Albania, Back in the Day

James Cameron (no, not the director), who sneaked into Albania in 1963

James Cameron (no, not the director), who sneaked into Albania in 1963

What is it with Albania and the Scots? While digging around online for more dirt on Enver Hoxha (right now I’m interested in the rumours that he might have swung both ways during his pre-War stint in Paris), I came across a brilliant piece by the renowned Scottish journalist James Cameron, written for The Atlantic Monthly back in 1963.

As Albania’s fractious general election comes to a conclusion, I thought it might be a good time to post a link to Cameron’s article, just to remind Albanians how far the country has come. This is probably a mistake on my part – when I wrote a piece on tourism in Albania for The Sunday Telegraph last year, I was apparently slated on Albanian-language political forums for being too positive. It seems some thought I should have mentioned political corruption, poverty and blood feud. Please – if a travel writer does a piece on Sicily’s tourist attractions, no one would expect to read about investigating judges meeting sticky ends at the hands of the Mafia. The focus would be on calamari rather than crime. Same rules apply for Albania.

Anyway, here’s the link to Cameron’s story. Read it – it’s fascinating.

His description of traffic in Tirana circa 1963 made me smile –

FOR two days, then… I had the freedom of Tirana, and a beguiling town it was. This was due more to the old than the new. The new was banal indeed: a pattern of broad, even stately avenues, lined with Party buildings in the Italianate style, with a carriageway wide enough to take several lines of traffic that was, for 80 percent of the day, totally empty.

The desolation of the streets was eerie. At each intersection stood a smart white-uniformed traffic policeman, rigidly poised to direct a press of vehicles that never came. Once every five minutes, perhaps, an old green truck, hugely numbered on its flanks in the Russian manner, would appear clanking and grunting up the street; the traffic cop would spring to attention as it appeared on the horizon and wave it on with great panache, against no opposition whatever. At even rarer intervals would appear a dark Zim saloon, heavily curtained, on some mysterious official errand. In all Albania today there exists, as I was formally told, not one single private automobile.

My mother tells me it was much the same in the mid-1980s; it’s fair to say things have changed a bit since then.

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