Attention All Pickpockets

dream genealogy

[a brief and extremely loose genealogy of Gjakovar rhapsody, based on overhearings, rumors, tall tales, vague rememberings, loud cafe conversations, skimming a book written in a language I only partially understand; a start? consider this “a history, as told by my gut”.]

I first heard this song sung by Nezafete Shala, two weeks ago in her Prishtina home, shared with four siblings, her mother, and eleven grandchildren, each of whom made their presence felt over the course of the night. the Shalas sweetly asked me what sort of songs I wanted them to play, but as much as I hope above all to hear music from and of Kosova, to learn what subtle strains set it apart, I also have been trying to guide as little as possible. so I answered as I often do — in Gjakovarian dialect of course! — : “qush t’dushë”. over the four hours or so off & on that they sang for us all, they drew deeply from a variety of traditions — folk songs, “urban art songs”1 with several geographic centers (commonly Shkodra or Elbasan in Albania proper, but also our own Gjakova) … but at the end, long after I would have expected them to cast aside the towel, they played one final set of “Gjakova songs”, specifically drawn from the repertoire of QAMILI I VOGËL (“Little Qamil”, though his mother called him Qamil Muhaxhiri), a figure who is owed much for Gjakova’s magnificent influence on Kosovar and Albanian folk music canons — as a Gjakovarian son I am extremely proud of this! though they now reside in the capital, the Shalas are family (second cousins, I believe? generations are incessantly puzzling here) and first hail from Gjakova, so these songs are in their blood, and in mine.

in the prevailing spirit of exactitude: I’m pretty sure this is him

my meager resources fail me in efforts to determine the authorship of this song, but my gut tells me Qamil’s responsible. if nothing else, he certainly popularized it, and cemented the legacy of the man it lionizes: YMER RIZA, perhaps the first larger-than-life figure in Gjakovar and perhaps Kosovar folksong. Riza adopted Qamil early as a member of his ensemble; Qamil would later honor his mentor by naming his own ensemble accordingly. the song tells specifically of Riza’s sharki — a towering stringed instrument — and how another like its first & bonded player will never come again. (I first heard Riza’s instrument was in the possession of a dying Gjakova rapsodë, but today I was told it’s in a museum? I would very much like to see it if I can.)

(Krenar Doli — a young ethnomusicologist who’s been helping with research — writes in his book Gjakova brenda muzikës that Qamil was the first of his kind to take an interest in audio documentation, playing for the radio and building an impressive discography on pan-Yugoslavian label Jugoton.2 in this and other things I consider him kindred.)

now, here: the same song as sung last night by Gjakova’s Grupi “Hadi Bajrami”. as legend has it, they’ve long loudly claimed to be the only such ensemble preserving the Gjakovarian songs free of external influence, where their peers have allowed Turkish and Roma motifs to smear their sound. they of course are smiling widely at the irony of this statement, because they themselves, all seven, are Roma. this may be legend only, but it’s said that after the dissolution of Qamili’s “Ymer Riza” ensemble, the Hadi Bajrami folks sought to take on the name but were met with great outcry (sadly, almost certainly in part on racial grounds); undeterred, they turned to honor another rung in the lineage that led to their coming together, his role no less important, standing in the corner of the eye to those that painted Riza’s name in sacrosanct strokes ‘til it could almost no longer be spoken. to my very wobbly understanding, Bajrami played with both Riza (in the last years of his life) and Qamili, playing a key role in the latter’s “Ymer Riza” ensemble — and perhaps serving as a sort of heir? but there’s a difference in the way people around here say his name and that with which they invoke the older legends, it seems to me. Bajrami rings as emblematic of a turning point, among the last of the folk heroes and the first to sink into the shadows of blossoming folk superstars, like his contemporary Ismet Peja, still performing, blessed with a deeply evocative voice but purveying (along with younger heartthrob ‘Xeni’) a slicker if still sincere sort of folksong seemingly tailor-made for weddings and streetside Walkmans. as such, it’s nice to see him honored in such a way: after all, no doubt by now dear Riza’s spirit is satisfied with his due.

but I meant to talk about this version of the song, the one above, which I recognized in a rush of blood about a third of the way through, in uncertainty until I heard Riza’s name in the last stanza. strangely unsettling to hear the same song twice in under three hours of recording to date, but invigorating too, the first of I hope infinite moments of such recognition, recognition of something at once part of study and self. to hear a folk song and know it — a crucial part of being, I suddenly see. beginning to feel as if I am. many things.

but dinner is waiting, and the story of Bajrami was told to the best of my knowledge in the telling of the name. here I’ll leave you with a namesake-song — these seven measuredly boisterous men of today singing of their forebear, in a Sufi temple, in Gjakova, Kosova.

*

{I wrote this over a week ago and found it lacking (perhaps in magic?), set it aside for a while, to simmer, to be dissolved & later reconstituted. since then I’ve been tired, so very tired; I don’t know why but today it looks just fine, a little pedestrian perhaps but fine, it will do. if only to maintain the flow of words, to move to more recent events.}


  1. I’m still struggling to pin down exactly what these are like, to find an analog in my own experience; at first I thought some of them akin to American country music but I’m not at all sure I’d stand by that. Albanians refer to them sometimes as “easy listening”, which I obviously must fiercely reject. what this uncertainty speaks to is an existential disagreement in the term “folk”, for to me these are folksongs indeed & without question, an attitude which puzzles the Albanians I speak with; indeed, I’ve begun to change the way I speak accordingly, to adapt to a translational gulf that goes beyond singular correspondence & upon which everything I am doing here turns. but that’s a story for another day, perhaps. 

  2. there maymay — be work here as well. but I fear the mighty power of the primordial jinx, so for now I’ll keep my silence. 

wedding party (ii), rruga „sylejman lleshi“, (down to the corner), today [just now], gjakovë, kosova

*

(slow on the draw for this one, uncharacteristically so… hesitation blues. walked in for lunch just as the drums began to pound; initial excitement faded quickly as I remembered I already have a recording of wedding drums from last month. always a mistake. couldn’t figure out why everyone was so agitated, more so than they would be already for a wedding — but even my aunt & uncle are getting swept up in my documentary enthusiasm these days, and they knew better than I. budding out from beneath the throb of drum, a shriller sound, but hanging out the front window I saw no one playing. a playback, then, with live drums to the beat. not uncommon, hardly worth the shortness of breath…

but Babi’s still pointing, pointing, and then a flash of wood between the heads, some sort of pipe. and still I’m hesitating, standing dumb, recorder in hand, why? my head wobbles back and forth and something clicks at last, slips on shoes, pockets precious device & gentle-like speedwalks down the street. the galloping children make me feel better about tailing the revelers. they stop at the corner, and I mirror them a few doors down, shy as ever, not wanting to impose. the final result: OK, better than I could have hoped considering, especially after a little hamfisted EQing to bring out the star of the show! if only we knew who was getting married, as I sense an obsession coming on. to find this piper… it’s unlikely. but at least here’s something, a new sound.)

