A hell of a way to end (or start) a new year

Last night, Abby and I celebrated our second anniversary, and the end of our first year in Tirana, with our British friends Sam and Phil whose wedding anniversary was the day before. (That’s Samantha and Philip, in case you were wondering.) We had a nice dinner and then returned to their house, where we’d left our car. We’d parked in their driveway, which runs off a narrow and heavily-trafficked street, so Phil stood in the street to block cars while I backed out. Unfortunately, I assumed that since he was watching my back, all was clear, and I did not see the low, dark BMW parked behind me …

The owner, a young Albanian guy who owned the bar across the street, came rushing out yelling. The damage to his car was minor – a scratch and a small dent, better than the cracked bumper we suffered. We called in our embassy patrol who in turn called the police; and at first the owner raged that he was not going to move his car until I fixed it, which made no sense, but I apologized and assured him that everything would be fixed. He continued venting but eventually calmed down, and by the end of the evening we were all sitting at his bar having a drink together, to show no hard feelings. Of course, I accepted the liability, and today I paid a 500 lekë fine (about $6) and the insurance company will sort out the repairs.

Still, this is not as bad as the situation faced by the new embassy family we are sponsoring, a nice couple with four children aged 1-8. They were supposed to arrive Friday mid-day from Rome on an Alitalia flight, but while we were waiting for them at the airport Abby got a call that they weren’t on the flight. They’d arrived in Rome and gone to the Alitalia check-in desk to board the second and final leg of their trip, and the clerk sent them to the other end of the airport for their boarding passes; but when they arrived, the clerk at that desk told them “Sorry, we’ve sold your tickets.” Moreover, there was no flight that could accommodate six people until 1 August, and Alitalia wasn’t going to do anything else to help them.

Abby began making phone calls to the U.S. embassy in Rome as well as to the management officer in Tirana; and eventually we worked it out that they would take a train to Bari the next day, and then take the late-night ferry that would arrive in Durres at 1 AM. All of this with four kids in tow. Amazingly – and fortunately, all things considered – their luggage still had been put on the original flight, and it arrived in Tirana as scheduled (usually with Alitalia, it’s the other way around), so Abby and I collected it and brought it to their house. We then went to Durres with an embassy driver on Sunday morning at 1 AM to pick them up.

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I’ve finally posted a selection of Abby’s and my photos from my parents’ visit in May. You can see them

New blog

I’ve been trying to improve my photography, and since I’m working with film, I’m also trying (a) to find someone who can teach me to use a darkroom so I can have more control over what I produce and (b) to decide whether to go digital instead of scanning my film negatives. There are billions of pixels devoted to the debate between film and digital photography – which one is “better” – and although I’m a Luddite at heart, I’ll probably cave and buy a digital SLR this fall, and it will be obsolete by the time I get it out of the box.

But as I ponder these crucial questions, I also have to decide what to do with the photos that I already have. Since I can’t think of any other venue for them, I’ve started an anonymous (and open to anyone) blog for my “artistic” shots: www.virtualwall.blogspot.com.