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New Europe

Day Twenty-four: Tirana

Tirana's colourful architecture 
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Politics with colours. How to brighten a drab city without spending too much money.
Michael Palin - New EuropeFor him this is not just an aesthetic thing. He calls it 'politics with colours'.

A way of supporting democratic change at street level. I've never understood why cities have to be so grey and I'm rather fired by his enthusiasm.

'This is a first, isn't it?'

'Many things are. We were first in Albania for blowing up all the churches and the mosques and becoming the only country in the world without any religious practice. It was a very bitter first. I hope this can be a sweet first.'

We walk out together into Youth Park, an area where a mass of concrete has been cleared and replaced with fountains and cafés. Just across the river is 'The Block', a square mile or so which was once reserved for the villas of the communist elite and off-limits to ordinary Albanians. Hoxha's rather interesting modernist house remains, part of it now, by a supreme irony, given over to an English-language school.

Edi remembers the Hoxha years.

'The whole country had maybe 200 cars... Private cars were not allowed, private life was totally controlled. Cafés didn't exist. We were isolated from West and East. It was like a concentration camp.'

He reaches out and shakes my hand.

'But, of course, freedom has also its own difficulties you know, so...'

He smiles, turns and with long, slow strides heads back through the trees towards his office. Two middle-aged women on a park bench rise in unison as he passes. An older man salutes him and they stop and talk. The charismatic Edi clearly has friends, but he also has powerful enemies, from the top of the national government downwards. His vision of Tirana as the world's first art city is a brave one, which would help put Albania back on the international stage and hasten the climb out of isolation and paranoia. But I fear that many of Edi's natural supporters are living abroad. He, more than anyone, needs to reverse the diaspora.

Tonight, just about ready for bed, when a cacophony of thumps, whooshes and screams splits the silence. Rush to the window expecting to see some gang shoot-out on the streets below. Instead I see a salvo of rockets and an arc of red, blue and silver starbursts rising high above the city. Where are they coming from? The gardens of the mayor's office. Where else?
Edi Rama 
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Edi Rama, artist-mayor of Tirana, shows me his 'therapeutic diary'
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: New Europe
  • Chapter: Day Twenty-four: Tirana
  • Country/sea: Albania
  • Place: Tirana
  • Book page no: 61

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