Summertime. Football, & Hooligans

Everyday after breakfast I walk up to Skanderbeg Square to the bookstore Adrion It’s about a 4.4km (2 3/4mi) roundtrip and I look forward to it. I try to get up there to get a New York Times and walk back to my flat before the hottest part of the day. Lately, it seems like summer has set in here in Tirane. This week past has been in the upper 80’s/low 90’s. On Wednesday there was a presentation of the trophy for the first-ever UEFA Europa Conference League. The teams were AC Roma and Feyenoord (The Netherlands). I knew it was a big deal because many of the streets were blocked off and the entire area where I ived, called Blloku, was a “pedestrian zone.

There were far more people than I am used to seeing. I heard Italian and Dutch spoken at Tony’s as I ate breakfast in the usually quiet space. My waiters were hopping, and stopped to caution me to make sure that I was back at home here in Blloku before 4/5 that evening. After I left and began my walk up to Skanderbeg, I understood perfectly. At each major intersection that wasn’t blocked by fencing were at least a dozen policemen and women. It was actually nice to walk down and cross the tree-lined streets without traffic. Traffic here is a major problem, especially in tighter neighborhoods like Blloku (or Bllok…locally). I’ve mentioned that it’s like Lincoln Park without the threat of the inner city problems… I still stand by that statement. The square was full of both fans and Albanians celebrating the opportunity to see the trophy. A carnival had sprouted, and a huge screen as well. Air Albania stadium has a seating capacity of nearly 23,000, and it was reported that there were more than 100,000 fans for both sides in Tirane.

The Tuesday night prior, I read that Albania “deported” 48 Italians and 12 Dutch fans for being hooligans. I looked toward the stadium after I crossed the bridge over the Lana River at Bajram Curri Blvd, and noticed glass and debris still on the street. I’m glad I was invited to watch the game at Tony’s. My walk home is less than 5 minutes from there. As I walked through the shade, I marveled at how intense the heat from the sun became, even through the trees! My usual m.o. is to get my walk to Adrion in and maybe stop at the supermarket before 11;30, and be in my flat from Noon until 5/5:30. After that I’ll take a walk through the park (in the shade still) and end up at Tony’s for dinner around 6:30/7. Wednesday night was still a bit warm at 7 but I brought a long sleeve shirt because it cools off quickly ( nearly 70F) always with a nice breeze.

Last week I looked into tickets for this match, wanting to see real football from the stands. It would be my first since watching Ruzomberok vs. Zilina on my 2017 trip to Slovakia. I nearly fell off my chair at the price. I decided it would be best to watch it from a coffee house, with a macchiato in one of my haunts. I met “Tony” from Tony’s cafe last Sunday and he invited me to watch it there. It’s my “go-to”. The waiters there are great and I’m totally at home. Tony as it turns out, is actually Albanian, but has a sister in Idaho. He loved the bar and grill setting so much that he gave up his job running a large hotel kitchen and opened up a few years ago. I ate a late dinner and settled in with my New York Times until kick-off. I should point out that I was skeptical when it showed up on my phone for close eateries. I had checked into my flat and was hungry, it was the closest restaurant. When I walked in, there were old New York Times from 2019, and I quickly scoured them to see if the puzzles were done. After nearly three months of doing the puzzle online, I was ecstatic to actually write on paper.

At 9 o’clock, the game started, and I had a perfect seat on the patio. Owing to the fact that my dear friends the D’Amatos were Italian, I checked to make sure it was alright to root for a team that wasn’t their “house favorite”. I was worried from the beginning as the Dutch were always in the Roma pitch. A 1-0 start to the first half had me jump at the goal and hope that Feyenoord could be held at bay. Late in the second half I was seriously flagging and prayed that AC Roma would keep the Dutch away. I trundled back to my flat, with the roar of the stadium, less than a half-mile away, floating through the starry sky above me.

I awoke yesterday (Thursday 25 May) to check the score before my meditation and chant. I was happy to see that AC Roma held. It was already warm when I began my walk to Adrion, so being a “sissy” to the heat, I turned back and walked under the trees back to flat. Dripping wet already, I jumped into a cool shower and sat down to read for the afternoon. It was a smart move as it was 34C (94F). Today I thought about my coffee meet-up with Calvin. We met at Rilindja in Valbonne, as he was staying there as well. Calvin – a Canadian, is here as an educator. A more gregarious fellow would be hard to meet. He is well seasoned here in Albania, and offered some tips about living here full time. Our 2 hours at Tony’s went by quick, but we agreed to meet again as his schedule allows.

In the end, this afternoon I am writing from a cool space. It’s 5:30, for me, and I most likely will be going out for a late dinner. The temperature should be a “cooler” 26/27C (78/80F). Looking through the news from the US (I shun the news online), I see that there was another school shooting, and I’m not surprised. I don’t know when people in the US will stop talking and start listening. Everybody has an opinion, from poilitcians to movie stars, and people famous for doing nothing but staying in the news cycle. Most, if not all, offer no creative solutions and more of the same is going to be the order of the day. The answer lies between the Left and the Right. It’s a complete shame. More kids are dying from guns than disease. I still think the US has more potential than most nations in the world, but I also believe that potential has eroded sharply. Nobody wants to listen. I hope and pray that this violence is not visited upon my family and friends. There are moments that I feel like a coward for not staying. There also moments when I am glad that I made this move. There is no replacement for the safety I feel here in Europe. I have some decisions to make when I return “home” to Bratislava; returning to the US isn’t on the board.

I want to thank you all for following me. I wish for your safety, and hope you are well. Please take care of yourselves.

One thought on “Summertime. Football, & Hooligans

  1. Thanks for the update, Niel. Keep enjoying fly fishing and football games. You picked a great time to enjoy a different part of the globe.


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