By Sven Aurén
Translated by Adil N. Bicaku
Land of Albania! Let me bend my eyes
On thee, thou rugged nurse of savage men.
In the book “Orient of Europe”, the author of the work is the Swede Sven Aurén. They are impressions of traveling from Albania from the ‘30s. His direct experiences without any retouching.
In a word, the translation of the book will bring to the Albanian reader, the original value of knowing that story that we have not known and we continue to know it, and now distorted by the interests of the moment.
Now a little about what these lines address to you: My name is Adil Bicaku. I have worked and lived for over 50 years in Sweden, without detaching for a moment, the thought and feeling from our Albania.
I am now retired and living with my wife and children, here in Stockholm. Having been for a long time, from the evolution of the Albanian language, which naturally happened during these decades, I am aware of the difficulties, not small, that I will face, to give the Albanian reader, the experiences of the original.
Therefore, I would be very grateful if we could find a practical way of cooperation together, to translate this book with multifaceted values.
Morally, I would feel very relieved, paying off part of the debt that all of us Albanians owe to our Albania, especially in these times that continue to be so turbulent.
With much respect
Continued from the previous issue
A telegram delivery boy stands on the terrace, waves a green telegram, and calls out a name. The conversations stop for a moment and a surprising image catches the eye of “Kursal” customers. Monsignor X, bursts into a contemptuously screaming laugh, and that Monsignor X, is a respected gentleman, so he causes a wide-ranging mockery, like a fresh breeze over the garden’s mixed clientele. Judging by the name-recipient of the telegram, he must be at least a curious person. The boy yells at the recitation, to seem to tie the tongue, before the word comes out of the mouth. This is a cacophony of unrelated voices, much like when someone speaks in ecstasy in Philadelphia church. That little man stutters and spits, so much so that there is redness on his face.
This curious person is I. Someone makes a joke gesture towards my side and before I open my mouth, I just sit there holding the carefully attached telegram. This is a radio announcement, sent by the Italian steamer “Bari” on the road, from Durrës to Italy and has only one word, but very well-known words, the word that most Swedes consider necessary for a healthy life and that to all foreigners, it seems extremely humorous. It says:
Nothing else. But I know where it comes from and I think, as it goes on, it was wonderful in style that I received this telegram, right here in “Kursal”. This is in fact, a very interesting telegram and those five letters constitute a small comedy, and it can be called, an Albanian comedy, if you will. Albania is a newborn country and the newborn countries have a strange attractive force for the existence of various adventures. This is like butterflies and light. Men, who for one reason or another have made it impossible, in their own country and believe that there, they find opportunities for quick and strange careers.
Men, who see the justice situation of the old places of culture, too unsuitable for successful trade, dream of immediate riches, because of the turbulent state. So is another category: those who, in fact, have no criminal tendencies, fantasize about “adventure,” i.e., conspiracies, rebellion, and other similar stimuli. Sometimes it can happen that these gentlemen have some success and are participants in many events, which would be impossible in their homeland. It is only natural that the inhabitants of a small state willingly receive advice and help from foreigners, from large, rich and advanced nations. It is also natural, that the small state has not yet managed to have the experience and learning of the world, which makes it possible to separate the weed from the wheat.
That tall Hallening, his name will not betray: Sweden is a small country, almost attributed to the category of thirst for adventure. A few weeks ago, he appeared here in “Kursal” and immediately aroused attention, through his long body, smiling and encouraging manner, and the phenomenal gift of language. Hallening was a gentleman who knew how to make people his own. He formed societies both left and right and that he had a very important mission, he was expected with both respect and honor. To the people of Tirana, in fact, he was not known as a Swede but as an Englishman. It was for the first time, when I came in personal contact with him, I learned that he was the most Swedish citizen. With that wide hallenskan he explained:
-It was a pleasure to meet a Swede. I have not been home for 15 years. I now live in England and have been an English citizen for several years. I laugh forced to naturalize, because my firm does not anticipate having any foreigners in its service.
