The summer is really pleasant in Pogradec, a small sleepy town on the south shore of lake Ohrid in Albania. Surounded by high hills in the North, the tall Dry Moutain South and in the West a plain green valley, ringed in huzelnuts, pines, chestnut and apple trees. An idealic beautiful place of legends of lover Saints, inspired poets and a long list of well sought after artists. As if the town’s clock ran a bit slower to the rest of the world, everything seemed to move in slow-motion.
The misty aroma of the lake waters mixed with the appetizing smell of the fried fish made me hungry five or six times a day.
In our youth, a piece of bread and cheese, after a long swim, was the tastiest thing you had ever eaten. No one of us needed more than that? Thoughtless and care-free, because the school was far away, in September, and two months was long enough to enjoy life, we lived to chase girls.
The people of Pogradec are generally polite well-mannered folks, a bit judgmental, but once you get to know their ways, you can really feel at home, even when you are just a guest.
In Pogradec all is small, thus everything else is seen as big. From our home to my untie Luljeta’s apartment was just seven hundred fifty meters, but to us it was afar, and the visits had a kind of pompous formality, with all the duly accessorized dressing.
Voloreka, the touristic delta of a small river, a beautiful place of willows and swans, was just five kilometers away, but the locals rarely visited, and no buses went there. No cars either.
“An hour on foot!? Naaay…! Better let’s drink some vodka on the smoky bar near the high school. Voloreka will still be where it is tomorrow. Don’t worry, the Yugoslavians will not take it!”
Most of the humor ended with our enemies of the beyond the pond in Macedonia.
A great little orderly town Pogradec, with flowers everywhere and spotless clean streets, but it will be wise for one not to show off too much; folks know who you are.
“Who are you selling that? Us?!”
A bit like the Jewish folks, the kids take their recognition from the mothers. So you had Beni of Mira, Tani of Fatima, Taqka of Marika and so on. Only I was Tani of the Police Chief. Was that out of respect or fear from my father, I did not understand, but no one called me by my mother’s name.
Everyone knew everybody else, young and old. The commercial drivers kept me as friend, so I saved them often from the traffic police, who let the mischief go every time I intervened, not forgetting to make sure that I would transmit their deepest respects to my father, even though they met him every morning.
Gentle faithful folks the people of Pogradec, although a bit blabby. A humorous say stated that “if you farted at the Hunters Club, before entering town, the news will fly to the other side faster than the stink. But nobody made a fuss of it, because, knowing the drill, they kept it tight not to let anything escape. The secrets where things the world talked about, but made sure to give it the right confidentiality of a “secret”. The people knew who were the whores and their visitors, the alcoholics and those who liked boys, but the politeness prevailed and the pleasantries and courtesies where kept in place. For girls liking girls no one had any idea back then.
The gossip was not just for farts and colorful stories, all were part of the rumbling rumors. Not having a reason to be made a subject was not important, the people would invent one easily.
In the thirties, when the only policeman in town, brought in from North Albania, was retiring, someone asked him for his impressions on the people of Pogradec.
“Orderly law-abiding people, but, if one have a tail they will cut it and if you do not, they will attach one to your ass”.
One winter, me and a friend found two pairs of reddish trousers… Oh! Boy…!
“How can a man dress in red pants?!”
The white was not a good idea either, particularly in bottleneck blouses.
“Hey, pretty boy! Are you trying to impress Petrica’s daughter? She is way out of your league, you punk!”
The old town-folks of Pogradec are more artistic and free comparing to those of Korça, the neighboring bigger town, which is considered the little Paris, but they still have a lot of social frames that nobody seems to be able to change. Try if you dare! You sure are not gone take a beating for trying, but be prepared to become the preferred name of town’s whispers. Back then there was no need for Facebook, the people remembered and share every single comment.
Back to my story, summer was the best season, at least for us, the young men, roaming the streets well-mannered and neatly dressed in T-shirts.
There is a nice custom the evening walk in the boulevard, alongside the lake, in a kind of parade of everybody, and it was the best way to see our sweethearts, even though often in their parent’s company.
The short sleeves were obligatory, it was summer after all. What else do you want to wear in the middle of warm season? The heavy clothes are for after September.
Even though I practically grew up in Pogradec and I proclaimed belonging to the place, deep inside I accepted to be from Elbasan, an industrial old city, right in the middle of Albania.
That made me a bit divergent on the habits and the paranoia of my adopting town.
Positioned seven hundred meters above the sea level and situated in a lake-sure, even in the middle of summer it got chilly often. So, I ran home and put on a jacket made from a bigger older jacket of my father.
Searching for the girls in the boulevard’s parade I walked with my head up high, warm enough, but my friends not so much, with their teeth cutting nails and smiling to cover it.
The people used to be amassed at me and say:
“Do you see any snow falling boy? Do you want a feather coat too?”
Then, everybody joined in a cheerful laugh:
” Jacket in the middle of summer! How can anyone be so stupid? “