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Celebrating the Summer Day!

By Alba ȥla Albanians celebrate Summer Day on the 14th of March. It’s an official holiday that gives the opportunity to thousands of people to fill up the parks, have picnics and enjoy a relaxed day in the reliable Mediterranean

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Forsaken Albania

By Artan Lame On the roads of Albania, in the Forties’ Legend has it that the first vehicle arrived in Albania in the time of Prince Vid. Just how true this is, I do not know, because in this country,

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Postscript

By J.Z And so we sat there, all of us, with our eyes turned upwards towards the sky. What else could we do except sit there and look hopefully upwards? Emil, our aged parrot had decided to leave us, and

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BOOKS: ALBANIA VENETA- Swiss historian dwells upon Albanian medieval History

By Ardian Klosi* “Albania Veneta 1392-1479″ (Alb. Arb쳩a venedike 1392-1479) was translated into Albanian by the well-known scholar, Ardian Klosi. Swiss born historian Oliver Jens Schmitt, currently working as a professor of the History of Southeastern Europe in the Vienna

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Forsaken Albania

By Artan Lame Shkodra, April 1913. This photograph is of a postcard produced and distributed in Montenegro, to promote the moment of the symbolic handing over of the City. The caption it has is in Serbo-Croatian and French. “ESAT PASHA

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Forsaken Albania

By Artan Lame Today it is the anniversary of the creation of the Albanian Police Force in 1913. In honour of this date, I would like to dedicate this edition to this subject, but making one thing very clear: The

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When little things go wrong

By Alba Cela Little drops of water Little grains of sand Make the mighty ocean And the pleasant land. Thus the little minutes Humble though they be Make the mighty age Of eternity. Ebenezer C. Brewer It is 5 pm

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Afterthoughts on the death of a fearless journalist with the spirit of a poet

By Alba ȥla Exactly one month ago Ryszard Kapuscinski died. I have read only one book from him, Another Day of Life. I think I have read the one who carries in the title a metaphor for his life. The

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Forsaken Albania

By Artan Lame Rome-Tirana 1941. Let’s open the New Year with a card, even though it is sixty five years old. To explain this event, I have to first explain how the censuring of the postal service was done during

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Forsaken Albania

By Artan Lame Tirana, December 1972. For about one year now, Albania had been experiencing a somewhat timid cultural Spring. The “Spring Exhibition” has been officially opened; Enver Hoxha, in person, spoke in French to the school pupils in a

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                    [post_content] => By Alba ȥla
Albanians celebrate Summer Day on the 14th of March. It's an official holiday that gives the opportunity to thousands of people to fill up the parks, have picnics and enjoy a relaxed day in the reliable Mediterranean spring sun. This origin of this celebratory day goes back to the ancient reverence towards nature, the pre-religious beliefs that the rebirth of mother earth experienced in spring is attributed to the benevolent gods of nature. Actually Summer Day is celebrated mainly in the city of Elbasan, where traditionally the festivity has trademarked the city. The municipality organizes the Summer Festival with cultural and folkloristic activities filling up the streets. Many people from the surrounding cities travel to Elbasan to get a traditional fare as well a try the ballokume , the tasty traditional cookies prepared especially for the day.
I traveled to Elbasan to see for the first time from up close the atmosphere of the holiday. The minibuses have doubled the fare given the incredible demand. The city expects almost one million visitors on this day. The streets were filled with people, mostly of a young age, Roma musicians and dancers, ballokume vendors and large families sitting in restaurants that were reserved long ago. Actually if you come here without a plan you might run the risk of not finding a place where to sit. The hills around the city hosted a large number of families that have left the cacophony of the city's plaza and chose a quiet picnic in nature to celebrate. 
"Elbasani people love to have fun and dance to the sounds of folk music," Marenglen our local host explains to me. " This day is more important to us than even New Years Eve. I have family visiting form all over and it's a two days long party in our house." He has brought ballokume for us respecting the tradition of hospitality. The big concert with famous Albanian singers has been held the night before where the main square was filled with people welcoming spring around bonfires. The morning of the 14th has lured the ones who made it to wake up early into a carnival parade as a well as a spring fair. 
Both in Elbasan and in Tirana the main boulevards were closed to traffic in order to give people a chance to stroll by and enjoy the holiday. Music and laughter are the best welcoming tokens to spring along with a generous lunch. The concerts and activities planed beforehand from the respective local authorities add up to the festive atmosphere. The holiday has definitely shifted form being a local one, mainly for the central Albanian towns (Elbasan, Fier, Berat) to a national one culminating in the activities organized in Tirana.  For the first time this year, a private company Re Bull recruited Czech airplanes to give a special show for the festivities. 
Elbasan is not the only city that gets a special treatment during March 14. As a child I grew up in Berat, further down in the south. Elbasan and Berat share the same magnificent mountain of Tomorri. I remember that my grandmother made me go through a long ritual of traditions on March 14.  The logic was that everything that happens in this day conditions the entire upcoming year. Thus I had to get up early and hold on to an iron door knob. This would make me feel healthy and strong. I had to put a bit of pomegranate juice on my cheeks so that they would always be rosy. The main door of our garden would be decorated with flowers and grass blades to welcome the beauty of spring. 
When I asked in Elbasan the told me the flowers had to be gathered one day earlier and left in water al night. The next morning the youngest child of the family had to splash some of this water on the face in order to procure year long health. Only after the privileged youngest had completed the ritual the rest of the family could do the same. 
My grandmother would have baked the traditional pie with one coin inside. Whoever got the coin would be the luckiest one in the family. There were also packages with sweet and boiled eggs to be delivered to relatives and neighbors as a sign of harmony and well-being. The boiled eggs had to be died in all rainbow colors to symbolize blossoming spring.  Children would boast about their multicolored collection of eggs. The most traditional thing of the Summer Day preparations was the thread bracelet made out of a red and a white thread that we used to put in our wrists. The verore (the name of this bracelet) would be attached to the body until one saw the migratory birds. There is still a controversy in my head whether these would be storks or swallows.
The habit has also survived in the Arberesh communities in Italy who put in their doorsteps a little piece of soil with fresh grass blades. 
The tradition of the Summer Day, as I would later happily discover, is a regional one. As a student in Bulgaria I annually got the same bracelets this time called martenitsa-s with the same wish for health and happiness. Giving out martenitsa-s was a sign of friendship and benevolence. I still get some every year and put them on with superstitious determination. 
The beginning of spring is a traditional celebration for Moldova, Albania, Romania, Bulgaria, and Macedonia. Except for Albania, all the other countries celebrate the beginning of spring on March 1. In Moldova and Romania, on this day men give women a little talisman in a red and white ribbon that represents a powerful and healthy new year. The word "Martisor" is the dimunitive for the month of March and is something similar to little March. Martisor is not a religious holiday, but a celebration of mother nature that is believed to have started when the region was invaded by the pagan Romans. 
Throughout the Balkans Summer or Spring Day is an occassion to come together and welcome the season of beauty and rebirth, an occasion to relax, celebrate together with friends and family, respect ancient traditions and look forward to the year with optimism and a sweet tooth. 

