The present study, "A journey along a life: the Albania of Edith Durham, pioneer of the ethnography of land in the early twentieth century", of which we publish today the second episode, is part of the research project "L'image de the Albanie à partir des récits de voyage des XIXe and XXe siècles, notamment à travers les œuvres of Edith Durham (High Albania, 1909), Alexandre Degrand (Souvenirs de la Haute Albanie, 1901), Ugo Ojetti (Albania, 1902) »in progress at the University of Nice Sophia Antipolis (France).
The text, published exclusively for AlbaniaNews, translates and integrates the report "A voyage qui dure toute un vie: the Albanie d'Edith Durham, pionnière de l'ethnologie de terrain au début du XXe siècle" presented 3 December 2011 a Brussels in the conference "Voyages d'antan en terres albanaises".
The quotations from the works of Edith Durham reported in the text are translated for the first time in Italian. The following episodes will be published Saturday 18, 25 February and 3 March.
Part II: MISS DURHAM, FROM LONDON TO THE BALKANS
The long journey that would have taken her to become a specialist in the field of Albania began in August of 1900, when Edith Durham arrived in Trieste, starting point for a tour along the eastern Adriatic coasts.
She came from London, from where she had left for a vacation that was supposed to make her regain her strength in a difficult moment of her existence. Instead, that journey marked the beginning of a passion to which he would dedicate his whole life.
Firstborn of a large family of the good middle class, she was the daughter of a respected London doctor; on his mother's side, he had Italian and French origins. His brothers were known professionals in the field of medicine and engineering; one of her sisters, committed to defending the rights of women workers, was the first woman to make a career in the Civil Service.
Edith had embarked on an artistic career. Painter and illustrator, at 22 years she was admitted to the Royal Academy Schools, the most prestigious and ancient art academy in the United Kingdom. Among his most notable works were the illustrations of the Cambridge Natural History, the English Encyclopedia of Natural Sciences.
His paintings are exhibited at the Museum of London. In the commentary accompanying his works, we read:
"Durham was a prominent figure in the cause supporting Albania, where the roads still bear his name, despite many changes in the political system."
In this regard, it should be remembered that he was among the very few foreigners admitted by Enver Hoxha in the Fjalor Enciklopedik shqiptar, the "Albanian Encyclopedic Dictionary" published in the 1985.
Since her brothers and sisters were married, the duties of caring for the sick mother had fallen completely on her. A heavy task, which could have become unbearable if one considers his independent temperament, which required great autonomy and freedom of initiative, and which brought it to the brink of a serious nervous breakdown.
It was to prevent her from abandoning herself to the despair that her doctor prescribed for her a remedy that would revolutionize her life, advising her to take herself two months a year for herself, in a place of her choice.
It is she herself who tells it to us, in her essay entitled Twenty Years of Balkan Tangle ("Twenty years of Balkan tangle"), published in 1820:
"It was chance, or destiny, to lead me to the Near East. Exhausted by the continuous assistance to an invalid relative, the future stretched before me in the form of endless years of dark monotony, and to escape it seemed a hopeless undertaking. The doctor who insisted on taking me two months off every year was more benevolent than he could have imagined. "Go and spend them in a completely new place," he said. "You run away, no matter where, as long as the change is complete." Together with a friend I embarked on a Austrian Lloyd steamer in Trieste, and with great hopes but weakened health I began my journey to the ports of the Eastern Adriatic . Going into that tangle of mauve-colored islands, scattered in that incomparably blue and dazzling sea, I stopped every day in ancient towns where strange languages were spoken and we wore even more strange clothes, I began to feel that, after all, life could be worthy to be lived, and the fascination of the Near East began to take hold of me »i).
But why did Edith Durham choose the Adriatic as a destination for her journey?
In this regard, the words with which he reports his doctor's advice could give us a reliable indication: "go to a completely new place," he had told her. "It doesn't matter where, as long as the change is complete."
Now, we must consider that, in the early twentieth century, the eastern Adriatic was an "elsewhere" ideal for travelers from all over Europe, and this thanks to the fame achieved by the small principality of Montenegro.
The young state ruled by Prince Nicholas, whose daughters had married nobles and crowned heads of half of Europe, was in fact one of the favorite destinations of what was then beginning to be organized tourism. The entry into the international mundane chronicles had been officially sanctioned in the 1896, when, following her marriage to Vittorio Emanuele III, the princess Elena had become queen of Italy.
It must be said that Montenegro benefited very much from the skillful image campaign promoted by Prince Nicholas: just think that, in those years, even the waiters in the hotels wore traditional costume, attracting crowds of tourists who, Baedeker in hand, did not see the time to breathe what in their expectations was the folklore of the Balkan atmospheres.
The February 4 was published the first part from the title From Childe Harold to High Albania: 1809 - 1909 . The third will be published Saturday 18 February
- the). M. Edith Durham, Twenty Years of Balkan Tangle, London, E. Allen & Unwin Ltd., 1920, p. 9 (personal translation)
- ii). ME DURHAM, Through the Lands of the Serb, London, Edward Arnold, 1904, p. 1 (personal translation)