Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Christmas Roses

You know you're in Santa Maria when...

Mom and I just got home from last minute Christmas shopping. We were pulling up to my parent's house and noticed two figures emerging from a SUV. The two men had on hooded sweatshirts and looked a little suspicious (though there was a cute baby inside the car). "What is this, a stake out??" I asked my mom. I got out of the car, flashed my most welcoming smile (I'm all about making would-be robbers feel sorry for their would-be crimes) and said sweetly, "May I help you?" They asked if I spoke espanol and I said no. This, technically, is true but I can understand perfectly. Then, I had the surprise of my life. The men took out their wallets and asked for some white roses (in Spanish, of course). They wanted Christmas roses for their sweethearts! My mom went inside and grabbed her garden clippers and I started inspecting the bushes for the prettiest white flowers and buds. They tried to pay, but of course we didn't take it. We were being neighborly. In this season, stop and smell the roses!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Home for Christmas

I'm currently in California. Besides almost having a panic attack in Costco, I'm adjusting back to "normal" life. Actually, that's not entirely true. It's currently 7:20 pm and I'm ready for bed. My body keeps waking me up at flipping 4:00 am! I've heard it said that it takes a day for every hour you lose. So, five more days of jet lag for a total of 9 days recovery. Ick. Anyhow, if you are traveling through the Central Coast, I'd love to see you! I'm without a car so I'm depending on people coming to me... Selfish, huh?
Dad took a picture after I had cleared customs (it only took 1 hour). After traveling for 15 hours without sleep I look slightly dazed and confused. No wonder. It was pouring rain when I left Tirana, freezing and snowy when I left Munich, and warm in LA. Crazy world we live in! The flight was comfortable; I was on an incredibly huge airbus. A friendly Italian grandmother sat next to me. Her children, many years ago, went to an international American school in Florence. She really encouraged me to look into that school. Ha! Italians are sort of disdainful of Albania.
My mom had the house decorated beautifully by the time I got home. She left me my favorite job...putting the angel on top of the tree! We've had that angel since I was 6 years old. She is irreplaceable! Let the Christmas festivities begin!

Saturday, December 6, 2008

One Week From Today....

I'm just a little excited. In exactly one week from today, I'll be boarding an aircraft headed for California! Yay! I'll be home for Christmas! Four of my friends are flying to Istanbul and I was feeling a bit sad about missing that adventure. Then, I thought of home and family and friends. I wouldn't trade Santa Maria for Istanbul. What am I looking forward to the most? Simple pleasures: walking on paved sidewalk without fearing speeding cars, Internet that works at home (I'm currently in my classroom), a heater that does not require a propane tank (that hasn't been filled in 4 days), and of course.... American laundry systems! Does this sound like I'm whining? Don't get me wrong, I love life here but I cannot wait for the comforts of home!

Monday, December 1, 2008


Berat is an Albanian town that has actually made it on the list of World Heritage sites! It was also our destination this past Saturday. I heard it called the "Town of a 1000 windows" and also the "Town with the floating windows." Both official descriptions had captured my imagination and I had to remind myself not to expect too much (I hate disappointment). Berat did indeed live up to my expectation of being an unusual and even mystical place. Even the light in Berat seemed to be poetic. Through our trip we talked about art: photography, paintings, sketching, carvings, embroidery, writing. It was an inspirational place.

Here is the town of the floating windows! It is actually one of the oldest settlements in Albania. Some resources say that is was settled in the 6th century...B.C. Since then, like all of Albania, it was passed around and fought over. More about that later. For now, take in the beauty of the houses!
Sometimes I wonder how Entela puts up with the three of us. We were standing on this bridge, laughing, when this man asked in Albanian, "Who is your translator?" Entela spoke up. They guy then asked where we were from and Entela told him. It turns out that the girlfriend "loves" internationals and that they wanted to hang out with us for the day. Entela had to tell them to move along. Shortly after this experience, church bells started ringing. We must have been a little excited because the man ringing the bells called down to us. Entela replied back. Sarah asked what he had said. Entela said that he had offered to let us ring the bells, but she had put him off. That's when the three of us squealed with glee (literally at the same time) and started running up the mountain toward the church. I could hear Entela's voice in her head saying, "What am I going to do with these girls?"

The church bells! I sort of want to save the picture of me ringing the bells for the future, but let me tell you, it was such a joyful experience! I was afraid that I wouldn't get any sound out of them, but they worked for me the very first try. This was an Orthodox church built in the 1600s. (And this is Sarah standing in front of the bells!)

This picture is for my Aunt Jennifer who loves flowers. The stone window box made me think of her living in one of these cute houses tending the flowers and vines that pop up everywhere. I think she would get creatively inspired in Berat too!

And this picture is for everyone who wondered if turkeys live in Albania. They do, and apparently, close to New Years, they take to the streets! We saw turkey herders EVERYWHERE. From what Entela told us, it's free publicity for their turkeys and probably helps to fatten them up.
Sunday morning, we walked up the side of one of the hills to the fortress. This fortified castle had a museum, churches, sheep, houses and amazing views! This view was taken just from the walk up to the castle. It was another day-to-order. Crystal clear skies, warmer temperatures, calming breezes. We had breakfast at a little restaurant with a balcony and flowers. I felt very, very at home in Berat.

Look at the ridge of these mountains (this picture was taken inside the castle). Entela said that Enver Hoxa would force school children to walk up the mountains with white rocks and spell out his name or slogans with the rocks. She said that you can still see parts of "Enver" in this ridge, but I couldn't see it. Albania is such an interesting place. During our time in the castle an overwhelming ache came over me. We went to the church called "Santa Maria" (of course!). It was fascinating. There, we learned one version of why the symbol for Albania is the two headed eagle. It's looking west to the church in Rome and east to the church in Constantinople. The tour guide said that Albania is a bridge between Catholicism and Orthodoxy. The frescoes in the church were white washed during the regime which destroyed the paint. Fortunately, the dictator left much of the church's wood carvings and icons alone because he needed something to boast about. They also found 4th century religous books that he had restored in China. The church houses Onufri's, a famous icon artist, work. Entela told us that Onufri was poisoned when the Ottomans invaded Berat. We saw amazing icons by other painters too. One really made me very sad. It was an icon of the woman at the well but had two Muslim towers in the background. It was painted after the Ottomans, of course. I wasn't so sad because it had two different religions depicted, I was sad because what it has come to mean for Albanians. "The religion of Albania is Albanian." The woman giving the tour was so proud when she told us that she is Orthodox and her husband is Muslim.
On to something a little more fun! Tracey made friends with the ram and the shepherd showed us down to the castle reservoir. People in Berat are so gosh darn friendly! Sarah and I both bought needle work table runners from a lady in the castle (people still live in the houses) and her husband gave the four of us Albania arm bands! I seriously felt like a movie star because of all the attention that was poured out on us this weekend.

This is a typical house inside the castle. Actually, it is a little atypical since it would have belonged to a wealthy family and it is currently being renovated. Amy and Travis were visiting Berat last year and actually got to go inside a house that was for sale. Wouldn't it be fun to live in a castle? They house was on sale for $25,000. Don't be surprised if I someday announce that I'm moving to Berat.

Last picture! You can see some of the castle remains. Next time, I'm bringing a picnic lunch and coming earlier. We missed out on the Ethnographic museum and shopping for wood carvings (sorry Dad!). Something to do when I have visitors in the spring!