopping for local hand-crafted gifts can be added value to every local culinary business. These are simple ideas which can add value to a business but also represent the cultural highlights of such localities. Furthermore, two decades of foreign incursion of culinary savors have sort of under-shadowed our traditional gastronomy. Opening an Italian restaurant or something similar to western European taste is more common to find in Tirana or other main cities. It’s not necessarely better just a safer bet. Foreign is mainstream, seen as cool and in vogue. There’s no need to reserve a table in advance in most restorants here, but not at Mrizi I Zanave. I called 2 days in advance to book a table for three in the weekend and I got one only after 3:30 pm. That’s what’s a pattern of successful investment with multiple positive trickle down effects in local economy. That’s a great example to follow. Made in Albania.

As Old Kingdom Crambles, New Hopes Arise in Albania


On Sunday the Albanian people hurried to get to the polls and cast their vote. Tired from poverty and corruption that has grabbed every aspect of social and political life, in the verge of despair; we woke up from a long apathy and ran to the polls. The kingdom crumbled, so was the myth created in the last 8 years during the Democratic Party ruling that politicians in power are the real kings; they can abuse public funds, get away with tragedies like Gerdeci, 21 of January, buy or manipulate the votes publicly and yet be there to run for a third term.

Inside the bunker

At the king’s heaven the strong is immune to law even without immunity, holding its citizen’s hostage in any possible sense. You are unemployed and need a crappy job in public sector to survive then pay to get it, you are sick, insured but no able to bribe the doctors yet die slowly from neglect in some lost public hospital corner, you are the owner of the house or land still be without an ownership certificate, you drive in the newly build Elbasan road with taxpayers money yet watch to get home alive from the massive stone falling due to prior opening on the highway for electoral publicity. In a society run by the rules of the jungle where you have to be the lion or in the circle of lions, where the anti-values are served as values, where public servants are brought out to cheer for the party in power in exchange to holding a job in public sector, where money buys everything, well almost everything.

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One rightfully would ask why did it take so long to people to react? How comes that the bubble didn’t burst triggered by some youthful riots? Why this apathy has held us back for so long? I asked myself the same questions. I think partly because people are tired of protesting, fearing of being victims of fighting the government (remember 21 January 2011), drained of being unheard, un-represented, invisible to the government eye. Instead we choose to peacefully say NO to the injustice through our vote.

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This election will be remembered as historic because Albanian citizens regardless many voting obstacles or irregularities ousted the current oppressive leadership. That was a historic NO, not only because the opposition won with a big difference of mandates (latest update 84:56), but because it united Albanians from North to South to break the vicious cycle, and set ourselves free to hope again.

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The Albanian Diva: Elhaida Dani an Insane Inspiration for All of Us


The so called “Devastating Hurricane” by the jury of the Voice of Italy is causing a real turmoil of emotions inside and outside Albania. The young Albanian singer Elhaida Dani, Top fest winner 2012, is now heading to her big night, the final of the Voice of Italy as one of the four contestants.

With fair modesty I can state that she is not only an amazing young singer, gorgeous looking, a reminiscence of Whitney Huston’s vocal, a vivid show of strength and great technique, but also an incredible sweet girl that has rocked the hearts of the wide Albanian and Italian public.

Tonight is the great night. It will be officially decided ” The Voice of Italy”. I really hope it will be a rewarding night for Elhaida. Neither because she is an Albanian going that far at the Voice of Italy, nor of something seen as symbol or national pride, but simply because she is the best and deserves it. Elhaida is The Voice and I hope the Italian public will see it and not get lost in some “nationalistic quotations” trap as the ones I notice in few social media threads. It is about “The Voice” and she is the one, you know it.

Here are some of her fine moments at the Voice contest:

I believe I can fly, it makes R. Kelly look small 😉

The thunderstorm Mama knows best which astonished the jury, nicknamed her “the devastating hurricane”, “the force of nature”, “The VOICE”.

Go Elhaida, take that crown, you deserve it, it’s yours 🙂

PS: After-hour midnight update…And the winner is : ELHAIDA DANI, a diva who made two countries proud of her talent, simplicity and modesty. A girl who made her great coach Cocciante say in tears “I learned from her modesty”.

Now I shut up and let the VOICE talk The Winner of Voice of Italy

When Tea Works…


It’s Sunday, a special one since it’s the Easter Sunday. By the way: Happy Easter!

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Usually when Sundays are spent at home they’re a bit of everything; preparation, cleaning, doing laundry, or simply being lazy while the pre-Monday stress gets implanted deeply in ones mind on a late afternoon. But not this Sunday. I joined my dear girlfriends for an unusual brainstorming on some gender related proposal in the exquisite company of tea, cake and turkish coffee. Such a funky mixture at this incredibly charming Tea Room. The wow affect hit us immediately at the very entrance as it looked very British, marked by flawless design-taste, wi-fi friendly, and commendable staff service. The delight of this place could not be uninspiring and fall short of joined creativity and hyper-activeness. Funny enough it was shaped in differences on tasks performed among us, from contend and structure shaping, i-and-non-i-devices demonstration, to the potential layout and design of the proposal. Who would have thought of such interaction on a Sunday afternoon. That’s when tea works…

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The Shepherd’s Call to Journalist Ethics


Last week unveiled the awful sexual abuse case of an eleven years old child and a potential murder case that has shaken public opinion throughout the country.

Pics Courtesy to Google Images
Pics Courtesy to Google Images

As expected most media channels have covered intensively this tragedy. But some have gone way too far with their coverage details, questioning the applied ethics within media standards and its principles. So was the case of shqiptarja.com, an online newspaper that issued an over-contested article by giving details of sexual abuse of the child. A public thunderstorm on Facebook attacked the editorial leadership of the newspaper. Analysts gathered in TV talk shows to discuss this unethical media coverage of the case and asked explanations from the editor in chief Mrs Anila Basha of shqiptarja.com. Unfortunately, the response was quite disappointing. I don’t actually know which is worse, making a stupid mistake like publishing this article or this ironic “apology” of yours which seriously offends the public.

