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.

The Road Through Trees And Rocks

My time in Tirana in the last near week has been an education in itself. It doesn’t mater what the day of the week you are here, this city is on the move; people are what makes this place so electric to me. The young seem to power it now. Monday nights are just like Saturday nights. The cafes are packed with people drinking coffee, with some smoking – some not. During the day older men sit in the shade of a tree or awning talking through the hottest part of the day, and it’s countrywide. Everywhere I went I would see it.

If I had briefly touched on Skanderbeg, I would like to just give a short look at him here. Gjergj Kastrioti, also known to the world as Skanderbeg, was born in what is now the central portion of Albania. I pored over maps from the period of his birth and many were difficult to divine as being an accurate. Many early polities and most modern countries claim him as one of their sons. Even cultures as far away as Serbia and Greece have tried to co-opt Skanderbeg into their historical narrative. One thing is clear, myths and legends aside, Skanderbeg was the real thing. Just as the US has George Washington in myth, and legend, so does Albania. Skanderbeg most certainly makes Washington look like a chicken farmer with a sword.

In those early days of conquests and empire building renewed. The Ottoman Turks were THE force to be reckoned with. The Church in Rome was feeling the threat from the Ottomans, not only in the realm of religion, but politcally as well. The two (religion and politics) were deeply intertwined during this period. He was born to a father who was a vassal to the leader of the Ottomans. Albania at this time was a shifting sand of two rivers; one being the powerful Republic of Venice, and the other was Ottoman Turkey. At birth, Skanderbeg was given to the Sultan to make sure of his father’s allegiance to the Turks. In his late 30’s, during battle he deserted and went back the Albanians. He would lead a resistance to the Ottomans that would make Robert E. Lee seem like a mere checker player. For many years he would fight against overwhelming numbers, and thus held back the Turks from completely covering the rest Europe in blood.

It has taken me about 4 hours of reading to feebly attempt to winnow truth from fiction, and with Albania’s national hero it is an impossible task. His exploits are real, as countless historians can attest; where the myth-making comes from…well that’s history! Skanderbeg died in Kruja (Krew-ya), not far from Tirana. He was 63 years old and passed of old age. I would encourage anyone to Wiki this man and take a cursory look at what he did, and why Europe owes him a debt of honor. Indeed there are statues in Belgium and Italy. There are operas and poetry to pay homage; Lord Byron wrote one to honor Skanderbeg. The Turks would eventually extend to Hungary, across the east to Ukraine and surround the Black Sea, and the Sea of Azov. The siege of Vienna in the fall of 1683 would call an end to Ottoman expansion into Central Europe. The players are too numerous to count, and the politics too complex for an overview of this nature. The Balkans would remain in the hands of the Ottomans for another 230 years, bringing their grand total in the Balkans to 500 years…give or take.

My point here, dear reader, is that this ancient place is finally free of the rulers with their own agendas. From the Greeks, Romans, Venetians, to the Ottomans, and guys like Enver Hoxha, whose despotic rule has abated; there is a strong sense of culture and hope here in Albania. I have seen it and heard it from the Albanians that I have been graced to have met…and it will carry on for another two weeks. I really like this city in the south of Europe. We will see what the “grand plan” has for me. Add this wonderful country to your travel plans. It is important to remember that I have only seen a rather small portion of what Albania has to offer. There is the south, Berat and the crystal waters of of the Vlora area. I still have much to see to properly asses this country overall.

So, I continue my road through the trees and stones. I have to give a mention to the shops and cafes that I frequent. I bought a new pair of eyeglasses at Lux Optika on Rruga Ibrahim Rugova. I was warmly greeted and taken care of like I was the only customer that mattered…I can’t wait to put them on and not squint in the sunlight. The doctor who gave me my eye exam nearly scolded me for waiting so long to get new glasses. The pair that I have are from 2017/18…can’t remember. The transition is no longer darkening, and I am pushing my eys through the bottom of my progressives. I was just passing by, and curious to see what they would cost. The glasses will cost me less than 1/3 of what I would payed (with my union insurance, I shouldered 10% of the cost…$900) in the US. Since my watch band fell apart, the young man at Lux Optika directed me a few doors down to Tuffina. The wonderful young lady there jumped right on it, attached the new band, and it was very, very inexpensive. Conversely, all of the watch shops prior wanted to sell me a new watch. Also, I have settled into a coffee shop rotation. I have a sumptious breakfast and dinner at Tony’s right around the corner from me. I met “Tony” yesterday and he is the best! I have “my guys”; Lawrence, Donald, Ulie (Yuly), and Ares are simply the at the pinnacle of service. They are very good about directions to a place I am looking for, and never hesitate to be tableside when needed. In the end, during my walk after dinner, I end up at Dua. There are always football matches, and yesterday I went to watch The Spanish Grand Prix there. It was a disastrous day for Ferrari, but I enjoyed the coffee and comradery.

I have offered only a thumbnail sketch of my time here in Tirana. I will post again soon. With more photos, and more events, it will be easier for you to grasp why I like it here so much. Thank you for following me, and I wish you well.

