mercedes benzes are the vehicles of choice in albania. they seem to make up fully 2/3 of the vehicles on the road. a boy tells me that there is a historical status aspect to their desirability. during the communist dictatorship, there were only 600 -- or so the story goes. they were all owned by the government, and they were all benzes. after the fall of the dictatorship, the mercedes was seen as the only car of any value. so they're everywhere. in a country so poor, it's disconcerting.
we eat like kings for 5 euros each.
i meet a boy named lorenc when the bar man calls his order. he is twenty one, with curly hair. i call him my brother and we compare the spellings of our names. his friend, enea, says that we are the second and third lawrences/lorencs he has met in his life. he is overjoyed and asks me my astrological sign. aries, i tell him. of course, he nods -- a fire sign. you sat with us, you are a warm person.
lorenc studies painting at the art university in tirana. next year, he will have an exhibition in naples after he has completed his degree. he speaks firmly and confidently in albanian to enea, who translates, but timid, hesitant english to me. i think he knows more than he thinks.
enea tells me that his name means 'nine' in greek. i nod. he says that he will not begin to speak about the meanings of the number nine. we would talk for hours, he says. i notice that the bartender has already turned off all the lights and we are sitting just in the light of cigarette tips. next time, i say.
i go into a door to use the bathroom and it is an apartment. i walk through two couches facing one another. there are family photos and religious texts. i walk into a kitchen. i open doors until i find a toilet and make sure that i do not mistakenly pee into the bidet.
when i get out, the bartender asks what i was doing, and i say that i was using the bathroom. she looks confused and points to another door. that, she says, is the bathroom.
in the bazaar, i look through a rack of short sleeved shirts. the vendor takes a few off the rack and recommends them to me. she speaks no english -- 'anglisht' -- except thank you. she is 40, 50, and has tired eyes and short hair. she was once very beautiful. when she laughs, her eyes almost close and she looks young again. i buy a shirt and say thank you and put my hand to my chest and bow a little. she makes a joke in albanian to a group of women playing dominos under tarps. i do not understand but i still laugh.
a shepherd follows a flock of sheep on the wrong side of the road. a few goats keep close to him. a group of young men lead a pack donkey.