What happened to public inquiry on the dreadful article published by this newspaper? What’s the response of the editorial leadership on the public call? Was there an apology made in the talk show?

For you Miss Editor in Chief “the public” is your Shepherd, “the public awareness” is your pledge, your marriage vows till death do you apart. BTW, yes Krasta we heard, she wants to get married, badly so. We’ll get her a ring, just give us another chance.
So Miss, as you walk on the dark valley of a child abuse, pressurized by “your public awareness pledge” you once did to your Shepherd, you go deep into the wound of the crying little boy and scratched it hard, as if it wasn’t enough the horror he has gone through. Nothing seems to stop you, as you continue to display in bold dreadful letters, the naked sufferance of the little boy.

Just there, the pornographic details of a child abuse scene, after being leaked from state authorities, are being dismantled virtually in front of thousands of public-shepherd eyes at your newspaper. And when you were asked why, you answered to us fellow Shepherds with such great determination ” As a journalist it’s my pledge to aware the public on cases such as pedophilia”. Really? As a Shepherd I can tell you to spare me those ugly abuse details. I am aware and I need no horrifying narrative to understand the graveness of this crime. I certainly don’t need you to embrace and treat this case in line with a pink-celeb gossip coverage.
I see, you Miss fear no God, no Evil, no Law, and obviously ethics mean nothing to you. But could you put yourself in the shoes of a parent who’s child is sexually abused and try to walk 10 meters with the branded name of your child forever in Google? Could you go back to being eleven years old and go to school with the horrendous pain, others pity, stigma, and carry with you this abuse tag forever? It’s harsh heeeh!!!

Well, I hope you’ll realize the irreparable damage you did to this boy and to his parents. I hope you’ll have the decency to publicly apologize to the victims and to your Shepherds. I hope you’ll reflect on the viral public outrage you caused and not just downgrade it to a Facebook-ish reaction. And I really hope not to see similar scary unethical coverage in the future, if I ever go again to click on your page.

Were these clicks or sold paper worth it? I don’t think so. Remember that public leverage is the leverage of clicks, sponsorship, lost reputation, and definitely will last more then 3 days. Amen.

Summer Day and Pagan Holiday (Dita e Verës)


I’m off work today since it’s March 14th, meaning the official Summer Day in Albania. I always wondered why we put such a strong emphasis on the initial start of the summer/spring since we definitely don’t miss the super hot summer days for at least 6 months. But being a pagan holiday it symbolizes revival of nature, flourishing of plants, and rejuvenation of spirits awaken from the cold winter days. It’s the first day of the year according to the BC Grigorian calendar. Therefore, the national celebration of the Summer Day always occupied the streets with crowds of people walking along the boulevard, street performances and summer festivals, happy kids on playgrounds, special sweets named “ballokume”, etc.

Sunny Summer Day in Tirana 2012

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The unwritten rule or belief throughout years has been that it doesn’t rain on the Summer Day. Actually as long as I can recall I didn’t rain, well until today. I don’t know what disappointed me the most, the constant rain crashing the celebrations in Tirana, or the fall of the “does-not-rain-alwayes-sunshine” myth. Nevertheless, I still went out in the city today, got a couple of ballokume, few snapshots of the rainy empty streets and children playgrounds, and got home happily soaking wet. Happy Summer Day to everyone! It’s still there, just hiding in the next corner…

Faded Summer Day in Tirana 2013

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Same old traditional sweets : Ballokume Elbasani

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The Myth of Dating the Albanian Girl


I always find hilarious reading topics like “the perfect woman”, “how to seduce a man”, “10 naughty secrets”, ” 30 things to do to a naked man” , “how to land a date”, and so on… the list gets endless in women and fashion magazines around the globe. Therefore, looking at the article Would You Date: the Albanian Girl which I found randomly at Elite Daily, immediately triggered funky thoughts. I was right. The dating guide to the Elite globetrotting men this time offered pros and cons of dating The Albanian Girl. I don’t know what irritated me most, likely the pros, but nevertheless I found it pretty entertaining.

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Long Summer nights at Padam, Tirana

Pros: Domesticated- “In a period where women are overly preoccupied with “who are you wearing”, “how they can get their hands on the latest fashion”, or “how they can find a man who will buy them whatever they desire,” it is difficult to find that particular girl that knows how to treat a man. Because many Albanian families are very traditional, it is almost guaranteed that she is more than capable of preparing a good meal and actually knows how to do laundry well”. Are you serious? Since when dressing up is not part of the Albanian culture or since when women who actually follow fashion do not qualify as family-oriented? Who on earth are those “Elite guys” wanting a wife only for being capable of preparing a good meal and doing laundry? It’s true that families in Albania are rather conservative and traditional, like it’s true that more young women are keened on embracing western values, getting educated, and working hard to be independent.

Make Good Wives- Wow, I didn’t know that we deserve that stupid title “A good Wife Material” or You can count on an Albanian woman to stick by her man no matter how difficult things get financially. Even if her man is in the wrong, an Albanian woman will be understanding and stick by her man.” Not that having a loyal woman by your side it’s not essential, actually it’s very important, but nowadays Albanian women are not much different from their western counterparts. I’m just being honest here. The number of divorces in Albania not only is constantly increasing, but are mainly women filing for it. To some extend this is even good news for us since it means we’re getting more free and capable of taking life into our own hands rather than living an unhappy married life. I guess the wrong perception derives from the communism decades where divorce was almost illegal and society back then was heavily stigmatizing a divorced couple; therefore women were obliged to “stick by their man” no matter what.

Presentable“They take care of themselves, are very fashionable, and present themselves in a manner that is classy and sophisticated without coming off as haughty. Not only are they well dressed, but Albanian women also take pride in how they present themselves in the public sphere. You will never need to stress over being embarrassed by harlot-esque actions from an Albanian woman”. I tend to agree with this one 😉 

Sex: The average Albanian household is known to be strict, especially for the women. This however does not deter our beloved Albanian women from getting down in the bedroom. She will come off as modest in public, but once the lights are off and the door is closed you must be prepared for the inner freak to come out. Behind closed doors these women have some moves reminiscent of some of your wildest fantasies”. I have NO comment on that, but I LOL when I read another user’s comment “At least they got one thing right”.