Theth In A Fleeting Breath

As Pavlin and I pulled through the gate, we were met by Pavlin and Vlora’s daughter Era. She was so happy to see her Daddy she jumped on the step hanging on the side of the Cruiser. Bujtina Polia is a mountain hotel, stout and soaring. I was struck firstly by the activity around it. There are 4 dogs attached to it and they always present. After meeting Pavlin’s wonderful wife Vlora, I dragged my gear to my room. I tidied myself and went down to the main room. It serves as a the main dining hall, a meeting place, and the coffee outlet. Pavlin and I sat at a table on the patio and talked about the fishing, the mountains, and the tourism to this valley.

The mountains climb up from the valley floor on three sides. This valley has a defined “U-shape”, unlike Valbonne which were complete walls going up on both sides. Theth valley has a more defined glacial-finished profile. Our conversations were so varied and touched on some many things…mountain life. history, sustainability, gear, the change of the seasons, and fly fishing. I was anxious to see what the river offered in terms of access, and flow. In spite of everything that Pavlin was shouldered with he found the time to give me the attention that I needed. I am forever grateful to him. Just like Alfred at Riindra, Pavlin was very attentive to what his guests needed. There are very few men like this. The children would come and go as we talked, and Pavlin didn’t even miss one beat; he would answer their questions, and see to their needs – returning to our conversations as if we were not put out.

Vlora was no different, as her patience seemed a bottomless well. The children, Era – the oldest and a sweet near- preteen, followed by Tom, and the youngest Arian; were a delight. Also, as we talked, people stopped by to visit, it was a busy hub of action. We had a nice supper and I retired early. Saturday, 14th/May was my only full day. We had great breakfast and headed out to some of Pavlin’s best spots to fish. It is important to remember that the Theth River was no different than the Valbonne. Wherever you are in the village, you can hear the sound of the tempestuous waters rolling down the valley. I slept with my window open to fall asleep and to arise to the rhythmic count of the waters; not a 4/4 beat – more like some ancient Gheg folk ballad.

Saturday was an education in just-plain-fishing for me. Pavlin took me down a rocky track above the river, and as we descended to the valley floor we could see areas where the rush had slowed. We parked across a river channel from an inn and restaurant hidden entirely from everything. Here the Theth was fed by water emanating from a single source in a grotto-like gorge.

From this gorge/grotto the crystal clear water washed down to the Theth. There were two footbridges that spanned the channel to the hidden inn and cafe. Pavlin set a course down the banks and I tripped and skidded behind him, still sore from my mishap in Valbonne. It didn’t take long to find pools and low-rapid flats.

I noticed what looked like Mayflies, so I switched to a ragged Adams Wulff that I had in the only flybox I brought along. I found a nice poolwith some aerating riffle sending water into it. I kept putting on the edge to drift into swirling pool. I wasn’t rewarded with a flash, or any movement to make out. Pavlin was using a casting setup, much like Alfred earlier in the week. I retied a Chubby Chernobyl terrestial to see if I could get anything to come up. Both flies were the smallest in my box, #14/16 hooks…small. The harder I worked the more I realized the merciless Balkan sun was cooking my head. I decided to have a sit in the shade and watch Pavlin, and to eyeball the other pools to see if there was anything moving.

I marveled at the scenery, the intense color color of the sky… a dome of uncut lapis lazuli above me. In the shade the breeze cooled me. After quite some time of changing location, my hip pushed me to relent my search. Pavlin and I headed back to see his friends at the cafe near the grotto. In all honesty, I couldn’t figure how people walked on this carpet of rocks and talus, and as I bucked and skidded behind Pavlin, I tried to imagine a conquering army moving up this valley. Sheer madness.

We sat with Pavlin’s friends for a bit, cooled off, and headed back to Bujtina Polia. Still discussing how to bring fishermen in from the outside without turning this valley into “Disneyworld-with-rocks”..my words, not his. I have been to a few rivers in our Western US where it looks like a hallway of grade-schoolers between classes. Too many people in one place with intentions that are opposite to what this endeavor is meant to be. To the uninitiated, fly fishing seems like a chemistry class with the casting, and entomology involved. That might be a half-truth; what is the most important is the connectedness with your surroundings, the water, and of course – the fish. Trout can be the wiliest fish to cast for, and require you to be a bit “plugged-in”. The wilder the river, the least a chance to have a fish that is going to be a pushover. I believe that would be true here in Theth (and Valbon as well)

Later on Saturday the weather changed drastically, as it often does in the mountains. Rain came down in buckets, as we retreated from the bench outside of the bujtina to the main hall, Pavlin and I weren’t sure we would get one last shot as we had hoped. When fishing it is sometimes better to fish in the rain – most species become more active. The rain slowed down enough after a few hours for us to go out and try our luck. Again I was given a few polite nibbles. Pavlin was gifted with a beautiful Brook trout. I had to chuckle as we leap-frogged around each other, and he with a fish tail sticking out of his jacket pocket. We headed back to Bujtina Polia to help Vlora and crew set up for a large dinner crowd. Bouncing along in the Cruiser with the fish tail hopping nad bopping as it stuck out of his jacket…a memory that I will not give up anytime soon.

