Anzi Mall, the soft assonance that in Albanian language indicates lack, desire, nostalgia, that "back pain" experienced by those who have been in Africa, and that I have experienced after having set foot in Albania for the first time in my life .
They say it happens, on returning from Land of the Eagles. It started while the plane took off from Nënë Tereza, it got stronger on arrival, while we were all in line waiting for passport control, when the question of a customs officer "are there any Italians?", I stayed there with my ID card open between hands, without taking a step.
Getting ahead meant separating from them - who knows why the queue must do it even when they return to their own land - to become us again, to which it is enough to wave a community document to avoid expectations.
Someone behind me told me "go", and I felt that in that one word, said in an encouraging tone by those who knew that instead of him and others it was waiting, there was so much more, the awareness of a separation that didn't would have more reason to exist in a Europe that boasts of having demolished the walls, and an Italy where every day barriers are raised against neighbors that closer can not be.
Ten days, a desired journey sought prepared: in Albania it happened to me, perhaps for the first time, that the expectations built on the readings were promptly confirmed. For example, I knew that there were no personal safety problems, and that the only real danger could be road safety ... and indeed the careless driving of local motorists has proven it.
Unforgettable, not only for the landscapes of naturalistic documentary, the return from Butrint to Vlora, a succession of rear-end collisions (now that I think about it, I never saw ambulances ??) and baffling overtakes, which to circumvent endless queues invented unlikely second - third lanes of travel, in general resignation, almenocosìmi seemed, including one in front of us that vented sending accidents to democracy. But the real, beautiful confirmation was the reception: left alone, I never felt loneliness.
Beginning with the arrival at the airport, where, welcomed by the relatives of my Albanian friends who live in Italy, I felt the sensation of being friendly in a country so far away from my usual acquaintances. "It is Albanian hospitality", as I felt myself repeating and, above all, I was able to experiment continuously.
For example Brikena, known in the van from Shkodra to Lezha (great invention, the furgona, a continuous cycle service that at minimum cost allows you to go a little everywhere): a degree in Mathematics ("I would like to teach in Italy") and an engineer boyfriend, Besmir, who, warned via cellphone, is waiting for us at the stop to offer me a tour of the city.
Confused, but now not even that much surprised after other similar episodes in a few days, I get into their car. First stop, the mausoleum of Skanderbeg, whose sculptural portal is closed: s'ka problem, a quick conversation with the caretaker ("there is an Italian who would like to see where Skenderbeu is buried") does it reopen.
Visit, photos, at the time of going out I ask to pay the ticket: the caretaker murmurs something like "to taste", Brikena hints at the gesture of paying for me. They explain to me that Besmir's parents have a pastry shop, "let's see if the ice cream is ready". Just outside the city center, I find myself in front of the driveway to a simple and tidy house, in the middle of an orchard. Besmir's mother embraces Brikena ("we found a daughter with a big heart"), they invite me to sit in the chair in front of the house.
I just have time to be ashamed of my involuntary glance at the slightly dusty seat that someone covers with a white cloth. I sit down while they offer me the freshly packaged ice cream. Spunta Gabriel, the two-year-old cousin. With the meticulousness of the relentless traveler I ask for explanations about the name. "There is in the Divine Comedy, I read it almost all", the young engineer replies. "At school?" I mutter incredulously. "A little at school, then I borrowed it from the library to read more."
I would like to photograph it, I hold back. And then Fadil, a taxi driver by profession, who according to agreements made before leaving Italy he would have to be my driver for excursions outside Tirana (this before I discovered the furgona: you want to put the pleasure of traveling independently, with Flora Gashi and the better than the popullor repertoire fired at full blast, gleefully tossed between one hole and another and the dust coming in from the wide open windows?), which invites me into the house, where his wife Vjosa at the moment of greetings goes to pick me a bouquet of flowers in the garden.
And Durim, who surprisingly comes to pick me up in front of the Bashkìa in Tirana to take me on the Dajti funicular, a surprisingly spent afternoon in conversation between his three words of Italian and my two Albanian words. Perhaps my experience is conditioned by positive prejudice: my readings made me predict a hospitable country, and the forecast came true. The fact is that similar sensations have been transmitted to me by the stories of other visitors, Swiss, Americans, an Israeli, all with something to tell about local hospitality. But I'm writing travel notes, I should also talk about places.
I could tell you about Butrint, sunk in the silence of its laurels (dafine in Albanian, beautiful that the tree retains the name of the nymph loved by Apollo), under whose megalithic doors Andromache and Aeneas could spring up at any moment and you wouldn't be surprised, so much time seems bewitched on these shores. O of Gjirokastra, fortress of stone and slate, of its clusters of roofs along the slopes of the castle; of Kruje, dominated by the mighty shadow of Skanderbeg, and which in its pazar exhibits chests overflowing with sumptuous wedding garments, ammunition, jewels.
And what about Berat the white one, woven from embroidery of churches and mosques (by the way, what a relief to see that in Albania everyone makes their own cults and lives peacefully with those of others), which in the heart of his stronghold guards (a little too jealously, given the opening hours not very favorable to visitors) the Onufri icons. And I could be silent about Saranda ?, one of the most sought-after seaside destinations, but that in comparison with the coasts still intact and almost unattainable around Karaburun has no easy game, at least for those who are not enthusiastic in front of the metropolitan style condominiums by the sea.
And then Dürres, a city of the sea and of archeology, with the exquisite sweets of its pastry shops in rreguga Tregtare. But I "lived" all the time in Tirana, and it is the city that has remained in my heart the most. His cheerful turmoil, Sheshi Skenderbeu where if you can cross the road safely, you can relax at the tables of a Café and browse that newly discovered book in the babel whose kiosks are crammed, tiny kingdoms of wonders of the printed paper that dot the center citizen and not only, never seen elsewhere in such abundance.
And how not to mention the tasty traditional cuisine, which will be good to defend from the advance of fast food and pizzerias ... but this, and much more, can be found in the guides. Here, at the conclusion of these notes, an image prevails over the others: from south to north, Albania is an uninterrupted construction site of public works (roads, viaducts, tunnels, but also residential centers with rather ungraceful lines that one looks for to make attractive with colorful brushstrokes) and private (everywhere armor of houses under construction on which the national flag stands out, as well as anonymous shopping malls).
An incessant activity, a pulsating hive of life. For anyone who cares about the fate of this country with a large and ancient heart but a body still in bud, overflowing with long-suppressed energies, the question, and the hope to watch over, is that under those castings of cement it knows how to preserve its unmistakable soul.
This article was originally published in Albania News on the 31 2009 August
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