Recipe for Ballokume
'Ballokume' is the traditional dish made on 14th March, Summer's Day.
Ingredients: 1 kg sugar, 0.5 kg butter, 1 kg corn flour (sifted), one handful of wheat flour, 8 eggs, 1 cup of milk; one big whitened copper or glass vessel.
Preparation: Beat the butter together with the sugar until it forms a white mass. This is best done by hand to reach a consistency that is thread-like. Mix the eggs with milk and then slowly added to the beaten sugar, while mixing continuously.   Still stirring, add the flour slowly. Be careful while adding the flour as too much flour can make the 'ballokume' too hard. This is why after the pre-determined quantity of flour has been added, leave the dough untouched for 15 minutes even if it looks quite wet. This time is enough for the flour particles to absorb the moisture of the soggy dough. Afterwards, if necessary, if the dough remains soggy, another handful of flour may be added. 
Baking: Sprinkle the baking tray with flour and put on it balls of the dough about the size of a fist. Bake them for about 40 minutes at 170у until a crust is formed on the top (not until they redden). Remove the baking tray and leave the 'ballokume' to cool down so they can be easily detached. 

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                    [post_content] => By Artan Lame
On the roads of Albania, in the Forties' Legend has it that the first vehicle arrived in Albania in the time of Prince Vid. Just how true this is, I do not know, because in this country, the very turn of the Century itself was legend material, but this was most likely the case because eagles did not use vehicles. Anyway, during the time of King Zog and in the time of Italy, a huge amount of work was done all over the country to build a network of roads, a network which is still in use today in many zones of Albania. However what makes an impression on us, and obviously on our photographers too, is the relationship the Albanians, who broke away from the epoch of cart wheels and the mud of the highland tracks, created towards the means of the modern world that spun past them swiftly.
In the first photo, a police patrol has stopped a truck and is checking the papers of the driver. Our Albanian, compelled to observe the law, is visibly offended that anyone could possibly ask him for his documents and spoil his journey. With his typical posture of permanent self-importance, he sits there with his hands in his pockets and his woolen cap mischievously tilted to one side, to indicate to his friends on the back of the truck that he couldn't care less about the Peppino. The traffic officer seems not to be impressed at all by all this cockiness and continues to discharge his duty. You can see above what the officer is busy leafing through, a driver's license of the time. You can see the motorbike of the traffic officer in the background with the number plate MdS 735 (Militia della Strada). Further away you can see a Police Officer, and a part of the road block. From his posture, it looks as though he has just come out from behind the nearest bush. Our fearless white capped Albanian is wearing military boots, probably smuggled wares or stolen because War Time Rules strictly prohibited the trafficking of military apparel. You can see how heavily mud-caked his boots are sighing as they gaze down on the shiny black leather boots of the traffic officer. Occupation is so painful.
The other photo is without doubt a masterpiece of surrealism. A modern vehicle (for that time), which is traveling quite fast down the hilly road, (Just why it is going so fast down that sort of a road is anyone's guess), and a traffic officer guiding the traffic! on the top of that summit. And to complete the picture, is the eternal Albanian, who with his back firmly turned on the modern times and the haste and bustle of this time, is staring vacantly away to the horizon, with not a care in the world. I bet if we go back to that little hill today I can assure you that the vehicle and the traffic officer will be long gone, but you will find the eternal Albanian there, with his eyes fixed on the horizon, gazing off towards the vision of the future with his backside firmly set into the mud and dust of today. 
                    [post_title] =>  Forsaken Albania 
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                    [post_content] => By J.Z
And so we sat there, all of us, with our eyes turned upwards towards the sky. What else could we do except sit there and look hopefully upwards? Emil, our aged parrot had decided to leave us, and it looked like a departure without any hope of return. Everyone present in this event (for us, Emil's abrupt decision to leave was truly an event, and a grave event at that), - could probably accurately relate what had happened, step by step, during the last fifteen minutes of the bird's existence in the cage. But no one could imagine why the bird had decided to fly away.
Emil was an aging, female parrot, but no one ever had the opportunity to see whether she could lay eggs or not, and many others seriously doubted her reproductive capacities. Her wings always had an unpleasant smell, so JJ would squirt a few drops of his Co Co Channel on his wings at least twice a day and in general the bird had an entirely dazed appearance. But these shortcomings did not stop JJ, John Junior and myself from falling in love immediately with this creature at first sight, dirty and squawky, his beak smeared in droppings (you do know that parrots, like the bulk of the breeds of birds also eat their own droppings).
Why did I choose this aging and dirty parrot Emil out of all the brightly coloured and preened canaries, red throats with their sweet warbling?
Thinking back, I find the answer to that question in another one of my events of a long, long time ago, fifteen years ago, when together with BB I spent one year of my life on the Island of Malta. Our house just happened to be opposite a pet bird shop. Every morning when I left home I would look into the shop and see a soft grey coloured parrot which I immediately called "Little Ass", I ended up buying him and I immediately promoted him to the third member of the family. BB, Little Ass and I would always go out together, we would play with him and hurl swear words at him and this would probably have gone on for as long as possible, if Customs had not stopped us from bringing the parrot into the country on our return.
Why did my two young boys, JJ and John Junior choose the exact same parrot that I chose in the bird's shop? I have no idea, perhaps it is because they both have my blood, my impulses.
We came home and bought a large and beautiful cage like a Sultan's Harem, we filled it with thin slices of apple and pieces of lettuce, so much that we had to move the lettuce out of the way to see the parrot, we put tiny troughs in the cage filled with a selection of sun flower and other seeds and water and we would let him out of the cage every afternoon so he could fly around the room.  
On day two of being in the family, Emil landed on JJ's arm and he would perch for hours on end on his back. He would peck his cheeks and the lobe of his left ear. In fact Emil changed a lot of things for us in the family. We began to mellow under her funny, jerky glances; in the somewhat hollow dialogue of the family, terminology began to creep in to our conversations about raising the bird probably; JJ and John Junior established a more regular and friendlier relationship, forgetting the wresting and fighting, the mutual insults (this may have frightened the bird), weekly visits to the vet were added to the family budget and what was even more rewarding-not a single complaint from BB about the increased expenses.  But something even more important happened as time went by. JJ who became more and more attached to the bird with each passing day, began to imitate him and there was a surprising resemblance between the two. His cheeks got plumper, his skim became a little lighter and two rosy dimples were formed. Emil and JJ smelt the same and you could see them together everywhere, the bird and the boy, whistling to one another in meaningless phrases of attachment.
But why did he leaveŠand how? Why did he decide to go precisely on the first anniversary of his joining our family. The fact that the bird flew away precisely on this day is more than just a literary discovery. It dawned a day like any other day of the week-my boys said that they had been at home and, as was their habit, they had put the cage out on the balcony so the bird got some fresh air. Nothing abnormal about that! They had heard Emil's usual cackle out on the balcony, then about five minutes silence. John Junior had run out onto the balcony to see why the bird had fallen silent- but all he saw was the door of the cage wide open and the bird was not inside. It had gone!!
And now, we are all sitting here looking up towards the sky. And old expert advised us to sit and wait, looking up to the sky, leave the cage in an obvious position on the balcony with the door wide open. - There have been cases when pet birds have come home- he tells us. His words actually give us a strong feeling of hope, especially John Junior who still sheds tears over this loss. But JJ, who was more attached to the bird than any of us does not have any strong sentiments of regret. I already told you about his resemblance to the bird, to the extent that when you spoke to him at times he would reply in whistles. But from his mellow and soft glance, void of any real wisdom, I sincerely think I know what has happened. I think JJ himself must have opened the cage door and allowed the parrot to fly away.