I sat with Kristina for dinner. She was lovely young lady from Hamburg, Germany travelling by herself. She reminded me of my own daughter in many ways. We had a great talk as we ate our way through a very generous dinner. I bid her a good night after coffee and dessert. I was completely done at that point, and looking over at Pavlin still serving the big group of Italians (I think), he made everything look effortless. Oh to be a younger man!

Kristina and I were seated together for breakfast, as the group took up all of the other tables, and why not? Our conversation was spirited and sunny like the morning we looked out at. We bid each other a safe trip after breakfast, replete with kisses on both cheeks,,,yeah, I’m so continental now! I headed to my room to finish packing as Pavlin and I would leave for Tirana as soon as we could. Our drive would take some time to Tirana. I felt honored and grateful that Pavlin would take a day away from his duties to drive me.

Back up and over the mountains we went, winding our way down and out of Theth to Shkoder and into the flatlands to Tirana. As we neared the capital the traffic increased in volume. In the 3 1/2 – 4 hour drive we spoke of many things, and I felt some inner calling to get in the mix here and do what I could to keep the Albanian Alps wild by introducing the world to them. Our conversation always returned to the same point; how to bring the world in on our terms. There are no easy answers, and to be involved in the growth here would be an opportunity I’d invite at this stage in my life. I have the utmost respect for Alfred and Pavlin fir doing what they do.

Pavlin drove me right to my hotel, and made sure I was all set; and the hardest part of ny trip arrived. I was in near tears at departing, we became “brothers-in-soul”…at least I felt that way, I won’t speak for Pavlin. I owe Elton, Alda, and Vilma my wieght in gold for arranging my trip. Albanian Trip is THE tour operator here in Albania, as far as I am concerned. I had a day to let the week behind me bounce around in my head as I would debrief Elton, and in turn, be debriefed. I will post again right away to bring you all up to speed on my past week here in Tirana. All I can say is that this town is electric.

I will, in turn, touch on the last few remaining ideas about fly fishing in Albania. I appreciate any and all of you who are following me on this odyssey…yes there have been many changes in fortune so far. I have many tough decisions to make upon my return to Bratislava. Until that time, I’m going to wring every last drop from this cloth wrapped around me here in Albania. Please take care of ourselves, and take care of each other. I will post again very soon. Thank you…many times over.

Rebirth and The Alpine Continuum

Rilindja is Albanian for rebirth. Alfred chose the name wisely; I came alive again. For all of the situations and events that occured in Durres, it seemed like I was biding my time. Sure, the history of that area was great, but without some means of my own transport, I was a prisoner to the Sun and sand. From Tuesday afternoon, until Friday at 13:00 (1pm) when I parted with Alfred, my whole sense of self became re-oriented toward those mountains.

As we wound down to Fierze to meet the ferry at Lake Koman, Alfred and I talked of many things. I would like to turn around and come back here (and Theth) in July/August. I have plans to meet dear friends from the US elsewhere in Europa. I told Alfred how thankful and fortunate I felt for meeting him, and in turn having Alda and Elton take care of this trip. If I haven’t mentioned Albanian Trip, I will now. The story behind the origins and the end product of this trip is the result of the great work that Alda and Elton do at Albanian Trip. This happened because “god’s hand” is involved here. I was actually looking around to see how difficult it would be to go fly fishing here in Albania. I found Rilindja and was so impressed with its nearness to the Valbon (right across the road) and I emailed them to see what their rates were. I recieved an email from Elton, and we began a dialogue. Although it is named in my tags at the bottom of my blogs, google/search for Albanian Trip, let them know what you have in mind, and you will be taken care of very well. I’m going to end this paragraph with their accolades; They were chosen as a Conde’ Nast Travel Specialist for the 2nd year in a row. I am very fortunate to call Elton and Alda my friends. I will refer to them and their endeavor going forward.

It was with a heavy heart that I said farewell to Alfred…calling him “Albert” was running joke. The ferry was nearly full as we headed out of Fierze for the 4+ hour trek to Diga e Komanit. It was a liquid spectacle riddled with little side channels, and a sky framed by stone and greened inclines.

I sat in the shade and reflected on my short time in Dragobi and Valbona National Park. I went to see how this near-wild river could be fly fished, knowing full well that even nymphing was out of the question. Alfred and I tried going down after them in the roaring cataracts racing down the canyon. I tried to lay flys gently on top of them in the few pools we were graced with and only recieved a polite nibble in return. Alfred was “blessed” with 3 caught overall. Call it a “home team advantage”. The Valbon was not ready yet and Alfred was still determined to show me a good time. The unforgiving terrain wrenched my knee and did some “Balkan Voodoo” on my hip, but we did the best we could. I recalled the cool,crisp sheets in Hotel Rezidenca, and the breeze slipping through my window on the back of the muffled river roar…. and the coffee, always the coffee! I close my eyes and I see Maja Jezerce above me (top photo on this page), and the way the sunrise made the snow shimmer on the shoulder of the limestone redoubt.

