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New Europe

Day Twenty-five: Tirana to Krujë

Bektashi celebrations 
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Celebrations at the pilgrim's house. A daughter dances.
Michael Palin - New EuropeWhen we are all introduced and seated on our cushions an assistant, in clothes as drab as the baba's are bright, brings a succession of offerings. First, a bowl of wrapped boiled sweets, then, after an appropriate period of appreciation, a bowl of wrapped chocolates (which look suspiciously as if they've been gathered from the world's hotel pillows), followed by glasses of thick peach juice, cigarettes and, finally, glasses of raki. The raki and the cigarette seem to break up an awkward atmosphere, but what really cheers the baba up is when I make the awful gaffe of raising my left (unclean) hand to my heart during one of the toasts.

From here on we get on like a house on fire and he insists that I come down the steps with him to watch the sacrifice from close range. Try as I might I can't move further than 3 feet away, as the baba, surprisingly deftly, upends the sheep and swiftly draws the knife across its throat. Blood pumps out and the sheep writhes and shudders. With one of the last jerks of its back leg it catches the knife with which it's just been despatched, sending it spinning across the floor towards me. Then there is silence.

The pilgrim, immensely cheered by the sacrificial visit, invites us to have a drink and some food with him down in the village. He's one of four brothers of a handsome family whose business is coopering. Festivities take place beneath the cherry trees in a little garden outside a house his father has just bought. Bulbs dangle from exposed wires, tangles of pre-stressed rods poke out of the concrete and garlands of electric cabling hang down from the windows. An abundance of food and drink is brought round by the women and children whilst the brothers gather round to make music, the sheep-sacrificer on the mandolin, three others on clarinet, accordion and tambourine, and father on the fiddle, as they say. One of the granddaughters, in a fine white dress and an embroidered black waistcoat, dances a nimble variation on what could just as well have been a sword dance or a Highland reel or a sailor's hornpipe.

The light slowly fades, along with any Anglo-Albanian inhibitions. I can't think of a better way to spend the last night of my brief visit to this secretive country than up here in the hills in the back garden of someone I don't know, singing songs in a language I can't understand. Tonight, in our various ways, we're all celebrating. Gezuar!
Bektashi celebrations 
click to enlarge 
file size
Celebrations at the pilgrim's house. A mother hands out home-made raki.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: New Europe
  • Chapter: Day Twenty-five: Tirana to Krujë
  • Country/sea: Albania
  • Place: Krujë
  • Book page no: 65

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  • Miscellaneous
  • Day 3 
  • Around the World in 80 Days
  • Day 34 
  • Full Circle
  • Day 22 
  • Pole to Pole

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