Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Secret Admirers & Snowy Mountains

It seems that whenever there's a special day I want to write about I have a power cut or no internet & so I miss the day. This happened to me at Thanksgiving, New Year & now Valentine's Day. And the moment is lost. But I wanted to write about it so I am going to!

As I wrote last year, Valentine's Day is a big deal here, borrowed from the Americans. It was a rite of passage year for my son though, no longer sending a card to all his friends in the class but sending just one to a girl he is good friends with & also wants to marry (coincidentally the sister of the boy my daughter wants to marry.) Well, I did say it was a small claustrophobic community here.

He made a card for her & wrote the following rhyme in it.

Roses are red, violets are blue,

If I say I like you,

Will you say so too?

What it lacks in finesse, it makes up for with its heartfelt 'playground negotiation' style I felt. Obviously feeling somewhat emboldened, he then touchingly asked my advice, saying

“I want to say something else but I don't know how to 'kick it off.” He settled for soul bearing honesty:

“I think you are very nice & very beautiful too”


Your SECRET Admirer.

He then gave it to her by hand... ?? I guess the cultural mix of American friendship cards & British anonymous Valentine's to one person, or a signed one to your 'significant other' got lost in translation somewhere along the line, & our son inadvertently devised a cultural mish mash of all of them. Fortunately for him, the feeling seems to be mutual & they have a lovely relaxed friendship. He seemed more worried about what his dad might think than the girl in question. He showed me the finished article but then said

“I don't think I'll show Daddy because he'll just tease me.”

Our daughter gave us a each a piece of paper torn out of a notebook in a used envelope (top marks for recycling) saying “Dear Mummy I love you very much. Love” & then she signed it with both her 1st & last name, in case I was in any doubt. She is at the stage where she is just taking off with writing & reading, so loves to get her brother to write & she copies. I got a random one very early one Saturday morning. I woke to my daughter standing over me saying 'This is for you'. It said:

Dear Mummy

I am sorry for being naughty, please forgive me'.

Which immediately made me somewhat suspicious but it turned out to be just catch all for past (& future) misdemeanours.

My husband made me a card which I got on the 14th this year & then I spent he day buying a cannister & some diesel for the generator so we can use it when the landlord (frequently) runs out of fuel, making tea for my husband & our muddy biker friends & watching a game of rugby & then rustled up supper for our bachelor friend who finally left at 10.30p.m . Just as well I'm not the romantic type.........

Valentine's Day is very big here too for some reason. In the park on Sunday there were lots more Roma out begging than usual, lots of informal cardboard box stalls selling things, a man with a huge python & a polaroid camera getting couples to pose with it draped round their neck. Fortunately the dancing bear wasn't there. It's at times like this that you realise what a developing country it is just below the surface.

Last year we spent Valentine's Day trying to get up Mt Djati, a local attraction with, amazingly, a cable car built by the Austrians. It took an hour to get there (20 min journey) & was heaving as about 50 people crowded round the one open kiosk. I joined the fray noticing very quickly that a.) I was the only woman in the queue & b.) the queue wasn't moving at all. A very Albanian phenomenon was happening whereby complete strangers wave money over your head , shouting all the while & the stranger at the front accepts the cash from myriad different people & buys their tickets for them, then passes them back over your head complete with change. I never know how this is worked out. Net result though- you never get any nearer the front.

At one point this 'very helpful' man at the front finally left with his tickets & the men all round me just put their shoulder down & heaved. For all they were worth. I felt like I was going to be swept off my feet. But not in a good way you understand. So I pushed back, the other way & made a bid for freedom. I had lasted 15minutes. My husband said he would take over. I am pleased to report he realised how awful it was & lasted 2 mins before giving up.

This year, the day after Valentine's Day, a school holiday, the cable car was closed so I drove the children up. They were desperate to see some snow. The guy at the park gates near the top of the mountain said ''a bit of a problem, not much though'. There was snow down the centre of the road & loads piled up on the sides. As we continued it got worse, thicker but also slushier. And the road got narrower. The worst thing though was that we kept meeting cars coming down. Because I was in a 4x4 all the Albanians mostly in 2 WD, wanted me to pull off the very narrow rd to let them pass. (Or maybe it was because I was a woman, it's hard to tell in Albania.) I got stuck 3 times, skidded many times. I wasn't gripping in 4WD at all. I knew it wd take me hours to put the snow chains on & I had never done it before. It took my husband 45 minutes (with assistance, & lots of advice, from the 2 guys we were with that time.)

I met a couple of Albanian lads on a moped who said it was another 4 km & added nonchalantly (with the confidence of someone on their way back down), that it was fine, no problem. It got thicker & thicker & every time I pulled off the rd I wheel spun & got stuck in thick snow. Eventually I said to the children I was going to turn round as soon as I found a turning space on the mountain side & not on the cliff side. I was obviously not managing to conceal my considerable anxiety about getting stuck or skidding as my daughter started wailing “Mummy I don't want to die.” She is, however, known for her drama queen tendencies. Whereupon her brother told her not to be silly we weren't going to. I appreciated his faith in the situation. It was more than I had.

We turned round, & further down (this being the small claustrophobic community remember?) we met 2 teacher friends & their Albanian friends who had also abandoned their attempt & were building snow men. I was shaking like a leaf.

Mt Djati had eluded us once more.

Post script. I discovered from my husband (& not from any of my friends I'd met on the mountain), that you have to turn something on the actual wheels, not just use the 4WD gear stick, so I hadn't actually been in four wheel drive at all. Ho hum.


Heather said...

4WD always eluded me too. Never could figure out the stupid thing on the wheels.

Iota said...

Our first winter here, I'd been pressing a button on our car every time it was icy, thinking I was turning on the automatic anti-wheel locking technology. Actually, I was turning it off - the default is that it's on. But we don't have hills, and it's all city driving, two lanes in each direction, on roads that are mostly gritted, so I really can't compare with you.

nappy valley girl said...

The only upside of Valentine's being so in-your-face here was that there was no chance of The Doctor forgetting, and I actually got some delicious chocs from Macy's.

We have about a foot and half of snow here - terribly pretty, but I am aching and sore from all that shovelling.

bkatay said...

It is very exciting for me to hear your personal experiences on everyday life in Albania.
Do you know other English blogs with posts about everyday life in Albania?
Thanks for your guidance in advance.