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Day 10: Montenegro & Albania

By Folk Combo, Mar 5 2015 07:51PM

On how Folk Combo searched between the mountains of Montenegro for their music, found hope for the folklore in Albania and were assisted by a group of young saviors on to their next destination.

We arrived in Montenegro, a country named after its landscape: black mountain. We were driving on a road surrounded by the great outdoors and going towards the 'new' capital Podgorica. We saw disturbing images of a river whose banks were covered with litter and trash and the forest next to it was almost white with an enormous amount of plastic bags hanging on the branches of the trees. Shocking. What are these people doing to their environment? We arrived in the city later that day and went for a busking session. Two youngsters, who got enchanted by our music, came up to us and wondered what our story was. They showed us around the city and brought us to a local restaurant to try one of the most filling and mighty recipes of cheese and wheat and pfff.. what a bomb! We both couldn't walk straight afterwards. The next day we went to do our library routine. The national library, however, was not in Podgorica nd we had to go to Cetinje the 'old' capital up in the mountains. On our way there we saw one of the most amazing views of mountain scenery; an endless sea of stone giants as far as the eye could reach. The Villa was slowly crawling up the road while we sat amazed by the display of majestic nature in front of us. So much so that we forgot to take a picture...whoops.

An interesting sequence of wasted energy transpired in Cetinje. First we were directed to a part of the national libary in the former French embassy building but it wasn't the right place to find music scores. So we were send to the former Italian embassy where the music department was located. They were just closing but luckily one woman was willing to show us the music archive. The only piece of traditional Montenegro folkmusic available was lying mummified in a glass box unaccesible to the public and useless to us since we want to PLAY that stuff and not just look at it. So we were again, redirected, this time to the music academy in the former English embassy. It was rather quiet there on the late friday afternoon but there was one violin student there around who explained to us that the academy doesn't have any collection of traditional folklore anymore since it was moved to the art academy in the former... whatever...embassy. She then told us there was a fire in that building in which the whole collection went up in flames. So we were just standing there, slightly bewildered and amused, after the strange conclusion to this story. Like all the diplomats, all the music too, had disapeared.

The next stop was Kotor, a small but beautiful toy town a the bay next to the mountains. It has a picturesque historic centre and bears some resemblance to the other cities on the Adriatic coast that we visited in Croatia. We played in the main gate and earned our accomodation for a night in a hostel. The next day we went out to play again, sparked with the good energy and response of the night before, but this time we were stopped after three songs by the communal police.We talked to the chief of the bunch and he told us we might endanger the entrance to the city where people could break their leg over the violin case...or someting like that?! So he led us to the Old Winery, a bar were we might be able to play a show. While waiting for their manager, we went for a walk to the old fortress that lies above the city against the mountain. With the instruments on our backs and one layer of clothes too many for that sunny day we climbed up the mountain. David slightly in front and Gijs puffing and groaning behind him, knowing that the view would be worth it. Up there we met Cedo. He went there to get a break from his working week and after talking and relaxing in the sun we walked back together to the city. We went to the winery where we got a deal to play for that night and before the performance we had a couple of drinks with Cedo next to the port. It was a rather quiet night in the bar but the owner Goran really liked our music and he slipped the invitation of coming back this summer to play more shows in Kotor. After the show we said goodbye to Cedo, who became our PR for Montenegro, and to Goran and his Old Winery crew before continuing our journey.

We camped that night in Bar, next to the sea, where we were just in time to see a strange moon dive into the water. Then we went to Ulcinj, where the Spanish writer Miguel de Cervantes once was held in prison before writing his great novel 'Don Quixote'. Legend tells that the lady of his protagonist, 'Dulcinea del Toboso', was named after this town. His novel about the infamous hidalgo from la Mancha has been travelling with us on our journey and we followed this trail to see where Cervantes once had been caged and robbed of his freedom, the freedom that we are so privileged with to travel around these lands. Like Don Quixote and his squire Sancho Panza in search of adventures. From Ulcinj we went into the mountains to reach the lake of Skadar. We followed a dangerous road up into the mountains and after some hours of bouncing and avoiding stones we finally found it. We walked around to find a good spot to camp. On the road we saw a donkey equipped with bridles and saddle bags but no owner around. Allthough it was just a donkey, for us it was the lost dun of Sancho Panza who was stolen by a bandit and suddenly emerged in the mountains of Montenegro.

That night the weather went bad. The storm didn't stop so we decided to move on and drive to Albania. We went to Tirane, the capital of the Eagles' Land. We both knew little about this country but while going out for a beer we learned that the language has little to do with Slavic and it never was part of Yugoslavia; it is a strange flower in the Balkan garden. We were surprised by the amount of casinos and expensive cars that contrasted sharply with the poor state of the streets and the decadence of the buildings . We were refused in a disco for not having any girls with us and then went back to the Villa. The next day we went to Durres, a city by the sea where, due to the bad weather, we stayed inside a coffeeplace. Afterwards we went looking for a hostel but finding only expensive hotels. 'Hotel Manhattan', 'Hotel Paris'. We were getting the impression that they didn't gave any attempt to present themselves with an Albanian brand and a man at the coffeeplace referred to this as 'copy-paste tourism'. Strangely, these places were all located a little too close to the sea, sometimes only half finished and the whole picture struck us as not very prepensed. The next day, before going back to Tirane, we went to the folklore institute where we met Antigone Suli and her colleagues. They are preserving the cultural heritage of Albania and we talked with them about our project.In the music academy of Tirane we met Fatos, a music teacher and clarinetist, part of the Qerimay family that has a long tradition of folk musicians. We also met Zana, the director of the academy, who put us in contact with etnomusicologists Mikaela and Vasil, who are researching traditional Albanian folk music. After meeting these interesting people we said goodbye and headed for Macedonia.

There was a big snowstorm and we had to get to the other side of a mountain to reach the border. With every minute we drove, the layer of snow of the road was getting thicker and soon we found ourselves stuck on the road, slipping and sliding away in any direction but forward. A bunch of local boys came up to us to sell winter chains (we still don't have them..). They had a whole business there since we were not the only people having trouble going up. They helped us push the car but it worked only for a moment. They had a lot of fun seeing us struggle and said it would be better stop or buy their chains. We started to like each other and, after telling them our story about the trip, they lended us their chains. With three of them in the back and two small jokers skirting behind the car, we drove to the top. One of them asked, via translation of his friend: "what is the price of a carwash in your country?" Surprised by that question, we asked them why they wanted to know. Being seventeen or eighteen, some of them were professional carwashers and wondered if they would have a chance of a better future abroad. This triggered a reflection of how the youth of Albania has to adapt to the market: all those expensive cars we saw in Tirane create the kind of jobs that these youngsters are left with. The boys showed us how negative is the perception of their country and they wanted to make us see that they were also full of dreams. We reached the top and shared our drinks and cigarettes. Then we said goodbye to our Albanian young saviors without whom we would have never made it to Macedonia that night.

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