Saturday, August 2, 2008

In Boston: I Love New York

I left for Boston by train and early in the morning.The ride from Penn Station to Boston's South Station took four fullhours. I had chosen Boston because Steven had proposed I go to theWashington DC and I had been there in 1994 so I thought of going to another city. And I chose Boston. Why? Well, I kept telling myself, I have heard so many things about it, Harvard University, Archbishop [ Fan Noli,The Albanian Autocephalous Orthodox Church, its Chancellor, Arthur Liolin and much more.

As I said, I departed early in the morning. New York was about to wake up. It was not awakening from a slumber but from a short and light nap, a "siesta" although it still was nighttime. I entered in the subway to go to the Penn Station. You would hear breaths of people underground. The express train that takes you the34th street arrived almost immediately. People filled the subway cars, some half-awaken, some with unruly hair, other with their shoe laces loose and women without make-up.

For the time that the ride lasted from the 14thstreet to the 34th street, only simple events occurred: some people wiping their eyes and some others keep their eyes wide open, shoes that were being tied fast, hair that was combed, buttons that were fastened and womens lips being covered with make-up.

The train to Boston departed exactly on time. I took my seat and opened a map of Boston. Surprisingly, I had been used with the map of Manhattan, the island with the shape of a fallus, over which, somebody had drawn some straight lines squarely criss-crossing with each other, shaped like a tattoo. No. the map of Boston was very different. As a round shell in front of and very close to the ocean as if the waters of the ocean threw Boston out of the ocean itself. Here is South Station, here is the Hotel in the heart of the city itself, "Millennium Bostonian". O.K, I will walk all the way from the station to the hotel, no matter how long the walk would be and meanwhile, I tried to imagine something similar to the streets of Manhattan.

Again, the train arrives to Boston on time. I get out. I open the map and aim to figure out where I am. It's cold but it is a sunny day. I hold the opened map and somebody approaches to me and asks me whether I needed any help. It was the very first time that I was approached by somebody that I had not invited. He was nice. "yes" I tell him and then he gives me directions to the hotel.
-- Is it far from here?
-- Not really, he says it is only five minutes away.
Only five minutes later and I arrive to my hotel. How is it possible?? What kind of map is this?? I enter the hall of the hotel and the receptionist stands up and smiling politely asks me
-- How are you today?
How I am today?!!! I do not know. How I was yesterday? do you know that?? I thought that with myself but did not say anything.

Nothing. I left my bag in the room and I got out, for I wanted to explore the new urban space that was Boston. There were few people in the street, and for me that just had come from New York City, it was as if the street was empty. But there should have been people for a passer-by turned his head, saluted me and said -Nice weather- said he. -Yes. Nice weather- said I too. Later on, two girls were working on my side. One of them turned towards me and said:
-- Excuse me for my mouth.
Apparently she had laudly said some expression thatwas not very nice but I hadn't even noticed.
-- No problem.
There is no reason why you should ask for my pardon. You have a beautiful mouth I said with myself and I gave her a half-indifferent smile. Then evening came. Then there was nobody in the street. Then it came the deep sleep.

the very next day an icy rain was falling and powerful winds were blowing from the ocean. It was impossible to walk in the street. I give the key to the concierge and I get out of the hotel. My ticket is for the late evening train of 10 pm. Therefore I should find a way to spend my day in this city of ghosts. I called again Greg Williams, a professor of drama from Boston. Matt, with whom I had set up a meeting in the same day, had given me his number. But Greg could not come for something had happened to him. Then, again the South Station. I ask for a change in the time of departure but I have to pay a hefty charge, equal to the price of a new ticket but I do not hesitate. This time around, I had to spend more than four hours in the train, I guess in the same train that had sent me to Boston. It is not easy to reenter in the New York City and finally the train arrives. Penn Station is very crowded. I get out the subway and, again, the streets were filled with people. I walk on foot. Somewhere before the huge New York City library some street artists are giving a concert, applied music accompanied by some fantastic dances. I walk and walk and I really love it. I am pushed by people and I gently other people. It is a beautiful day but nobody tells me neither "Nice weather" nor "How are you today". I feel at home.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

From New York City to Connecticut

In Connecticut, the neighboring state of New York, and in a town about
one hour by train lives one of my dearest friends, the painter Gazmend
Bakalli. Gazi, as we called him, fled Albania in 1990 by storming a
foreign Embassy, in the first exodus from Albania. He entered in the
Turkish Embassy and after he stayed about a year in a camp somewhere in
Turkey, he came to the United States and for many years resided in New York
City. Later on, he bought a large house made by wood in Connecticut.

You go there by train and the train runs through the Harlem. And Harlem
was full of large and ugly brick buildings, bricks that once were red
but now have taken a gloomy and decadent appearance. These buildings
seems so uniform and tasteless to the point that they remind you of those
edifices that, as kids, we used to build with out wooden cubes. They
also may induce a sense of pride for the apartment buildings that were
constructed during the socialist rule in Albania. And yet, from the
window I could see how on the top of one of them was written “national
Museum of Jazz” and this sufficed to remind me of the fantastic rhythms
of jazz bands, the same rhythms that people continue listening in the
darkness of their rooms with sad feelings for the a day that just went

Afterwards, the train runs through the Bronx, this old borough, even
more decrepit than Harlem. This is a borough in which emigrant Italians
used to live but now the emigrant Albanians live there. The view os the
same with the scenes from “Once Upon a time there was America” of
Sergio Leone or, with the visual images of the “View from the
Bridge” of Arthur Miller.

Afterwards the view becomes clearer. Mother nature comes in with
meadows and forests, low hills and wooden houses, sprinkled in them. No
matter what, my feeling is that this is a cloned nature, and even better,
intentionally cultivated to be in this way.

With Gazi we talk incessantly, or rather, he talks and talks, and as
any other being, he has accrued all the necessary arguments to justify
his choices and his decisions; the same way I would do if somebody were
to ask me why I stay in Albania and why my house is close to the School
of Ballet.

Snow has already fallen in Connecticut and outside everything is
frozen. When we enter Gazi’s home, night has fallen already. We enter in
the house from the side and not from the main entrance. A garage that has
been transformed into a painter’s studio, then a large living room
in which on old man, a former famous basketball coach, Gazi’s
father-in-law sits in front of a huge computer. I approach and greet him. He is
fixated reading Albanian newspapers in the internet, and all my
conversation with him was about Sali Berisha and Edi Rama. There is no chance
that I could escape from Albanian politics so Gazi and I go back to
his studio to see his latest paintings.

I have been separated from him for 17 years now. He also has been
separated from me and the themes of our conversation are chosen carefully
to reconnect; but talking about his paintings is a very difficult way. I
like his paintings but they also appear to me as paintings done by a
human being who lives in a wooden house, surrounded by a huge forest,
that should hop in his car to go and have a coffee, and I believe, he
would so alone. This solitude has made his thinking very abstract, more
concerned with esthetics than with the substance and devoid of any
social activism. I think that his paintings need some background, some
narrative, some history, and some epic to support them. I try to express my
thoughts and my friend looks at me; his large eyes are filled with

It is but natural, I tell myself, who do I think I am? Ah, if here in
the United States, there was a renowned art critic or a well-known
gallery owner. But Gazi knows this well and intelligently quotes the saying
of one of his professors in the Fashion Institute. Very cynically, she
had told them that the style of a contemporary painter is determined by
the first picture he sells.