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Picture of Fadil Berisha -retaken at Pedonale street expo, Tirana

Cons: GossipersGossip plays a big part in the lives of women within the Albanian community. If you notice that your girlfriend is prominent in her social media sphere and changes her Facebook profile picture frequently, you might have a heavy gossiper on your hands. Social media will ruin this relationship because if she is stalking others, rest assured that she is taking note of your actions as well”. Well, I really find amusing the correlation between the frequency of changing the profile picture and a gossiper, but don’t forget that many couples throughout the world hooked up or ended their relationships through Facebook. But seriously, the problem shouldn’t be the “stalkers”, the problem should rather be the lame cheaters out there. This so reminds me an Albanian joke: A villager complained to his fellows that someone stole his cow last night, and they all start blaming him why he let that happen. The grieving villager listen to them and added: So, all the fault is mine, but the one who actually stole the cow is not to be blamed?

Questionable Past RelationshipsNever under any circumstance fall for the “You’re the first guy I’ve spoken to” or “I really don’t talk to guys like you” line. In most cases, it is a complete lie. Since many Albanian households are strict, Albanian women must find creative ways to circumvent the overbearing rules of their strict parents. This includes keeping some of their darkest and dirtiest secrets under wraps for extensive periods of time. Trust me, if they are good at keeping secrets from those closest to them, just imagine the past experiences she is keeping from you.” This does sound too paranoid and teenage-like issue to me. Parents asks to come home not too late so I tell a little lie to come around the situation or I keep a little secret for myself. It’s true that being open about past or private life is not a common quality for many Albanians, but still there’s no need to freak out, especially if you’re in a mature relationship.At the end our family ties usually are too strong to keep skeletons in our closets.

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Jealousy- “Home grown Albanian women tend to be territorial. Once you are theirs, you are theirs and no one else’s. Albanian women have difficulties with sharing. They are highly aware of their surroundings, so a wrong look from another girl can cause quite the commotion” Yes, we don’t like to share our man, but who would want actually…unless you’re into that swing couple stuff or you’re too hooked on threesomes, I have a hard time believing that other women out there like to share their man or have him flirt around. Plus, Albanian girls are extremely intuitive. So in case you’re playing the audacious smart ass with her just do a favor to yourself and avoid that, it won’t work. She will know you lied before you even realized you did;)

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Younger friends in South Albania

In the end it needs a no brainier that all this is not to be taken too seriously, since we are generalizing. If not, who’s the representation model of the Albanian girl? Is this sample girl coming from some remote village, big enough county, little town, city? What’s her education level or professional background? What looks are like or they’re all hot Mediterranean babes? I’m born, raised and lived most of my life in Albania and if you would ask me on this I would say; this all –inclusive stereotyping is not the right way to go. It usually carries elements of stigma, prejudice, verbal insult, or slur that encompasses the entire group. Rather go for the communication approach, chat, talk, or write and you’ll find out by yourself about the Albanian Girl.

Elina Duni in between Worlds: Jazz & Albanian Folk Songs


If you are a Jazz fan, you might consider looking at the astonishing collection “Matane Malit” of the jazz singer Elina Duni. I have to admit that I was quite impressed by her artistic way of transforming Balkan folk into a transfixing jazz improvisation. Her quartet plays these mournful melodies with deep respect to core traditional subjects such as; love, hardship, honor, lust, and death. Though you might not understand the Albanian lyrics, you certainly will be moved by her terrific interpretation and nuanced songs. She also has a wide repertoire in other Balkan languages. Find more @ http://www.elinaduni.com

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Credit: Photographer © Blerta Kambo

Happy Birthday SHQIPERI!


Let me tell you a real fairy tale in a nutshell. Once upon a time, 100 years ago, there was a nation with its own language, customs, and symbols. A nation in its own land occupied for 5 centuries by the Ottoman Empire. My Albanian stepfathers who were known as great fighters, by realizing the weakness of the Turkish army, accelerated to take measures on their own hands. Therefore, our founding father Ismail Qemali departed from Istanbul, set off for Vienna where he reached an agreement with the Great Powers, and invited all Albanians to gather in Vlora on November 28th 1912, precisely 469 years after our National Hero Skanderbeg liberated Kruja and raised the flag on November 28th 1443. Ismail Qemali was extremely pleased to see that delegates from all parts of Albania were gathered to proclaim the Albanian Independence, a free and independent state under a provisional government. He was the key figure in the Albanian Declaration of Independence and the formation of the independent Albania in 28 November 1912.

Here we are standing after 100 years of Independent State heritage, having certainly gone through historic turmoil like World and Balkan Wars, monarchy, communism, and lately democracy. There’s a great deal of history to take a look at during this past century in terms of political events, influential leadership, a deeper reflection on how we evolved, and where we’re headed to. Personally, I have been reflecting a lot on such epic event like the 100 Anniversary of Independence.

More I thought of it, more confused I have got. On the verge of this national super-exaltation, grabbing every moment of city life like a clock ticking with accelerated tick-tack rhythm, I’m caught thinking 100 questions: “What would be like the equivalent of freedoms we enjoy today versus those 100 years ago?”; “How comparable are the nowadays leaders to the idealistic founding fathers”; “Are we really better off discounting time-inflation factor?”; “Have we changed much and to what extend?” What are your thoughts?

