“A short glimpse from the outside can create a feeling that finally at least in this country a large piece of real European wilderness can be secured. Several protected areas have been established in the past years to create conditions for longterm protection of biodiversity and natural values of this country. However, a closer look at the situation reveals that only limited interest was expressed to protect the most important heritage of this country – Wilderness.”
Just as I was thinking I’d better put more cheerful stuff on here, an email arrived from “Niki and Martin”!
“We visited Valbone in October 2014 and had Rilindja all to ourselves one rainy day, at the end of which we chatted to you both while the thunder rumbled around the mountains and the lights flickered. Anyway, we’ve just had an article published that’s all about hiking in Valbone and you guys, so we thought you’d like to know about that. Here’s the link: Into the Accursed Mountains.”
It’s winter. And days are long and slow and boring, and silent. And sliced up by sudden changes between sloth and imperatives. When the wind blows, and the snow falls, and various natural things howl, the electricity is prone or likely to go out. In which case, at which time, a small wood stove is all that stands between me and death – I guess. Although even at such times, which I’ve lived through now, more than once, I don’t SLEEP by the stove. Alfred and I did that – one winter or two – in some distant romantic days. I suppose we thought we were being practical. It all seems now like some big adventure, which we should have appreciated more, at the time. As I say, I don’t. Left to myself. Perhaps I should. Maybe I’ll try it. Instead I stalk doggedly (though there are no dogs now – they’ve all left, they didn’t like it here, and I don’t blame them) up to my cabino. There’s no heating, but it’s a place, my place where for once – inside years and years – I got to make . . . something. I climb the ladder, I crawl into the bed. I take off my boots, but leave everything else on – pants and socks (horrendous and repeatedly frozen and sweatsoaked and not realized except on the rare occasion of a thaw, in which case the smell – a sort of rich warm muggy microbe smell gives them away, and my feet get slippery, and stick to the carpet) and sweaters (numerous) and coat, and TWO hats. I pull the blankets (numerous) over my head, and wait for sleep.
That’s sloth. The imperatives are to chop wood, to carry wood, to push the wheelbarrow full of wood though snow. It sticks, I plant my legs and shove. I win. I carry more. I don’t know how long the wood will last. If Alfred were here, there would be an imperative for food. But alone, I don’t really need much, I find. And so much less work.
The imperatives are not to go mad, and not to feel stupid. So I do things. I write. I find my old bird book, and put out muesli and watch the birds. Through binoculars, through the window. I look like a mad old lady, in training if not quite yet in fact. I follow fox tracks in the snow. As if I’ll find them. I try to guess, at lives. At lives, being lived, around me. I let the cat in. I put the cat out. I can’t stand the crying, and I let the cat in, again.
I sit down, I write this, and I think about Robinson Crusoe.
About 7 years ago, I uprooted my (hurly-burly) life in NYC and moved to this small, remote, isolated village in Northern Albania. I did this quixotically, with no planning or financial strategy, in a few suitcases. And no legality. After 6 years of uninterupted life here, I am now (I guess) firmly illegal everywhere. Not only in Albania, for visa reasons, but I imagine in America, for simply not existing there, by which of course I mean not paying taxes (not that I’ve earned anything – I haven’t! I swear!). Quite possibly, I will end my life like Baron Corvo, breathing my poverty-stricken last under an upturned rowboat – the thought does in all sincerity haunt my early morning waking hours.
This is a fact.
On the other hand, there are other facts. I noticed today that someone posted something in facebook – a journalist in some Balkan language I do not (to my shame) recognize. The post contained a picture of me and the journalist, and there were some few comments. The first of them was by an Albanian who wrote simply (in English) “Katrina is one of us.” I don’t even know this person. And yet he wrote with complete confidence this statement of (as he perceived it) fact. My heart swells. I feel grateful, I feel humbled, I feel indebted, I feel reconized. I feel . . . loved.
I’m not sure anyone in America, my birth place, would ever have written “Catherine is one of us.” I’m not sure there is an “us” in America, to refer to. I’m not sure how I feel about the fact that I needed to move to Albania, in order to feel adopted. In order to feel recognized. In order to find a place that I would fight for. But isn’t that the definition of home, beyond what you do with your hat? The place you would fight for? Oh not with guns, or arms, or stones or sticks – although in truth I imagine I would pick those up, if offered enough reason, for this place. I would. But fight for. On bad days, I wake up thinking “oh god, I can’t,” but then I do, because after all, you can’t lie in bed all day. On good days, I can’t wait to bounce out of bed, to get to the computer, to go to the school, to see the children, to be with people, to fight. To live. On good days, I am even cheerful about the dishes, the laundry, the sweeping, floor-mopping, the fires to be lit, the bread to be baked, and all the other things that are part of everyday life here, if you’re a woman, which, as it turns out I am.
But besides “about,” I do know how it feels, exactly. It feels right. Despite, in all honesty, how cranky I might be about the cleaning and cooking, if Albanians are happy to have me, then I am happy to be theirs. Yours my dears. Heart and soul, as I would say. Or Blood and Salt, Bread and Home, as you might say, as I could say now, perhaps barely understanding, but beginning, and hoping, and promising.
What does it mean when someone claims you, when someone you don’t even know says “she is ours”? It means you can’t possibly answer anything else, but “Yes. Yes I am. I am yours.” For better or for worse, for now and for always. We’ll fight together, learning from each other, for this home.
Me buke e kripe e zemer tone.
The electricity was off all day. I ate at noon, got sleepy, and went back to bed. My nose was cold, so tucked everything under. Woke up at 3pm. Just in time to feed the trout, before so-called “sun-down.” Started writing a book, and drew this, as first illustration: Fig. 1. The dogs are barking. Subject of book: Botanical exploration. Stay tuned for Chapter 1.
O Krepa, Krepa – Nice and Round
Your effect on me is quite profound
So to the chef let’s all bow down
And touch our heads upon the ground
*As some of you no doubt know, Edward Lear was a runcible traveller in Albania. I hereby inaugurate some extra nonsense on our website in his loved memory. Please feel free to send your own and we will post (with crappy line drawings, please!)