Sitting in the shade of the upper deck, I tried to commit every vantage point to memory, and along with the sights, sounds, and smells to retain as much as possible. Here I was at the halfway point to this trip that Elton and Alda painstakingly put together, and so far it was nonpareil. I turned my attention to the watery rampart we were chugging through. I let my eyes linger on all of it. I watched as we motored past small fishing camps where the landscape allowed. Further down the sides would widen and spread out to reveal tilted fields with cows, sheep, goats, and a horse here and there. The grazing stock moved on the abrupt green carpet like humans walking a level surface.

We docked at Diga e Komanit and I met Kristian. A young Albanian with a quick smile and a can-do attitude, he was Pavlin’s driver. We began our trip down to Shkoder to meet Pavlin. At this point in my retelling I must reveal my attitude toward the road from the dock to Shkoder. It amounted to an over-wide goat path. There were potholes and gullies that would scare away the boldest Chicago drivers. Kristian held his frustration in and waited for his oppotuntities to pass. We descended, at times behind a gaggle of campers, and some very high-end Mercedes that had to creep in most places. The striking part of the roads in the highlands here in Albania is that they are just wide enough for their cars to pass slowly. I really enjoy the engaging talks I have with the young here. The young Albanians are excited about their future and happy to speak to someone fron the US; Kristian was no exception. Kristian’s English was very good; he would speak in halting rhythms only when he searched for the proper word or term. I asked if he had English in school, and he replied with a sly smile that he learned from watching “American movies”…especially action movies. That began a short row of he and I doing impressions of Stallone, Schwarzenegger, and Chuck Norris.

We rolled along out into the open valley toward Shkoder to meet Pavlin. Driving through little hamlets where the sway of time has left these people nearly untouched. The “ancient” is still here in the countrysides. This rock-ridden land slowy unfolds to the newer and more modern houses, and then we were in Shkoder. This is a bustling town on the shores of the largest lake in Southern Europe. Lake Shkodra ( or Shkoder in Albanian), and this city has a flavor entirely all of its own. Krisian navigated the crowded streets like a New York cab driver and swung around to park right in front of a man with with Ray Bans and the most imposing beard I have seen since David Brown from Rock Island Public House. Pavlin Polia was my host, and soon to be a kindred soul. We stopped at a patisserie to get some sweets to take to Bujtina Polia in Theth.

We swung by a place to drop Kristian, and of course, a short cup of coffee. Kristian was adept at coffee as well; he served Pavlin and I and pulled up a chair to join in our chat. Again, the pace of life here is on another plane. Pavlin and I got back in the 4-wheel drive Toyota cruiser and began the drive up to Theth Valley. We talked about everything on the spectrum. Stopping at a little market, I picked oranges the size of 12-inch softballs, and Pavlin took some yogurt and a few items. The climb up and over to Theth is not for the weak-hearted, especially with Pavlin at the wheel. We swung around hairpin curves, and through the stones that had tumbled, fallen, and came to rest right in the road. When I say “road”, I’m being very generous. This surface was paved as recently as 2 years (or so) ago, and it is verily wide enough for the European cars, let alone the mini-buses and campers that use it. Pavlin knows every turn, every meter, and I was never ill-at-ease.

We crested the mountain, with snow laying here and there, and stopped at a point to talk to a journalist that Pavlin knew. Here I must point out that we never just drove by people that he knew. There was always time to stop and chat…always. Pavlin is as affable as any man I have ever known. He carries himself with a quiet resolve, an behind what appears to a facade of strong bearing, he is as warm and inviting as they come. Now heading down the sharp incline into Theth Valley, I could see the town spread out along the Theth River. Nearing it, I was struck by its resemblance to the tiny mountain towns in Montana. As we wound through the village, there were so many waving, we bounced and careened to Bujtina Polia – Pavlin’s place. “Bujtina” means inn, or hotel.

I will end this post here in order to get a better photo of Bujtina Polia. For some reason my photos will not download to this site. I will have to ask Pavlin for a photo. I promise that rest of my journey will be as full of recollections as the past posts. I am in Tirana now and anxious to convey my experience here. I am always in deep appreciation for you that are reading and giving me feedback. I will post again very soon. Until then, please take of yourselves, and each other.

Corrections & Connections

Dear reader, in my last blog I made two statements that need to be emended. Number One: Alfred started Rlindja in 2004 (not 2012) Number Two: The name is RILINDJA (as you can see from the above photo). My Thanks to Alfred for pointing these errors out to me.

I am a bit later than planned to post this. Since Alfred dropped me off at Fierze to take the ferry down to Lake Koman, the whole tenor of my trip took on a much different feel. Alfred and I did our best to find pools and places that the trout might sit out the rushing mountain torrent. As I might have mentioned previously, we knew at the onset that I was still early for any productive fly fishing. There were portions of the lower Valbon that ran gray-white with silt and sediment. Alfred and I agreed and he was undaunted in finding productive water. Alfred has a very easy manner about him, laughs easily, and doesn’t seem to get upset about the little speed bumps in life. I am not saying this because he will be reading this, I am writing what I have experienced. We traveled to and from Rilindja, there was always a history lesson. There were questions from me to Alfred and he answered every single one. The subjects varied as we talked, and he was always patient as we would swing through culture and politics, family and religion, and somehow finishing with the river valley and existence in those mountains.