Since this anniversary is truly iconic for its importance, I can understand why any remote skeptical opinion on current developments is viewed as anti-patriotic or political oriented. I have the feeling there’s no place for constructive criticism on what we have achieved in this century time-frame or added to the taste of celebrating this mega event. If one does that, risks falling into the anti-patriotic or political bi-polar loop trap. Sounds complicated, but let me simplify it. Two main political parties in the country, or better two main political leaders, celebrate the 28th separately – the one in power in Tirana while the opposition one celebrates it in Vlora. How cheerless and shameful would be for our political leadership to show up divided even in this symbolic day! Can’t they just in the name of national interest leave behind their contradictions/interests at least for ONE DAY? Finally its official, after all the media rumors, prior declarations, or speculations the political leadership of all colors stayed united in the opening ceremony today in Vlora where symbolically the Albanian flag was raised again after 100 years.

As the prominent novelist Mr. Rexhep Qosja mentioned earlier in his speech, today is the day where Albanians worldwide celebrate their independence as Albanians, not divided by their political views, geographical region or religion.

Today we commemorate our Independence Day as one great nation and that’s what counts most. And here’s a pre-taste of what’s going on right now…

Delegates coming from different regions of Kosovo headed to Vlora (impersonated, remembering 28 November 1912), Photo credit: Eris Gashi

Hundred of thousands Albanians gathered in Vlora to celebrate 100 Years Independence!

Arms and Helmet of Skanderbeg in a 45 days exhibition for the first time in Tirana – Collection of Arms and Armour at the Neue Burg (affiliated with the Kunsthistorisches Museum) in Vienna.

Standing in front of Skanderbeg weapons @ Albanian Historical Museum. His weapons have been subjects of mythical adoration.

Flag kept by patriot Said Najdeni

Inauguration of the Eagle Square

Google Doodle wearing Albanian Flag Colors. View-able in Albania

Tirana getting ready for the Independence Day

…and it’s everywhere

…also up in the blue sky (Photo Credit to Aeronautika Shqiptare)

Gathered for some after hour celebration…
…and sipping Margaritas to some awesome Etno Jazz rhythms @ Opium bar

 

The Auction of Values


I had a crazy dream last night. I dreamt of participating in a special auction in a remote highland area of Northern Albania. It wasn’t about valuable famous paintings, gold or diamonds. It was an exceptionally distinct one – the auction of value.  I found myself suddenly so overwhelmed by this large pool of values where I had to pick what meant the most to me. While my eyes pre-screened almost subconsciously values like loyalty, knowledge, freedom, independence, family, order, openness, love, integrity, vision, trust, modesty, originality, motivation, optimism, leadership and so forth, my mind was busy listing them by priority in a hierarchic order. It is a difficult task setting value priorities, which are important since they relate to my purpose in life. Certain values even stay at the core of my being with a clear perspective of what I stand for. And here I come up with my top three values: family, loyalty and knowledge. Then I thought some of these values, the social ones I could even move to a different pool.

Reminiscing about different historical époques of Albania, it comes easier to relate the core values of a given period to social condition of that respective time. Throughout the history Albanians have fought against many foreign occupations like against the Ottoman Empire for centuries. Often our people have been in midst of Balkan wars, were subject of the 1913 arbitrary division of Albanian territory among neighboring countries and further followed by World War I and World War II. What used to be dominant values (braveness, honesty, trustworthy, mettlesome, fearlessness, audacity and courageous) were the ones that oriented Albanian against occupiers. Normally, social values usually last for 20 to 50 years. But some of these values still prevail and stay at core of many problems that our society faces. A sad example is blood feud which together with the inheritance of fierce clan mentality and tribal loyalties is still persistent to this day in highlands of Albania.

In the last two post communist decades, the transition of values faces the typical dilemma: traditional versus Western liberal and democratic values. Thinking back of late 80s, it feels like we have been trapped in our own episode of “Truman Show” where Albanian territory was “The World” to us, where were no private cars running on streets, rights to own something, democratic institutions, and where concepts like drugs, HIV/SIDA, prostitution, crime were beyond imagination of an average Albanian. Therefore, the fall of the iron curtain found many Albanians in a crossroad, with little guidance and knowledge, poor leadership and all the freedoms in their empty hands. Just we had a big misunderstanding of freedom. We thought freedom was free while the invisible hand of government serving as regulator to the free market economy using decisive and sound public policies was just not there.

A pool of brand new survival values was suddenly available to us like in a nightmarish auction. Who used to be honest was suddenly considered stupid. Getting rich and educated over night was seen as braveness. Using public resources for our own benefits was regarded with indifference. In other words: welcome to the “Paradise” where the rule means no rule and where everything is possible. The contradiction on family values also couldn’t fall behind. Though marriage and kids are considered the cornerstone of our society, still the number of divorces and family crime has grabbed the “holy” marriage institution and become a plague for our society.

In other words seems like history sadly is being repeated over and over again. Just that our enemies are no longer the border countries, communism, or dictatorship. Our enemy is…

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.

As Summer Fades Away in Drymadhes


It has been an exceptional hot and dry summer within our continental climate boundaries! It’s September 8th and summer is still hanging in there. So am I. Driving up to curvy Llogara roads in search of the divinest spot thousand meters up in the air, in midst of mountains, it’s impossible to draw the imaginary line between the deep crystal clear Ionian sea and blue sky.

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Why did I take so long to return here? It is not associated to a break up story or a accident, certainty not. Though five years passed by incredibly fast and things might have changed for the better or the worse, I didn’t forget to write a mental note to myself: Don’t expect too much, these are just small villages by the costal line.

The paved road and sign of a Raiffeisen cash machine were the first things to capture my eye on the Dhermi/Drymadhes entrance. That’s definitely an improvement. So it is the list of hotels’ phone numbers on a poster. Booking hotels/rooms online is quite limited and bargaining deals are still in fashion here. Though it’s already September, the Drymadhes Inn was fully booked, but finding another place to stay was not difficult. My coworker Mr. Elton Gjika who is the architect of the impressive 4 stars “Mansion of Pasha” (Sarajet e Pashait Residence Hotel) suggested me to spend the weekend there. It felt like residing in old times, equipped in luxurious old setting, surrounded by thick stone walls, and the mansion itself was beautifully conceptualized with modern comfort deriving from the historical Albanian mansions of 17th-18th century. The place could not offer more then its historic feeling and hospitality in terms of full range of services and activities speaking, since we were few guests accommodated in these fading summer days.

