Wednesday, 23 May 2007

United colors of Shqipëria

Shqipëria? Wait a minute, isn´t that this poor country somewhere in Africa… What, is it really in Europe? Albania, also called Shqipëria, is one of these countries you hardly hear anything about, though it is interesting visiting it! From Macedonia we had the main road through the country to Tirana, more or less a small mountain path going over the tops rather than just over the passes. On the sides of the road wild dogs, farmers with their goats and chickens, hitchhiking families, children selling cherries or a car wash.

Tirana is a strange mix of third world slums and hip, western looks. There is a lot of trendy bars and fashion stores in Tirana, but if you look a bit higher up you often see the old, loose brick walls almost falling down. Discussing the ´surface´ of western capitalism in a shopping street, we heard some chickens just from above a trendy clothing store.
People in Tirana seem to have a good style taste. Old men wear the right old fashioned suits and sixties glasses with thick, black frames. If you see them walking slowly between the palm trees, or playing chess in the parks, you will start to believe you are in Cuba rather than Albania. Young people dress up according to western fashion, and it is quite surprising how much diversity and style one can find here on the streets.

The mayor of Tirana is famous for his project to give buildings a colorful look. It is a rather simple concept: you have a grey, poor, post-communist city without much ancient or old buildings, so you let some buildings be decorated with daring colors and creative patterns. Possibly the hardest part is to make everyone believe this is a good idea to do. But it really, really is. There is no other city we have seen that looks like this.
We tried to imagine how this city looked like fifteen years ago: grey, dirty and poor. Changes have been fast here. Rainbow waves painted on flats, pink and green striped buildings, an American bank painted more colorful than your local squat. But how much of all this color and style is just on the surface, hiding the horror of poorness within?

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