The section we spent a good deal of time in was called Dragobi, and this was the home of Alfred’s family going back many years. I must discuss Bajram Curri. Here in the mountainous north of Albania, just a short leap from Kosovo, is land that has been won and lost for the entirety of human history. You name them and they have tried to hold this place in conquest. The Illyrians were conquered by the Romans in the 2nd century bce, and that held until the 4th century when the forerunners of Albanians had become dance partners of the Byzantine Empire. Long before this time, at the beginning of the Bronze Age (2000bce), the Illyrians dwelt in this stone fortress provided by the Dinaric Alps. They were aided and protected further by many factors that worked in their favor…complex social and cultural practices. This peninsula has always been a bridgehead for conquering nations. After centuries of a revolving door of invasions (Visigoths, Huns, Bulgars, and Slavs), the Ottoman Turks found the combination to unlocking the gate and ruled the Albanians from the 15th century until the late 19th.

Bajram Curri (By-rahm Tsurry) was born in what is now Kosovo (16 January, 1862). He would become a hero for standing up for the Albanians against the Ottomans. He was prominent in gaining independence for the Albanians and in some circles holds the same status as Skanderberg. Alfred pointed out the area above us while we walked along the river looking for a suitable place to fish. Curri had by early 1925 been defeated in revolution and forced to hide in a cave in Dragobi. He was killed by his own friends so their lives would be spared by Zogists (Albanian nationalists). I stood there for a few minutes and marveled at how impossible it would be find someone in this valley of sheer rock torsos and girdles of trees along its waist above the rushing Valbonne i Lumi.

Alfred’s nephew Reuben is the waiter/houseman/gap-filler for Rilindja, and he made a great cup of macciato for me. Reuben did many things and he did them well. He certainly deserves a mention and I am thankful to have crossed his path. He is an affable and sweet soul that I hope I get to see on my next visit. Our meals were nothing short of perfect. Breakfast was my favorite meal of the day. As you can see there was never a shortage of food for a good start. It seemed like I started to lose some of that weight I gained from all the seafood risottos and pizzas I ate on the beach. The photo above was my last breakfast at Rilindja and so my next blog will cover Friday 13 May through to today.

From Durres To Kosovo, & Into Valbonne’

Tuesday 10 May, 2022. My driver Denis picked me up at the Hotel Adriatic at 9am this morning. We began a 5 hour drive from the coast northward into the mountains. Denis is 24 year-old who works for Albanian Trips. He just drives. He is bright young man who understands the realities of Albania’s growing pains, and the path to the EU. We drove to near Tirana, the capital, before veering off toward Kosovo. The other routes were a 1 1/2 hour ferry ride (which I will do on my trip back), or a gravel road that would wind up and down through the mountains and take its toll on our bodies and Denis’ car. Kosovo!! I was incredibly excited to see even a bit of this fabled country, and get another stamp in my passport. It would seem that the only difference between Albania and Kosovo was in the construction of their houses. Outwardly, they looked much like Albanians, and Kosovo seemed like Albania.

The route wound through some interesting towns. In one town, name unknown, we drove right through what seemed like a flea market, or an open bazaar. The street was shaded, and packed with anything you could think of. At the end, about two or three blocks down were chickens, sheep, goats, and a few cows. This is truly an experience I will find hard to forget, and it is just my first day! As we left the open plain-like areas of Kosovo and began to climb back up into the mountains, the landscape became a bit more closed and not so wide open. The immense panoramas were giving way to tighter canyons and steep stone walls. Denis and I arrived at the border again to head back into Albania.

We continued winding slowly upward, as the roads twisted and turned, crossing the Valbon river on narrow bridges that bore the weight of concrete trucks. I was gobsmacked at the thought of that much weight going over such a little bridge. Denis didn’t think it was a big deal as we continued on way until we found Rezidenca Hotel (hostel is used also). 1 kilometer through the the trees was Rilindra restaurant where I am writing from as the wifi is here. Between Rilindra, and Rezidenca is where my stay will be. Alfred and Skender are two Albainian brothers that run this outfit. Alfred started it ten years ago, and now they are a full-service hotel and restaurant. People from all over the world are here right now. From Australia, Germany, Brazil, Switzerland, and Denmark… the world is slowly starting to discover this stunning area. I am staying in the mid-point of the upper valley and I am struggling to find words to describe this place. The scenery is beyond anything I’ve seen in my travels. I was sitting at a table this morning and heard bird songs that I’ve never heard before.

Wednesday 11 May, 2022. Alfred picked me up this morning to fly fish and we were off down the valley to go to a shop to get flies that are specific to this place. I am finishing this blog today and will write more about the fishing today, and tomorrow on Friday. I am focusing this blog on Albanian tourism, and fly fishing, as much as I want to inform my readers what I am up to. This trip is possible through Alda and Elton at “Albanian Trip”. They will be a frequent reference in this blog until next week. I want the world to know what is possible here in Albania.