Dining turned out more tricky. Both evenings sticking to a fish restaurant that seemed to be the only one operating in Drymadhes. Here comes the waiter with a booklet menu and a sarcastic smile. Great! We seem to have alternatives and plenty of choices by going through the menu. But after each attempted order or request there was still this persistent ironic smile of the waiter mentioning repetitively “No, we don’t serve this or we don’t have that…” Ok, my mistake, let’s leave the menu aside and reformulate the question: “Is there anything we can order apart from the 5,000 lek rip-off fish, please?” This time the smile seemed honest followed by a clearer explanation. We are closing down tomorrow, tonight is the last night we serve.

Walking through Drymadhes at daylight was depressive. It was a beautiful summer Sunday at 30+, but almost everything was closed down. The bars, clubs, restaurants, empty touristic information center, trash laying on the sidewalks, skeletons of the summer bars like an earthquake had just hit the area. Unfinished construction works and roads gave nothing but a sad closure to the summer season. Even cows seemed abandoned by their owners, taking lonely promenades in search of company at the beach or at a random hotel entrance.

Finally among free associative thoughts, reminiscences from the past, regretful observations and an inner refusal force screaming out “This can’t be it!!!” Then, the real thing by the seaside: Laying in a comfortable beach chair at the Albanian version of Nikki Beach, feeling the breeze blowing as sun got hotter, sensing the barefoot warmth of the little stones, crashing the playful waves as first sun-kissed rays leave their place to a breathtaking sunset. What a purity of nature and bonheur, what you couldn’t find in Marbella, Mallorca or St. Tropez! Finally: THIS IS IT…

How hard is to stop complaining!


Dust off the brain is probably the best outcome of a vacation break. It is unbelievable how much our brains get flooded with futile information. As if it’s not bad enough that our virtual world is feeding us daily with unlimited negative news, exhausting marketing offers, spam e-mails, we have to endure random vain conversations and complains. And I’m not even mentioning the hustles of communing to work, traffic lines or noise that wear us out daily. There’s always someone requesting something from you like a favor, time or attention. So, increasingly it becomes more difficult to spend quality time with your loved ones or simply by yourself. In this context, I really think Facebook “saved me” by submissively keeping strings to not so closed friends and acquaintances. A picture here, a status update there, is a much efficient way of keeping in touch with people and yet enjoy some spare time for yourself.

The other day I was reading an interesting article of Minda Zetlin “Listening to complainers is bad for your brain which scientifically explains  that exposure to 30 minutes of negativity – including here downbeat TV bits and pieces – actually strips away neurons in the problem solving part of our brain. In other words, it makes us Dumb & Dumber even by being passive listeners.  I wondered why for a long time I stopped watching news on TV or listening to them in Radio while driving. It is unbelievable what content seems to make it to the news press nowadays. More horrible the story, bigger coverage it gets. Reading or listening to pleasant news is almost inexistent. Even a technological discovery which is likely to affect the lives of a billion people worldwide seems to be considered as luxurious news. It barely fits into a paper or hopefully it takes the last closing minute on TV news after being bombed with negative information. So under these circumstances I proposed a simple solution to myself: to scan for news online, read what interests to me most and in the meanwhile eat a piece of dark chocolate. Its serotonin will boost my mood and definitely trigger my humour better. 

Being a selective person is not so socially acceptable especially in some extravert cultures where individualism is not quite seen as a value.  The public catharsis of collective complaints are perceived as a better way for addressing individuals’ problems. Confessing to a priest or going to a psychologist is not common in our culture. Overloading the person next to you with your life despair seems rather to be the solution. Someone has to put a shield to save its sanity under these circumstances.  The best safeguard apart from distancing yourself is to learn digesting minor aggravation, clean up the dust though some extra hard work and instead of complaining about everything and to everyone, please find some time to do something about it. 

Pinned at a fabulous wedding party!


If you were to pin your wedding in an Albanian way, the most frequently asked questions would be: Whom to invite? How many guests? Live music or DJ? Traditional or modern style? I’m not even mentioning the bride’s dilemmas about wedding dress, hair and makeup artist, interior decor, camera man, menu selection, etc. I know these facts from my friends and family who got married earlier. Everyone thinks it’s crazy to go through the process and yet every one does it. It’s all worth it in the end…

I love being a wedding guest. Not only I don’t have to worry about finding the perfect gift for the couple since the norm here requires money only sealed in an envelope, but I have plenty of time to plan in advance my outfit, hair and makeup. It’s a bit like going to a ballroom; equipped with a splendid appearance and a dancing partner. My only single requirement as guest is to show up on time, often a challenge since it really takes time to get ready for such an important event . It is like this old Albanian saying  “One gets married and one hundred get crazy”.
So here I’m sited in a round table with an entrée plate looking at me: Try me, try me!!! Not yet, though. We have to wait for the fireworks signaling the arrival of the newlyweds. Once the bride and the groom greet us, their dancing performance which they mastered following ongoing dance courses in the last few months finally starts. I feel empathy for the groom. Poor him, what he has to go through for the perfect wedding dance. But it’s ok. Little exercise is healthy after all and never killed a man.

As for the bride, she left us all speechless wearing that gorgeous bell shaped wedding gown.  Congratulations to Loreta and Eris and wish them happy new life together!

Once we get out of the way the newlyweds dance’s choreography of romantic ballad-R&B-techno-tango-you name it, is finally our turn to swing and twist. Good luck with that! If the next music track happens to be from the southern Albania, it involves meters long of human chain dancing around in the dance floor. The couple doesn’t have their main performance until they dance the mid-Tirana region collage of wedding songs. A sudden wave of money flows over their foreheads circled by the many of us floating around them to the Napoloni dance rhythms. While kids get busy collecting the money on the ground, someone offers to burn the bachelor’s handkerchief that groom is holding as a symbol of commitment to the new marital life.