Hallening was like I said a devil man, extremely charming and we spent some fun, wonderful days together. He was a wonderful historian and knew everything about everything. He had Tirana in his five fingers, not to mention famous people. You did not find a resident of Tirana, of a somewhat high position, for whom this pleasant patriot of mine, had no story to tell, which was in fact a lie, or at least exceedingly exaggerated, but without any exceptions equipped with wonderful points. The frequent contradictions he made in presenting the circumstances and phenomena blew them away, with a rumble of laughter, which made a convincing impression. He was a prominent man.
As for his important mission in Albania, he remained for me as for most others, when he discovered him in a form of a very great faith, as if he could go through fire and water, so as not to betray him. It was also very important, that he did not abuse the trust in his friendship: who would want to be the cause, for this charming man to be fired from his job and from the mission of the firm?
The firm was none other than the Rolls-Royce Automobile Association in London, and Hallening was the company’s extraordinary ambassador, a position that demands more of the person in question than an uninformed person. I can guess. The Rolls-Royce envoy must be a diplomat of great caliber, with perfect judgment, ‘savoir vivre’ and with talent for trade. Hallening seemed to possibly possess these qualifications.
One day we had left a meeting in a corner of the garden. After Hallening greeted warmly, one by one the friends who were present gave me great confidence. This is as follows:
-You are very clear that ‘Rolls-Rojce’ is not an automobile company, as its cars are not ordinary cars. ‘Rolls-Rojce’, is the monarch of the automotive world, a blue-blooded car, created for people with blue blood. Unfortunately, people with blue blood do not always have the opportunity to secure a ‘Rolls-Rojce’ and the firm has been forced to trade even with those who belong to the monetary aristocracy. I say unfortunate because we would not want to sell it to anyone other than those who are truly worthy.
But time is hard and money is money. Even you, have the opportunity to order one of our carts, we produce only to order, if you are a millionaire and can do without those sixty-seventy thousand banknotes, which costs the car. If so of course, you have to give me a written contract, where you guarantee the signature, for the right of repurchase of the car, if your name would appear in any unpleasant event. We have to defend ourselves in some way. Where would we go without taking care of ourselves?
But times are bad and against our will, we are sometimes forced to trade, as a fairly common firm. But still ‘Rolls-Rojce’, is the car of kings and princes. In the past there were carts adorned for ceremonies. Today the ceremonial carts are called: ‘Rolls-Rojce’. Although here I want to relate it to the aftermath of the global crisis, in today’s trade life: neither kings nor princes always have a meal to buy our carts. A king must have a ‘Rolls-Rojce’, whether or not there are economic opportunities. Will there be no crown and silence? We fully understand this, at the same time we understand the economic hardships of crowned heads. That is why we have donated a number of carts to some monarchs.
A serious shadow rested on Hallening’s face.
-My discrete obligation forbids me to mention any name. But you would open your eyes in surprise, if you would hear which of the monarchs of Europe, travels in forgiven automobiles.
-Now you can probably guess the meaning of my stay here in Tirana. King Zog, is a capable man, who has attracted the attention of the world. What’s more natural than for him to have a Rolls-Royce? It is the kings who create fashion and there is a good part of the rich people in this country as well. In good faith I say: I am here to deliver the gift. The car arrives in a few days in Durrës and I will drive it directly, to the royal residence. But this is important, that nothing will be agreed ahead of time. King Bird, I still do not know anything. My bosses want it to be a surprise and I have to follow my instructions. It means a lot to me, that everything ends well. So you should not like, that I beg you, to confirm the promise of silence, with a handshake. We shook hands.
-What is the appearance of the car that will be given to the King? I asked.
Hallening smiled quietly.