Alfred and I will be fishing this late afternoon into the evening. The river is still moving very fast and we are going dow-valley to where it widens out and slows a bit. I am heading out to sit under the trees and re-rig my fly line. I thank you all for following me. Talk soon.

Full Circle..With An Upgrade

It is hard to imagine that I would ever need to be back at this 5-star hotel that was my saving grace, but I am here to fill a gap. My stay had ended at the last Airbnb I had booked, as of today (7 May). I leave for my fly fishing trip in the Albanian Alps on Tuesday (10 May). I was trying to figure out a decent place to stay for the three night gap and this hotel sent me a Booking.com invite as a “treasured guest”. I was asked to write a review of this hotel after my “taxi-cab hijacking” event and since my review was so glowing – they rewarded me. The timing couldn’t have been more perfect. On the exchange (euro/dollar) it came out to less than $47/night. I checked in at 3, after dragging all of my stuff on more time. From here on in, I move by car…easy-peasey. I took my second swim in the Adriatic and then showered off and took a dip in their indoor pool. I hit the sauna, showered here in my room, and had a hamburger in the dining room. I it is the first time in at least a couple of months that I have had red meat. It was delicious!

I had to have the a/c on in my room as the temp soared to near 27C (80F). It has begun to cloud up now and I have my windows open to catch the cool breeze off the Adriatic. The excitement level for me is back up again. I have finalized all of the arrangements for my trip to the Albanian Alps. I connected with Elton on the phone yesterday. Elton and Alda run “Albanian Trip”. They are a young tour business, and I will be their first fly fishing customer. I will have a driver, not a fishing guide. I will be going into unchartered territory for Elton, giving feedback, along with tips , and suggestions on how things should work. I have “guided” friends out West on our blue ribbon trout streams, so there is no reason why I can’t help Elton and Alda get their business going in the right direction…I hope.

We will leave here early Tuesday morning headed for Valbon, at nearly the border with Montenegro. The river, Valbone i Lumi is a wild, un-dammed river, and has Speckled Trout, along with Rainbow Trout, and a variety of smaller game fish. I am also hoping that the lodges we are staying in will have wifi. I would be tempted to send out a few photos and maybe a video here on my blog. Please stay tuned.

I have to add, that I had a wonderful time meeting a couple from Abu Dhabi. Malcolm is a schoolteacher and Liz is the school’s “Secondary Librarian”. We had three night of the best dinners and conversation. Klejdi (Claydee) my fave waiter at Hemera, was serving them and told them that I was an American from Slovakia. He was a little hesitant after the “Dutch Couple Fiasco”, but I assured him it was ok. Liz was from Alberta, and Malcolm was South African. They decided that the Western world was crazy for “working themselves to death” and sold their home in Calgary, took the jobs at the Canadian International School in Abu Dhabi, and now with their kids, they have seen almost every continent on the planet. They were even staying in my building, unbeknownst to all of us. Thursday morning Liz rang my phone/intercom (I was in Apt. 1…it happened alot) and said that she had forgotten the number for the keypad entrance.She didn’t know that it was my place. I buzzed her in and we had a laugh. I wrote it on the back of her hand, and she still had this morning when we said our goodbyes. It is a shame that we didn’t swap email addresses, because they were definitely a very cool pair of human beings. Kathleen, their 7 year-old daughter was very bright and well behaved. Their son Austin, was an unbelievable 2 year-old. He was very calm, and did not challenge his Mom and Dad; I haven’t seen kids like that in quite some time.

I didn’t expect to write this much. I merely wanted to bring you all up to date. After 2 months on the beach, I am looking for a change of pace. I really don’t care about my residency visa anymore, as I have no control over any of it. As a matter of fact, when I return from my trip to the mountains, and I have a long 2 weeks in Tirana, I may set about thinking about a “Plan B”.

To all of the Mothers out their, I wish you a sincere Happy Mother’s Day. From my heart to yours, and you know who you are; you represent the best in us. I love you and your kids…you’ve done a great job. I thank all of you for following me, and I will give an update as soon as I have something good to tell you…hopefully mid-week/next. Goodbye for now.

From The Sea And Up To The Peaks

I must apologize for posting in such a sporadic fashion. It would seem that I am at a place that I hadn’t foreseen. In the past few weeks I have “allowed” myself to dwell in a state of ennui. I have eschewed a live-in-the-moment approach to this venture. There has been no word from the Slovaks regarding my residency visa, and the prospect of having to return to the US, is not one that I relish. The other option is picking up in September and going somewhere else for 90 days…again. My intention was to come to Slovakia, and establish a sort of base camp, and trip off for a week (or so) at a time and see some of Europe. Adding the bonus of getting to see my family now that COVID has relented, and so too have the restrictions on travel, I would have everything I was hoping for in my retirement. I feel like I’m too old to return to the vagabondism of my youth.

