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Ojai Orange | The Column of Lasting Insignificance | Books | Wait-A-Minute

September 6, 2008
John Wilcock - January 5, 2008

 

  The column of lasting insignificance
     


also posted:



2011
November 26 2011
November 19, 2011
November 12, 2011
November 5, 2011
October 29, 2011
October 22, 2011
October 15, 2011
October 8, 2011
October 1, 2011
September 24, 2011
September 17, 2011
September 10, 2011
September 4, 2011
August 27, 2011
August 20, 2011
August 13, 2011
August 6, 2011
July 30, 2011
July 23, 2011
July 16, 2011
July 9, 2011
July 2, 2011
June 25, 2011
June 18, 2011
June 11, 2011
June 4, 2011
May 28, 2011
May 21, 2011
May 14, 2011
May 7, 2011
April 30, 2011
April 23, 2011
April 16, 2011
April 9, 2011
April 2, 2011
March 26, 2011
March 19, 2011
March 12, 2011
March 5, 2011
February 26, 2011
February 19, 2011
February 12, 2011
February 5, 2011
February 5, 2011
January 29, 2011
January 22, 2011
January 15, 2011
January 6, 2011

2010
December 25, 2010
December 18, 2010
December 11, 2010
December 4, 2010
November 27, 2010
November 20, 2010
November 13, 2010
November 6, 2010
October 30, 2010
October 23, 2010
October 16, 2010
October 9, 2010
October 2, 2010
September 25, 2010
September 18, 2010
September 11, 2010
September 4, 2010
August 28, 2010
August 21, 2010
August 14, 2010
August 7, 2010
July 31, 2010
July 24, 2010
July 17, 2010
July 10, 2010
July 3, 2010
June 26, 2010
June 19, 2010
June 12, 2010
June 5, 2010
May 29, 2010
May 22, 2010
May 15, 2010
May 8, 2010
May 1, 2010
April 24, 2010
April 17, 2010
April 10, 2010
April 3, 2010
March 27, 2010
March 20, 2010
March 13, 2010
March 6, 2010
February 27, 2010
February 20, 2010
February 13, 2010
February 6, 2010
January 30, 2010
January 23, 2010
January 16, 2010
January 9, 2010
January 2, 2010

2009
December 26, 2009
December 19, 2009
December 12, 2009
December 5, 2009
November 28, 2009
November 21, 2009
November 14, 2009
November 7, 2009
October 31, 2009
October 24, 2009
October 17, 2009
October 10, 2009
October 3, 2009
September 26, 2009
September 19, 2009
September 12, 2009
September 5, 2009
August 29, 2009
August 22, 2009
August 15, 2009
August 8, 2009
August 1, 2009
July 25, 2009
July 18, 2009
July 11, 2009
July 4, 2009
June 27, 2009
June 20, 2009
June 13, 2009
June 6, 2009
May 30, 2009
May 23, 2009
May 16, 2009
May 9, 2009
May 2, 2009
April 25, 2009
April 18, 2009
April 11, 2009
April 4, 2009
March 28, 2009
March 21, 2009
March 14, 2009
March 7, 2009
February 28, 2009
February 21, 2009
February 14, 2009
February 7, 2009
January 31, 2009
January 24, 2009
January 17, 2009
January 3, 2009

2008
December 27, 2008
December 20, 2008
December 13, 2008
December 6, 2008
November 29, 2008
November 22, 2008
November 15, 2008
November 8, 2008
November 5, 2008
November 1, 2008
October 25, 2008
October 18, 2008
October 11, 2008
October 4, 2008
September 27, 2008
September 20, 2008
September 13, 2008
September 6, 2008
August 30, 2008
August 23, 2008
August 16, 2008
August 9, 2008
August 2, 2008
July 26, 2008
July 19, 2008
July 12, 2008
July 5, 2008
June 28, 2008
June 21, 2008
June 14, 2008
June 7, 2008
May 31, 2008
May 24, 2008
May 17, 2008
May 10, 2008
May 3, 2008
April 26, 2008
April 19, 2008
April 12, 2008
April 5, 2008
March 29, 2008
March 22, 2008
March 15, 2008
March 8, 2008
March 1, 2008
February 23, 2008
February 16, 2008
February 9, 2008
February 2, 2008
January 26, 2008
January 19, 2008
January 12, 2008
January 5, 2008

