Friday, May 29, 2009

Dinner the other night. I scribbled this entry on a napkin the other night. I've just gotten it into a more useable file format. :)

Linda Ronstadt blared on the corner radio—not really a stereo system—in the restaurant I dined in tonight. The place looked nice enough but the waiter neither spoke nor seemed to understand English. The menu had a few English words but most importantly, it had a few pictures. Grabbing my attention was the picture of a dish combined with that all enticing word, special. I pointed to it and ordered vasser with gas. Vasser was my attempt at wasser, German for water. Follow wasser with the word water and I figured I’d get lucky.

It’s one of those restaurants like so many others in Tirana-a small storefront that has been expanded by taking over most of the sidewalk in front of the store. The really bold places, after having grabbed much of the pedestrian space sometimes push a few more tables out front to add still more seats, reducing the sidewalk to about a three foot wide path. Most of the sidewalk intrusion doesn’t bother anyone. After all, everyone benefits at one time or another from the expansion. This place wasn’t that bold but they had built a covering over the seating area and had probably doubled their seating area to accommodate more than 100 people. I was having an early dinner so there probably were no more than two-dozen people dining or having a late afternoon coffee when I was there. I was surprised to notice a group of three motorbikes for home delivery. In my mind, the restaurant moved into a fast-food category instead of the casual dining place I sought.

Still, it was a wonderful evening, pleasant and mild. I was reminded all the more of what Americans lose by being a vehicle dependent society. I want my yard, my little patch of property but having a chance to enjoy city life and being able to walk somewhere is a nice addition to life that I enjoy when I travel. Friends greeted each other as they passed on the street or as the sidewalk walkers and sidewalk café sitters mingled.

Most of the customers, when I first arrived, were men. But over the course of the evening the clientele will change as women with children—those same sort of good moms needing to feed the kids as are at home—fill the tables as they wait for dad to join them. I’ve noticed over the years the productivity drain that seems to hit male workers. They just spend too much time in the cafes in the afternoon, smoking, drinking coffee and talking. Then they complain because everyone stays late at work and arrives tired the next morning. People tell me the cafe is just an extension of the workplace. I don't believe it. It's not an especially productive extension at least.

I’ve already figured out my dessert. There’s a gelato stand just a few doors up the street. I don’t know why but I discovered lemon gelato on a trip to Albania several years ago and it has become a trip tradition. I’m watching my weight, actually planning to return a few pounds lighter so I have promised myself to keep the gelato cravings under control. Why lemon? It’s hard to find lemon ice cream in the states. The gelato is sweet but tangy, with a sharp lemon flavor. I just like it.

This is my seventh or eight visit to Albania over a six-year period. I was last here in March 2008 where I worked with Vizion+ TV and Top Channel. They’re the two most widely viewed television stations in Albania though Top Channel is a strong number one to Vizion’s second place. This project will have me figure out whether Vizion is still number two. They’re programming this last year has been weak and they lost their popular news anchor to the number three station. I’ll do an audience survey, as I’ve previously done, to help them figure out what’s going right and wrong.

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