                    [post_title] =>  Postscript 
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                    [post_content] => By Ardian Klosi*

"Albania Veneta 1392-1479" (Alb. Arb쳩a venedike 1392-1479) was translated into Albanian by the well-known scholar, Ardian Klosi. Swiss born historian Oliver Jens Schmitt, currently working as a professor of the History of Southeastern Europe in the Vienna University comes thus to the Albanian reader with an impressive, well-researched scholarly work. The book examines the history of Albanian lands in the late medieval period covering sources reporting on places as far as Tivar in the north and Epirus in the south. Schmitt's work tries to follow the path on neutral scholars who challenge nationalistic historiography such as Sufflay, Jirecek, Ippen, etc. Preparatory work for the book has included archive research as well as a comprehensive literature review of Albanian, Slavic, French and German sources.
Oliver Schmitt was born in Basel in 1973. He started his work on Albanian history as a dissertation tutored by the well known scholar of albanology,  Peter Bartl in Munich. His work developed into a 700 page transcript of diverse aspects of life in Albanian territories at the time. The German edition of the book came out in 2001.
Currently the department for which Schmitt is working has in its possession the archive called "Albanien-Bibliothek", which automatically makes it a center for studies related to Albanian history. The author is researching his new project for a monograph of the Albanian national hero, Gjergj Kastriot - Sk쯤erbeu. He visited Albania last week in order to promote his book in the cities of Tirana and Shkodra. He was interviewed about his books and plans for upcoming ones by his translator Ardian Klosi. In his interview Schmitt reveals interesting information about the work needed to complete his book and tells about plans regarding his future works.  
The author claims it took him three years of work, mainly in the state archives in Venice. He started in 1997 with the cursory examination of all published works he could lay his hands on. This took one complete year. He started writing in July 1999. One of the hardest parts, as with every historio-graphical work, was to compile the index. 
Asked about the interest he took about such a specific topic, Schmitt recollects a similar interest since his high school times when he read the works of Milan von Sufflay and Konstantin Jirecek. In his first semester in the University of Vienna he attended a seminar by Max Demeter Peyfuss, who had previously researched and published material about the area of Voskopoja and its rich historical account. Another foundation of his work was to study Byzantine history with Johannes Koder, a co-author of a book on medieval southern Arberia. Schmitt was lucky to have unlimited access to the library of Bavaria and other unique sources made available after the publication of the Shkodra statuses in collaboration with Lucia Nadin, Gherardo Ortalli and P쭬umb Xhufi.
Scmitt used also many Albanian works such as Luan Malltezi's 1988 edition of an extensive history of urban centers under the Venetian rule. He looked for material in the archives of Dubrovnik and Kotor. The real factual basis of the book is the 25 volumes of Acta Albaniae Veneta, from the Jesuit father Giuseppe Valentini. The thousands documents and manuscripts had to be classified thematically. 
Schmitt argues that such work needs passion. The first book is very crucial. He realized the fact when he started working on his second book on Istanbul and Izmir of the nineteenth century.
Schmitt does not claim that he has extinguished all the material regarding the history of the Venetian rule in Albania. Historical work is always subject to interpretation, criticism and there is always room for elaboration and improvement. New material becomes available with time and more work is needed especially for the period just before the siege of Shkodra in 1479. Other archives also are said to contain important information as the author discovered later with the documents belonging to Gjergj Strazimirovic Balsha (end of 14th century) which he found in Zadar in 2006. While extensive research has been made in the north Italian archives more work is needed in the small parochial sources in the south of the Apennines. Sometimes casual discoveries of documents are the most interesting ones. Schmitt brings the example of finding by chance a document that proved Skenderbej had a house in the Croatian island of Hvar. Other new material becomes available also with archeological discoveries. In this context the work being done in Lezha is very systematic and thus promising. 
According to Schmitt it is important that young scholars of history undertake projects of research. He mentions in this context a program of research grants near the University of Vienna which usually employs historians from Kosovo, Albania and Macedonia.   
Asked about the novelties that his work on Skenderbej might bring given the vast existing scholarship on the issue, Schmitt reveals that he is trying to go beyond the narrative chronological structure that is overwhelming in the previous work. He is trying to continue his work based on the examination of multiple sources and especially archive materials from Italian and Austrian fonts. The book tries to bring in a new topical analysis of features such as the accompanying group of the hero, the importance of social aspects such as loyalty and treason, the projected image of the leader, etc. It will pose serious questions over the importance of the Lezha Agreement; taken for granted up until now to be the foundation of Skenderbej's political power. The book will also concentrate on economic issues, the financial transactions and deals made by Skenderbej, the customs policies, the import of war technology form the West, the help received form the papal power and the Venetians in their anti-Ottoman alliance. 
Sometimes one can ask very simple yet unanswered questions such as what was the real value of one dukat (Venetian coin) for an ordinary Albanian mountaineer living by animal farming in the highlands. Even if primary data is not available one can get an educated guess by comparative analysis with areas that displayed a similar economic and social composure such as the Dalmatian cost in that period. Data from there show that one shepherd could earn as much as one ducat in his entire work year. Thus if Skenderbej received 1400 dukats to pay his army this meant a considerable assistance. It would cover the annual salary for a lot of his soldiers. 
Another interesting topic to explore is the account of Marin Barleti which has proven to be quite reliable as he used narrative models without many exaggeration patterns, relying thus on 15th century Italian renaissance literary tradition. However, he does combine some heroic idealized images from the Epirus epical tradition. All these combined factors shed some light on the popularity that Skenderbej had throughout the Balkans.
Finally Klosi asks an opinion about contemporary Albanian historians and overcoming settled patterns of nationalistic history. It is a very relevant topic in the discussions of academia and its role in perpetuating given models of historical analysis. According to Schmitt, the tradition of nationalistic history in communist scholarship is similar in several countries and by no means unique to Albania. 
Contemporary conditions for academic work are not that easy. An important dialogue series is being coordinated by the History Institution of Tirana, the Science and Arts academy in Prishtina, the Balkans commissions of Austria and the University of Vienna, regarding proper historical investigation and scholarship. A preparatory conference preceded the series in Vienna in December of last year where famous foreign scholars of Albanian history such as Nathalie Clayer, Peter Bartl, Noel Malcolm, Conrad Clewing, Bernd Fischer summarized the actual situation of studies and gave a list of topics to be kept under the limelight of upcoming projects. Their contribution was recently made available in Albanian and given to Albanian scholars so that as a second phase they get a chance to respond. A large congress of historians will dwell upon the summary of the results. For that Schmitt expressed his gratitude to the supportive representative of the History Institution of Tirana Marenglen Verli and the Science and Arts academy of Kosova representative Rexhep Ismajli. 
Schmitt's book on Albanian medieval history is available to students of history and all Albanian readers curious to shed some light into one of the least researched and definitely most interesting periods. 
* Edited by TT Staff
                    [post_title] =>  BOOKS: ALBANIA VENETA- Swiss historian dwells upon Albanian medieval History 
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                    [post_date] => 2007-03-09 01:00:00
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                    [post_content] => By Artan Lame
Shkodra, April 1913. This photograph is of a postcard produced and distributed in Montenegro, to promote the moment of the symbolic handing over of the City. The caption it has is in Serbo-Croatian and French. "ESAT PASHA COMMANDER OF SHKODRA, HANDS OVER THE KEYS OF THE FORTRESS TO HIS MAJESTY THE CROWN PRINCE OF MONTENEGRO." The postcard shows, in the foreground, Esat Pasha Toptani (Commander of the Turkish Garrison of Shkodra), shaking hands with the Montenegrin Crown Prince (also Commander of the Montenegrin Forces of the encirclement). From his stance, Esat seems to be slightly more humble however, he showed he was capable of benefiting from such a humiliation, even declaiming this as a kind of success!