As the party goes on for several hours make sure you eat or at least try some of the many courses being served before getting totally lost into dancing lines.

In addition, there are no worries about holding a great speech to welcome guests. That takes 3-5 seconds. And the guests are not required to say anything to the couple, at least publicly. In the end, we don’t have a public speech gene.

Shall we continue to dance?

Music Ban and the End of Summer Nights in Tirana


After our “wise leading fathers” addressed all our political and societal problems, fought corruption which is holding back the country’s integration to the bigger European family, improved our quality of life through sound public policies, created countless jobs for youngsters and middle class, created parks in every neighborhood, invested in public transportation, education, and health system it is about time to win the last battle: The War on noise pollution in every corner of the Albanian territory.

Since a couple of weeks now you see police knocking on every bar-pub-club door with a clear noise-free mission: To enforce our Prime Father’s order for shutting down music at midnight. Seriously, the music in every bar in Tirana stops at 12 pm, followed by crowds of young people leaving soon afterwards.
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So the typical Saturday night now looks like go out around 11 pm and come back home around midnight. Why bothering, really!!! Such an effort to dress up, do my hair, put on some make up, get the car out of the garage, look for parking, order quickly a drink while waiting for the music to ditch me by midnight? This is nonsense. There’s no need to mention the disappointment of younger crowds and their frustration to this ridicule. This harassment has to stop, it is mockery.

We are a Southern country with the youngest population age in Europe. One of the biggest if not the only asset of Tirana, often pointed out by foreigners for its dullness is the stylish and vibrant night life. There is really a neat party culture in Tirana which is hard to find even in some main European metropolis. Numerous fancy designed bars, open air summer terrace, well behaved and dressed up people partying to urban beats in +26 degrees at night, sets a wonderful example of modern party culture. Not to mention here the negative economic effects and burden of this sudden restriction on local bars and entertainment businesses.Image

What is more important is to understand that the concept of noise pollution does not only refer neither it is limited to loud music in bars. It is a much broader concept and addressing it requires smart public policies and not lousy executive orders followed by police authority. Keeping the city noise down requires a long-term plan and commitment set to cope with a wide range of factors, such as noise from transportation, private businesses, road works, construction sites, noisy neighbors, etc. This plan should involve better management of transportation systems, better city planning and better design of buildings. Roads, for example, can be made quieter by better repairing them, using low-noise road surfaces, and also by educating drivers to use less horns and drive less chaotically. Barking dogs or quarreling neighbors are not less sleep disturbing though are generally accepted in here.
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I’m not saying that we have to ignore the rights of habitants for living in a quite city. I’m just trying to trigger a second thought to this discussion. There are certainly better ways for addressing this issue properly than cutting corners. Applying specific rules and regulations in certain areas depending on population density, setting different closing hours, music volume, etc. Midnight music ban in “Mai Tai” located in outskirts of Tirana, in the middle of valleys is misfitting to the general rule. A clustered plan based on cost and benefit analysis could determine the optimized solution. Let’s rather try for a win win situation and avoid lousy shortcuts.

Paragliding in South Albania


Last weekend my friend Darina had this incredible paragliding experience in Southern coastal Albania. After the crew of Aeroclub Albania took off in Vlora city and drove up to the National Park of Llogara, they left the ground at an altitude of 950 metres to fly over the wonderful Albanian coastline. The breathtaking view from above even just standing by the side of the road is simply divine. Imagine to float up in the air, make spirals and land at the beautiful beach of Dhermi or Palasa. I’m so tempted to try this! In 2010 I took the death ride from the top sphere of the Atomium in Brussels. A breathtaking descent of more than 100 meters which lasted only few seconds. Now, imagine floating up in the air at a tenfold altitude in Llogara. Simply mind-blowing!!!

The Russians are coming!!!


No longer than two months, while dinning with my boyfriend at the ground floor restaurant of the Twin Towers in Tirana, we couldn’t stop overhearing the conversation coming from the next table on my right. An educated Russian man with a distinguished rasping accent was sitting in the table next to us with two locals. An immediate thought crossed our minds: “A Russian Oligarch doing business in Tirana!” Well, not knowing their occupation we could only make an educated guess judging by their “oil-natural gas-investment”-keywords used in their settled evening talks.

This morning while going through the daily press, I noticed suddenly a small paragraph written in a rather gossiping form about Albpetrol getting privatized at an initial price tag of €150 million. The unofficial sources claims that the potential buyers of Albpetrol are the Sebro-Russian group Naftna Industrija Srbije (NIS). Company’s main business is the petroleum, natural gas exploration, production, importing, processing, and marketing of oil products in Serbia. NIS was privatized in 2008 by Gazprom holding the majority of shares. Since then Serbia and Russia have signed an agreement giving 51% of NIS’s shares to Gazprom (for a total value of €400 million and €550 million in investments until 2012). This news was not officially confirmed by the Albanian officials at METE (Ministry of Economy, Trade and Energy), but it is logical to think that prior to 2013 elections it might be a good time for our government to cash in some millions.

Plus to make the rumor even more amusing let me tell you that the last entry for booking a hotel in Himara through booking.com was a Russian. Surprised! I’m not really. Just looking at our neighbors in Montenegro, Budva has turned into the new Mallorca of Russia, the ultimate vacation spot for many Russians. Some local Montenegrin papers are writing figures like 40% of property in Montenegro is owned by Russians and that Russian money has also totally inflated the housing market by the Montenegrin coast.

Just driving there you can easily see €1 million price tags on a house in vicinities of Budva and Kotor. Not mentioning here how hard and expensive it gets to fly to Podgorica or especially Tivat from a non-Russian destination.  To make the story short, I’m dying to see how the likelihood of a Russian influence in Albania will develop in the near future. And please don’t forget to tell me if you see Russians by the Ionian coast this summer, ok…

My Albanian Travels


“Travelling is like flirting with life. It’s like saying, I would stay and love you, but I have to go; this is my station.” – Lisa St. Aubin De Teran

Though I love traveling a lot, I must confess that I’m not a good traveller in my own country. I can only blame myself for several reasons. The moment I start being more open to the outside world, I realized my irreversible attraction to different cultures, diverse societies, people, languages, food, geographical shapes, or even relief changes. It certainly broadened my perspective through constantly testing my assumptions and regulating my own imagination to these different realities out there.

