Travel and Wall Art, Redux

Happy New Year as we slip into 2023. October now seems so long ago, when I had the opportunity to travel to Greece and Albania. This is continuation of reflections on wall art that I saw in my journeys, this time in Albania.

Along with an extended stay in the capital, Tirana, I visited Berat, Vlora, and Girokastra. Since childhood, Albania was a mysterious, secretive place. Our mother told us just briefly that her father had a lost sister who married “an Albanian.” That was the gist of it; so mysterious.

Albania was closed to most Americans until the latter years of the twentieth century when the long-standing, repressive Communist regime finally crumbled. The Greek town where my grandfather lived, Filiates, is close to the Albanian border. When my mother finally was able to visit the homeland of her parents in 1968, she went to Filiates with her cousin, Raphael. Special permission had to be arranged from the government to visit the town so close to the border.

outside the family home

The house from afar, 2022:

After more than a week in Greece, I flew to Tirana. The next morning, my kind hosts, took me to Berat (a UNESCO World Heritage site) in search of the “Lost Aunt.”

Berat, city of windows

I was taken by the architecture which is so similar to that of neighboring northwestern Greece. The unique paintings on Albanian mosques stood out everywhere I saw it. The King mosque built in the fifteenth century by the Ottoman sultan Bayezid II became a Cultural Monument in 1948.

The King Mosque

The next day, we drove to Vlora, the Albanian Riviera. We rambled around the streets of the city undergoing some sort of urban renewal with a stop at the local ethnographic museum.

Women’s Room

The fishermen’s tools included a multi-pronged harpoon, specially for octopus (my friend!).

I also found here that art captures life … The qeleshe, plis, qylaf or kësul is a white brimless felt skull cap traditionally worn by Albanians, today part of the traditional costume of the Albanians.

As we were leaving Vlora, tucked into a corner, I caught a glimpse of an homage to one of America’s most renowned Albanian performers, John Belushi.

Dan and Elwood in Albania

One day during my week in Tirana, I had the opportunity to travel to Gjirokastra another UNESCO World Heritage site. The castle, the streets, everything are worthy of that designation.

And relatively little wall paintings in the historic district of Gjirokastra.

Tirana was another story, between my appointments, meetings, walking tours, museum visits, and rain, I walked and looked and took photos. First in this direction, then another, and another, and so on. In the Pazari district, this grandmother was trying to get her granddaughter interested in a pigeon …

Blocku, in the Communist era a closed-off precinct for the party elite, where the villa of long-ruling dictator Enver Hoxha still stands, and manned bunkers kept out those who were not permitted*.

a bunker to keep non-elite out, in the past times

*Note: The free walking tour taking off from the central square was well-worth it.

Among other discoveries that stood out was this dovecote tucked into a backyard.

Here are a few of the many murals that stood out as I wandered the city: a giant teddy bear upon entering the city from the airport:

two children express simply friendship:

more children are wrapped in political statements in our time of need:

look behind the leaves to find the horse and rider:

this is only one corner of the entire Woodrow Wilson Square wrapped by a now-faded rainbow:

Of course, I saw and took part in lots and lots more, museums, exhibitions, and so forth … it was an emotion-laden trip full of visual and other memories.

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