Published: August 7th 2008August 7th 2008
When I first came to Albania in 2004, I landed at a small shack-sized airport and drove into a city where alot people looked and acted the same and where the country was still struggling to take its place among European countries.
Yesterday, I landed in the morning to the city's new airport--which although still sized for a small country (ie, only one luggage belt for arriving passengers) had all the modern trappings and architecture you expect in 2008. A modern, organized parking lot has taken the place of the mud field where the driver once picked me up two years ago.
A new road leads into the city center, where buildings have sprouted up and businesses have taken the place of where young guys used to wash cars and still out front of businesses with no business. In some places, the old Italianate architecture still survives with low-rise apartment buildings and shops. But the city has taken on a much more modern feel--with new cafes, more modern builidngs and architecture arising from the streets.
Fortunately, the city still keeps its small side streets and tiled roofs in some places. It's a cozy, friendly place where most people
are still known to each other and the aggressive traffic of neighboring countries has not yet arrived. Only now the cafes are more modern, the fashion more up-to-date, and a new vibe has taken over. Before, people spoke of not having jobs and wanting to move to Italy or Greece; now, they speak about this new building or that new plan for the city.
Last night, I walked past my old apartment and the Block neighborhood. Where it used to be a chic enclave where modern businesses struggled to take hold, they now have their roots firmly in the neighborhood.
I met last night with Blerta, the photographer who working with me on the article about the city. I felt so inspired by her words. Sure, she tells of a city where it's hard for photographers to get work and to be appreciated--where landscapes are still considered "modern photography". But there is a new youthful spirit alive in the city.
Edi Rama, the city's progressive mayor, has gone a long way in re-branding the city. At the beginning of his mayorship, he began a program to begin painting the old gray apartment blocks in funky, loud colors
as a way to provide the social landscape in a lively way to inspire citizens to wake up out of the isolation of the communist period. Now, a more progressive young group of politicians, professionals, etc have taken their place. Blerta was explaining how in the communist period, the individual did not exist but after the transition to democracy, individuals not knowing themselves or how to manage their freedom, a sort of anarchy took over. Mafia, the 1997 anarchy, etc all took root as the country struggled to find a vision for itself. In this time, there was some kind of a shame that people felt in their country. Now, though, things are changing and the Albanians are finally taking pride in their country and taking ownership over their future.
There are more photos below