Category Archives: Social cohesion

One Day in Pompeii


Once in Napoli you have to visit Pompeii. Amazingly enough, even after 2000 years, it’s still there. Having seen the documentary Pompeii: The Last Day (BBC)  lately and the movie “The Last Days of Pompeii” at a very young age, the only images I had in my mind were those of the tragic destiny of inhabitants of Pompeii after the deadly eruption of Vesuvius. Taking the train for 30 minutes in order to visit the archaeological city of Pompeii was an adventure itself. It felt like a trip back a century ago. The train was so old, giving wrongfully the impression of going into peaces at any moment by driving at such a high speed. But that was nothing compared to the sensation of going through the roads of Pompeii, once completely buried for more than 15 centuries under 4 millions tonnes of rock, purnice stones and ash spilled over from now sleeping mountain of Vesuvius.

After centuries of neglect, excavations have returned in full swing in the second most visited archeological site in Europe, after Colosseum in Rome. And that’s for a good reason. Pompeii is simply too fascinating and important to the world heritage to leave it buried under the ashes of neglect. A grant from EU in 2012 amounting 100 million Euros and an additional 30 million Euro appropriated from Italian government are revolutionizing the site. About 3 million visitors from all over the world come to grasp the enchantment of the antic city.

It’s impressive to see how well organized and structured Pompeii was. The size of the houses shows to the status of the inhabitants in that society. From the small surfaced room of the tragic poet, the middle-sized houses of gladiators, to the opulent temples of wealthy masters. In the end the civilization hasn’t change much in the last 20 centuries in terms of wealth preservation and classification.

For a team of more than 200 archeologists, anthropologists and technicians working in this ambitious project has been an ongoing emotional process discovering the bodies of victims encased in solidified ash. These discoveries together with the objects and their belongings replay not only the last moments of Pompeians, but also provide clues to their social-economic class and the lifestyle. It is believed that Pompeii ethnic diversity due to trade compares to London or New York nowadays.

Spending one day in Pompeii was for me not only an unique experience – grandiose in size, but also an emotional revival of the overwhelming tragedy in the history of civilization.

 

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The Flavor of Reykjavík


Three things will strike you immediately once landing in Reykjavík. The strong wind (Hamburger should stop complaining about the wind), colorful roof-tops and the artfully designed streets. The city itself is small and looks like a charming little alpine town with 5 hours of daylight now in wintertime. It is dark when you wake up at 11 am, and gets dark again at 4 pm. So maximize your day-light schedule.

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Luckily enough I’m staying in between a designer street, so I can pleasantly drink my morning coffee at a new location, and further explore the Icelander hipster culture. Nicely designed coffee shops and bars often empowers health & well-being. An exotic sandwich and cafe latte at the Lemon coffee shop will give you that feeling of harmony. Worth giving a try.
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One might attempt to figure out what an Icelander can do for living if not involved in the tourism, geothermal power or fishing industry? The answer is clear. Be a poet, painter, or designer.
Designated as a UNESCO City of Literature, it treasures the works of many talented poets and writers. No wonder that even at the cheapest supermarket in town, you’ll not be able to find wine, but definitely a book-stand.
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If one fails being a writer, the next chance is lining up as alternative rock musician, following the foot-steps of the legendary Björk. And if also this attempt turns unsuccessful, one will definitely make it as a street-artist while every little corner or facade is gracefully painted.

Here are a couple of street-art impressions:

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Walk in Cézanne’s Footsteps…


What can small cities do to keep up with the multi-facet attractions that metropolis offer to tourists? “Walk in Cézanne footsteps” is the answer that Aixois, the inhabitants of Aix-en-Provence in south France have found. I realized, it’s quite a genius idea though overblown by the Aixois as every second hotel, restaurant, cinema, design studio, furniture shop or you name it, has incorporated Cézanne as name. Appears like everyone rushed to grab this piece of heritage to portray the proud identity of a Aixois. Like Cézanne itself summed up his love for Provence “When you’re born there, it’s hopeless, nothing else is good enough”. But that not quite new. It has occurred to me several times walking through various cities to notice a Hemingway signs hanging on top of trashy Casinos or 80’s style discos. The only words rushing out of the mouth in disbelieve were :”Poor Hemingway”

Btw, who was Cézanne? “The father of us all” said both Picasso and Matisse. In his painting the Carrières de Bibémus took Cubism its first step. As post-impressionist painter is seen to have formed a bridge between late 19-th century Impressionism and the early 20 century Cubism.

So I took the walking tour at the tourist office and started to walk through the city as Cézanne experienced it. I followed the “C” marks on the ground, which initiate with the Statue of Cézanne. It’s quite demanding to go through all 32 steps or highlights in painter’s life in such a short time. The list got long, from the art school, family home, faculty of law, father’s bank, the hat shop, his studio, the church, the last atelier and cemetery. So I decided to pick a couple of them. Walking at the charming Cours Mirabeau avenue, it’s impossible not to enjoy a coffee at the “Café des Deux Garçons” where Cézanne often gathered with his friends. It feels like a trip back a century ago at Cézanne’s last apartment/atelier which now serves as museum. A minimalistic room filled with his objects, furnitures, cloths and painting, untouched from the day of his death in 1906. Surrounded by the wonderful nature and landscape, it was easy to imagine the source of delight in artist’s paintings. To summarize my thoughts after my visit in Aix-en-Provence, making artists the centerpiece is the right model especially in small cities. I would love one day to walk in “Onufri” footsteps in Berat, or in craftsman’s footsteps like Murtezan Makriu who spends his life shaping the stones of Gjirokastra. I’m sure that in many cities in Albania we find a large list of contributors, whose work played a significant role in shaping our cultural identity. May be it’s about time to wipe up the dust and revitalize our cultural heritage. Let’s walk on “…” Steps.