I usually don’t have that uncertain thrill of exploring something totally new when traveling in my own country, or that dying curiosity for sneaking in country’s  mentality, customs, and beliefs since I’m a native here. In addition, there’s always an inner sort of backyard mechanism that postpones the local trips for later. “I can always go to this or that place sometime…I live here”. The typical excuses we often come up with.

Still, my miscalculated perception has been challenged quite often when I visited some striking places in Albania which are quite an exotic work to mother nature. It’s difficult to rank them, but in this entry I would like to talk about one my favorites: The valley of Osumi river. It’s the most distinguished attraction in the area of Corovode-Skrapar with a Big Canyon, the biggest in Albania, 13 km long and 70-80 m deep.The canyon is often referred as the “Albanian Colorado”. I went there 4 years ago for canoeing with my co-workers. There are many travel agencies which offer these activities for local groups and foreign visitors. We turned into little children, cheering who paddles the most and which boat was getting first, turned upside down or stuck in the river’s caves. It was totally a mind-blowing trip. I had no idea something like this existed in my own country.

While canoeing along Osumi river, we couldn’t stop admiring the huge vertical walls made of these calcareous rocks sprinkled down by astonishing waterfalls. Of course we also heard some interesting local legends connected to the mysterious shapes of the canyon. The “Hole of the Bride” which is an old legend of a young woman being forced to get married without her consent. So on the way to the groom’s house she stopped, jumped off the horse and start praying to the canyon for getting her out of this trouble. The rock heard her prayer, opened a hole where she could hide to escape the misery.

The whole area is so not explored due to the lack of publicity and improper infrastructure which makes it even more exotic and natural. The canyon totally disconnects you from everyday life and burns into your mind forever. Definitely a MUST sight-seeing.

Coffee Culture in Tirana


I love drinking coffee, especially my morning coffee. It boosts my energies to actively start the day. Most likely, I’m not an exception among other coffee lovers. Also people who don’t drink coffee use some kind of caffeine substitute to get this energy kick, like coca cola, tea and so on. Even now that I’m writing these thoughts, I so need a coffee:) Once I got a little upset when I heard an English consultant saying to me “…unbelievable, this country runs on coffee”. My counter-reaction was obvious and pretty fast “same like England that runs on beers, no…” A bit silly I know, but it is the typical reaction when you don’t want to hear from a random foreigner insulting neither your country nor your people.

It is not easy to stay far from coffee shops when you live in Tirana. They are everywhere and usually they serve as a meeting point for everything, you name it: doing business, meeting a date, breaking up, killing spare time, planning the weekend with friends, doing group work, lobbing and even reaching political deals. In other words, a coffee shop is the place to got, so let’s meet for a coffee;)

For many of us it is a fast way to get things done, meet with an acquaintance, talk over things and let’s get it on. Someone can find the social impact of this attitude more comforting or healthier by spending spare time sitting face to face with a person in a coffee shop, than hiding after a monitor screen, chatting for hours with someone, tweeting and re-tweeting hundreds of time a day, going through pictures and status updates on Facebook or endlessly adding 500+ new professional connections in LinkedIn.

To some extend it is more common for us Albanians to establish bondage in real life then sinking deep in the virtual world with a good intention of living a life they imagined. And that’s beautiful, makes life much more sizzling and lovely. I guess that’s the Mediterranean gene in us. But not always the big picture reflects optimism and joy. By walking through these coffee shops in Tirana you often notice these annoyed faces filled with boredom, sitting in this outdoor little spaces defined by a coffee table and four chairs (expect on times when people are busy cheering for their favorite Euro team, of course). It is normal considering that it’s a rather passive activity and when it’s overdone, results in reduced satisfaction. Only we Albanians can understand this rather “schizophrenic” behavior which simultaneously explains its dullness and excitement.

There are many reasons for rooting the coffee culture so deeply in our cells. The past heritage plays its own importance. It is known that coffee was born in northeast Ethiopia and migrated to Europe back in XV century through Turkish traders. Being occupied by Ottoman Empire for 5 centuries, it was unthinkable to believe that this powerful social drink could not make it through Albania.

Another reason which helps explains this social attitude is the lack of sufficient public spaces in Tirana like parks, squares, playgrounds, public sportive and youth centers. The creation of those facilities would re-orient people especially the youngsters on spending more free time on open space recreational areas.

Furthermore, meetings for business talks in coffee shops, like it happens randomly with public officials, is a dangerous approach. It transfers outside doors of the institutions formal issues on serious public/private matters. It is not professionally serious plus through making this process informal stimulates corruptive affairs and strengthens exhausting red tape attitudes. “Coffee informality” is also a well know phenomena in other South Eastern countries which have already taken measurements for strengthening the institutional powers in regards to social – economic and administrative matters.

In a light of coffee culture talks, here is a very special coffee bean mosaic by the Albanian artist Saimir Strati, depicting five musicians, entered the Guinness World Records as the world’s largest coffee bean mosaic.

Tirana is getting ready for the epic Battle!


Euro 2012 has definitely brought more fun to the roads of Tirana. Just walking by you find hundreds of bars with big white screens showing the Euro 2012 matches. This one is one of my favorites: The Tirana Euro 2012 Fest.

