Pershtypje nga Peter Luis Panci i cili vizitoi Dardhen ne fillimin e viteve 1990 bashke me motren e tij Shirly dhe niper e mbesa Melissa, Phoebe, Nicholas.
The letter is written from Peter Luis Panci who visited Albania in the beginning of the years 1990.
The longer I spend time in Albania, the more I realize how much I was raised in Albania in the United States. Many of the behaviors and the deeply held values that I have encountered here seem completely natural to me.
This is not to say that I was not brought up as an American. My parents felt a great appreciation for all the opportunities that the United States offered us and clearly communicated their appreciation and love for their adopted country. They were deeply patriotic and raised their three children to share that view.
Still, it was their second home. As for so many Americans over the centuries of United States history, there was an earlier place that had claims upon their hearts and these feelings and memories too were transmitted to their children. This past week-end Melissa, Phoebe, Nicholas, my sister Shirley and I visited the village of my parents' birth: their first home. In some ways, it was "home" to my sister and me as well.
Our trip began early Friday morning (May 12) and we drove through some of Albania's more striking scenery. The road from Tirana to Elbasan (Rruga Elbasani) features dramatic fall-offs displaying high mountains with extremely sharp declivities to deep, deep valleys. Our first stop was in Elbasan for coffee. The setting was magnificent. We were sitting in the warm morning sunshine, within Roman ruins, sipping cappuccino. Multi-colored snapdragonswere blooming in the crevices of the fortification walls.
We later lunched on the Albanian shore side of Lake Ohrid, the deep and ancient lake which now provides a portion of the border between Albania and Macedonia. I think Phoebe wrote already of our visit to the ninth and thirteenth century chapel of Shen (saint) Naumi in territory which, up until the 1930s, was part of Albania.
Our restaurant was directly across from the chapel area and afforded wonderful views of snow-topped Macedonian peaks above the lake. Nicholas spent little time at the table, preferring to watch the many fish in the clear lake water. We spent overnight in Korce, visiting its bazar and an icon museum and taking a long and unsuccessful walk in search of hand loomed rugs. On Saturday we traveled to Dardha, stopping for lunch in Boboshtice at a rustic taverna beside a rapid and gurgling brook. Our meals were replete with salads full of delicious produce, olives and cheeses. Sadly, for Phoebe, no chicken (pule) because of fear of the bird-flu.
Dardha was founded a bit over two centuries ago by adherents of the Greek Orthodox faith who were hoping to avoid conflict with the Ottoman Empire which then ruled Albania.
It is extremely remote, situated in the mountains which form the border between Greece and Albania. Road conditions and mountain weather prevent casual travel from November to April. The "Spring Stone" mountain looms above it and provides the source of the water which sustains the village. We learned that both our father's family (Panci) and our mother's (Xhamo) were among the early founding families and had migrated from Himara on the Adriatic coast seeking religious freedom. The area they left may be some of the most beautiful seashore in Europe with mountains rimming the beaches.
As we were getting out of the car in Dardha and preparing to unload our luggage, an older villager strolled up to inquire who we were. While we were ascertaining that he (family name, Skende) was a cousin on my mother's side, a man in his nineties walked up (another cousin, family name, Thimo) and introduced himself. He was the self-appointed historian of Dardha and later we visited his home to inspect his ledger of all births, deaths, marriages and emigrations occurring in the village. It dated back to the 1860s, the time of our American civil war. We traced our family history to our great-grand parents, some of whose family names we did not previously know. Of course, all this was accompanied by the drinking of raki, the plum brandy made in Dardha or, as one of my older daughters has labeled it, "Albanian moonshine". This drinking and eating was required at every house in the village that we visited and it didn't seem that we missed many.
Before we left the hotel to begin our visits, a third gentleman had appeared to investigate us. He was a member of the Balli family with whom my family had been friends during my childhood in Somerville, Massachusetts. Although his English was quite limited, he succeeded in getting his message across rather well. He gave me the traditional hugs and kisses on both cheeks and then took a step back. Smiling widely and with eyes sparkling, he took long, exaggerated deep breaths. Spreading his arms wide he looked upward and glowed with pleasure. "Dardha! Dardha! Shume mire. Shume, shume mire." So good. So, so good. He continued breathing deeply and beaming, his arms spread wide.