musicians listening to recordings of themselves

selections from an ongoing series

grupi hadi bajrami, "mblidhën lulet me nji dovlet", yesterday [evening], upstairs at the teqe of sheh emini, gjakovë, kosova

*

(going to attempt that rarest of feats here: the “Immediate Update”. we recorded these folks last night[!] — all seven of them — in a Sufi temple near the center of Gjakova, a refuge from the sounds of the street, a resplendent and, at least in our interaction with it, surprisingly unintimidating space, described by its sheikh — a school friend of my father’s — in closest-possible-approximation, citing Lincoln by name: “from the people, with the people, for the people”. a resonant sentiment, despite complications, the selfsame these songs have always been meant

…but goodness me should I be counting the gray hairs this morning… like just about everyone we’ve been hair-rendingly blessed to work alongside, we’ve been slowly circling in on the „Hadi Bajrami“ group for weeks now — like most of our first meetings, this one was conducted through the surreal collective vineyard consciousness of the City, a determined stroll through Gjakova’s Roma neighborhood with my father & uncle, pilgrims peering around every corner for the squared blue marker of a barely-remembered street that doesn’t exist, inquiries to shrugging teenagers, finally some older folks by a telephone pole who led us down perhaps the narrowest street I’ve seen here to date, barely wide enough for the cars that stubbornly barreled by, driving children & visitors alike to the narrow slanted curb, pressing against the dividing walls, the sensibility of the private at our backs. we met a man who played once, the violin, but since has constricted his personal Islam; when we asked if music was forbidden, he answered [hands of his heart in awkward pockets] no, but the silence lingers nonetheless. in lieu of a bow and strings, then, a cellphone, with a number in it — a friend of my uncle’s. it is a strange recurrence here that no one seems to have contact information for their friends, only an implicit trust in the invisible reshuffling of architecture to guide them together. it is stranger still that this rarely fails to be the case. we meet him, broad peppery moustache, in a cafe we have passed two or three times already and speak to him of our aims; his enthusiasm comes across as muted but he promises to invoke other numbers, five or six of them, with musical brethren on the frizzled ends

we wait for a time; there are calls, back-and-forths, and waitings; positive affirmations but then they’re half on holiday, the tribulations among many of summertime; finally, without even the close of a door a precious window opens, two days. this time we simply can’t go so far as to impose on our musicians’ hospitality, and our own home rooms are too small; high hopes for the ethnological museum and its traditional low-slung shining sitting room — like my father’s before the childhood home, swimming with books, obliterated by war — but silenced social politics set misfortunate fire to that bridge [through proxy we’re permissed, but by the youngest there, and it’s in our error that we approach the old ones before they’ve been apprised. over turkish sludge, cigarettes in hand, they cite smoke on the cushions as curtain for deeper misgivings, but they’re old and warlorn and have maybe earned the right to certain reticence?] the next morning I pull the light sheet over my head as father embarks on a three-hour mission — vindicated, through all-sides chatter! — to invoke the hospitality of Sheh Ruzhdiu for the following night, seven o’clock

we arrive prompt at 6:30, perform our përshëndetjes to the Sheh, and wide-eyed walk around this beautiful sacred place [though no revelations are in store]; we are invited to document but, unexplained and further unasked, requested to avoid with camera’s gaze the framed Arabic inscriptions that line the walls. ultimately I am too shy to take much with me. there we wait, until the sound of voices draws me downstairs, but it’s just fellow pilgrims gathering in the vestibule. a man with a def, a drum, arrives, the youngest & kind, but after discussing his epileptic daughter he is suddenly gone, and in this general absence time passes as it does. the Sheh has been assured our vacancy by the next hour’s midpoint, but it’s nearly then & every car to date has borne strangers, young people seeking respite from the day’s heat. no white shirts, no sharki necks protruding from arms. he leaves, his son lingering to watch over, but already we’re forcing inconvenience. he is long straight-haired & beaming, though, he soothes the sting as we wait. but I am tense, tensed as always until the final masters encircle my ears. angry, too, at flagrant exception to the enculturated politeness that has ruled all of us for a month now. [it is not until after that I soften, for once after all not even the music melts me through, until I hear of one’s daughter’s wedding just that night — somehow unknown to the others, the travails of one man’s benevolent puppeteering for seven, the obligation to remain past the final guest and so forth.] at last they arrive and ooze up the stairs, molasses in reverse. our smile-shutters are up but we are all at snapping-point or further as my father pledges to my horror a maximum of twenty minutes, after all this time on such nested scales! I shudder more and more as two sharkis, mandola, violin & bugari tune for more than that time, twenty-five of plucking dissonance that mirrors well my mental state; one musician replaces half his strings at a pace that groans like the sound of it.

*

then they begin: a song, a seated dance — and then another, with voices, a namesake; another, another. I strain to hear the strings in headphones behind the sawing violin, and hope for subtler mastery. and then still another, this time in minor key but still even if by dumb luck only recognizable, a moment of intense communion when Ymer Riza’s name sounds at last in the final verse, and in that moment I am rooted: Qamili, Riza, Bajrami, Ymeraga, not even a question mark. reverent as always to microphone, in silence I sing with them a song that — goddammit — is my song

the ensemble closes with what I later learn is universally recognized as a farewell piece, a voiceless dance “of the morning”, birthed for the flecks of dawn that likewise scatter revelrous wedding-goers. not for the first time I gaze back at the Sheh’s son, braced for impatience, met instead with a measured but deeply present pleasure. there is then of course the requisite coffee, beer, Schweppes against pounding chillout, seated beneath unpleasant projections of “the fashion channel” — we learn their names, theirs & the songs’ and tonight I am speaking more than ever. but it’s late, and for the first time we go our ways with blessed lack of over-lingering. then to home. it’s my father’s birthday and for that and that only I hold off my editing until after we’ve shared a humble porch dinner, roughest versions playing from atop a plastic chair. favorite cousin, staying with signature wink after halfwaying up the stairs to rest, lights up at her favorite song, played at my and her cousin’s wedding, the one I missed for freshman orientation which I will never forgive. it’s that song you can hear above; I was going to post another but that glow was just too much to bear.)

aw heck, here’s the other one.

*

[a curious & lovely note on song & language: in one of many moments that leave me deeply grateful for his presence, my father pointed out that when speaking the musicians’ Roma accent was clearly audible — but that when singing, Gjakovarian incarnate. the universal spheres singing through.]