In November 1912, the Montenegrins encircled Shkodra that was defended by a Turkish garrison under the command of Hasan Riza from Bagdad, Esat Pasha Toptani was Vice Commander of the Garrison and Commander of the Reservist Troops. Shkodra defended itself for months on end from the vicious attacks of the Montenegrin forces, who, after they occupied the city, tried to make it the capital of their state, instead of Cetinja, away up in the mountains. Esat Pasha realized that in the meantime the Albanian scene was becoming particularly interesting, the whole of the Balkans was changing, new vistas were opening everywhere, the new state created boundless opportunities, but in the meantime he was rotting in a battle that had absolutely no hope of bringing any benefits in this northern corner of the Balkans theatre. He decided to march South with his troops, straight towards that theatre of actions and intrigues of author and actor, a part of which he had been for a long time now. He organizes the murder of Hasan Riza Pasha, opens negotiations with the Montenegrins, and hands over the city to them on the condition that he is allowed to withdraw with his garrison and armaments. Brilliant plan, perfect intrigue, but after everything is completed something goes wrong. The Albanians no longer applaud his abilities; they begin to turn their backs on him. What had happened?
Esat Pasha is one of the most interesting of figures of the end and beginning of the 19th -20th Centuries, branded for life as a traitor and this is probably why an analysis has never been made of this historical figure. The offspring of a family of the Nobility connected to the top of the Imperial Administration, he spent all his life swimming upstream against the currents of Ottoman-Byzantine politics of the tri-continental Empire, always keeping his head above water. This kind of politics called for individuals without principles, ideals, and scruples, persons who had a very keen sense of cunningness, egocentric and cosmopolitan. These were precisely the qualities, some inherited and others worked to perfection over many years that dominated the brain of this man, which subsequently lifted him to the summits of power.
He would join one side, then he would be swearing allegiance to the Sultan, then he joined the Turks to overthrow Abdyl-Haimiti. Today he was deep into an intrigue with the Italians, while, on the morrow, he would be sending word to the Austrians to raise market value; he defended Shkodra, but had its Commander murdered; accepted a ministerial portfolio from Ismail Qemali and later on from Prince Vid, but also worked behind his back to bring him down; he negotiated an agreement with Haxhi Qamili in Shijak and recruited gendarmes for France in Thessalonica. A brilliant player of "real politics", first of all on the enormous stage of the immeasurable Turkish Empire and later on in he smaller theatres of all the continental European powers; he was the embodiment if the new Albanian generation of fortune-hunter, who were springing up everywhere, on all different sides, in compliance with the very complicated and intricate strings of power. And during almost three decades of this adventure-seeking policy, every act he had undertaken had been hailed as a rare quality, songs had been composed in honour of his astuteness and everyone wondered at and admired his special gift.
Suddenly, during the second decade of the Century something overturned. The Empire fell, and in this corner of the Balkans a new State was formed which they called Shqiperia, and together with it new terminologies and sentiments began to be created that had never existed before. Betrayal and patriotism were born, the oath to the Homeland and national belonging, a new morale was born and began to be moulded, at the foundations of which lay, "Ambition that runs counter to the interests of the Homeland, is called treason." Up to his neck in intrigues and snares, Pasha Toptani never understood this. He continued to do what he had always done, to operate as he had always done, but now these acts no longer secured him admirers and worshippers, but enemies and scorn. "What is your problem," I can imagine him saying, "am I not the same man? Am I not doing what I have always done? Am I pulling the wool over your eyes? Am I not doing you all in for the sake of ambition? Yes, of course I am. But there is a difference. Now, Albania had been born. Now there is morality. And together with them, there is now treason." Up until the day he died, Esat continued playing the games he had always played, without being capable of grasping the new reality. And precisely, in the midst of all these Machiavellian games, he was hit by the bullets fired from the gun of the 20 year old Avni Rustemi, who was formed in the new Albania that was in the process of being born.
Esat departed from this world, without understanding the change of times, and I believe he probably regrets this fact now, up there wherever he is, stamping his feet indignantly, that for the fault of this failure to understand, not only did he not go down as a real gem in the Great Volume of History, as many others had done before him, but on the contrary he went down and has been fixed in the history of the Albanians as a nugget of coal which blackens you no matter where you touch it.
                    [post_title] =>  Forsaken Albania 
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                    [post_date] => 2007-03-02 01:00:00
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                    [post_content] => By Artan Lame
Today it is the anniversary of the creation of the Albanian Police Force in 1913. In honour of this date, I would like to dedicate this edition to this subject, but making one thing very clear: The Police Force of the new State really was founded in this year, 1913, however, it should not be forgotten that under Turkey too, the State had a Police Force. 
The end of the XIX Century, with the ceaseless eruption of national uprisings throughout the entire area of the Balkans, remains one of the most difficult moments of the Ottoman Empire. Snuffing out these national movements sapped the core military strength of the Empire, subsequently resulting in the weakening of public order. During that period, this was noticed particularly in the basin including the Albanian regions, Macedonia and as far as the outlying areas of Thessalonica. 
According to traditions thousands of years old, whenever the inhabitants of the mountains felt that the strength of central government was one the wane, they would begin to emerge from the mists of their God forsaken localities where for many years they had lain in wait for such moments in history and would surge down from the mountains to the lowlands and the towns, looting and pillaging, slaying and razing to the ground everything that appeared before them. This continued up until the government in office managed to rally the strength and forces and the men of the mountains would withdraw once again into the folds of the mist, deep behind their mountain ridges, to hibernate for years and years, with unending patience, until the next descent.
This ritual has continued in these lands as early as back in the IV-V Century, the time of the collapse of the Roman Empire, and later on into the XII-XIII Centuries, the time of the withdrawal of Byzantine, it was repeated several times during the XX Century, when different powers flourished and weakened one after the other. The traces of the last eruption are still fresh, because this occurred only a decade ago in 1997, when we thought the world had come to an end, but, in fact it was just another one of those performances by the age old actors, repeating an age old drama.
Let's get back to the photograph. It shows a group of Turkish police officers posing around the body of a slain bandit. The body has been bound to fence posts so it is in an upright position and it is only the lifeless eyes that give him away. The deceased is wearing a short fustanella  ( short, pleated skirt for men), of a dark colour. Outlaws from the south of the country wore dark and not white fustanellas for camouflage in the forests (although it's hard to believe that they would remain white anyway in the muddy surroundings). This is also a shorter fustanella than the normal model so as not to impede rapid movement, as the folk song says, "Fustanella of the thief falls above the knee." In general Albanians did not grow beards, but if you were on the run from the law, a bandit, and outlaw, then you had a beard, because these men did not have the amenities in the forests and caves to shave. The deceased has lost his shoes known as 'opinga', among the first items to be stolen from a cadaver, being so very useful to the living. His shirt and fustanella are smeared in bees wax for protection against the penetration of dampness and the rain. It is easy to discern who the police officers are, not so much from their faces (which do not differ so much from the face of the bandit), but from their uniforms, also irregular. They are holding Martini-Henry rifles of English make which are fondly recalled to this day by the bards of folklore as "pushke Martini" (Martini rifles). Proceeding from the make of the rifle which was used by the Turkish army in the years 1880-1890, the photograph can also be dated as belonging to this period. In Albania, the people used these rifles up into the twenties' of the XX Century, for no better reason than because of their large caliber (12mm) they made a deafening noise when they were fired, and the Albanians love loud noises. Alongside the police officers are several civilians, who appear to have helped in the operation. This often occurred because the lowlands suffered a great deal from the plunder. 
Over the fence you can see the heads of a villager and several children, one of whom, with a look that only the sons of Laberia can conjure up, poses directly above the deceased. It is obvious that the cadaver does not make much of an impression on him, being more interested, as he is, in striking up a pose for the camera. UNICEF had not been created at that time so that it could deal with the education of the children and the public display of killed criminals was the only way of teaching the children something.
                    [post_title] =>  Forsaken Albania 
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                    [post_date] => 2007-03-02 01:00:00
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                    [post_content] => By Alba Cela
Little drops of water
Little grains of sand
Make the mighty ocean
And the pleasant land.
Thus the little minutes
Humble though they be
Make the mighty age
Of eternity.
Ebenezer C. Brewer

