Cafes and coffees

     In the cafes here you really have to know what you want.  There are no wall menus like you see in Starbuck’s where you can choos from several dozen creations.  I was too hungry this morning to think straight so when I stumbled into this rather hip cafe (several younger people were in there, one with a netbook) I wasn’t thinking clearly enough to say “Makiato,”  but could only say “coffee with milk.”  Fortunately, the waiter got my drift and brought me one anyway.

     The Luna Cafe is rather representative  of Tirana.  Outside I can see one building in bare concrete and corrugated tin panels closing off a yard with spraypainted “Mos Parking” on the sides.  Across the other street, is some sort of construction business with a couple of big yellow  lorries parked outside.  Luna Cafe, though, is upscale with aluminum and glass walls, black tables with red leather chairs and a marble floor.  The patrons could be American college students or upwardly mobile twenty-somethings.  They are dressed in jeans and fashionable blouses and jackets and have laptops out on their tables.  These are the generation which grew up after communism dissolved twenty years ago.  Their faces lack the worn-down worry and strife of the older folks.   The few older men in here are hard to pin down as to age.  They could be 70 or 40.  Their faces are etched with the wrinkles and creases I’m used to seeing in old farmers like my grandfather from Wisconsin.  But there is something further.  The older folks hold a rather permanent air of seriousness, of concern, gravitas mixed with a residue of fear and weariness.  Even when talking with friends they rarely betray any sense of joy and lightheartedness.  Perhaps this is  only a public face.  As I write this, a man in his sixties (perhaps?) rides by on his bicycle, a big smile on his face.  Perhpas the old world has affected people differently depending on who they are, how they respond to adversity.  Perhaps some can break free from those old habits of mind and some cannot.  This place, Tirana, is kinetic and it’s hard to pin down a “way” that Albanians are.

I am still unused to the formality of treatment in restaurants and cafes.  It is much like going into the best sorts of places in America where you expect to pay four to five dollars for a coffee for the privelege of being catered to by an overly serious waiter in red shirt and black vest.  Here, though, the makiato is 70 lek–about 75 cents–and it’s expected that I will linger over it for quite a while as the others do here.  I’ve left Carly and Shawna sleeping, though, with a promise to return to the hostel with something for breakfast, so I need to pay and get on with my morning.  I can see I need to work on my lingering.

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5 thoughts on “Cafes and coffees

  1. Greg, I’m so glad your blogging your experiences and letting us live them vicariously! Your descriptions are a joy to read. Glad to hear you guys are settling in & getting your own place soon; will look forward to further posts.

    1. Lilee, I won’t grammaticize if you won’t!

      It’s very good (mire”–how do you do those umlauts?) to be in our apt. It’s a very nice place and it’s raised our spirits to be here instead of the little room at the hostel. We just spent something like 4700 Lek at the grocery store! Sounds like a lot but comes down to about $48 for a variety of stuff including laundry soap, TP etc. The chain of little Italian grocery stores, Conad, is everywhere. They have lots of stuff but I’m looking forward from buying from some of the mom & pop places tucked away here and there.

  2. The top reason I love Europe……the lingering….you should get to Italy and Spain…plan at least 2 hours for a simple lunch or dinner. Heading to Paris in April, looking foward to lingering over wine at the Saint Germain….

    1. We’ll be going to Italy sometime this month or next. Part of the lingering has to do with the pace of life in general, I think. I’m naturally more inclined to take things more slowly. Perhaps that’s a result of being brought up in the South where things move more slowly. But in the US it’s so easy to get swept along with the tide of everything having to be done yesterday and quickly so that there’s little time to linger over anything. I’ve been trying to change that lately but the extra classes involved before and after Albania threw a wrench into that plan. After the summer semester is over (I’ll be teaching 5 classes!) I’ll try to slow things down but it will be a regular semester, so only so much is possible. Riding my bike to work is one way to slow down. It really takes about the same time as driving but it puts you in a different relationship to the world. I’ve also been enjoying hanging laundry out to dry in our back yard where the owls, squirrels and woodpeckers keep me company. Of course, when things get busy, I just have to throw everything in the dryer and haul off to work. My Albanian program chair said something to me over coffee the other day: “you Americans have more than we do. You probably make three times as much as I do. But for what you buy with it, what you have, it’s about the same. And you work harder than we do.” I’ve been aware of the culture of overwork we have in the US but it’s hard to do anything about it. You really have to make a conscious choice to not live, as Thoreau said 170 or so years ago, a life “of quiet desperation.” Perhaps that’s part of how I always see myself wanting to move to the country: I want a place where the pace is more reasonable, less destructive.

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