{for those interested in more about Sheh Ruzhdiu’s Sa’di sect which I found v. difficult to google, here's a brief mention in a nice article on Balkan Sufism, the best I could find. hoping to learn more, to understand the spaces we use without using up, the spirit of them & what they have meant to many, what they continue to mean & mean in new ways as they shelter their myriad souls}

orkestra familjare faik shala, various selections, excerpted from july eighteenth family concert, (three generations in attendance), all night in the shala living room, Prishtinë, Kosova

*

"bilbili kendon mbi rrasa" — "the nightingale sings atop the flagstones" — really rough translations on a couple of these, with the invaluable help of my father ("the nightingale" is probably a sufficient title, but I liked the rest of the line & since the family don’t know the "correct" titles for much of their repertoire (curious to ask them more about this when I get the chance) it’s my exhilarating prerogative! nerdy thrill applying translation to the very very different world of song, where most of my translational principles fall to pieces — a brave new world. maybe something like "(on slate) the nightingale sings", in classic country parenthetical style… then again I’ve probably been listening to too many kitty wells records. "the nightingale sings on the roof" for a slightly more interpretive version? still doesn’t flow like a folk song. will think on’t more. here's a great picture of what “rrasa” refers to (our dictionary translates it as “slate”), typical of the roofs of gjirokastër in albania!

my father tells me the nightingale is a girl. figures. all songs are love songs.

(spirits unseasonably high today after a jaunt to deçan, a city with a beautiful radiating village heart & a mountain spring running all through it… no breakthrough quite yet but maybe the buddings of one to come. time will tell. for now, a certain discomfort off my chest & onto the page at last. the long-promised first selections from the late faik shala’s family band, now led by his eldest child nezafete — if I understand correctly, my father’s uncle’s daughter’s daughter, but of his age, hardly an oddity in a place with massive generational sprawl

"oh dashuni moj" — "oh love, oh you" — this one comes through real nice, thank goodness. sweet & simple, all love.

still a little drained from the last few days & their writing but you have no idea how bad these songs have been burning a hole in my pocket, the night of their recording the purest bliss I’ve felt in a long, long time; they’ve been a tremendous comfort in the equally disheartening week past, & returning to them for even these brief words is swelling my heart with hopes for the one to come

"më bjen ndërmend kur të njoha ty" — literally "I recall (actually a really lovely idiom ‘it falls to my mind’) when I got to know you" — "our meeting comes to mind", perhaps? it’s important, I think, to capture the suddenness of that idiom in a way that "remember" can’t quite fulfill. (still missing the double-emphasis of "të" + "ty", a sort of "it’s YOU I know" that lacks a perfect analog in english.) I’ve thought about trying to do full, metered-for-singability english versions of some of these which throws a whole new wrinkle in the tablecloth — not sure I can tackle that until I have a better sense of where it continues in the next line. (gotta dig that "cha cha cha" riff — some things have no borders, it seems!) [EDIT: the triple "cha" is actually much more prominent in the song they sang right before this — may have to come back to that one…]

recorded in an initially controlled, progressively disintegrating life-profession of familial environment, eleven grandchildren [the tiniest trying at all times to waylay the piano to a disco beat] & all the husbands, wives, cousins, even ancient tota mije, fierce matriarch [more on that fierceness later], esteemed mother of the band, singing along with her youthful wedding snapshot hanging above, only red lips breaking black&white

"kendo moj qyqe" — "sing, O you cuckoo" — songs about birds singing seem a common theme here (which seems itself a trope that transcends individual cultures, if anglo-american folk balladry has anything to say about it!) a little less psychedelic than the appalachian cuckoo song, though. this time the bird is not a girl, but it’s still all about her, a lamentation of barriers, whether physical or emotional, keeping two lovers apart. cuckoo, weep for me! perhaps important: "cuckoo" is also an exclamation of sorrow & shock in the event of accidents, a sort of wailing, like an irish keen? once when I was a kid I remember running around the house shouting "cuckoo!" in the sense of "gone crazy!" I didn’t understand then why he was so angry.

five sets, a meze of styles kombetare, every song of which deserves its own exegesis of joy; more words to come, with more songs, including my favorite song in side-by-side comparison of old cassette version featuring the resting baca faik’s heart-strung violin. for now these, and willing they may bring you something of what they bring me, may be, may it. thanks.)

ugly (american) duckling story

(one AM here, pinned down between my father’s looped snoring & the neighborhood cacophony of what sounds like a child’s birthday party — and drifting in and out, the inexplicable but unmistakable sound of hammering. upstairs, the forgotten patter of feet, my cousin & her children unwinding from two long weeks of holiday, the house even more maddeningly still without them. can’t for the life of me seem to sleep, especially not after the headache that had me on my back drifting in and out of apathy for the pith of the day, so there’s nothing else but to take one more stab at salvaging the productivity of yet another tumbling 24 hours.)

story begins yesterday morning, another early one, headed down the thoroughfare in hopes of meeting once again our flute player to schedule a recording. we’ve missed him at the Pallat, but as fortune would have it his wiry frame emerges from a corner crowd, heading right towards us. in already-familiar rapid-fire, he rattles off not suggestions but rather instructions for what turns out to be an appointment one hour later — a dream, seemingly, as if to balance out the weeks of sandal-dragging we’ve been plagued with from other instrumentalists. I head home for coffee (Turkish, of course) in high spirits.

the plan is to record in the Çabrat hills, a mutual understanding & what seems a fitting place for the “pastoral melodies” of the flute, laden with magnificent crickets, a collision of urban & idyllic that seems very of the moment. the only wrinkle is that we haven’t secured a car (always the trouble here — there are no rentals to speak of and between the pervasiveness of stick-shifts, my father’s lack of license & his eye-rolling reticence to trust me alongside the “crazy Albanian drivers” our options are limited), but as per the pattern here, cabs are absurdly cheap, with most fares coming out to below the initial meter drop in America. my newly-caffeinated temples throb briefly with an odd sense of warning as we walk past the taxi row — we’ll just grab one outside the Pallat, he says — and I wonder between his blustery nature & the foundational Albanian taboo on incurring expense on others just how loudly he’ll protest our hiring conveyance. but we keep walking.

when we get there, it’s just as I feared: I stand by, dumb, as my father stands by, powerless, as our flautist paces through several parking-lot phone calls, and before I’ve finished blinking off the shock “we” have agreed to a ride that won’t be here for forty minutes. we cross the street to a dingy cafe where I sit in usual silence, he chain-smoking cigarettes from a somewhat elegant black box, his slender black holder still somehow a defining feature; from time to time I brush the ash from my recorder bag. with gap-toothed grin he asks the young, incongrously mustachioed waiter for “something for children”, dead serious, and ends up with an apple juice that disappears as slowly as if by evaporation. I get the typical, jovial but stinging “are you (i merzitur)?!” question — a tough word that can mean anything from “bored” to “grieving”, and I answer “no” as I must; it’s true, I’m not. rather, I’m tense, and the tension won’t leave me until the finished recordings are waving to me in blue sprawl on my computer screen, ringing true from ear to ear. but I’ve been raised the Albanian way, after all — to say so wouldn’t be polite.