In exactly 2 weeks I will leave for my fly fishing trip up to the Albanian Alps. Perhaps that will help to “re-align” my sense of being. Life here in Durres has been somewhat different. After the fiasco of the Dutch couple, I am happy to be alone, chatting with the young wait-staff here at Hemera. The weather is slowly beginning to turn warmer (72F today), and the breeze off the water keeps it from not getting too warm….yet. I really enjoy being out of my apartment and sitting under either the tiki umbrellas or cabana, and reading/writing. Sitting on my balcony is ok, but having the vista of the Adriatic has a bit of a freeing aspect to it. I’ve grown accustomed to the Albanian hip-hop that pumps out of the speakers. Sometimes, a little later, when I’m having dinner the music will change to Euro-versions of light-rock from the US. The good new is everything is very inexpensive; the money I have saved is going to where else?…the IRS! My cup of Macchiato costs $1.35, and dinner rarely costs me more than $10. This a much more affordable option than Scotland, where costs are tripled.

I’m pretty close to having explored nearly all that Durres has to offer in the way of history. The Museum of Archeology might be a possibility for one more visit. The one thing I have to say about Albania in general, is that it really doesn’t have anything in common with the Slavs who circle it entirely from the North and Northeast. To the South, the Greeks, who some contend are Slavic, share some similarities in culture, but the Albanians are a hybrid of mostly Mediterranean, Turkic, and Central Asian going for them. Genetically the Albanians are closer to the Greeks or even the Cypriots. The mixture of past cultures and religions is fascinating. There are mosques right next Christian churches, and Synagogues. As modern as it can feel here, there is still a sense off the Old World in the manner of their behavior. The children are well-behaved and the teen-agers seem hesitant to do anything that would embarrass themselves or their families. There is not a shred of “punky-ness” to any of the young people I have met and observed. I’m not sure I would come back. If I am not able to secure a residency visa, I don’t see traveling to another non-EU country next fall.

For the time being, I am going to relax, let all things happen the way they are going to happen, and roll with it. I believe it would be counter to what I have been practicing for the twenty-some years for me to start worrying about events and entities I can’t control. In a sense, I am admitting to fretting about the outcome of this latest application for a visa. I don’t like the fact that it got in the way of this trip. I have pledged to do better. I allowed the Dutch couple to get in my head, and I let it affect the way I treat people. It is all in the past now. I will enjoy the next two weeks here and welcome the change when it comes.

I’m particularly grateful that my dearest Ana has been hired at a law firm to do conflict analysis. It has been a tough row for her to hoe and she is doing very well now; I’m very proud of her for doing the work to get to this point in her life. My son Cezar and my future daughter-in-law continue to plan their wedding; date unkown as yet, but it will be a destination wedding. As a father, those two are always my concern, and especially now that I am not geographically close to them, I have to let them develop their own lives and traditions. I’m very proud of both of them; as proud as a father can be.

In the end, I think I have allowed myself to miss people that mean the most to me. It wasn’t this bad until a few weeks ago…when the “ennui cloud” gathered. It would appear that my European honeymoon is over and the realization has set in that I may have self-imposed an exile that I wasn’t mentally ready for. Spiritually it has been a challenge as well. In order to get past this, I’ll have to practice what I preach. In the future I will get a post out every Sunday, at the least. I appreciate you letting me think out loud. I am also very grateful to have you follow and send me your comments. Again, many thanks for reading…

Paradise Lost…For A Moment

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.

A Jump Ahead In Time, And Seaside Musings

It’s Sunday, 7 March, and we have “sprung ahead” here in Albania. Europe is behind the US, and has been since WWII. Albeit, they too have wrestled with the benefits and the ultimate scrapping of it, Europeans have polled overall to get rid off it. It hasn’t mattered to me one bit. I was still awake at 6:00am, my “internal clock” has clung to my usual work setting. For what seems like a countless age I had been arising at 3:50/4am every morning to chant and meditate before getting dressed and going off to work. “Sleeping in” on the weekends was limited to 5/5:30am, as I didn’t want to lose my edge, nor get “lazy”. The early morning would allow for peace and quiet before the rest of the house awakened on the weekend; it would grant me time to let the dogs out for the morning and greet the day outside of the house. Standing in the backyard of my former house, I was alone with the trees and the wind. That yard was a natural elixir to cure any ailment, and I garnered an immense joy from just standing, or sitting in it. As a matter of fact, I sat for the last time on December 5th, before leaving for the airport. My eyes lingered on every tree and bush, scanning everything in my surroundings like a sort of “mental MRI”. I shall not forget all of the memories made in that place. In coming posts, I may indulge myself and recall some of those memories, sweet or otherwise.

I was out onto the beach this morning at 7:30am. I strolled up the beach toward Durres for about a half hour, and found a seat on an unused hotel patio. The sand was all but deserted, and the sea was nearly glass: the waves came in low, lapping like soup in a bowl, and virtually noiseless. Normally by now there would be a steady stream of foot traffic, and this quiet may have been a result of the time change. At the time I returned on way back to my apartment, people were flowing onto the beach from the walkways that feed the shoreline. These small groups came down the wide gutters of the cobblestone path like ants being washed by rain onto the sand. I made breakfast and repaired to my ballkon to read and write, hence, this short dispatch.

