Postcards from Albania

Postcards from Albania

When in Greece go to Albania

It’s only three miles from Corfu at its closest point so it would be rude not to. We sailed the hydrofoil from Corfu Town and here we are sipping a cappuccino at a smart restaurant in Sarandë, a port and resort on the Albanian Riviera – yes, they’ve got a riviera. We’re on a coach trip with a herd of Saga louts – Brits and Germans mainly. We had neither the wit nor the inclination to organise the tour independently. Albanian’s call their country Republika e Shqipërisë. No, I can’t pronounce it either so let’s just stick with Albania.

Sarande

The Trojan Connection

Our first excursion is to the ancient city of Butrint – Roman Buthrotum back in the day and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. After years in Turkey, I tend to be a bit blasé about old cities – Turkey’s got ‘em by the quarry-load. But I have to admit the site is pretty impressive with its Greek, Roman, Byzantine, Venetian and Ottoman remains. And the setting on the edge of a lagoon is magical. According to Greek mythology, the city was founded by exiles from Troy. A fanciful tale? Maybe not.

We’ve meandered through a mozzie-infested thicket and over long-buried streets to various ruins in various stages of ruination, including a Byzantine basilica – reputedly the largest in the world after Hagia Sophia in old Constantinople. While imposing, I didn’t think it was that big but what do I know?

Butrint

As we rambled, I Googled ‘Butrint’ and happened across the UK Butrint Foundation. Guess where it’s based? Yep, Norwich. Small world.

Pushy Fraulein

We’re back in Sarandë for lunch. Many of our fellow passengers would push their firstborn under a bus to get to the buffet first. It’s like feeding time at the zoo. I had to neck an Albanian beer to get over the shock of an ancient Teuton with fat ankles, bum bag and curly perm elbowing me out of the way to get her grubby hands on the köfte.

Eye Spy

Our afternoon excursion sped us through the Butrint National Park to the Blue Eye, a spring that bubbles forth from a deep pool. I don’t think I’ve ever seen waters so clear or iridescent. The images here are for real – no filters required.

Ooh, Aah, Kosovar

We have an hour or so to kill before our hydrofoil back to Corfu Town. Liam’s sniffed out a swish harbourside bar, with prices to match. I’m sipping Kosovar wine. I didn’t know they made wine in Kosovo. Sarandë is a handsome town – more modern than I was expecting but then I don’t really know what I was expecting. Actually, I’ve never visited an ex-‘Communist’ state before. I’ve been to yer actual Commie country – when I took the train 1,500 or so miles from London to Moscow during Brezhnev’s reign. And then there was Romania when Ceaușescu was on the throne. Both experiences were broadening but those eras are long gone. Albania is beautiful but it’s developing fast. There are mouths to feed and aspirations to fulfil. I just hope they don’t lose too much in the mad rush to be just like everyone else.

Here Endeth the Lesson

I’m guessing not many people know much about Albania. I certainly didn’t. But I know a little more now, courtesy of our guide, a splendid young man who speaks great English, and great German too by the sound of it. Throughout the day, he’s been giving us a potted history in bite-size episodes. He even mentioned the German occupation during the Second World War, something  I thought he might have skipped to avoid offence. It was done in such a matter-of-fact way, I’m sure no one was offended. Our young guide is looking to the future, not dwelling on the past. I’m rather taken with him (not in that way – get your minds out of the gutter). He ended the lesson by saying simply,

Don’t judge Albania by what you’ve heard. Judge Albania by what you see – good and bad.

He got a round of applause – and a tip.

Coming soon – Postcards from Corfu Town.

Laundry line

 

Turkey Street Uncovered

300,000 characters, 65,000 words, 350 pages, near-divorce bust-ups, seconds out sulks down the pub, slammed doors, never-ending re-writes and entire scenes littering the cutting room floor like yesterday’s news. Finally it’s done, dusted and shipped, and only 18 months later than I hoped. Life just got in the way. So it gives me great pleasure to declare that Turkey Street, Jack and Liam move to Bodrum will be published on 18th May in paperback from the usual retailers and digitally from Nook, Kobo and Apple iBooks. And, it’s available to buy on Amazon Kindle right now. No pressure.

Early reviews are in and I’m rather chuffed.

A great rattlingly paced read which also provides a snapshot of a Turkey that is changing in ways none of us, as yet, fully understand.

Barbara Nadel, author

Cutting wit, giggles and sadness – Jack and Liam’s dalliances with the expat world make for compelling reading.

Julia Power, Turkey’s for Life

A book that removes Turkey’s headscarf and tousles the hair a little – with comical and touching consequences. I loved it.