over an hour later, and after the requisite meeting rituals with our slightly odd driver, we’re finally off, but not to the hills after all, as I barely make out from the feeding-back chatter bouncing between the two older men, my dad too busy aiming his words edgewise to attend to my incomprehension. “we’re going to the Drini gorge,” he finally explains, an idea whose splendidness eases the twinge of mild cooption. yet soon I’m thrown all off-kilter again: there’s another place, something about a fountain, and the driver is absolutely insisting we go to both. there’s something very tour-guide-y about all of this, and it rankles that he’s missing the whole point of a RECORDING session, so I tell my father to respectfully decline, citing concerns over the unnecessary complication of two setups, breakdowns etc. “fantastic, you’re really going to love that second place, I promise!”

the first session is pretty sublime, I have to admit, our flautist refreshingly game about venturing deeper, away from the cars on the “sacred bridge” and restaurant alongside it, the plunging gorge as backdrop — one of dwindling spots where my father’s childhood river still strides relatively unenfeebled by decades of human abuse. (I even wonder for a moment whether ‘place’ is becoming a bit arbitrary, stealing the limelight from pure sound, but the music quickly calms my worries. there will be ample time to think on it later.) it’s my first time holding the shockmount aloft myself (no room in the suitcase or my laughable “preparations” for a tripod) and with every vibration I’m regretting that third espresso all the more, but the melodies, while short, are really something; more importantly, after a week of dead ends, they’re anything at all. there’s still something a bit odd, maybe even off, about it, but I head back down to the car, recorder, mic & headphones jumbled in my arms, refreshed & reinvigorated.

*

four hours in, we pull onto a long stretch of village road — paved only since the war — where we’re greeted by the jumbled pitches of a honking line of cars, & I realize we’re not going to make it back in time for me to bid on those three 99 cent Kitty Wells LPs; phooey. letting that go, I don’t mind being stuck behind the wedding party (after all, I’m a sucker for romance) but I would like to know what exactly it is we’re doing here. my dad had been talking about recording some recitations of the poetry of the recently departed Ali Podrimja, and our flautist had offered accompaniment, but it’s unclear to everyone but presumably the driver why we needed to find another spot to do it, especially when the river was a special place for everyone involved, Podrimja included. but he’s behind the wheel, and despite never having wanted his help in the first place, he’s done us a favor and to press any more than we have would break the same sober code of politeness that impeccably tangles this society. it doesn’t help that at this point no one is translating anything for me, but in fairness, no one really knows what he’s doing anyway. finally, we pull into a middle-of-nowhere restaurant, where we sit idly for some time, drinking mineral water with the seemingly bored proprietor. I sneak off to record some birds.

finally, we do some run-throughs of the poems, which are nice but frustratingly informal, with the driver slouched right in the path of the mic despite several overly polite requests that he move. it’s not my dad’s best reading but he’s entirely unrehearsed and I can tell I’m not the only one growing weary of being strung along; still, he comes through clear & proud, and I’m happy to be facilitating a series of artifacts with such personal meaning for him. all the time now, our driver’s demeanor is growing ever more eccentric, and as soon as the tape stops rolling he’s yammering out a series of phone calls, the sense of which I can’t at all make out. for once, my “let’s get out of here” eyes find sympathy in my father’s, and drawing from his deepest reserves of polite insistence, he begins making our excuses in prelude to departure. he protests for a while, then seems to assent, but then deftly changes the subject to the project as a whole: as if my vulnerabilities are splayed out right before him, he starts by teasing the names of a few purported rapsodes, then all of a sudden the phone is to his ear and all I can understand in the machine-gun stream of words is that he’s going to call him, RIGHT NOW, and that we can go record him, no problem. my dad quickly moves to shut him down, but I’m fully ensnared, and I seize indignant advantage of the language barrier to protest. it’s abundantly clear we’re butting heads, and the driver’s gaze is fixed on me intently, knowing he has me intrigued.

by now, the flute player has entered the fray (on my father’s side, to his credit) and I can’t make out a single word in all the commotion, just that we seem to be giving up exactly the sort of spontaneous recording opportunity I’d hoped would be abundant here. (it doesn’t help that we’ve been clashing a lot over logistics the past few days, and my inclination towards implicit trust is at a recent low.) I’m fuming more than a bit when my dad whispers, in exactly those words, that “we’re being manipulated”, to be explained later, and while I still have no idea what’s happening around me, the statement rings true.

the ride home is long and awkward, featuring an almost-immediate (and blessedly final) stop to stand outside his house with a bunch of children for fifteen minutes. the parking lot at last, the painstaking slowness of phone numbers, email address, and after seven hours, at last we’re walking away. I thank our flautist with all my sincerity & part ways with the other man as quickly as politeness allows. finally alone (or as alone as you can be on a busy street), I grab my father by the shoulders, “WHAT’S THE BIG IDEA” etc.; I’m about to find out just how lost I can be in this language, and the more universal language of human prevarication. my jaw drops as all the stuff that shot straight over my cherubic head begins to come to light: the supposed rapsode a front for the driver’s attempt to take us somewhere “with four beautiful young nurses”(???), his shift to more meandering routes immediately after we promised a stipend for gas, his constant calls to acquaintances just to tell them all about “his two American friends”… I remember also his constant insistence, to the point of absurdity, on group photos, & realize for the first time that I’ve spent the better part of the day as a smiling prop, a status symbol, that this man’s only stake in our project is his own interest in showing us off to his friends & family — guised, of course, as an overbearing but harmless, quintessentially Albanian enthusiasm for entertaining the guest. never, even at my most incomprehensive, linguistically & culturally desperate, have I actually felt an outsider here, but I could speak fluent Albanian & it would likely be the same: to this man & his social circle I am something exotic, a gaudy object, simply by grace of being American. needless to say, there is no nuance, no duality possible in this frame of reference: foremost & lastmost I am an American, and it follows that my interest must be that of a dilettante, a casual, condescending, dehumanizing interest that is met in kind. it’s one of the more unsettling feelings I’ve ever had, and it casts a pall over what had already been a largely frustrating day. (fortunately, my father swears to the honorable intentions of our instrumentalist in all proceedings, though I can’t help but wonder how he could fail to realize what he was getting us into…)