It is 5 pm and everyone trapped in the office world knows this is the most blessed hour of the working week days. It's coffee time. Coffee is a magic liquid that revives the tired soul and the tired eyes. The ritual of coffee for me entails dragging one of my office mates to a quiet little place where I can sit sipping from the cup in contemplation of all the little charming things I could have done instead of staring hysterically at the computer screen. 
Little things are usually the most significant message bearers in life. 
Sometimes the messages are mixed and one gets confused. Little things should not be underestimated. When it comes to drawing a general conclusion they can be elusive. 
In our coffee place my friend gets up to visit the rest room. I can see her twisted face perplexed at something unusual when she comes back. "You know what? Little things in this country are upside down," she says. "Like in the bathroom there is this big sign in nervous capital letters that's says 'DO not throw anything in the toilet!' Now you might think this is the greatest problem this toilet has. Careless irresponsible people that throw toilet paper in it! But when you look around the toilet is broken, it smells awful, the sink has no running water and the door does not close properly. Yet no one takes care to fix these things. They put up that sign. That is their concern." Thus the little sign tells my friend the blame rests upon the owners, thus upon the few who should change the structural impediments to having a clean and proper toilet. 
Another similar episode happens while taking an evening stroll with another friend. We go through a newly restored park, in the area where a big hole left over from an ambiguous building project used to make the scenery ugly. It was always littered. Now in its place stands a simple park. As we walk through my friend complains about the park that has not escaped the curse of litter. According to him it's the municipality which does not work properly, which does not send in the caretakers to clean it up. I hesitate. I blame the people. Yet as my friend eloquently puts it, one cannot aspire to unrealistic things.
Back to the coffee place, just on another day. The music is blasting out form the boxes and it is loud. It is also much uncoordinated. Turbo folk rhythms blend in with consecutive retro and some weird mixture of house. It is causing me a headache. From the faces of my friends who listen in stupor with raised eyebrows and twisted lips I see the headache can spread out like wildfire. Collective pain caused by bad music. Very common if you look around. Music that does not fit the nature of the place. The nature of the particular hour of the day. Lunch break with reggeaton.  Coffee with the 80's.
I am wondering what kind of DJs these places employ. Why don't they check the mixes tat they put on. It would help to create a much more friendly and meaningful atmosphere. Yet, the owner might think that a bad mix (which to him does not sound anything bad or good) is suitable for the popular music taste.
I am not always so attentive to little things. I believe very few people are. Overwhelmed by the big picture, the overwhelming chaos, the feeling of hopelessness at the face of cacophony, one is likely to miss the details. 
And yet so often it's exactly little things who act as he most important messengers in life. At the end of the day the little things tell us that something is wrong with the way we adjust our free rider instincts. There is something wrong about blaming the few and the many. Something that should be changed. Starting with little steps, from little things.
                    [post_title] =>  When little things go wrong 
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                    [post_date] => 2007-02-24 01:00:00
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                    [post_content] => By Alba ȥla