Jay Artale, author, the Bodrum Peninsula Travel Guide and Gümüşlük Travel Guide

A beautifully presented tale that segues cleverly from hilarious and irreverent to heartbreakingly poignant, told with insight and innovative language.

Kay McMahon, British Expat

Once again, Jack Scott expertly blends wit and humour in an accurate portrayal of daily Turkish life, warts and all!

Natalie Sayin, the Turkish Travel Blog

Turkey Street

Order the paperback on Amazon and Waterstones | Buy the Kindle on Amazon | Other buying options

Six months into their Turkish affair, Jack and Liam, a gay couple from London, took lodgings in the oldest ward of Bodrum Town. If they wanted to shy away from the curtain-twitchers, they couldn’t have chosen a worse position. Their terrace overlooked Turkey Street like the balcony of Buckingham Palace and the middle-aged infidels stuck out like a couple of drunks at a temperance meeting. Against all the odds, the boys from the Smoke were welcomed into the fold by a feisty mix of eccentric locals and a select group of trailblazing expats, irresistible ladies with racy pasts and plucky presents.

Hop aboard Jack’s rainbow gulet as he navigates the choppy waters of a town on the march and a national resurgence not seen since Suleiman the Magnificent was at the gates of Vienna. Grab your deckchair for a whirlwind tour of love and duty, passion and betrayal, broken hearts and broken bones, dirty politics and the dawn of a new Ottoman era.

Time Out, Istanbul Top Billing

I’ve never had much difficulty finding something to say. In fact, sometimes Liam would rather I kept it buttoned once in a while. Today I received a copy of the April edition of Time Out, Istanbul, courtesy of Pat Yale which features a piece she’s  written about expat books. Pat is one of the (if not the) pre-eminent resident travel writers in Turkey. She gave Perking the Pansies top billing. It made me feel like a sexy centrefold without the need to take my kit off (believe me, these days Jack in the flesh would put anyone off their Adana Kebab).  Pat’s review is, well, see for yourself. I am speechless. Thank you, Pat. You managed to shut me up and Liam is at peace for once.

Time Out Instanbul April books

Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell

Auntie Beeb recently ran an article about gays in the military – not in America this time – but in our foster home. It makes comical reading. For young gay Turks to receive their pink exemption slip (I prefer lilac myself) they have to prove their perversion with photographic evidence. Got a few holiday snaps of you being bummed on the beach in Bodrum? Now, young man, it only counts if you’re Martha not Arthur. The next best thing is to see you in a frock and slingbacks. Anything floral by Laura Ashley* will do. You couldn’t make it up.

*A cock in a shock frock reminds me of my encounter with transsexual prostitutes on my very first trip to Istanbul in 2003, but that’s another story.

For all those wasted years of navel gazing by the horrified higher echelons of the British armed forces, gay and lesbian Britons are now allowed to serve their country. People who know a great deal more than I do about these things say this has had absolutely no detrimental effect on the operational efficiency of Her Maj’s army, air force  or navy (well, it’s always been rum and bum in the navy anyway). Military failure is reserved for our hapless politicians who send our brave boys (and girls) out to fight wars they can’t win.

Let’s face it, when it came to periods of genuine national emergency (like a world war), no one cared less where you put it. We were all cannon fodder back then (unless you were Quentin Crisp, of course).

Cue the video:

Thank you to Pansyfan Paul who sent me the article.

You might also like:

Rum, Bum and the Navy

All I Want for Christmas

We’re All Asians Really

We’re All Asians Really

Geographically, Anatolian Turkey is in Asia and Thracian Turkey is in Europe. A simple glance at a map confirms it. Istanbul is not called the city that straddles two continents for nothing. For commercial convenience, the whole of Turkey is often classified as Europe for such things as travel insurance and flights. Lonely Planet lists Turkey under Eastern Europe and the Caucasus when it is part of neither (apart from Thrace). Is Turkey also part of the Middle East? This is less clear. The Middle East is an ill-defined term that always includes Arabic countries, but may or may not include the nations of North Africa (who speak Arabic) and may or may not include non-Arabic Iran. Where does Cyprus fit in? It’s closer to Asia than to Europe and the Greek side is part of the European Union (nominally on behalf of the whole Island but that’s another story).

Does any of it matter? Certainly not to long gone conquerors who marched across Asia Minor from all points of the compass at the drop of a helmet. Take a look at this to see what I mean.

It only matters to me when trying to catch the weather forecast on BBC World. The Beeb doesn’t seem to know where Turkey is either and generally ignores us altogether. Consider this. Geologically, Europe isn’t a continent at all. It’s an appendage to Asia with an arbitrary border drawn along the Ural and Caucasus Mountains. Those in the know describe the entire landmass as Eurasia. You see we’re all Asians really.