2007
December 29, 2007
December 22, 2007
December 15, 2007
December 8, 2007
December 1, 2007
November 24, 2007
November 17, 2007
November 10, 2007
November 3, 2007
October 27, 2007
October 20, 2007
October 13, 2007
October 6, 2007
September 29, 2007
September 22, 2007
September 15, 2007
September 8, 2007
September 1, 2007
August 25, 2007
August 18, 2007
August 11, 2007
August 4, 2007
July 28, 2007
July 21, 2007
July 14, 2007
July 7, 2007
June 30, 2007
June 23, 2007
June 16, 2007
June 9, 2007
June 2, 2007
May 19, 2007
May 12, 2007
May 5, 2007
April 28, 2007
April 21, 2007
April 14, 2007
April 7, 2007
March 31, 2007
March 24, 2007
March 17, 2007
March 10, 2007
March 3, 2007
February 24, 2007
February 17, 2007
February 10, 2007
February 3, 2007
January 20, 2007
January 13, 2007
January 6, 2007

2006
December 30, 2006
December 23, 2006
December 16, 2006
December 9, 2006
December 2, 2006
November 25, 2006
November 18, 2006
November 11, 2006
November 4, 2006
October 28, 2006
October 21, 2006
October 14, 2006
October 7, 2006
September 30, 2006
September 23, 2006
September 16, 2006
September 9, 2006
September 2, 2006
August 26, 2006
August 19, 2006
August 12, 2006
August 5, 2006
July 29, 2006
July 22, 2006
July 15, 2006

 

 



September 6, 2008

FOR DECADES A VIRTUAL PARIAH, Albania is shaping up as one of Europe’s major tourist destinations. Spotlight on Saranda (pop: 35,000), a pleasant coastal resort a short ferry ride across from Corfu. For years it has been a popular spot for Albanian honeymooners.

       The number of tourists visitors to this part of the Adriatic coast during the stifling years of Communism, 1949-1990, was near zero but has since been expanding at a frantic rate. The current tourist boom has produced dozens of new hotels, with half-completed structures arising on almost every vacant piece of hillside. Tourism currently accounts for 25% of the region’s income but this is likely to at least double.

    Apart from beaches and the usual attractions of a coastal resort, what draws many visitors are the well-preserved ruins of the ancient Roman town of Butrint, on the six-mile long Ksamil peninsula. Nearby is a sea-fed lake which today, as in ancient times, is a rich source of fish and mussels.

       The origins of Saranda, whose name commemorates the death of forty Christian martyrs, go all the way back to a 6th century BC Greek settlement later captured by the Romans and used as a safe harbor for the fleet. In 44BC it was a grain depot for Caesar’s army and the aqueduct bringing water to the town is shown on coins that Butrint minted in the reigns of Augustus and Nero.

       The ruins, once surrounded by a 30 ft high wall, are a delight for archaeologically-minded visitors who can admire the ancient theatre--its 20 ascending rows of seats seated about 1,500 spectators--and the numerous temples devoted to Asclepius, the god of healing. A gymnasium where youth were taught both academically and physically, was served by water thru pipes to the bathhouse, where mosaic tiles bear a votive inscription dedicated to Zeus Cassios, the god protecting mariners. Gods, however, were very much out of favor during the 40 years of Communist rule (which ended in 1990) when all private religious practice was banned. Today, Albania’s 3.6 million population is more than two-thirds Muslim.

     A newly-planted tree is labeled with the name of Croatian prime minister Sali Berisha, who made a recent visit to the site but some earlier visitors were less popular. Our local guide, Anila, talking almost nonstop in fluent English, offered a fund of Communist-era jokes. When Khruschev visited the site, she said, he was bitten by a snake. The snake died.

       Greatly adding to Saranda’s prospects is the beachfront village of Ksamil, also chock-a-block with already operating and half-built hotel (one named after the Albanian capital, Tirana) about halfway between the town and Butrint on a 15-mile, two-lane highway so narrow that cars invariably have to back up when met by buses going the other way.

        My recent visit was one of the stops along a tour from Athens to Zagreb, through the Corinth Canal and up the Dalmatian Coast calling at such beautiful islands as Korcula (where Marco Polo’s alleged home is featured in the walled town) and Hvar, famous for its acres of aromatic rosemary and lavender and such incessant sunshine that visitors who experience a sunless vacation have  half their expenses remitted.