it’s not just that I feel my already-fragile identity as a genuine, sincere Albanian denied here, although that certainly would be enough; suddenly drawn into sharp focus is every instance of the unrelentingly idiotic question, all too common here — “which is better, here or America?” I wish I had a more eloquent response than the fumbling „është një pyetje e keq“ (“it’s a bad question”); what I really want to say is something like this, that we, please allow me to say we, have a beautiful country, that it’s wonderful to see so many bikes even if nobody wears a helmet, that aside from the polluted rivers & the dearth of punks I sometimes feel like I could be truly happy here, that America isn’t anybody’s Promised Land, that “we” have the same problems and yes, some different ones too, like we have too many houses and too many homeless at the same time, that the euphoria of independence wore off a long long time ago, most of all that the arbitrary fact of my citizenship, a side effect of my mother’s, is not any grand or noble personal quality to celebrate, nothing impressive to put on display, and that it’s to my deep shame that such a thing needs to be said in the first place. I came here to work, to help but also to gather these sounds for myself, and for God’s sake let me be judged by what I will have wrought when the dust settles & not by my privileged & frequently problematic ancestry. I want to say these things to the aunt & uncle who asked us our opinion on a sketchy “work visa” program in New Jersey but sent their son anyway despite rampant unemployment & economic abuses because every last goddamn kid here dreams of America and the unimaginable grandeur of it all! in the capital city there’s a statue of Bill Clinton, chief architect of the NATO intervention that drove out a genocidal occupation, that probably saved the lives of my family, and I have to admit it still makes me uncomfortable to have it in my sight. there’s a joke that the Kosovars are the last people to still love the United States; it’s not too far from the truth, but I’ve always been able to change the subject, dodge the question, find the narrow way between & stand somewhat apart. yesterday, I was shaped into a pure American against my will — and I’m not sure I make a very good one.

*

(started this last night, finally finished here at about six PM, making these events those of two days ago in case you’re counting… bad taste mostly gone, recording yesterday a sad bust but good things in the air today. still needed to be said, in the service of other bounds loosening. stay tuned.)

mohamet morina of gjakovë, kosova, (unknown pastoral melody), today [early afternoon], near „ura e fshejt“ ["sacred bridge"], drini river gorge, kosova

*

(today, unsettling in a lot of ways, ways I was hoping to get out of the way before letting loose the real sounds to breathe, but just this once I think I can claim legitimate exhaustion as more than just an enabler for sloth and clouded thoughts. as for the music, our second and now long-belated third sessions have come, gone, & left me far behind at sharing the tangible fruits of what it is I hope to do here. forgive! so, still all a-mishmash myself, here’s this to tide yr ears: Mohamet Morina, 37-year employee of the Pallat i Kulturës and dapper antihero of much of yesterday’s lost-time rant, conveyed us today to the cliffs above the once-mighty Drin river, to and past the edge of “once”, to a ‘sacred bridge’ with stones like scattered turtle shells [our driver tells us they just can’t take this kind of heat], burrs caught in the windscreen and so forth

…deeper into cliffsides I’ve never even thought to walk, a place that meant something to me, then, to him, like z. Kurtaj’s woodshop, the Shala family home before it, but — different here, dissociated, verging on performative in a way I’m not quite sure of. but beautiful, and yes, I think, sincere, no matter else. this above, one of two brief melodies fluttering about the stem of a red polycarbonate flute “made in Japan” (does it matter?), the very color of his national vest [note: where can I get one of those?] seven twisting hours for these ten minutes seem a steep fare, but satisfied, against all odds, though much still to be processed — when shoulders cease their murmurs & the soul’s had time to rest.)

[ps: recording again tomorrow, thank All: scatterings of a Prizren ensemble in an ill-luck blazing season when everyone’s either fasting or on vacation. we’ve been promised clarinet kabas(!) and a capella ballads(!!) I will likely spend the morning as usual extremely anxious as I will remain until the red button has been double-pressed and the grey square echoed once, but I swear that if it is within my power I will upload a sample of the Faik Shala family orchestra performance which is pure bliss, a potent if quick-decaying antidote to these stranger days!]

{pps: by listening to this you have signed a digital contract, non-rescindable, to direct yr browser to soundcloud.com/tominskyalex whose rich snippets & cast-ons have been a massive inspiration over the past few days}

extremely long update

venting of frustrations, attempt at hopeful shift, three hours in lots of words etc.

the day begins, as did the one before it, with a walk to the “pallat i kulturës” (exactly what it sounds like: the “palace of culture”) — a dingy but once-mighty building with the expected proud plaques, mounted to bear witness to an immemorial defense of the national arts, but alongside them is something akin in shape and texture but altogether different, obtuse really, in tone: a stern calling-out of the Serbian occupation, but disconcerting in its matter-of-factness, a simple, discrete listing of years during which these national arts were suppressed. (it’s difficult to tell whether this is meant as a show of defiance or something else entirely.) inside, the walls are bare concrete with the exception of two massive paintings, a modern figure on the ground floor and a musket-and-saber-bearing warrior in national costume on the second. the third floor bears nothing but departmental plaques on mirrored rows of doors, of different ages and compositions ranging from irregular brass to printer paper. a side way inscribed with “qëtësi!” for quiet leads, through a maze of arbitrary curves and steps down and up, to an unexpected expanse of red velvet theater rising to the rafters — for some time defunct, to my father’s great grief, and mine. suppression soundly beaten, a perhaps more insidious threat remains, and much heritage has slipped into its snare: in a cruel catch-22, Kosova has with liberation lost the impetus of art-as-resistance, and with it the inspiration to fund its own cultural lineage. (music, however, seems to be an exceptional case, one which still has me perplexed as to what exactly my role is here.) the halls are quiet, lonesome, asleep with only snatches of dreams. a kindly security guard sits smoking in a tiny bunker-like chamber, tiny TV blaring in blue bias; I’m inclined to wonder what he thinks he’s watching over. as if to confirm the superfluousness of his vigilant presence, he leaves his post without a second thought to guide us to our meeting place, a buried office we could hardly have tripped over on our own. (this is an extremely Albanian impulse to which I’ve long since become accustomed: no job or duty is higher than that of hospitality, and in the advent of guests anything at all can be abandoned.)

we stumble into a schizoid Quixote’s office, a spark of life cluttered to knee-height with papers, battered speakers, CDs, flags, the “all for one & one for all” crossed handles of four çiftelis protruding from a corner pile: a room that breathes dust but breathes nonetheless. a Turkish coffeepot upended over a neglected cup on its tray — he tells us he doesn’t drink it but (like all Albanians) can’t refuse. ‘he’ being Mohamet Morina, an ‘official’ in the sense that he has an office in which he works an hour per weekday, his actual role impossible to divine and probably best left that way; resplendently toothless in green windbreaker that later reveals armpit stains, chainsmoking plump cigarettes through an incongruously haughty black holder. his speaking strikes quickly like lightning and rolls on relentless from there, lacking the boom of our lutenist but sharing his propensity to slam down whatever’s at hand for emphasis, a different sort of frightening in his jagged, interruptive enthusiasm (which fortunately decays into a slightly friendlier but still suspect joviality as understanding takes hold). he is a wonder. I realize midway through our whirlwind conversation that this is in fact entirely worth the twenty indulgent minutes of atonal, arrhythmic guitar playing in a mildewed basement, neck knocking over crusted flower arrangements, that — however improbably — led us to this meeting.