Exactly one month ago Ryszard Kapuscinski died. I have read only one book from him, Another Day of Life. I think I have read the one who carries in the title a metaphor for his life. The humanity with which he met the world's cruelest happenings, with which he observed evilness and wickedness, war and devastation, poverty and misery was to him the normal way. Every day was another day of life. One to tell. One to expose to the world. With the right fearless journalism spirit. With a touch of magic. 
My friend, Slavenka Drakulic, a well-known Croatian writer used to tell me stories about him around dinner table. The stories were a bit scary, and tasteless for a dinner table. On one of his trips, Kapuscinski had encountered a weird parasite that had entered his skin. There was no cure for it. For the rest of his life he would breed the parasite who could as well crawl out of his skin at any moment and then crawl back in. His body would never be able to eliminate it. Who did one of the world's best pen-people react to that? Just one of the job perks - he would say.
Rarely one finds the dedication and fearlessness of such a committed explorer. Born in Poland and never professionally trained as a journalist, he became a real globe-trotter in search for the truth, the radical real truth, the story behind the scene, the whole story, the disgusting pars of it, the darkest parts of it. Where others would stop and hesitate, Kapuscinski would progress forward. One had to do it, and he believed he was the one. Eventually he did become the voice of the Angolians trapped in the absurdness of a civil war, of the victims of big power politics in the Middle East, of cruel imperial leaders soaked in blood, the soccer fans caught in state conflicts in Latin America, the confused eastern Russians woken up from the long nightmare of communism.
Out of all the places he wrote about, Africa stands out in his writing. In his own words, "Africa has its own personality. Sometimes it is a sad personality, sometimes impenetrable, but always unrepeatable. Africa was dynamic. It was aggressive, on the attack." And he liked that. 

His fascination with Africa brings to mind another marvelous writer which Kapucisnki himself considered Polish, Joseph Conrad. Just like Conrad, Kapucinki explored the depth of the heart of darkness. 
Kapuscinski would be at pains when asked to describe his style, his genre, his curious mix of magique realism with factual essayistic journalism.  In an interview he tried to make out a synthesis of all the things eh had put in his magic soup. "My writing is a combination of three elements. The first is travel: not travel like a tourist, but travel as exploration, as concentration, as a purpose. The second is reading literature on the subject: books, articles, scholarship. The third is reflection, which comes from travel and reading. My books are created from a combination of these three elements." 
For Kapuscinski, writing was about riskءbout risking everything. And that the value of the writing is not in what you publish but in its consequences. If you set out to describe reality, then the influence of the writing is upon reality- he said. 

My work as an agency journalist is important, because all my books developed from the experiences I had. My responsibility was always to cover an event: to locate the geopolitical story, and as quickly as possible send a cable down the line with its details. It was straightforward journalism, nothing more, nothing less. But once I had sent the cable, I was always left with a feeling of inadequacy. I had only covered the political event, and not really conveyed the deeper, and, I felt, truer nature of what was going on. And this sense of dissatisfaction remained with me each time I returned to Poland. You can always find two versions of my work. The first version is what I do when I'm in the field: it's all in the cables, the stories filed. The second version is what I write later, and that expresses what I actually felt, what I lived through, the reflections surrounding the simple news story. You know, a press cable is a very conservative medium for conveying news. We are always limited: by the number of words, by the time we can get on the machine, by the money, by the information that the newspapers back home want to receive. But the realities we face, especially in the Third World, are so much richer, more complicated, than a newspaper will ever allow us to report. It is not the story that is not getting expressed: it's what surrounds the story. The climate, the atmosphere of the street, the feeling of the people, the gossip of the town, the smell; the thousand, thousand elements of reality that are part of the event you read about in 600 words in your morning paper. Story is the beginning. It is half of the achievement. But it is not complete until you, as the writer, become part of it. As a writer, you have experienced this event on your own skin, and it is your experience, this feeling along the surface of your skin. 
Kapuscinski, Granta interview

His death leaves me with on single thought: Kapuscinski is a compulsive experience in life.

