Archive for August, 2011

Fist up II

30/08/2011

Continuing from yesterdays post about the first time I went to Albania, the second time was for my birthday in March 2007. The work to finish the ambition to visit every European capital before the end of 2010 was well underway and this was the first time JTO and I were to visit the Balkans. So this time it was the capital Tirana we visited. I didn’t know it at the time but it is quite typical for a Balkan capital in being on a piece of flat land with mountains circling it. The main square of the city is Skanderberg Square, named after the national hero who features on a large equestrian statue in it. Skanderberg fought to keep the country free from the Ottoman empire and had an impressive record winning 24 of the 25 battles he took part in. He took the double headed eagle, which forms the basis of the current Albanian flag, as his flag. Next to it is the Et’hem Bey Mosque on which construction started in 1794 and was finished in 1821 by Et’hem Bey with frescoes outside and in the portico which depict trees, waterfalls and bridges – motifs rarely seen in Islamic art. The city is very human in scale, easily walkable and very green from the tree-lined streets to the many parks. In an initiative, which I am surprised has not been copied elsewhere, the concrete Soviet-style apartment blocks have been painted a number of colours which makes them much more attractive and the cityscape more appealing. In one of the two main parks, Rinia Park is a complex which has been described as having the look of the lair of a James Bond villan, called Taiwan, possibly for being an island in the park. In the building there are restaurants, a terrace cafe, bowling alleys and a casino. The main attraction however is the fountain in front of Taiwan which in the evening fascinates hundreds of young and old onlookers with its light show. The park is now the proud focus of the evening xhiro, when thousands of people dress up and stroll around to meet up and chat with friends. Nearby is the Clock Tower from 1822. Started off by Et`hem Bey, completed by the locals and extended to 35m in 1928, when a German-made clock was also installed, it was for long the highest building in town, and with views of the city centre from the top. The shadow of the tower strikes the mosque at sunset, an event long used to mark the closing time of the formerly adjacent market place. One other building which you can’t miss is the National History Museum with massive mosaic on the facade which represents the development of Albania’s history with everyone from Illyrians to partisans represented.

It was surprisingly inexpensive place for food with the restaurant at the hotel on the square being affordable for an evening meal. All together it was an enjoyable Spring visit to an especially pleasant city, although one for a week-long visit and not for longer. To close a video of Enver Hoxha celebrating 1st May – plenty fist up. See if any of the buildings pictured here can be seen in it:

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Fist Up – or beware the casual lunch

29/08/2011

Yesterday I met JTO for lunch at one of Strasbourg‘s many Irish pubs, the Dubliners, before watching the Manchester City vs Tottenham Hotspur match live on their big screen. In case you missed out City won 5-1 and were very good and Spurs were not as bad as the scoreline would suggest, just on the end of a rampant City team. Watch the highlights, go on, watch them:

As a City fan I was overjoyed JTO, as a Spurs fan, was less than happy. I started writing this not because of the match, though repeating it does create a warm glow in me. No, in our history, we’re had lunches out as often as we could and they are when we have our best, sometimes craziest ideas. Yesterday was no exception. We got to talking about visits we’ve made in the past to Albania and that’s where the title for this post came from. As I’m sure everyone knows Enver Hoxha (See also this) was the ruler of Albania until, like most communist tyrants he died peacefully in his sleep, in 1985. I’m sure all readers also know the Albanian Communist Party in its propaganda would refer to the salute with a raised fist that Comrade Hoxha is shown doing in the picture as a ‘fist up’. It got used as a term of celebration so, such as

“….a fist up for the southern Albanian agricultural production exceeding its five-year plan target…..”

I don’t know why but I found the use of language charming and entertaining.

I first visited Albania in the early part of the last decade. We were holidaying in Corfu and as well as the days on the beach, visits to important sites on the island, evenings of Greek food and culture there was a chance of a visit to Sarandë available. So, on a very hot day we got on a catamaran and crossed the part of the Adriatic to it. One of the first things we had to do was change money to the local currency, as we would not be able to buy anything without it, and we were taken to a dining room of a local hotel in something of a white plastic covered replacement window conservatory  where a small man in a crumpled grey suit and a hat with a small rolled cigarette, which had gone out, hanging from the corner of his mouth walked in and sat at one of the round plastic tables and got out of a carrier bag some dirty crumpled notes and we were told he was the official currency exchange person. I’ve no idea what the rate was or how much Albanian currency we got.

After that we had agreed to go on a bus tour to Butrint. I had no idea where we were going or what we were going to see. We got onto the bus and went along the coast looking at the inviting sea lapping at the beaches. We went past a factory destroyed in the ‘pyramid selling madness‘ that happened after the fall of communism and then started on a narrow single track road with a steep side of a mountain on one side and the steep drop to a lake on the other, where the Romans started farming Oysters from. I say single track road but every so often we were passed by another vehicle, sometimes a lorry and it looked a bit like the picture. Near us were an Irish Catholic family who spent most of this part of the journey on their knees reciting incantations to save the bus from falling down into the lake. We passed the most wonderfully fertile farmland that out guide told us was no longer farmed as, since the pyramid selling chaos, everyone who could had left to go to Greece. We arrived at Butrint and saw the remains of a Roman settlement that is now a UNESCO listed heritage site. Living at the mouth of the river, at the head of a small lake, on such fertile land drew pictures of Romans, Trojans and others reputedly arriving at this site and thinking they had arrived at Eden.