-You then want to know about everything. It is an auto of that type, as is Hitler and like the one that was owned by Alexander, before Prince Paul appropriated it. He is an “Armed car”, i.e. it looks like a ‘Rolls-Rojce’, quite ordinary, I said, quite ordinary, like a ‘Rolls-Rojce’, I think, but it is equipped with a lot of covert protection devices. There is a tester next to the driver. You are pressing one of the buttons; the anti-bullet sheet metal grilles are rolling down all the windows and leaving only a narrow crack for the one driving. It goes without saying that the whole bodywork is made of elegantly reinforced and varnished sheet metal. On the roof is a circle lighthouse, a few decimetres raised. He is a miniature machine gun, which is also maneuvered by the tester and with which, shot with the help of a periscope. The cart is a luxury tank and quite disguised in a word. Yes much masked. But an untrained one has almost no chance of discovering anything suspicious.
-But is this combat arsenal really absolutely necessary now?
– Great God, there are dangers to being a monarch in the Balkans! See Alexander of Yugoslavia! Answers, Hallening before leaving in triumph with some MPs, who wanted to have fun with this remarkable man.
A few days later he gave us a very solemn invitation, for a dinner me and my lady. His bosses had telegraphed to him and expressed the wish, if he could gather the elite of Tirana in a festive meeting of representation. The solemn dinner would be held in the restaurant “Adriatik”, which is rented for this purpose. A number of women will also come. We were looking forward to the party with a lot of anxiety and we thought that it would be very interesting to see how long the ‘Rolls-Rojce’ ambassador would dare to play his game. The prefect announced that he had received an invitation. The head of the English Gendarmerie also responded ‘yes’ to the invitation. Among the distinguished guests was the head of the military school, a number of ministers, prominent merchants, the Swedish consul, Mr. Feuerstein.
A day before the start of the holiday, Hallening went to Durrës to get the royal car ‘Rolls-Rojce’, which had now finally arrived. On the evening of the feast, the friends waited in vain to hear something from the lord of the feast. But Hallening, did not feel at all. Neither this day nor any other day. The big Rolls-Royce dinner would never start. Hallening had made a fatal mistake, with the excitement of the fraudulent trade: he had overestimated the size of the Albanian capital. The languages of small Tirana, it is difficult to zap.
The story of Hallening’s ‘Rolls-Royce’ quickly climbed over King Zog’s concrete wall, so the position of the original automobile sender became precarious. He found it more appropriate to travel to Durrës “to retrieve the luxury tank of Zog I”. And he took this take so radically, that he never came back.
Now today comes this telegram. There are only five letters, which together form a banal word, but to the devil, it seems to me as if the letter trembles with laughter, in my hands:
Thus in this rapid obscuration, customers begin to leave the “Kursal”. A stable attendant pulls a race horse, the most prominent white and General di Ghilardi, tosses a coin on the table, and mounts the horse. This is a pompous exit and arouses general admiration. Two deputies walk down the street, side by side. Monsieur X, is sitting alone and counting the money. The old Bajraktar of the highlands, with his guard, cross the road with pride steps and disappear inside the “Balkan Hotel”, to lie down on the bed with lice. The officers went to “Gloria” and “Nacional”. I am soon alone, near my desk, as the darkness around me becomes denser and the light of the windows above the terrace becomes stronger. Both streets on both sides of the garden cafe, are empty of people, the tranquility is deep and wonderful. Large carts with raised covers and lighted lamps pass by sideways. The strong shadows of the palms are erased from the darkness.
The red-haired waitress passes by me three times a minute. She wants me to leave. Evenings are expensive for a conscious Greek who is considering opening a coffee shop in Athens.
And so ends a day in the life of Tirana. In Tirana and “Kursal”. But tomorrow the customers come again and the coffee regains its usual look. Intrigue, buzzing music, plays its monotonous program, officers, politician and bayraktar, bow over brandy glasses and cups of coffee. Greek demon paints the cheeks red, red spray on the lips and hides the dark shadows, in the blue of the eyes with thick layers of powder. Monsieur X, hunts for prey, for new missions.
But I myself am sitting in a car and continue along the Via Egnatia, far towards another city and a different atmosphere./Memorie.al
The next issue follows