my father has just begun to explain our purpose when a rabid z. Morina latches unprovoked onto the word ‘album’, spinning toward a laptop on the verge of sinking into the surrounding chaos in order to call up his facebook page, where he blurs us through two decades of photos & clipped-out videos in about two minutes, trampling any interjections or attempts at clarity. edgewise a few key words are wedged at last: we have come because of word that he’s a musician, a fact seemingly confirmed by the pile of instruments among the rubble, but in a tone I understand through incomprehensible words, he insists he’s “more of an organizer”. I know this isn’t true but am helpless to contradict him for all the reasons in the world.

at this point I pull my weight from the PA in the doorway and the two men vacate the only chairs to migrate to the hallway and a real table, and once again I wish it weren’t so hard to ask to take a picture of the strange environments in which I so often find myself these days, but pragmatism insists that a struggling project can’t afford to lose any potential help to arbitrary discomfort. the sound is the essential, and after days of sluggish motion all hope rests on this wiry avalanche of a man bearing us there, on his back if necessary. we seize the transitional silence to recapitulate our aims, and finally our synapses seem to sychronize; he pauses for the first time, offers a name, then two, more as in typical fashion he slowly realizes the breadth of our interest. (it still baffles me that everyone we speak to has their own preconception of “muzik folklorike” to which they imagine us restricted — even the conflation of soloists and ensembles cannot be taken for granted.) in the still-startling burst of motion that seems to always follow a long period of hopeless stillness, I blink and his phone is out with a rhapsodist on the line. it becomes impossible to deny that we are dealing here with a force of nature: like a snake he strikes again and again, unrelenting, bellowing with a wink, bludgeoning to the very edge of delicacy yet somehow not a millimeter further, and as if in a daydream from one of this week’s interminably bleak siestas this elderly man has assented to the possibility of driving to Gjakova from Prizren to be recorded — tonight — the night before a weeklong trip to Albania. I’m uncomfortable at even a proxy demanding so much, and have learned by now that most likely we’ll be waiting til after his return, but I can’t help but shiver just a bit before his silver tongue. just as with Baca Rrustemi and his lute, a pattern seems to be solidifying: initial confusion, even anger, shattering into a harrowingly intense, immediate enthusiasm. emotionally, it’s proving to be an unsettling cycle, but it’s hard not to be grateful to have such tempests on our side.

yet only when I insist do we pin him down on his own playing: he doesn’t sing, he tells us, but only plays the çifteli in his ensemble. and the flute, he tosses out, an afterthought to which we cling immediately. he demonstrates a ‘pastoral melody’ and my heart flutters in time. I’m not sure what combination of confusion, narrowmindedness and modesty drives this recurrent hesitance to offer one’s own playing, but I’m growing bolder about barging in with the proper questions before my dad can close the conversation, a powerful ritualistic gesture that sternly bars the door to further inquiry. working mith my father has proven a challenge every bit as complicated as I expected and more; I’ve found that I must at once cultivate and counteract the Albanian politeness in which I was raised, to remain ‘well-mannered’ as I’m often praised here but to fight at all costs my conditioning to be meek. my father is all the more couched in this culture on account of his distance from it, and as such he’s often too quick to back off, to give up, reluctant to insist when insisting is what’s needed. we’re working towards a functional complement, but there’s much work to be done, much understanding to be nurtured before that can happen in earnest.

*

we’re in the process of slipping out, for the commemoration of the sudden passing of national poet Ali Podrimja, when we’re told at the door that we’re already there; we end up among the first guests at the long, thin table of the conference room. there’s been a lot of death in the air this past week, and it’s been an especially difficult and doubtful one for me: we’ve all been preoccupied by the anniversary of the death of my uncle, who (like so many others in the past years) I never got to see during his last days; then Podrimja, a celebrated figure and friend of my father’s, who helped him get his own poetry collection ‘Valsi’ published so many years ago, disappeared during a literary festival, later to be found dead in the woods of the south of France. It’s also nearing the many-year mark of my cousin Veton’s passing during my early childhood, a day that never goes without notice in his mother’s household where we always end up staying; I never knew him, but I can’t help but feel as my aunt reaches over my head to his picture on the mantel of our room for the one week when it’s displayed outside. There’s also Kitty Wells, a recent communion but somehow also a great love of my life, the undisputable Queen of Country Music and a should-be punk legend, a dreamy warble of a woman and the hardest stranger’s passing I’ve had to bear in a very long time. It’s self-indulgent to frame this last one as a tragedy, really — I mean good God, she was 92, almost 93, and her lifelong husband and musical partner cashed in his “one-way ticket to the sky” last year — but I have far more fingers than I need to count the musicians who have plucked my heartstrings so tightly, so melodiously as she, and it just somehow feels wrong to be so far away in every sense on the day she chose to go. nothing but ‘orkestra familjare faik shala’ & country heartbreakers in the ears these days — nightingales all.

there’s something here that I can only think to describe as a “culture of death”, a hovering sense of it no matter where you go: peeking from every telephone pole, lining the highways, standing ghost-like among the cigarette plumes of staring parking lot vendors. it shouldn’t be surprising in a nation where the wounds of genocide may never close, but something in me, whether blood or instinct, tells me it’s been here forever. enterprising folks shill gravestones in storefronts, and my father can’t leave the house without spotting a green-bordered funeral notice bearing a familiar name. I need to stop reading the birth dates, doing the math; “threescore and ten” doesn’t always mean a whole hell of a lot here. death has always been hard for me — what a banal thing to say, a universal thing, a thing that shouldn’t need to be said. but I’ve always felt clumsy, frozen before it, and here, far away from so many of the things I cling to on a day-to-day basis, even the little distanced reminders that it exists are enough to pick at my defenses. thinking a lot about my grandfather, my two uncles in four months, and always, always being in the wrong place. trying to remember that I’m in the right place right now, or at least trying to make it so.

and that’s the trouble, really: when things are moving, when the words come together just right, there’s nowhere I’d rather be in the world. but when it’s a hundred degrees and society shuts down & shuts the windows for the better part of the day, I feel like every wasted minute is a drop of blood plucked straight out of me. there is so much I could be doing with that time, of course, like this, but many days the stagnation, the sitting, the being surrounded by sleeping people, is too much to bear and senseless fatigue, homesickness, heartsickness, apathy set in. I’m reminded all the time of what a boon it’s been back home to ride hard around town every day, and the loss of those precious endorphins hits like a bomb to the temple. the best I can do is walk, but it’s isolating to do alone with such limited capacity to talk to anyone, and my dad is firmly committed to the (only partial) myth that no one in their right mind leaves the house after noon or before eight. it comes naturally to him even after two decades away, but to me the motionlessness is stifling, oppressive, contrary to my every instinct, a mockery of the nascent principles of action I’ve fought so hard to develop in myself. each recording brings a burst of euphoria but there’s only so long I can coast on its current before I run aground in the waiting once again.