As we traditionally follow German football and without doubt our Azzuri neighbours, tonight it’s gonna be the night to watch the epic battle that will hopefully change the wheel of history! Believe it or not, Germany has never won a decisive game in any tournament against Italy. So if you’re cheering for ‘Schland, Schland’ tonight drop by and find me at Kaon… Tifozi Gjermani are always welcomed 🙂

The home made Albanian Bourgeoisie


The old Chinese proverb “Fu bu guo san dai,” or “Wealth never survives three generations”, could have a grim of truth in itself, as we randomly have seen it happening throughout history. Looking back over the last 100 years of Albanian independence as a state of its own, with several political systems (monarchy, communism, democracy) and social-economic dynamics is still hard to point out the bourgeoisie (upper class) holding on to their money for three straight generations. Not to mention here the lack of established royalty. As we frequently hear in people’s conversations when recalling Hoxha’s time “…back in communism we were all the same”.

If a foreigner will read this, he/she might get confused with my reference to middle and upper class in Albania. Why so, since these are pretty straightforward and self explanatory concepts? So, let’s straighten this up for our international friends. Dear Friends, in your developed society professionals such as politicians, ministers, presidents, attorneys in law, judges, builders, businessmen are considered middle class. Well, not in Albania. Just for the sake of it, I took a flash “mini survey” with friends and co-workers. I asked them who are the richest in Albania. The absolute unanimous answer was THE Politicians. And unlike in other consolidated democracies the above mentioned professions make the newly rich Albanian Bourgeoisie. While professionals like economists, journalists, teachers, professors, administrators, technicians electricians, small businessmen, etc. are the remaining middle class which I’m also part of. We mind our own business and we are certainly the least influential in public policy making process. Therefore, the self exclusion of the newly rich from the middle class, creates a non-representation of our interests in the society.  In addition, the situation becomes even more abnormal due to the rather small base of the middle class (since a considerable percentage is at the lower and extreme poverty levels). What the hell am I saying: I’m part of a weak middle class who does not serve as the engine of growth, the advocator of social values and human rights, and the backbone of a state run by laws instead of by strongmen? Sadly, maybe!

Not only our newly rich Bourgeoisie is the upper class, but to some extent they also could be seen as “royals”.  What pushes forward an issue to the top political agenda apart from its importance in a normal democracy is mainly the lobbing of interest groups and constituents’ pressure toward their political representations. In contrast, here the constituents’ pressure happens to be only in one day, on the Election Day. In 16 years as a voter I never met with my political representative in Tirana, neither write to his/her staff on an issue since they are publicly invisible. As a foreign student in US and non-US citizen I once wrote to my congressmen regarding my scholarship status. Here’s how.

I could go on for hours with pros and cons on the traits of the newly rich, but that’s not important here. What’s crucial is their way of governing. What I desperately hope to see is that we immediately find “a pill” to this sickness. It is very wrong to be governed by a political class which holds deep the interest of the 0.5% rich guys and leaves ignored, neglected beyond belief the needs of the rest. Politicians are there to make and enforce public policies. We don’t vote them to tailor policies as if were to be their own dresses.

Albania: South-East looking West!


I have a hard time to remember how many times I was asked in US: “Where are you from? Russia, Germany?” Hmm, not really, I’m from Albania. Well, I certainly I don’t have an accent to be from Albany, NY, so it’s got to be something else, more exotic;) The next obvious question of an unsatisfied curious mind was something like “… and where is that located?”

Yeah, where is Albania located? In Europe, a border country with ancient Greece, the former Yugoslavian states, while facing Italy throughout Adriatic coastline. That’s so obvious and well hidden at the same time since it was such a small self-isolated country for 45 years of severe communist dictatorship. I still remember the fascination of my cute Japanese friend at the E.K.Y. University after discovering the existence of an “nonexistent” country to her knowledge, surrounded by Hellenic and Roman old civilizations. With an inquiring thrill for discovering that Albania emerged from the prehistoric stage of 4th century BC, with early records of Illyria, my friend Ayumi even was offered to visit me in Tirana that summer of 2004.

How fascinating it is for a non-European person to learn about the co-existence of so many different neighboring countries settling in a rather small territory with often pre-historic conflicting neighbors. Balkans – the Old Mountain or the Chain of Wooded Mountains is a hot spot in Europe. It is geographically part of the old continent, but not quite considered part of it, at least politically and economically speaking.

All South Eastern European countries (a rather more inclusive term then Balkans itself), though arising from different backgrounds and conditions in the recent decades, seem to have a common denominator: a shared love for EU and US.

Thinking back of my country in early transition years, certain slogans “We want Albania like the rest of Europe” still persist in our collective memory of the famous 90s. In my early youth that seemed like a genuine dream more likely to be fulfilled in the near future regardless the heavy social-economic state and hardship of our parents’ generation.

And here we are 20+ years later when it feels like a lot and then nothing really has changed. The years of transition  to the free market economy, democratic law and order were so everlasting that “our men” took off that out of date wording from our daily news vocabulary and replaced it with a newer one, trendier one, meeting conditions for EU integration.

Same substance, different wording mistakenly gives a rather evolving impression of our society.  The earlier genuine dream of the 90’s for being part of European community has been endorsed by every politician’s agenda. It is worthless to spend time and energy on describing our collective frustration as citizens toward our political representation, whom are blaming one another for constantly failing on doing their homework assigned to meet conditions to grant the EU candidacy status. What is even worse than frustration is our collective indifference on accepting this theatrical role play in every inch of media channels. In this sense we are a dying society unable to trigger change and move forward. With that in mind, I so miss the 90’s wind of change.

While reading the daily local and international feeds, it so feels like living in two parallel worlds. Someone can rightfully acknowledge that our respective worlds are quite different with regards to local matters. That’s true. What makes a hot issue in Tirana cannot necessarily apply for Madrid. But in recent years there seems to be a serious sovereign debt crisis for many developed countries of the European Union which doesn’t even exclude the likelihood that any of these countries leave the Eurozone if not complying with the harsh measures set to reduce their public debt. This certainly does not translate into “Please Albania, do your homework since we are waiting for you arms wide open to join us”, like we are constantly hearing in our media/diplomatic channels. Under these circumstances the remote connection to west looks still far away. It will require a great deal of political will and social pressure to gear up the integration process with the hope that one day we finally will know where our country is located.

P.S: Welcome to my blog! 🙂