1995, Tirana, Albania
The Rogner Hotel in Tirana had a big Thanksgiving feed this year. We took our neighbors Vera, Syri and Eda with us. They often express curiosity about this hotel, so we saw our chance.
No one understands why Syri, Vera, Suzi and I have become such good friends. They don’t speak much English, we don’t speak much Albanian. We communicate in a mixture of English, Albanian, Russian and Manderin Chinese Suzi and I remember from when we were students in Taiwan 26 years ago. Vera had been a Chinese Teacher. The daughter, Eda, is studying English and provides some translation. But despite this language barrier, or perhaps because laughter transcends language, we’ve become good friends.
Syri didn’t know if the hotel would have good raki (a drink like Italian Grapa) so packed a flask of his home brew. Syri makes seriously good raki.
The hotel set up a display with a live turkey, an American flag, autumn leaves and the whole cornucopia of Thanksgiving foods; corn, squash, beans and coca-cola, including diet coke. This was going to be a real “American Thanksgiving.” They played American Music to get us in the holiday mood — Steppenwolf.
“I like smoke and lightning…..heavy metal thunder.”
While we were admiring the buffet with turkeys, salmon, cranberry, vegetables and desserts (each entry labeled in English and Albanian, like “corn on the top”) someone must have spoken to the management. Steppenwolf abruptly ended and replaced with a CD of American Folk Music, “Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits.”
“Hey mister tambourine man play a song for me.”
We took a table overlooking the courtyard. The hotel released turkeys around the swimming pool to add to the festive decor. I ordered wine and Syri pulled out the raki. Vera grabbed it from him and tucked it into her purse. (A little later Syri reclaimed the bottle and he and I quietly shared a drink.)
“I would not feel so all alone…everybody must get stoned.”
We went through the buffet. When we got to the turkeys one of the Americans expats (most of us were there) asked for the stuffing. Dylan sang.
“Look out kid…they keep it all hid.”
The Albanian waiter didn’t know what the lady was talking about, so she tried to explain that inside the turkey the chef usually put some good stuff to eat.
“… you better jump down a man-hole…light yourself a candle.”
The Albanian waiter got a huge knife and hacked apart one of the 20 turkeys. Inside we found apple and spice stuffing. On dismembering a second bird we found cornbread and giblet stuffing.
“don’t wear sandals…try avoiding scandals”
The Austrian maître ‘d came over–
“don’t wanna be a bum.”
–wondering what all the turkey hacking was about.
“…you better chew gum.”
An American women took over, demanding a bowel and a spoon.
“The pump don’t work…”
Soon the waiters removed the stuffing in a more dignified way, although some Albanians were appalled by the place the stuffing was pulled from.
“…cause the vandal took the handle.”
Just as we sat down after our first buffet pass most of the international diplomatic community made their entrance, just as Dylan sang:
“Come senators, congressmen….please heed the call.”
They stood around in front of the display of vegetables and coca cola waiting for the maître ‘d.
“Don’t stand in the door way….don’t block up the hall.”
One official, our age, caught the music and started to giggle,
“for he who is first….will be he who has stalled.”
but caught himself when he looked at his 60 something colleague who didn’t get it.
“for the times they are a changin’ “
Eda asked if we could request Bob Marley but I thought the music was perfect, especially when a baby matzi (kitten) got into the courtyard near the pool and started stalking a turkey.
“where do you want this killing done….”
But matzi decided after one pass that the bird was too damn big.
“out there on highway 61.”
Vera, Syri and Eda enjoyed the meal, Syri and I enjoyed Syri’s raki. He was right, it was better than the hotel’s booze. And the music. — It was perfect.
This is an excerpt from a family letter written in 1995. To see a post on two Thanksgivings in Serbia please click here.