We also visited the cemetery and Melissa took pictures of a memorial plaque which listed all the families of the village. After this, our cousin, Sotir Thimo, left the existing paths and led us down the steep slopes of the village to visit the sites of our parents' houses. Originally, families had settled in extended family areas with brothers sharing contiguous lots. Though neither of my parents' families' direct descendants still live in the village, the land is still there. We saw the remains of crumbled foundation walls and stood upon the ground where the young children, Kaliroi Xhamo and Ilia Panci, had played, laughed and cried, ate and slept. As children they had left the secure intimacy of this village to challenge the unknowns of life in a new land. Their courage and determination had provided my sister, brother and me with opportunities and life experiences beyond dreams. My father used to say to me, "Peter, I'm so old. I was born in the middle ages and now I live in twentieth century America. I'm often filled with wonder."
As we walked along, Melissa and Nicholas discovered the imprints of sea life in several of the rocks by the path's edge. The age and origins of these is a puzzle for another time. At one house into which we were invited, a woman showed us a room where the owner displayed many pictures and documents relating to Dardha. The house's owner was yet another cousin, Zengo, away visiting in the United States. It was a personal museum or tribute to the village and its people. Prominently displayed, at the center of one wall, was a picture of a banquet of the Dardha Society inaugurating their new meeting hall in Somerville, Massachusetts in 1952.
Standing proudly at the center of the head table were my father and mother. In other homes, Shirley and I saw high school or college graduation pictures of people we had known growing up, nephews and nieces that had gone to America.
That evening we invited a few of our cousins to join us for dinner and the wonderful time continued. Although it was May, our altitude was over 4,000 feet and Phoebe and Nicholas were quite happily situated close to the wood burning stove. When we returned to our very basic hotel, exhausted, the proprietress handed us yet additional blankets to supplement the two already on the beds. We needed them - no central heat.
We awoke early with the sun, cold noses, and the eighty to one hundred swallows which were building nests on the balconies outside our windows. Upon exiting the hotel in search of morning coffee, I saw the white cross of Shen Gjergji, the central village church, contrasted against the deep blue of the sky. At approximately 7 o'clock the church bell began to toll and men, already at work, paused to make the sign of the cross. For a moment, centuries seemed to slip away. A bit later, cow bells signaled the progress of more than a dozen cows walking to pasture.
Our taxi driver, Max, himself a son of Dardha, had suggested we gather at the church at ten o'clock to meet other villagers. Max acted as our interpreter and greatly enhanced our visit. We had met him during the winter and, when we discovered our mutual connection to the village, planned this excursion in May. His aging mother still spent the summer months there. During the months previous, on trips to Skenderbeg's castle and other locales, we had become friends as well as customers. On this trip, Max was much more family than driver and he was invaluable.
The visit to the church is a blur: too many introductions, translations, hugs, kisses and new insights, not to mention being in the church where my parents worshiped as children nearly a century earlier. It will take a while to salvage what I can remember and reflect upon it. Most of all, things were becoming so emotional that I was feeling a bit overwhelmed.
We left the church to wander through the older part of Dardha, although almost all of Dardha is old. Some of the houses are no longer maintained and are falling in upon themselves. Almost all the people who live there year round are elderly. The village cannot offer educational and job opportunities to children and young people, so they and their families leave. They go to Tirana and other cities seeking opportunities and visiting aging parents when they can. All over Albania, villages are dying. Dardha may survive because of its beauty. A large new hotel is being built and several celebrities have built summer homes there. Tourism or resort economics may provide its continued existence but it will be forever changed.
As we walked along we spied an old woman with a lovely garden and she invited us in. Immediately, she recognized the "Panci" mouth on Shirley. She was so pleased when Melissa explained she was a gardener and complimented the woman on hers. We were back on the visit-and-raki circuit. Our next stop was at the home of a beekeeper. We sat on his porch with him and his family dipping shelled walnuts into chunks of honeycomb. They have a son who lives on the Cape so we were obviously "family". Our visit ended with a lunch on outdoors at the restaurant we had visited the night before.
I riu me i ri,
I bukuri me i bukur,
I shendoshi me i shendoshe,
behet kur viziton Dardhen.
Last Edit: 1 month 3 weeks ago by STEFANI.
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