Friday, November 14, 2008

Play On

I went to a piano recital last week. Only an informal one. A lady, after 11 yrs as a nursery teacher, decided to open the ground floor of her house as a tea house. It serves different teas, good coffee, hot chocolate and cakes. A world apart from anywhere in Tirana I would say. Sometimes she does an Iranian evening meal (she's half Iranian) She has decorated her house absolutely beautifully and all sourced in Albania, converting the ground floor from nursery school to tea house. She said it was a huge effort finding furnishings and furniture etc & she nearly gave up at times. She also made or adapted a lot of stuff herself. People who go there say: "I can't believe you found this here in Albania." This lady is also a masseuse and a former professional pianist, so she treated us to some of her own compositions plus 2 Chopin pieces.

This was only the 2nd evening out I have had since arriving in Albania 11 mths ago. It was so civilised and the surroundings so beautiful, and then she started playing and it made me cry. Chopin doesn't normally make me cry I hasten to add. Some music does. I'm not even into music that much, especially, compared to my husband. But I do miss the concerts we used to go to in the U.K.

Fortunately I was in the front row so I hope no one noticed. My 1st thought was "Get a GRIP, girl." I didn't know what had come over me. It was like having been submerged too long, and suddenly coming up to gulp sweet, fresh air.

I guess I could blame having a bad week, or hormones or over-tiredness, but you know what I think it was? It was missing beauty.

Living here there is a lot of environmental ugliness round about, the roads are cracked and full of potholes, there are no man hole covers on the drains, there is rubbish everywhere, not litter but actually dumped rubbish. Even all the (beautiful & functional) fruit trees have been cut down, at the end of the communist era in angry reaction to the past. Most of Tirana is a building site. Most of Tirana has a fine layer of dust permanently resting on it. It's true the mayor has done a grand (& cheap) job painting all the old communist blocks in vibrant colours. But there's still a lot of shabbiness.

The quality of everything from workmanship, service, utilities to clothes, to education is very mediocre or downright awful.

At the risk of sounding sentimental and maudlin (but hey ho, here goes) it's also missing beauty in community, friendship, family. Instead of making do with whatever is available, however meagre that might be. I think that sums it up 'making do', and sometimes I get tired of it. That's not to do with Albania, it's just being an uprooted alien in a foreign land.

I have tried really, really hard to 'think positive' and to be grateful for all the good, and there is much to be grateful for. Don't get me wrong, life is not miserable or really tough, but it is mediocre. And frustrating, and lonely at times. And what doesn't help and again I try really, really hard not to think of this, but it was so much better back home, (OK, apart from the weather) in ways which are so important to me, relationships, a social network, real old friends, family, a good church, a comfortable house we can fling open to friends with its familiar patina of our own collected belongings.

So I try not to compare, but the problem is I know what I am missing. I have to make myself NOT think about it. I have 2 acquaintances here who have both studied in America. For many reasons they struggle to fit back in, but also they too know what they are missing, they experience the same frustrations we do because standards aren't the same as what we have become used to, power cuts are a feature of daily life here, water being cut off, is too. The traffic is mad and maddening, the pollution is choking, many things are unavailable.

The Albanian people felt very angry when the country finally opened up and they discovered the monumental lie they had been spun about living in paradise, and they had known no better. It was SO closed they really had NO idea about the outside world. There was understandably so much anger at the deception, how they had been made to live and suffer, and at what they had missed out on. Now the Internet does the same all round the world, creating dissatisfaction & anger at the imbalance that is seen.

I know this is what we signed up for, we are hardly making big sacrifices, it's hardly a 'tough' developing country I know, and it has come a vast distance since 1994, it's just that, on some days, I can't escape this feeling that my life has been 'pared down'. I feel stripped and and bare. Sometimes I feel my world has been reduced & reduced, boiled way until there's only a dry paste left. Not always; only on the bad days, on good days I just get on with it.

That night though, the beauty of the music crept up on me unawares., caught me by surprise, with a reminder of its existence and gave me a glimpse of something else, lifted me momentarily above my circumstances.

A scene in my all time favourite film, The Shawshank Redemption, expresses it far better than I could, in which Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins) finds a recording of The Marriage of Figaro in a box of stuff sent for the library. He locks himself in the Warden's office and plays the aria Che Soave Zeffiretto over the tanoy. All the criminals exercising in the yard, working in the kitchens etc stop and listen. And Morgan Freeman says this:

"I like to think they were singing about something so beautiful it can't be expressed in words, and makes your heart ache because of it. I tell you those voices soared higher and farther than anybody in a grey place dares to dream of. It was like some beautiful bird had flapped into our drab little cage and made those walls dissolve away, and for the briefest of moments every last man....felt free."


Iota said...

Oh I felt so sad for you when I read this.

When we moved here, a local person who I was in touch with, who had lived in Scotland, warned me that I would miss beauty. I asked what I could do about it, and she said "look at the sky", which is one of the things this bit of the Midwest is famous for. She was so right - this place is so functional and so ugly compared to Scotland. I do look at the sky, and it sometimes helps.

Your life is impoverished in many ways, but I think you'll look back on this time as an enriching experience - in some way or other. Hang on in there. said...

"Sometimes I feel my world has been reduced & reduced, boiled way until there's only a dry paste left. Not always; only on the bad days, on good days I just get on with it."

Perfect. And I'm with you x