Monthly Archives: September 2006

albania’s charms are elusive


if only i could record smells  shkodra, albania


a name that hardly implies power. good thing horses can’t read  shkodra, albania

trash. that’s where it begins to go wrong in albania and the degree to which it is strewn around the land is positively stupifying. yesterday i was run off the road by a garbage truck of all things, and what upset me most is that there are actually garbage trucks in this country. i think is must be for show, or, i happened to encounter something more elusive than a yeti and i am writing here now to testify as to it’s existence. i said the trash was the beginning… how does it get worse? they burn it… plastic bags, plastic bottles, diapers, you name it, anything with incendiary properties goes up in smoke (where it lies, of course, special pollutant-limiting incinerators are for pussies) so you’re adding a bile toxic plume to the already nasal-gouging funk of decay).
it’s like a mild form of collective retardation (and i say this remembering the anti-roadside littering campaigns in the US with the tearing indian, so we’re not too far removed from such insipid behavior…) that ranges from dropping a wrapper from your hands as you walk, to tossing rubbish out the window of a moving car, to entire truckloads of debris dumped over the edge of the road into a ditch, hillside, or riverbed and thoughtfully set ablaze… the country-wide prevalence of this behavior is overwhelming… and i swear that albanians have developed a blind-spot for refuse and shellacked olfactory pipes for stench.
crossing the border from montenegro dropped me into shkodra, albania’s tiajuana (though i hate to disparage tiajuana in such a way, i figure it is a more handy reference point than albania’s bangladesh… but you decide. which ever visual allows you to view natty half-dressed children splashing around in puddles of stewed filth, then go with that). i’m used to children shouting at me in a bid for attention as i ride by, but when adults behave the same way, it red-flags a simple mentality that brings forth the sir charles emerson winchester the III within and i unavoidably develop a form of pedantic snottiness i detest… it removes me from participant to spectator, and i loathe myself as well as the idiot in front of me. i’ll go one step further and suggest that repetitious use of the car horn for communication has an inverse relationship to intelligence, as if sound were uni-directional and knowingly applied itself exclusively to the intended target.

two eras pass each other on the street  kor鉈, albania


it’s a castle, a military museum and feral cat haven (shot down 50s spyplane shown with pride)  gjirokastor, albania


albania shows what it could be, when it wants to be  gjirokastor, albania

unfortunately first impressions are hard to shake, but i did manage to see the worst of the worst of albania upon entry, and aside from the trash, which is pervasive, albania did manage to serve up more than disgust. without exception, every person i talked with or had contact with was friendly and helpful, as though i was either a friend or even friend of a friend… and that goes a long way. in tirana, i managed to find an oasis in the midst of chaos… a hotel/restaurant called qendra stefan founded by american missionaries in the early 90ユs when albania first opened up after decades of isolation. (i have to say, christians, while undeniably creepy*, have the hospitality thing down. a super comfy room, food i understand, and wifi… things i never expected to see back in shkodra.) josef, manager of the hotel, is a motorcyclist, and gave me the run down of where to go, what to avoid, how to find the tasty roads, where to buy gas** and even where to stay further south along the ionian coast.
let me be clear. i’ve wanted to leave albania from the moment i arrived, yet i’ve a morbid fascination with the place that propels me further into it’s miserable trash-carpeted depths while simultaneously serving up intrigue, and occasionally yielding to tolerance and eventually a sort of love, which is both tentative and codependent. by far the most dynamic country i’ve visited on this trip.

700,000 of these littered throughout albania  dhermi, albania

an ever-present reminder of albania’s isolationist and paranoid past, are the little cement mushrooms that pass for personal bunkers still dotting the landscape. and, given their mass and impenetrability, probably will remain standing for eternity alongside elvis and cockroaches. more than half a million of these things were commissioned by the former dictator xhosa after the engineer who designed them personally demonstrated their effectiveness (against his will). most have been converted to unemptiable trash bins or love nests.

the eggman of tirana  tirana, albania

yesterday i spent 9 hours in the saddle experiencing the entire spectrum of road quality along with the entire spectrum of albania. the road between dhermi on the coast and korçe in the eastern interior is a giant zig zag that traverses valleys and crosses mountain passes, alongside rivers and through medieval ruins. an entirely unexpected view of this country, except for the trash which is deviantly absent from korçe. (they get it… and they pride themselves on being more civilized than the rest of the country. amazing to me how unpaved streets become charming and quaint minus the litter and exposed sewage).
*see post from july 28
**(that’s another entire post right there. gas stations every 50 meters, some “borrowing” logos from legitimate petroleum firms and others content to build big and spend big for their own one-off station making it look as though shell or chevron ladled out gasoline from buckets by comparison, and yet all of these look like the loneliest, cricket-chriping outposts, on the verge of bankruptcy. in fact, albania will have a certain future in archeological digs that focus on the history of the gas pump..

the newest country on the planet


two places in a day that made my knees buckle  tara canyon & ostrog, montenegro


monasteries are tokens of self-loathing construction  ostrog, montenegro


cambodianesque minnow nets over the ulcinj delta… would love to see them in action  ulcinj, montenegro

easy to misplace yourself on a motorbike in montenegro. many of the signs are still in cyrillic and many of the roads are as yet unmapped, so the possibilities for frustration are as endless as the potential surprises. surprise! the pavement just ended. surprise! you’re 50 km north of your destination.

the landscape of ending pavement  ?????, montenegro


the pavement returns, fresh and tasty  ??????, montenegro


…and round the bend the landscape dropped to this  ??????, montenegro


me, gratuitously  ??????, montenegro


my first indication that coastal montenegro should be avoidd  ulcinj, montenegro

i spent an extra night along the coast to get a bit of beach and ocean… super depressing to spend time in a place that is built for july and august only… i like solitude, but get a bit creeped out walking the grounds of an empty resort en route to the beach… kind of apocalyptic… like a heads up on what my life will be like after the rapture…
i don’t think i’ve ever experienced so much trash washing up on shore and being blown around the beach… you think if people drove their ratty diesel ladas on the beach, they’s not be so lazy with their picnic’s disposal… and i think i know where the idea for sand in ashtrays came from…

sigh… sarajevo


you know your city has a troubled past when…  sarajevo, war-pummeled bosnia-hercegovina


a sarajevo rose  sarajevo, war-forsaken bosnia-hercegovina


these winged cats are all over sarajevo… anyone?  sarajevo, war-tattered bosnia-hercegovina

i can’t say sarajevo is my favorite city… well, i can, it just wouldn’t be true… but it is one of the heaviest places i’ve ever visited. people go about their everyday lives like you would see in any other major city oblvious to the ravaged backdrop that surrounds them constantly. i can’t tell whether it is denial or a “life goes on, we’ll clean up the damage when we get to it,so STOP REMINDING US” thing. again, i haven’t spent the time there that would allow me to earn the confidence of anyone’s psyche, but disposition cuts through explaination and sarajevo is one moody mistress.
as the city slowly repairs itself, a series of perversely sobering monuments dwindles. the “sarajevo rose” is the remains of a shell blast that leaves a distinctive pattern in the ground. where 3 or more were killed by such a blast, residents have filled in the hole with red cement or polymer as a memorial. if you didn’t know what it was, you’d assume cal-trans type patch job efficiency… while photographing various examples of these, i couldn’t tell if the attention i drew was a “how dare you focus on our bloody past, we’re civilized now” contempt or your garden variety “stupid tourist” disdain… either way, there was a palpable tension felt when photographing any residue of the war…