It has been a few weeks since I posted last. I moved last Friday, April 8th, and the whole tenor of my trip has changed. I moved “up” the beach, to the North toward Durres. I am on the 1st floor in this apartment, and I have become more engaged in the beach-life and its goings-on. This end of the beach is a world away from where I was. I could see that much when I walked up here from my last apartment on the 9th floor. There is a vast array of “resto-cafes”, and they are busy from dawn past dusk. I have tried the bulk of them and have settled into a place named Hemera. It is a few meters from my apartment, and seems to be the place for foreigners to gravitate to. The staff, all younger men and women, speak English, Italian – among other languages. The biggest plus is that the wifi at this cafe is strong out to the cabanas on the beach.
I had only been here for a couple days last week, when I was talking to my friend Vlad from the above-photographed spot. After I had hung up, a lady and gentleman approached and asked if I was from the US, and I said yes. They said they were sitting nearby and heard me speaking English and wondered if they might join me. I assented, and introduced myself to Aneta and Ambroos. They are a retired couple from Rotterdam, The Netherlands. They are driving to Istanbul, Turkey for a long summer holiday. Up to this point, my conversation was with the young wait-staff – brief snippets of who we are and what we are doing. As of last Wednesday, we started meeting for coffee at 8am and dinner at 7pm. It was very nice to have this interaction with people my age. On Thursday last, we were joined by Elaina, a retired school-teacher from Greece. Elaina was staying only a few days on her way up to Slovenia to see her sister for Easter. We had topical conversations about our home countries, and I think that I peeved Aneta because I wasn’t quite into talking about it as she was. Ambroos and I shared many musical groups and enjoyed roughly the same spectrum. As our evening progressed, and they would continue to ingest a great deal of wine and beer, I would excuse myself…only to be berated by Aneta. She tried to be comic about it, and even with Ambroos trying to defray the situation, I felt like this wasn’t what it started out to be. Elaina joined me in departure, and said that she didn’t like the “personal nature” of Aneta’s barbs toward me. Elaina was in the next building down from me, so it was a no-brainer to make sure she got home safely.
In the 22 years of my sobriety, I’ve lost the “judgement factor” and pay very little attention to the way people drink, or even behave. At coffee on Friday morning, Elaina said she had some suspicions that the Dutch couple were hiding something. I demurely told her it was all in her head. We had a great conversation about what kids should be learning in this day and age; we waited for Aneta and Ambroos to appear for coffee and were not surprised that almost 2 hours had gone by when they happened to show up. We ordered more coffee and I could see that they were clearly hungover. I made no reference to the previous night, but did mention that it would be Elaina’s last night with us and that we should have a farewell dinner to see her off. Aneta, shaking and fidgeting said that she will mind her manners at this dinner and that she was foolish for her behavior toward me. Ambroos was mostly silent as he drank his espresso, and I thought it odd. Elaina and I bid them goodbye until later; she said that she would text me when she was on her way. She would stop at my building and we could go together. I really enjoyed her, as she was a 72 year-old fountain of knowledge; she knew her art and history. She loved country and western music and that was it. We got along well because we didn’t watch tv and hardly read the news. I like her civilized manner and calm demeanor.
Elaina was explaining why she never read American Literature as we were coming down the boardwalk (it is now brick pavers – but the locals call it “the boardwalk”). I looked down toward Hemera and saw a couple of policeman, and 2 people in handcuffs. I never averted my eyes as it looked like Aneta and Ambroos. They were starting to take them away and I waved at one of the policemen. He approached me and asked if I knew them. I said that we had been having coffee and dinner the last few nights…they seemed like good people. He said they were arrested for drug use, and possession. Elaina and I looked at each other in disbelief. She asked if I wouldn’t mind going into Durres for dinner. She didn’t want to sit in our place. She drove her car and talked about her son who had overdosed many years ago. He was her only child, and her foundation after she had divorced his father. “I understood why you didn’t drink with us at dinner, and I felt like I should have said something to Aneta when she was giving you a hard time”, Elaina’s vioce cracked, as we ordered another round of sodas. I told her I had become used to it, that I let people say what they want, and I let it go. I made some reference to her “intuition” as woman, about another woman, and maybe she was right. We finished dinner, at Aragosta – where I had lunch with Peter the Ambassador – and decided to end the evening with dessert at Hemera…on me.
Our last coffee together as Elaina would be leaving early on Saturday morning. “My waiter”, Kejdi, smiled and asked what he could get for us. He nodded and then told us what had happened with the Dutch couple. “They were here at around 16/16:30 and drank three bottles of wine and a few beers.” I told Klejdi that we were scheduled for a 19:00 dinner, and that’s when we saw the police. “Yes, at around 18:30 the lady started yelling at me and calling for my boss to make me bring more to drink…my boss asked her nicely to keep her voice down.” Klejdi is older than his 17 years, he graduates from high school one year early and will begin med-school. He works 7 days a week; from 3:30 to midnight on school days. He was a little embarrassed, but we pushed him to continue; Elaina said something to him in Greek, he laughed and responded in Greek…lost on me. “My boss told the lady that if she didn’t calm down, he would ask her to leave…she spit on him and called him bad names.” “When she started yelling at other customers, the boss called the police, and they had to fight them both to arrest them.” Klejdi’s face was red as he blushed to tell us that he doesn’t like violence. I told him it was all over now. “I saw you both talking to police, and then you left…I am glad you came back; the police came back after searching their room and told us they had hero -ine.” I re-pronounced heroin for him…as Elaina and I looked at each and almost fell off of our seats.
I walked Elaina over to her building, and with a kiss on both cheeks I bid her a safe trip. We exchanged email addresses and hope to stay in touch. “Thank god”, Elaina said while doing the sign-of-the-cross, “at least you were the one sane thing that happened while I was here”. I smiled and said something about how life works…whether we are at home or abroad.
Yesterday (Saturday), Klejdi came and sat for a moment in silence as he was still trying to sort out what had taken place the night before. “You know Klejdi, there isn’t anyway you could have known that last night was going to turn out that way…me neither.” I know he was still scared that they would have been more violent towards him. He reached out and shook my hand; “large cafe…crema no sheqer, I am getting it.”
It’s Easter Sunday now, and I have been fortunate enough to be on this end of the beach. I am far less isolated that the last place. I have had some nice meet-ups with very cool people, and I’ve met some people that teach me that I still have to watch how much of myself to reveal to them. Bledi, the owner of Hemera, said that the police are still going through the hotel room of the couple that were arrested and found more items that may put them in Albanian jail for quite some time. Bledi is the same age as my son, and equally as ambitious. He is a very nice kid. I will continue to sit and read and write there…a cup of coffee costs roughly $1.75, and I’m talking very good/high end coffee. I have Seafood Risotto that I can’t finish and costs $9. Most mornings after meditation and chant, I walk the length of the beach (6km round trip), and end up at Hemera for coffee. Back home for a light breakfast, and usually on the bus by 10:30 for a trip into Durres for a walk around (about 2/3 hrs.) and then back to the beach for a reading session in a cabana.
I wish all those observing Easter a blessed day. I thank all of you for following me. I will earnestly try to post more, but it has been pretty quiet, outside of the drama last week, things are very groovy here in the Balkans.