Ryszard Kapuscinski was born in 1932 in Pinsk in eastern Poland. He was educated in Warsaw and at the age of twenty-three he was posted to India, his first trip outside Poland. His first book, The Polish Bush, stories of the Polish frontier, appeared in 1962 and was an immediate bestseller. He has since traveled widely throughout the Third World; storing up, as he once said in an interview, the experiences for the books that would come later. The first of these books, published in 1968, was based on a journey through Russia. This was followed by books on Africa, Latin America and South Africa. 
His first book to be translated into English was The Emperor, based on the last days of Haile Selassie and subsequently made into a play produced by Jonathan Miller. His other books in English include Another Day of Life about the war in Angola, and Shah of Shahs, based on the Revolution in Iran. The story of his travels across the dying empire of the Soviet Union in 1989 was narrated in the Imperium and his eye-witness account of the emergence of the Third World during his time as the Polish Press Agency's only foreign correspondent in The Soccer War. His most recent book is Travels with Herodotus. 
                    [post_title] =>  Afterthoughts on the death of a fearless journalist with the spirit of a poet 
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                    [post_content] => By Artan Lame
Rome-Tirana 1941.  Let's open the New Year with a card, even though it is sixty five years old. To explain this event, I have to first explain how the censuring of the postal service was done during World War Two. Here, I will describe that of Italy, but it functioned more or less in the same way in all countries. After writing a letter or a postcard, a citizen had to deposit it at the Censuring Office, which stamped and sealed it with an even number. Here the letter was opened and read and if there were any military secrets, or information that could help the enemy, hostile or defeatist propaganda etc, phrases that were prohibited were all cancelled out with black ink. After completing this job, the office employee stamped the letter and wrote his personal code number on the envelope and another red seal with the words, "Verified and Censored," easily detected by the Post Office employees that the letter had been checked. This entire system made people very prudent, not so much to avoid writing things that could be interpreted as military secrets, but to write things that the Police could classify as wanting to disseminate panic, or expressions of distrust in the "final victory." Things became even more complicated, when the censor office had to check correspondence in a foreign language, for example correspondence from the countries occupied by Italy such as Albania, Abyssinia or Libya. In the case of censorship of correspondence in Albanian, Italians who knew Albanian were used because, for security reasons, native Albanian speakers could not be trusted with this work.  
This brings us back to our country. This Albanian citizen sent a post card from Rome to a friend in Tirana, called Zydi Duda on 24 April 1941. Obviously the Albanian living in Rome has a problem and wants to tell Zyhdi in Tirana that he was in trouble, but naturally he was afraid of the censoring. So what was his solution? He uses a colloquial Albanian and expressions that he is sure no foreigner would understand, describing the very bad situation he was in. And he was right the ruse worked, the censorship passed the post card, thinking that everything was alright and the postcard reaches Zyhdi in Tirana unscathed. So the expression he used in Turkish actually proved useful to the Albanians in World War Two.
                    [post_title] =>  Forsaken Albania 
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                    [post_date] => 2007-02-17 01:00:00
                    [post_date_gmt] => 2007-02-17 01:00:00
                    [post_content] => By Artan Lame
Tirana, December 1972. For about one year now, Albania had been experiencing a somewhat timid cultural Spring. The "Spring Exhibition" has been officially opened; Enver Hoxha, in person, spoke in French to the school pupils in a meeting he had with them; a few days earlier the 11th Song Festival had been held; and a series of other signs of this Spring had appeared. In these closing weeks of the year, placards appeared on the walls of buildings in the cities (today we would call them posters), bearing wishes of goodwill for a happy New Year. In itself this was a western element, posters pasted up on walls, one after the other, like nowhere else on the planet. Let alone the content of these posters! However, they had almost been totally freed of communist symbols. Although there were the outlines of factories, plants and mines, they were almost invisible and appear like toys. And the characters in the posters were depicted like normal sized human beings, and not heroes who are staring into the distance in the direction of a brilliant socialist future; they are normal to the point where none of them are shown holding the Little Red Book in their hands; there are no sickles or members of the People's Police Force, even the children depicted, are normal. One of them carries a gift, but not a book of Uncle Enver! All the characters in these designs have been depicted in black and white, with frames full of colour flicked irregularly onto the canvas, a cautious move towards cubism. I remember that in those years, cubism found many admirers, not only amongst the artists. After his arrest, Maks Velo was accused of "manifesting a weakness for cubism" in the design of a bloc of flats. As if that were not enough, the colour red was not predominant, but merely present and the entire figure is plunged into a soft brown hue, which, perhaps for the fault of the printing process, looks very somber. Not a single "PLA," "Long Live the People's Republic of Albania," and all that nonsense. The only ideological symbol present is the red star at the top of the placard, which resembles more a star of the evening skies than the "Star of the Caravan."
1972 closed and 1973 opened with this poster. In the first days of the new year, Comrade Enver delivers the historical speech on the danger of slipping towards liberal stands in culture and the arts; and within a matter of months, the respective plots was uncovered and exposed. The 11th Song Festival was buried along with all its participants. The Spring Exhibition disappeared off the face of the earth; all the artists receded into the shadows too; the dramas of the playwright Fadil Pacrami and the Public Television of Todi Lubonja became blemishes of shame on the healthy body of our revolutionary art. However, despite all the grotesque charges, the shattered fate of families that had been utterly destroyed, not one of the conspirers ended up in front of the firing squads, as was to happen a few months later with the conspiracies of sabotage in the field of defence and the economy.
The end can be easily grasped: That very timid Spring melted away. Ideology took back its throne, and whoever took up a pen or a paint brush to even draw a dash, had to think very hard first. Then came the years of a very arid art, no experiments, firmly set on the rails of the sound art of socialist realism, which penetrated into every pore of life, to the degree where today, many artistic performances of those times seem so ridiculous. We have all drawn in the drawing books like the one you see here, with the folk motif of a woven carpet on its cover, an expression of the art of the people, sealed by a red star, the pick and the rifle, at the top of the cover. Revolutionary red predominates. Imagine a child  about to give wings to his imagination starting with a carpet design, a pick and a rifles, and just think what this child would paint when he became an adult. Absurd artistically, but correct politically. 