Lagerfeld: From Runaway-Catshow to Eden Models


He is in town! This time with his gorgeous models coming straight from Eden’s garden. Definitely interesting to check the expo “Feuerbachs Musen – Lagerfelds Models” in the Galerie der Gegenwart, Hamburg. Being Lagerfeld and originally a Hamburg city boy, this expo certainly created a media and advertising buzz in Hamburg. To some degrees also justified except for being relatively a small expo.

As you may notice in the photo collage, the human beauté meets the Greek mythology setting (where eros and sinful beauty go along ) through the artistic lenses of Lagerfeld who’s known not only for his fashionista and designer taste, but also for his eye of photography. What I found exceptionally catchy about Lagerfeld expo? The unusual overwhelming overtake of male models, definitely more appealing to a female and gay audience. One of this rare moments where female models seems to be overpassed by their male counterparts…

From Samurai House to Moroccan Roof Terrace-all possible in today’s Shared Economy


There are many creative ways to tailor your vacation nowadays. The yellow phone book or travel booklet are just a sweet reminder of the squared little world that earlier generations were living in. Search engines or hundreds of websites like booking.com, Expedia, etc can offer instantly countless hotel options sorted by price, availability, or you name it. While mainstream search options provide fast and safe response to someone’s holiday getaway, millions of internet users are turning their heads to alternative solution like Airbnb, or Couchsurfing.

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Are you young, broke and AWESOME willing to explore the world while in need of a couch to crash at night? Or you’re a lonely settled man with a home and couple of dogs willing to explore the world from the comfort of your own living room? Then you go and join Couchsurfing community – a mega network of 100,000 cities that connects travelers and hosts worldwide. It’s there for you, the options are countless either if you choose to be an open-minded host or a passionate traveller. And if couchsurfing is too much driving in the fast lane for you then try to rent a room or an apartment at Airbnb. All choices available from filthy cheap holes to royal apartments with luxury toiletry.

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Surfing through Airbnb rental options from most common cities to exotic ones worldwide reminded me that proverb: “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure” – some place that one person considers worthless may be valuable to someone else. But that’s not important here. What’s quite striking to me is that worldwide booking of so-called sharing economy has broken not only the national borders, but literally has opened the doors to someone else living space.

Through couple of clicks in my i-Pad, at the comfort of my own couch, I made it to traditional Moroccan-styled living room, Brazilian love labeled-bedroom, charming pine room in New Delhi, India, and ended up the virtual evening trip at Samurai’s house in Hokkaido-Japan. How small and connected can the world suddenly come into sight? That’s just a great feeling. Options like Airbnb that defines itself as “a social website that connects people who have space to spare with those who are looking for a place to stay” are more than just an uprise trend. With over 50,000 renters per night and over 4 million bookings worldwide, Airbnb apparently works for many people out there. In addition to offering choices to travelers on budget and hosts willing to make an extra income, this business model is radically transforming the hotel market scene toward a peer to peer approach. How about you? Have you considered Airbnb or Couchsurfing as vacationing option?

 

 

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” 

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”.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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?

The Naked and the Posh at the French Riviera. (Part 1)


As summer goes by incredibly fast so does the pressure increase for grasping every free moment. It is impossible not to notice the countless check-ins and the notorious vacation images in the busy Facebook timelines of my friends. It almost feels like in a free fall magazine contest, who takes the better shots, who checks in the coolest bars, who visits the most exotic places out there.  I see a stunning video of my friend paragliding in southern Albania coast, some breathtaking Barcelona pictures where history is harmonically blend with futuristic Dali-like taste, a check in at mad garlic restaurant in Seoul, sailing near Sardine shores, or a colorful image of spice market in Dubai. I also didn’t fall behind, though. I made sure to keep myself busy and post few camera+ images on FB from my recent trip to Côte d’Azur. The FB Pandora box is totally irresistible especially when I’m on vacation.

Wow what a trip!!! Côte d’Azur, an area styled with love and tenderness…terrific nature, deep blue sea, coastal beauty, fancy cuisine, all in line with the irresistible French lifestyle and culture. Here we land in Nice! 

An old playboy dressed all in white linen outfit, crocodile leather shoes waiting in his fancy black Mercedes with a taxi yellow sign. It took one moment when my boyfriend and I already in the taxi exchanged a “worried look”- uhhh, this will get pricy. Luckily it was a short drive, 5 minutes or 42 Euros. Welcome to Nice! We go for a little walk in the main avenue by the sea – La Promenade des Anglais. The striking fancy 5 star hotels and the main highlight, Le Negresco hotel followed by fancy beach bars, restaurants and boats already set the bar high and made us want to explore more.

Next train station: Monaco – Monte Carlo. Taking the lift up to the 14th floor, the door opened to a spectacular view of a city build on a rock.

Monaco, the oasis of rich and famous, where in this small state are squeezed all these fancy buildings and there are even more new constructions going on. I guess it’s in there where the 13,000 residents are hiding since in the streets I could only recognize tourists like myself.

Overcrowed with proudly standing yachts was the shore as well. It’s interesting to know how much it costs to anchor the yacht there, since renting a 140 m2 apartment starts from 2,800 Euro. But hey, there’s no price big enough for anchoring a “sweet doll”.

And just walking a bit further we run into an occupied yacht. Look at the pretty young ladies dinning in style and being taken good care of a generous Grandpa!

Well, we have to hurry up. Last train departs at 23:42. Let’s play it safe and leave a bit earlier. Just in case – the taxi ride back sure would end up three-digit…

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! 🙂