Albania is normal, the rest of us are crazy. ?

The New York Times runs a travel article today touting Albania.
I would love to go back. Albania offers cobble-stoned, old seaside towns.

But Tirana, sheesh. That’s a heck of a place. No doubt despite their Mayor Edi Rama (I love that name. I could have called this blog that.) He moved back to Albania after living a bohemian life in Paris, became Mayor of dreary, grey, run-down Tirana, and promptly painted the town bright “orange, lime green, and sky blue, with stripes and bold patterns, creating a carnival atmosphere downtown.”

“People can say that my color is only makeup,” Rama told me, as we walked through town one mild February night, stopping on an old stone Ottoman footbridge he had just restored. “But suppose all makeup disappeared. Suppose all women had no makeup, no pretty dresses, no pretty hair.” It is Rama’s belief that Albanians are somewhat aesthetically challenged—and his mission is to meet that challenge. “These are not Parisians,” he said. “They can be calmed by beauty.”

-The always wonderful Jane Kramer in the New Yorker.

Love that last line. “They can be calmed by beauty.” Who can’t be?

I haven’t been to Albania since the paint jobs. But my main memory of the place from the ’90’s when I was there was in downtown Tirana: a decrepit ferris wheel, only about two stories high, operated, more or less, in what was, more or less, a central square, near a market.

On a dark evening only about six of the colored lightbulbs worked on this ferris wheel, of the hundreds that had once graced it, perhaps when it turned in Italian cities before being smuggled across the Adriatic. A loudspeaker played some carnival music, cutting in and out, the music sputtering in the night air. No one seemed to mind the music stopping frequently, and then picking up where it had left off.

The ferris wheel turned, but slowly. It turned backwards, counter-clockwise, in error.

No one got on.

But in one car stood on all fours, a dirty, white, long-haired, crazy, goat.

Standing in that ferris wheel cab, the music going on and off, a few colored lights, and one scraggly, very confused goat, slowly turning his head left and right, wondering what’s going on, and going slowly around, backwards – that’s my image of Albania.

So when Mayor Edi Rama tells the New Yorker’s Jane Kramer,
about his love of Picasso, “I saw my first Picasso; I thought, I’ll die,” I wonder if he knows,

and if Picasso’s goat reminds him of the way Tirana was, before he was Mayor.


top photo: Matt Gross for The New York Times
bottom photo: Yannis Kontos/Polaris, for The New York Times

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