the steady peeling of day is all the harder in the current plateau of project activity: in a month, half my precious time here, I’ve been able to make two recordings. just two. not for a moment would I want to imply that they’ve been anything less than a joy to conduct and to behold, again and again, but superimposed with my vision, the grand one splayed out in the original grant proposal and countless gushing conversations, they amount to just a few threads. of course it’s unfair to imply, as I frequently do when talking to myself an others, that this is on account of any laziness or failure on my part; after all, the first week was spent in adjustment and the second in dragging initial contacts out of the woodwork. even when it doesn’t seem so, we’re entering the second month in some sort of motion, but that’s easy to forget when names just lead to more names, when even enthusiastic groups are scattered on vacation, when I’m discouraged from approaching certain musicians during the holy month of Ramazan (which extends til just before our departure, an unfortunate circumstance of its yearly celestial shuffle). there’s no blame to be placed, really; it’s all just logistics, changing times, the shadow-casting emergence of slick ‘folk’ superstars & the inborn humbleness of the older generations, not to mention a healthy dose of bad luck and, well, more than a bit of naivete on my part. (there’s also a resonance with the previous subject the past decade’s rash of passings in the rhapsodic community.) all that said, the frequently-solitary word “ngadalë” — “slow” — is by now burned into my memory from countless askings from family about “how the work is going”. at times I even find myself wishing I’d never gotten the money for this project, so there’s less shame if I come home with little material. I shouldn’t care, the money’s from AT&T after all, but even beyond the crippling fear of “ripping someone off”, of taking the place of a more enterprising person, a more deserving project, I want more than anything to create something more substantial than a loose collection of recordings to listen to myself, something that will be of benefit to the preservation of Kosovar traditional music or even some attempt at a definition of what “Kosovar traditional music” even means in such a fresh-faced yet traumatized, geopolitically muddled nation whose heart frequently can be seen to lie outside its borders. this last bit has been especially problematic for many, who insist that “Kosovar folk music” or indeed Kosovar culture outside the greater Albanian context doesn’t exist — see for example the folk festival I attended for one night last week in Deçan, its gaudy banner proclaiming “the hundredth anniversary of Albanian independence”. (I would later leave disheartened by a second half consisting of narcissistic stars — despite being surrounded by talented instrumentalists — singing of sharkis over [frequently synthesized, sin above sins!] backing tracks.) I still believe there’s something different, something distinct in the experience of these people that cannot help but have seeped down to their (our) music, and I’m pleasantly surprised to find my father on my side, though neither of us know what it is or where to seek it out… (still, I wince and pinch my leg to stay quiet every time I hear him ask for news of “Albanian folkloric musicians”.)

I should focus on the prospects, and after some rejuvenating if brief conversations with folks back home I’m in a better place than the ball I was curled into the day before yesterday… there’s a band here in Gjakova, of Roma musicians who as legend has it mock the Gjakovarians for doing an inferior job of preserving their own music; like many, it’s taking them a nerve-wrackingly long time to assemble, but when we met with their bandleader (via my uncle the moonshiner — jury still out on whether theirs, like most of his friendships, formed over raki, though the Roma neighborhood is also one of the more devout Muslim ones) his enthusiasm seemed genuine. there’s also another man from the mountains, radiant with kindness, who promised to let us know when his brothers, the rest of the family band, visit from Switzerland. there’s another group from Prizren who despite promises scattered to various holidays before we could pin them down, but we just heard that they may gather in limited form for us in the meantime, some clarinet kabas and a capella singing, which may actually be a blessing, as we already have a similar ensemble booked but nothing in the way of such solo playing. there are a few rapsodes from the ‘villages’, now grown to towns or more, in the outskirts of Gjakova, whose names we’ve had from the first days but haven’t been able to contact, but with luck the typical grapevine will come to our aid; the plan is to just show up and ask around, classic-style. our thunderous-turned-warm lutenist spoke to us yesterday with a few names, though again no numbers, but best of all, he’s agreed tentatively to be recorded again, this time on sharki and çifteli AND with voice alone, reciting as he spontaneously did in the car ride back to Gjakova a gut-wrenching Albanian epic poem. while I’m still struggling to find breadth, I’d rather cultivate depth in the downtime than spend another day sitting, and the man is truly a master. a cousin-in-law’s friends, from a mountain region, tipped us off to what they describe as a remarkable weekend culture of wedding music, insisting that if we just show up we’ll be welcomed without question. I can’t help being a bit skeptical and my father’s pointed out Ramazan and fasting as a potential obstacle but if it’s true it’ll be one of the most exciting and relevant documentations of my time here, where truly unrecorded figures are almost impossible to find — something else that, on the bad days, makes me wonder what exactly it is I’m doing here. and with any luck we’ll soon be hearing from my late uncle’s best friend Qeta Vokshi, a man talked of here in Gjakova as if a magic sprite, whose family has done just about everything noble, exciting and of substance in Kosova’s recent history; Qeta himself played a key role in a post-war reconciliation council aimed at the cessation of inter-Albanian blood feuds — heavy stuff, and a lot of people who owe him very much for this and other favors over the years. our conversation, like many, was frustrating, the chain-smokiest to date, laced with distracting anecdotes and progressing far too quickly for my father to translate even the relevant bits, but despite my initial misunderstanding that he wouldn’t be able to help us, as it turns out he may have some contacts in the Gjakova hinterlands. a lot to hope for to be sure, but after a month of frustrating delays it’s hard to believe we’ll be able to arrange dates for people we haven’t even met yet in the time we have remaining. but the tendency towards fatalism need also be avoided if this thing is gonna happen! in fact, laying it all out like this has been of help.

what’s more, the sprinkling of rain yesterday, the first of any substance since we arrived, felt more than anything else to date like a cosmic exhortation to comfort.

*

I still haven’t written about either of our recording sessions, and I really should, if only to drink in one more time to sheer wonder of it all, to coax a little more emotional mileage out of the lingering fumes before the memory drifts away. but I wanted to get up to the present, and I wanted to purge a lot of the frustrations that have been plaguing me for a while now (and believe me, there are more, many of which are too culturally nuanced or rooted in my relationship with my father to properly express here yet). in the meantime, I hope to post a first sample from last week’s blissful family band recording tonight, with more detail to come as font of inspiration allows — I really want to be in the right place to do the experience justice, though I’m wondering whether starting to write might be the only way to get there. thanks for listening, as always, in any form or medium.

