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.