You might also like:

Birds without Wings

Two Nations

Turks and Tampons

My third Guest blogger is Alexandra from Death by Dolmuş. Alexandra is a Yankee lass who teaches in Istanbul. She writes about the quirky side of life in the ancient city and has a mild obsession with public transport. Alexandra also publishes an amazing photoblog. If you don’t like discussions about women’s itty bitty parts, don’t read the following (oh, go on).

Alexandra

There are strange things that occur in Turkey. I am pretty on top of most of it, but from time to time things do catch me off guard. I’m unfazed when a man brings a 12 foot (4 meter) ladder into an over-packed dolmuş (roughly 5 meters long itself.) I’m unfazed when my bank calls to ask permission of my employer when I wish to close my account (obviously a mere mortal like me can’t be trusted with such a serious decision.)

I was caught off guard when my colleague, a punk, riot-grrrl feminist with red hair (not Irish red, but like, the color red) and combat boots, moans to me, doubled over in pain, ‘Gahh, I wish I hadn’t left the window open last night.’ It had been a sweltering 80 degrees (25 C) and I couldn’t understand what that had to do with her abdominal pain. ‘The wind, the night air, you know, it gives me cramps.’ Efendim?

Now, I’m fairly certain that cramps are caused by your uterine walls contracting to expel the lining. But, you know, who can say for certain…

I was constantly appalled by the lack of knowledge these university educated women displayed about their own bodies and the science contained in them. I know Freud thought that hysteria (that vague, female-ish complaint) was caused by a ‘disturbance’ to the uterus, but I’m pretty sure somewhere in my 6th grade sex-ed class, I remember learning something different…

As I was moving out, I had an enormous amount of tampons that my roommate and I had hoarded like we were preparing for the apocalypse. God knows when we would be able to find tampons again, so every time we ventured out of the Islamic Republic of Turkey, we bought up the store like they were going out of style.

Not having space in my luggage for 47 boxes of Tampax Pearls, and with the confidence that I could pick some up any time nature called at my nearest pharmacy (that’s a chemist’s for you Brits), when back in the US, I decided to give them away. Because honestly, who doesn’t like free tampons? Apparently, Turkish women.

So that’s how I found myself, on my last day of work, sitting in a locked office with my colleague, demonstrating how to use a tampon. I unwrapped it, showed how the applicator worked, as she dissected the tampon I had handed her, checking that the string was in fact well secured at the center. I extolled the tampon’s virtues: you can go swimming! (Her face lit up, what do you mean? She asked in disbelief.) You can wear white pants with no fear! Thinking back to all those tampon commercials of my youth, you can go shopping with your fresh-faced friends and laugh to your heart’s desire while spinning around in circles to demonstrate your new-found freedom!

Asia in a Minor Key

A real challenge to able-bodied emigreys is to find a gainful occupation that doesn’t involve propping up the bar in some sad, insular expat dive to Blighty-bash and complain ad nauseum of all things local. I have my blog but what of Liam?  An early decision was to order a Roland keyboard from Istanbul. A creative renaissance ensued. Liam spends endless hours tickling the ivories and fiddling with his knobs. Well, if you can’t beat ’em then join ’em, so I have embarked on a set of suitably pretentious lyrics for him to compose around – more Shakespeare’s Sister than Shakespeare, methinks. The lyrics are evolving into a compendium cryptically entitled Asia in a Minor Key.

The title lyric, an ode to the emigrey forlorn, goes like this

Land of my fathers,  don’t you want your son?
Shall I run from you, my kin undone?
To the land of sunrise and chattering minarets
Bizarre bazaars and monkish pirouettes
  
Chase my dream across dusty hills
Past olive groves and neglected mills
To find myself in the arms of strangers
To talk in silence and delight in dangers
 
Erase the pain of past misdeeds
Follow my road to wherever it leads
Land of my father I have done all I can
To find the love of an Ottoman
 
Asia in a minor key
A game of chance
Last chance for me
 
Land of my fathers; don’t you want your son?
I ran from you, my kin undone
To the land of sunrise and chattering minarets
But shall my dream stay unrequited yet?
 

Pompous twaddle or what? I guess Liam thinks so. While his Steps to Sibelius musical palate may be a broad church, classically trained Liam struggles with hooks and the art of a well-crafted three minute pop song eludes him. In any case, his real dream is to complete the requiem he began to write a decade or so ago and to write a score for a film. This is now.

Liam has been experimenting with his keyboard by writing some short pieces as part of his score for a soundtrack. It’s very much a work in progress but you fancy a listen, please click below.

Liam Brennan