In Athens, first stop on the tour, our home was the St. George Lycabettus, a self-proclaimed “boutique hotel” whose glossy aura included its own magazine, filled with lavish ads for luxury products. The panoramic view from the rooftop swimming pool included a view not only of the distant Acropolis but the sea beyond, a totally different aspect not usually seen from most parts of the city whose clutter of buildings extends all the way to the coast. But boutique hotels are not my thing, usually frequented by rich Yuppie types and emphasizing style over substance. They’re hotels that are likely to have bar bells in the bathroom but no ice buckets (or even ice machines down the hall); toilet rolls chicly hanging from chains (and thus hard to extract); bathroom doors of glass which flood the bedroom with light; a single flower in a vase but no bottle opener. In short, the kind of place designed by trendy folk who don’t stay in them.

       The biggest disappointment of the trip, though, was to discover how incredibly popular some of the world’s most beautiful places had become. For this, I suppose, I am partly to blame, having lured tourists to them via some of my books one of which, Greece and Yugoslavia on $10 a Day, I took along this time for comparison. I had described Corfu (in 1972) as ”….a beautiful island, rich with almost every kind of vegetation including cactus and palm trees, There are said to be more than three million olive trees, producing some of the best olive oil (i.e. low in acidic content) in Greece, and it is luxuriously green wherever you travel”. No change there, of course, nor with my revelation that the Corfu News had found that 46 waiters in town were named Spiros, after the island’s patron saint St. Spyridon, a 4th century bishop credited with miracles both during and after his life. When our tour guide asked the bus driver for his name, it was predictably Spiros.

     The changes at Split, however, were all for the worse. The broad, main street running parallel to the harbor was once lined with a jumbled kaleidoscope of cafes, all with different colored umbrellas from under which it was possible to sit at night and watch most of the local population promenade up and down, meeting and gossiping about the day’s events. Like the nightly paseo in most Mexican towns. All that was gone to be replaced by a sterile, shiny boulevard flanked by identical tables under identical white plastic umbrellas. All the life washed out by bureaucratic fiat, and a decision so unpopular here that citizens were rumored to be planning to replace the mayor.  Split’s major attraction was still the astonishing and extensive 3rd century palace built by the Roman emperor Diocletian inside whose walls the once-decrepit apartments were being turned into luxury accommodations. And the crowds were overwhelming.

       Even more so in the renowned walled city of Dubrovnik whose undoubted glories have been dimmed by the hundreds of thousands of visitors of all ages and nationalities which make walking through it a fair comparison with Times Square on New Year’s Eve. Hopefully, the human tide ebbs in other months.

      Our guide for the 15-day tour was the ferociously efficient Tamara whose awesome knowledge and skills could hardly be bettered. Overseas Adventure Travel should make her president of the company. Sarajevo-born and thus mistress of myriad languages, Tamara was fervent in her denunciations of, yet insightful about, the background to the 1990s war between the Serbs and the Croatians as we traversed a region still littered with bombed and devastated houses whose occupants had fled. Croatians, fighting for independence, had found themselves on the wrong side of history, she maintained, and had been easily manipulated. This Krajina  region, incidentally, was the birthplace of a genuine star, Nicolas Tesla, sometimes described as “the man who invented electricity” and the pre-Marconi developer of radio. Although overshadowed in life and dying of poverty in a New York hotel in 1943, Tesla is undergoing belated acclaim today and has a street named for him in Zagreb where he lectured on alternate current (AC) in 1892.

The biggest mistake I made about my tour was being carelessly gulled into sharing a cabin on O.A.T,’s Athena, thus ending up with a total imbecile for a roommate. It’s a mistake I will never make again. Apart from his insistence on rising (and thus waking me) at 6am every day, this ninny was equipped with a full range of grunts, groans and giggles which he articulated at intervals during the day, occasionally vocalizing with banal and inane comments. If there was something obvious to be said, he could be counted on to say it, and as his main aim in life appeared to be to draw attention to himself, the more I tried to ignore him the more vociferous his interruptions became.

      But easily the most unpleasant part of the trip, was the encounter with the arrogant dimwits of Homeland Security on my return, especially at the first U.S. touchdown at Salt Lake City where a bullying operative kept berating me for not removing from my pockets Euro notes (metal strips thereon), plastic ball point pens (metal tips) and Wash ’n Dry packets (foil covering), all of which triggered his over-sensitive wand. This after removing my belt, jacket, shoes, coins, keys and tiny folding scissors (duly confiscated). This swaggering minion obviously loved his job for the opportunity it gave him to torment and humiliate passengers, and epitomized the paranoia that has infected America in these troubled times to an extent that far exceeds the methods of just about every other country. Essential as Homeland Security is  to the safety of all of us, it has become by far the most unpleasant part of today’s travel.

8/30/08

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