We had to leave and, if the journey there had been nerve rattling the return journey, when we were on the outside of the road and closest to the drop to the lake, had the Catholic family on their knees praying. Whatever it was, a bus driver that knew the area well or the power of prayer, but we got back to Sarandë in one piece. Once there we had some time before the return ferry and in the afternoon sun, and after spending the money that had been changed, there seemed not to be anywhere to get protection from the sun. It was a long and hot time before we got on the catamaran and returned to Corfu.

Thus spoke Andrew

27/08/2011

My memories of growing up in the 1970’s were based on two things, one that the whole period was in black and white, or more correctly a kind of sepia grey. The second thing about the decade was that it seemed to me as if the Second World War had only just finished and not the decade starting 25 years after it ended. The war was on the television, in films, the comics which were bought for boys were either about football or the Second World War, jokes were about the war and a lot of conversations between adults seemed to have something to do with the war. It was everywhere. But at the same time there wasn’t a strong antipathy to the German people. If anything there was a jealousy of the ‘German Economic Miracle‘ (Wirtschaftswunder and here is a wonderful virtual museum of it I found via Susan) that meant the country was shiny, new and exciting. Their football team hadn’t yet beaten the English team many times in qualifying matches for the World Cup Final for it to be an issue. In fact the quarter-finals of the 1970 World Cup was when the run began.

So in 1974 when I started secondary school and had a choice of learning either German or French there was no choice. My Junior school had been thought to be dangerously radical in teaching a language to children under secondary school age. Well it was only in the last year and the teaching was done by the wife of a drinking mate of the head teacher, I don’t know if she was qualified. I didn’t get on with the French language or the teacher. We had swimming directly after our language lesson and if you were naughty in French you missed swimming. At the time I just loved swimming and it should have been enough of an encouragement for me to buckle down and learn the language but no, for the last year my memory is of not swimming at all. So the choice was easy, German. Apart from the first six months when there was a new teacher who we drove out of the school, I buckled down and learnt German and enjoyed it, as much as a person normally enjoys learning a language at school. I made two visits to Germany with the school on an exchange with a German students from Osnabrück(wiki) and enjoyed them then visited a friend who had been in Germany with the army and had left the army but remained in Germany who lived near Köln. I visited several times for work and now live in a place that was German for long parts of its history, not always voluntarily and is just twenty minutes on my bike form the German border.

None of the above really explains why I have been a Germanophile all my life but I have. At home we’ve talked about my wife’s celtic origins and I have been described having the look of a stereotypical Anglo-Saxon yeoman. I had thought my family’s origins in Lancashire would mean we are more likely to be of viking descent but two things have changed that. Earlier this year I discovered that my maternal grandfather’s family moved to Lancashire in the early nineteenth century from Suffolk. Now this article in Spiegel, where the graphic on the left comes from, shows that the English people are more German than had previously been thought. As a fully paid up Germanophile I’m quite happy with that thought but I don’t think my liking for things German comes from my genes, so that doesn’t give an explanation either.

It looks like the question, why am I a Germanophile, is going to have to be treated the same way as I treated the Descartian systematic doubt of existence, what is there that can be proved to exist? The response was less than Descartes himself famously said, I think therefore I am. Mine was that there is something that thinks therefore some thinking thing exists. But in response to the depressing doubt that questioning the existence of anything creates if you spend too long thinking about it – and I spent four years is an appropriately German response from Nietzsche, of yeah saying:

“But say, my brothers, what can the child do that even the lion could not do? Why must the preying lion still become a child? The child is innocence and forgetting, a new beginning, a game, a self-propelled wheel, a first movement, a sacred “Yes.” For the game of creation, my brothers, a sacred “Yes” is needed: the spirit now wills his own will, and he who had been lost to the world now conquers the world.” from Nietzsche’s Thus spoke Zarathustra, part I, Walter Kaufmann transl.

I don’t know why I’m a Germanophile, I am a Germanophile.

The day the music died

24/08/2011

The last 24 hours has seen the death of two great songwriters, Jerry Leiber and Nick Ashford.

Jerry Leiber, who formed a fantastic partnership with Mike Stoller and wrote such great songs as Hound Dog and Jailhouse rock but also inspired and worked with other fantastic songsmiths in the Brill building.

Nick Ashford also wrote songs with a partner, his wife Valerie Simpson, and was best known for writing ‘Ain’t no mountain high enough’ and a whole host of other hits for Motown and others, like I’m every Woman for Chaka Khan,

The couple then had a hit of their own in the 1980’s, Solid (As A Rock).

They might have both left us but the pleasure their handwork brought remains and continues to give us enjoyment and happiness, who could want more? Play the songs and enjoy.


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