                    [post_title] =>  Forsaken Albania 
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            [post_date] => 2007-03-16 01:00:00
            [post_date_gmt] => 2007-03-16 01:00:00
            [post_content] => By Alba ȥla
Albanians celebrate Summer Day on the 14th of March. It's an official holiday that gives the opportunity to thousands of people to fill up the parks, have picnics and enjoy a relaxed day in the reliable Mediterranean spring sun. This origin of this celebratory day goes back to the ancient reverence towards nature, the pre-religious beliefs that the rebirth of mother earth experienced in spring is attributed to the benevolent gods of nature. Actually Summer Day is celebrated mainly in the city of Elbasan, where traditionally the festivity has trademarked the city. The municipality organizes the Summer Festival with cultural and folkloristic activities filling up the streets. Many people from the surrounding cities travel to Elbasan to get a traditional fare as well a try the ballokume , the tasty traditional cookies prepared especially for the day.
I traveled to Elbasan to see for the first time from up close the atmosphere of the holiday. The minibuses have doubled the fare given the incredible demand. The city expects almost one million visitors on this day. The streets were filled with people, mostly of a young age, Roma musicians and dancers, ballokume vendors and large families sitting in restaurants that were reserved long ago. Actually if you come here without a plan you might run the risk of not finding a place where to sit. The hills around the city hosted a large number of families that have left the cacophony of the city's plaza and chose a quiet picnic in nature to celebrate. 
"Elbasani people love to have fun and dance to the sounds of folk music," Marenglen our local host explains to me. " This day is more important to us than even New Years Eve. I have family visiting form all over and it's a two days long party in our house." He has brought ballokume for us respecting the tradition of hospitality. The big concert with famous Albanian singers has been held the night before where the main square was filled with people welcoming spring around bonfires. The morning of the 14th has lured the ones who made it to wake up early into a carnival parade as a well as a spring fair. 
Both in Elbasan and in Tirana the main boulevards were closed to traffic in order to give people a chance to stroll by and enjoy the holiday. Music and laughter are the best welcoming tokens to spring along with a generous lunch. The concerts and activities planed beforehand from the respective local authorities add up to the festive atmosphere. The holiday has definitely shifted form being a local one, mainly for the central Albanian towns (Elbasan, Fier, Berat) to a national one culminating in the activities organized in Tirana.  For the first time this year, a private company Re Bull recruited Czech airplanes to give a special show for the festivities. 
Elbasan is not the only city that gets a special treatment during March 14. As a child I grew up in Berat, further down in the south. Elbasan and Berat share the same magnificent mountain of Tomorri. I remember that my grandmother made me go through a long ritual of traditions on March 14.  The logic was that everything that happens in this day conditions the entire upcoming year. Thus I had to get up early and hold on to an iron door knob. This would make me feel healthy and strong. I had to put a bit of pomegranate juice on my cheeks so that they would always be rosy. The main door of our garden would be decorated with flowers and grass blades to welcome the beauty of spring. 
When I asked in Elbasan the told me the flowers had to be gathered one day earlier and left in water al night. The next morning the youngest child of the family had to splash some of this water on the face in order to procure year long health. Only after the privileged youngest had completed the ritual the rest of the family could do the same. 
My grandmother would have baked the traditional pie with one coin inside. Whoever got the coin would be the luckiest one in the family. There were also packages with sweet and boiled eggs to be delivered to relatives and neighbors as a sign of harmony and well-being. The boiled eggs had to be died in all rainbow colors to symbolize blossoming spring.  Children would boast about their multicolored collection of eggs. The most traditional thing of the Summer Day preparations was the thread bracelet made out of a red and a white thread that we used to put in our wrists. The verore (the name of this bracelet) would be attached to the body until one saw the migratory birds. There is still a controversy in my head whether these would be storks or swallows.
The habit has also survived in the Arberesh communities in Italy who put in their doorsteps a little piece of soil with fresh grass blades. 
The tradition of the Summer Day, as I would later happily discover, is a regional one. As a student in Bulgaria I annually got the same bracelets this time called martenitsa-s with the same wish for health and happiness. Giving out martenitsa-s was a sign of friendship and benevolence. I still get some every year and put them on with superstitious determination. 
The beginning of spring is a traditional celebration for Moldova, Albania, Romania, Bulgaria, and Macedonia. Except for Albania, all the other countries celebrate the beginning of spring on March 1. In Moldova and Romania, on this day men give women a little talisman in a red and white ribbon that represents a powerful and healthy new year. The word "Martisor" is the dimunitive for the month of March and is something similar to little March. Martisor is not a religious holiday, but a celebration of mother nature that is believed to have started when the region was invaded by the pagan Romans. 
Throughout the Balkans Summer or Spring Day is an occassion to come together and welcome the season of beauty and rebirth, an occasion to relax, celebrate together with friends and family, respect ancient traditions and look forward to the year with optimism and a sweet tooth. 

Recipe for Ballokume
'Ballokume' is the traditional dish made on 14th March, Summer's Day.
Ingredients: 1 kg sugar, 0.5 kg butter, 1 kg corn flour (sifted), one handful of wheat flour, 8 eggs, 1 cup of milk; one big whitened copper or glass vessel.
Preparation: Beat the butter together with the sugar until it forms a white mass. This is best done by hand to reach a consistency that is thread-like. Mix the eggs with milk and then slowly added to the beaten sugar, while mixing continuously.   Still stirring, add the flour slowly. Be careful while adding the flour as too much flour can make the 'ballokume' too hard. This is why after the pre-determined quantity of flour has been added, leave the dough untouched for 15 minutes even if it looks quite wet. This time is enough for the flour particles to absorb the moisture of the soggy dough. Afterwards, if necessary, if the dough remains soggy, another handful of flour may be added. 
Baking: Sprinkle the baking tray with flour and put on it balls of the dough about the size of a fist. Bake them for about 40 minutes at 170у until a crust is formed on the top (not until they redden). Remove the baking tray and leave the 'ballokume' to cool down so they can be easily detached. 

            [post_title] =>  Celebrating the Summer Day! 
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