*

a coda: you leave the (brief, less uncomfortable than you expected) ceremony with a family friend (a translator: last time you met you sat in silence while they talked, for twenty minutes, in Albanian, about Joyce) on your way to an overdue breakfast; before the first block ends he meets a friend, unknown, just as father meets another, an actor with the most perfect baritone you have ever heard; baritone waits for translator; while waiting for baritone to wait for translator you stupidly announce your plans for solitary breakfast; unknown leaves, baritone seizes translator and boisterously hijacks you all to a different breakfast, an invitation which, in previously mentioned Albanian style your father is psychologically incapable to refuse; you sit down at a cafe called Scorpion and immediately stand up for two old school friends, you pull up chairs for them; ten minutes later you are drinking coffee trying to follow the conversation when everyone stands up once again for actor 2, a short man; this chain perpetuates to infinity, no one has anything to do & you never escape etc. etc. …

(at this point, in typical, aggravating fashion, I order breakfast — a simple phrase without errors — only to be parroted immediately by my overzealous translator as if my statement were incomprehensible. when the food arrives, it is to my great and perverse delight that both of us are served the same thing.

I wait for a break in conversation — hard to come by — and, surprising especially myself, explain in mostly-correct Albanian the humorousness of my father’s comeuppance, and for one moment of laughter, all of it, the utter powerlessness, the endless sitting on couches and at cafes, the innumerable dumbfounded silences, it’s all just one big joke, and I told it, in a language I may actually have the tiniest grasp on after all. neat.)

hysen rrustemi kurtaj of rugovë, kosova, (unknown epic song), yesterday [afternoon to evening], at his own shop among half-finished lutes, peja, kosova

*

(right now I am eating ketchup flavored potato chips. they taste pretty much like what you would expect ketchup potato chips to taste like. at first I was trying to be careful not to get ketchup flavored powder on the keyboard but I just gave up in the interest of typing more efficiently. OK. glad to get that off my chest. something banal, absolutely necessary here to bring me back to earth because this, this is something…

…well, just listen to it. if you like. ‘it’ happened yesterday, ‘it’ being excerpted from our first official recording session, the first of four such songs [or possibly — serious, this — four facets of the same two-hour / ouroboros song] played by two generations on the same handcarved lute in a warm eerie resonant room full of others by the same hand in various stages of completion… finding it hard to write right now so here’s a picture of some instruments

this one’s for you, woody, a long way from home. will write later, pictures, smell of wood shavings, just listen for now. maybe this thing is a real thing after all.)

first day

//wake up in the morning ten o’clock to one more crystallised honey jar day, to walnut pastry but missed teatime, not a turkish coffee morning, not yet [solely sane circumstantial shut-in’s “say ‘nxehtë’ one more time I dare you” b/w not knowing what to do with all this sleep, non-convertable energy units;] silly ringtone from prepaid pocket, spheric peal heard throughout the house, ethnomusikolog on the line [fellow-ship, an open question, has never felt so strange] an age you can almost see to a/k/a “leaves that are green”, not one cloud for light to break thru, the squeaky gates on which a project swerves. noontide approaches, & you know by now it’s got to be either the pizza joint [dear diary let it be known: best friends with pizza dude by close] or „BULEVARD“ outdoor cafe; it’s the latter, & turns out: just like that, stickshift, toothless moonshiner, counter-spy & spy are passing the summer mountains

*

//village signs bear two names that are sometimes the same, serbian sometimes scrawled over in hateful spraypaint & sometimes not; red or black slashes, even the roads are “bad at leaving”, learning where that comes from in you day by day. two times twenty Centigrade in town but we’re going up to where there are breezes + bells + crickets that don’t even know to be scared of you or why, holes in the ground where “water always finds a way”, all the sounds in the world; more pictures through a dingy car window, swoosh of pines, just like 2005 except it fits in yr pocket, loaded with taperips, friendjams, also wiser but_not in the words of the old song this time. a land beyond weyerhauser, of wondering if there’s even room to walk, no fifty miles or fifty acres in my turquoise heaven please & thankyou; the giddy lurch of someone saying “expedition”, really I’m just a child and child is Romanticizing the Shit out of this Dirt Road so help me God & only just a little bit sorry

*

//bogë is where we’re at, where we’re at is tattered ski lifts on emerald without end, sun with no malice, coca-cola umbrellas nestled between peaks, a school with your name on it. they mean well but sometimes leave you lost a little, like whether a musician is a man named Burim I mean Blerim (he’s somebody else) or even how many there are (there are both two and none), but burbling sounds remind you of the flow of things & also of listening. balled-up buttonup windscreen & conversation over muffled coffee, first of three at first/last of four cafes five times, soft leather bookend of sweet old self-taught, a believer [dear diary: everyone is so fucking kind], foundational grip, marmalade-eyed staredown paean before parting, a toast to even stumblingest communication. still eye-shy in my silence, tendent even as attentive to drift to vista, vista, but beginning at last to feel in gazes I can’t meet a sense of looking in the same direction

*

//goofy mountainside pictures & outside weird “eko-hotel” with a room of infuriating missed-connection instruments, lute, çifteli, sharki, mostly stringless, worn from photo-ops like the one I humor skeptically though not without endearment of paradox; o’erspilling enthusiasm carves out channels I would not but sensibility’s too resonant for I to cast a stone. inevitable tire a chance to see beyond the smears of plexiglas, the most colourful bee hives you have ever seen, one pole won’t do the trick so they lend us four & drive away. leave it with the laundry, this car couldn’t get up there anyway. the ascent, breathless in more ways than one and more for some, burning with it all, to be doing something as us, allegiance unambiguous / uncompromising. he, angered of sorts but careful note that motions never cease, followed with spoons of sherbet all the way, wildflowers one at a time, chastised for tasting of the alpine mint. faerie bells on dairy cows still clear among the crickets long after you have watched them vanish between the red roofs of everywhere til dotting “like a bowl of jewels spilled across the floor of the valley”

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//sitting, as we do, mountain ashes become undifferentiable from aimless flies, “if the smoke comes towards you you’ll be coming into money soon” but I’ll take çifteli players if it’s all the same; the real tragedy, no one has instruments at home. climb a fucking mountain to get the same answer from a lutenist in athletic shorts, white moustache & rage, measured rage worn smooth worn almost dispassionate but most certainly not, as thunder humble to humbling, from baritone soft-speak to slamming academia down, on table built into wooden gazebo on edge of cliff looking over montenegrin border; eyebrows rise to a voiceover I don’t understand when I ask for “no sugar” in my turkish coffee; intentional or not, when his daughter brings it it is most certainly sweetened. he calls himself a pensioneer but when we find him he is haystacking with the best of them, he wants to open a museum of illyrian artifacts he is heart sick sore of people like Us who have only to ask and not to offer but something softens & we will be seeing him again in a middle world with no sheep to chase as a grandchild chases, horses but only competing taxicabs asphalt sizzle boutique english

(brings us roughly to yesterday. tl;dr : went a mile in the sky, found two old rhapsodists with no instruments but warm + terrifying hearts who will be playing for us in the days to come)