Showing posts from May, 2009

The Ring Goes South

Travel is fatal to bigotry, prejudice and narrow-mindedness. Broad wholesomeness and charitable views cannot be acquired by vegetating in one tiny corner of the globe. —Mark Twain Crossing from Albania into Greece is a lot like crossing into the United States from Mexico. If you are Albanian, you are scrutinized and searched by the intrusive and tyrannical Defenders of the Border; if you are white, the same guards wave you through with hardly a glance. From Corcyra I took a bus across the narrow island of Corfu to the famous Pink Palace hostel, which lives up to its desultory reputation as a Pepto Bismo-colored monument to white western debauchery. I checked in and received a pink-dyed shot of Greek ouzo along with the constrictive ground rules and the programme of extreme sports, sunbathing, and drinking. I was also greeted by a shirtless douche in a sailor's hat, shorts, and flip flops, who grabbed me and demanded that I punch him in the face. "I need the adrenaline bro,&quo

You Wouldn't Remember Anything Else

Why I wanted the adventure of it, and I'd a waded neck deep in blood. —Tom Sawyer in Huckleberry Finn In Vlore last week, with an English bloke from Birmingham named Stuart, I made it my goal to hitchhike. Vlore is a crowded line of sunburned concrete buildings on a flat plain between mountain and sea, whose welcome sign states earnestly: "Vlore, because you'd forget anything else." Anxious to leave, to find a real beach, and to attempt the humble art of hitchhiking, we marched an hour out of town along the coast on the only highway south, and we held out our thumbs, which to the hospitable and generous Albanians, coming from two obvious Westerners, is a beacon of need. The third car to see this, a red Jeep, stopped and drove us under a ridge and around a cove to Orikum, from whence we trekked away from the coast and across an empty plain towards a line of mountains. A car stopped and offered the last two spots on the back seat to Stuart, me, and our backpacks, for an

Apollonian Rhapsody

I will proceed with my history, telling the story as I go of small cities no less than of great. For most of those which were great once are small today, and those which used to be small were great in my own time. Knowing therefore, that human prosperity never abides long in the same place, I shall pay attention to both alike. —Herodotus There are two kinds of roads: Those where you have to wait for goat herds, and those where you don't. Albanian roads are among the former. No buses or trains go there from the Montenegrin capital, and if you do take a bus that goes through Albania to Greece or some further destination, it will not stop anywhere along the road, but remains sealed as if quarantined. I took a cab from Podgorica up over the hills around Lake Skadar, and walked from the exit station into Albania. A red Mercedes drove up while the guard was checking my passport. A guy got out and handed over his wallet. He talked to the guard, who pointed at me and said, "Shkodra?&q