Monday, 9 December 2013

Tirana - Then and Now

Street Musicians 1

Street Musicians 2

There used to be an English language newspaper published 

in Tirana, a few pages not much bigger than A4 size, a 

summary of Albanian news, translated into English or – an 

English, a variant of English that was at times perplexing at 

other times, amusing. Not that it would be any different were 

I to try to express myself in a language other than my native 

tongue. I admired the editors' ability to do this without 

cringing with self-consciousness or being fearful of 

producing errors, which would no doubt be my attitude were 

I to make such an attempt. And this does seem to be a 

peculiarly British fear – of making mistakes and so 

appearing ridiculous; maybe this is why fewer Brits 

compared to Europeans have the courage to learn to speak 

and write in a foreign language, where one will inevitably 

make mistakes. Where one can see that a small child can 

manage better than oneself. But on the whole, the Blue 

Paper as it was called, as the pages were blue, contained few 

howlers, and I came to feel quite fond of the sometimes 

convoluted and strangely quaint forms of expression.

Rruga Abdyl Frasheri 1

Rruga Abdyl Frasheri 2

A memorable quote in the Blue Paper, at the time when I 

first lived there, in 2000, was by one Edi Rama, who was a 

candidate for mayor of Tirana. (He was successful, so much 

so that he continued in politics to become leader of the 

socialist party and earlier this year, 2013, became the Prime 

Minister of Albania). Edi Rama, I read in the Blue Paper, 

was an artist, had spent several years in Paris and had only 

recently, perhaps in the late '90s or even 2000, returned to 

live in Tirana. Tirana in 2000, he said, was like a 'medieval 

tavern'. And, if he was elected mayor, he would set about 

changing this. He was elected, and was popular at least with 

some, as an innovator, though of course he was criticized by 

others for making only superficial changes. Still, these 

superficial changes could not be denied, were very 

noticeable in fact, mainly his penchant for painting the 

façades of buildings in bright, some might even say gaudy, 

colours – lime green, blue, rose pink, and bright turquoise 

with irregular stripes, like a kind of loose weave check or 

tartan, which, I was told, was imposed upon the homes of 

the occupants without asking them first.

Bicycle Stall 1

Bicycle Stall 2

Other visible changes were more popular – street lighting, 

demolition of illegal buildings, creating parkland in the 

empty spaces, planting trees there and bordering the river 

and in the newly created median pedestrian walkways in 

other streets, saplings that would provide much needed 

shade in a few years; installing litter bins in parks and by 

roadsides (though they were much too small and dainty), 

repairing and levelling roads and pavements, and building 

glass fronted shops on these new pavements with their 

smooth and decorative paving stones, a much more 

acceptable situation for merchants than having to erect 

makeshift stalls and kiosks from polythene and poles, or 

simply spreading their wares on the pavements.

These were the changes that took place, once Edi Rama 

became mayor of Tirana. Within 3 years, from 2000, when 

he made his famous declaration re the medieval tavern, to 

2003, when I returned to Tirana for the first time since I 

lived there, these changes were very obvious. Some people it 

is true, did not like the new décor, but almost everyone must 

have enjoyed the new open green spaces, the shade giving 

trees, the bright fancy street lights. Its like Las Vegas! I said 

to an Albanian friend on my return in 2003. (not that I have 

ever been to Las Vegas, but it was how I imagined it would 


Tree planting below my balcony


Forest Dream Weaver said...

Thank you for sharing the interesting text and images Morelle. The street musicians do look positively medieval.
Fear,while sometimes useful,can create all manner of limitations!

The Solitary Walker said...

A fascinating insight into a capital city not many of us know much about.

'And this does seem to be a peculiarly British fear – of making mistakes and so appearing ridiculous; maybe this is why fewer Brits compared to Europeans have the courage to learn to speak and write in a foreign language, where one will inevitably make mistakes.'

I think this is true. (Plus the fact there's more pressure and motivation for non-English speakers to learn English, in view of the English language's key role globally.) Mistakes don't matter so much in general writing and conversation, where communication is the key. You've just got to go for it.

Nick said...

Isn't it strange how, if you're from the west and of a certain age, you always imagine places like Tirana - when you think of them at all - in black and white rather than colour. How good it is to see it now in its true colours. Thank you for that.

dritanje said...

Ruby - most if not all of the wandering musicians are Roma. They learn very young to play an instrument. Many other Albanians are good musicians too - the music is quite unforgettable. Ive never been in a medieval tavern and come to think of it no one else has either but I couldnt help thinking it might have been an interesting experience Just as Tirana itself was.

dritanje said...

Solitary Walker - youre right of course one just has to go for it and make mistakes and the fear goes away and how liberating it is.

Nick - Tirana was almost all black and white, with quite a bit of grey and dark brown. But in the summer it blossomed, became transformed. And now is pretty colourful most of the time.

three sea horses said...

I really enjoyed reading your book, sometimes felt as if I was there. And now it's lovely to see these photos, got any more to put up? ! Your writing is so descriptive, seeing the photos is almost like seeing familiar places.

dritanje said...

Thank you three sea horses! I'm delighted that you liked the photos and so I'll be posting more