The day has started out cloudy and somewhat cooler than previous. As I sit now it is 15C (59/60F) and won’t get much warmer. Without the sun, it will be like being in the Midwest during Spring. With my old fingers getting cold, I will take my cup of coffee back indoors and finish this note from there. Once inside, I recieved a call from my friend Ahni, and his timing is impeccable. We will go to a cafe to have dinner and watch the F1 race, as we had done last week. I was bouyant wtih a Ferrari 1 -2, and the food , along with his company, was excellent! Ahni and I had coffee at his place last evening, and got into a converstion about individualism, boomarked the discussion on a quiote from Nietzsche – “Thus Spoke Zarathustra”. Our talk arose from his remark about the Chinese and their attempt at it (individualism). He had spent 10 years in China, working for a dot com corporation there. Aside from being fluent in Mandarin, he speaks 4 other languages…Albanian not counted. I spend most of my time by myself and to have the conversation with Ahni, and most mornings with Leo at the grocery store… it is nice to hear another human voice. I fell asleep last night with our conversation bouncing around in my head.

Sitting this morning and watching the cool water lap at the shoreline, I remebered my conversation last night with Ahni and the things we said as we cited various works we loved. I remembered my favorite quote: “The Marivaudian being is, according to Poulet, a pastless futureless man, born anew at every instant. The instants are points which organize themselves into a line, but what is important is the instant, not the line. The Marivaudian being has in a sense no history. Nothing follows from what has gone before. He is constantly surprised. He cannot predict his own reaction to events. He is constantly being overtaken by events. A condition of breathlessness and dazzlement surrounds him. In consequence he exists in a certain freshness which seems, if I may so, very desirable.” I first read this in 1979/80. I bought Christopher Lasch’s “The Culture of Narcissism” sometime during my during my first trip to work on Captiva Island and my first term at University of Georgia. I still have it, and it is in one of boxes stored in my apartment in Bratislava. The themes of the book have been (and continues to be) a guidepost for me.

Looking back at those moments growing up in Blue Island; my Father’s alcoholism, my Mother’s determination, and the near-rancor between my siblings and I… there was a deep need in me to find out why “this was happening to me”. I believed that I was a narcissist, and when I saw the title in a book store, I had to see what was what. In the end, it didn’t reveal any answers toward my own percieved “narcissism”, but it did put my inner compass on a stronger setting. I thought it would be “cool” to be this Marivaudian being. In practice it was nearly impossible, but I tried nonetheless. I tried throwing off my roots, and reconditioned myself to my working-class upbringing. Since the passing of my Grandfather Niles Errft in high school, I seceded from reilgion, thinking no “just god” would take away the man that meant the most to me. I held my own Father in contempt for his shortcomings, only to find in time that I would yield to my own inner demons and failings.

I would sputter and fall to earth, after nearly 20 years of my own alcohol and addiction-fueled refusal to recognize my connection to everyone around me. Now 22 years removed from that mental and spiritual face-plant, I am once agiain Poulet’s “pastless, futureless man”, in the mildest and least romantic sense. I find myself still connected to my past; those that I love and care about keep me tethered to it, and I do not pull on that gossamer thread. On this particular journey, there is an element of that “condition of breathlessness and dazzlement” that surrounds my awakening and discovery of this world beyond my known comforts. In relating this to Ahni last night, he thought it brilliant, which I shrugged off. It is imperative to remain on my “middle path”, practice humility, and gratitude. I am still beholden to Lasch for the greater awakening regarding my political and cultural awareness. As for now, it is in the role of observation and not adjuducator that feels best. I have finally come to this point: where I’m comfortable in my own skin; it’s okay to be alone, and to discover for myself what is being revealed to me about this existence of mine that seems to trouble, and challenge me at times.

On a last and more earthly note: I recieved news from a friend at Holy Sephulcre Cemetery, that one of our co-workers had passed on after an accident in the cemetery. Our friend Ralph was someone who is easy to eulogize. He was my mentor when I joined Catholic Cemeteries after retirement from George J. Roll. He showed me the ropes and showed me how to do many of the jobs there. He was a Navy vet, a father, grandfather, and a devoted husband…he was also active in his church and his VFW as well. I considered him one of the last “old school” guys. Ralph was a musician also, and we shared much in that respect. He and his wife Susan came to The Last Waltz in my backyard…one of many from the cemetery that came to see our band The Dharmic Wheels, play for the last time together. He fell out of a moving vehicle, and remained in a coma for some days. I have been asking for he and his family and friends. The world will be a different place without Ralph texting me his corny jokes, and photos of this season’s crew cleaning up for Spring. For once again, I am devastated, and find solace in the fact that Ralph was truly a unique man, who touched my life and helped me when I needed it most.

I appreciate you who allow me to indulge these moments of scattered notions. I am grateful for those that reply with comments, and I am always grateful for the texts and calls. I will write a more pointed post in the upcoming days…these are just my thoughs today, from the seaside. Please take care of each other. Thank you