BOOKS: Two Vagabonds in Albania

Jan and CoraIn 1925, artists Jan and Cora Gordon left their bohemian life in Montparnasse and set out for Albania with their painting materials, a guitar, a lute and a donkey named Colonel Geraldine. Their observations of this lost culture are striking.


Elbasan is a town to loiter in, though not in the café. That is a rather dismal place, decorated by prints of big-bosomed, wasp waisted, luscious light ladies of forty years ago, groups of spasmodically barbered Albanians playing cards, dominoes, or backgammon with nerve racking vehemence. No. Perhaps the best place where to get your Turkish coffee and cigarette and contemplation is in the hairdressers… and the barber’s shop…a place of resort for coffee drinkers as well as the unshorn. Or the silversmith’s… then the lawyer’s shop. Alternatively you might have sat with the leather worker whom you have commissioned to make a satchel, and he would also have given you coffee; or you could have joined the audience at the tailor’s, where the policeman read the newspaper aloud; or you might sit with the tobacconist while he was selecting the leaves… or drunk strange scented herbal tea at the tiny teashop of the Moslem priest. In all these places and many more you would have been warming Elbasan in your hands and allowing its flavor to penetrate to your nostrils. Then you might have talked about it.”

Albanian Roads:

“If you desire to take a thrill, take a public lorry from Korca to Permeti. Your life will be in danger at least six times and you will see the magnificent scenery. You will also quite possibly be partially deaf for two days afterwards.“


“Permet is remarkable for two causes. The first was the number of men, the second was the dearth of women. The men sat about in the cafes or loafed at the street corners from morning to night, talked revolutionary politics … read the wretched rags of newspapers, played cards or backgammon or else – favorite occupation – sat for hours with blank faces and minds, twirling key chains or rosaries about their fingers.“


“It looked at first to us like the bazaar part of an Eastern city, but which had lost its city. Rows of meager houses hollowed out into shops and hot with the tired heat of the end of a languid afternoon. There were three hotels all were full and the reason? The parliament was sitting. Deputies were sleeping two in a bed. For the evening’s amusement there were two cafes where gypsy orchestras played queer and thrilling music. Tirana still slept. All her political aspirations, jealousies, quarrels, intrigues were numb for a few hours. And how sweet the air tasted

Their trip was fired by coffee and cigarettes, as they quoted an Albanian proverb:

“Kafa pa duhan si Turku pa iman” – “Coffee without tobacco is like a Turk without belief.”


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This entry was posted on May 10, 2014 by in Books, History and tagged , , , , , , , , , , .
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