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.