by Kleitia Vaso

On certain days, I am a ticking bomb; what is beyond doubt is that I’m going to explode but how, when, where, or with whom, I leave it up to fate. This disclaimer explains some aspects of the following story but does not erase the fact that many exchanges or transactions in Tirana provide the right spark of frustration which in a few easy steps becomes a full-blown fire.

The following unfortunate exchange occurred on a beautiful fall Saturday, in one of the apparently classy watch stores located in the most popular and expensive areas of the capital. The episode took on epic proportions although its genesis was the replacement of my watch’s strap, an easy enough service theoretically but, as it turns out, not necessarily. For me and, I would venture to guess, everyone, these kind of chores are a hassle and I avoid them as much as I can. So, if I actually make the effort and spend part of my Saturday replacing a watch strap or anything equally tedious, it means that the object is of value to me. In these cases, then, the price and duration of the service matter very little and, usually, I forget to ask in advance about those two concrete factors. The only thing that matters is that the job be well done; at least, in this specific case, that the new strap be identical to the preceding one, not better (God forbid!), especially when the replacement, as I learned afterward, is relatively expensive and takes a long time as the “parts” are imported from “exotic” Italy.

Four months after requesting the service and having completely forgotten about it, I was finally notified that the strap was finally in the store. The same day I both dropped the watch off and picked it up…slightly transformed into a more ordinary one. My own mood forecast seemed pretty bleak that day but it could have been easily changed into gratitude or pleasure by an important object restored to its original state. When I looked at it, I noticed that, while the color was “similar,” the texture was entirely different, both crimes in my eyes, because the soft, malleable leather and the indeterminate color between rose and beige were the two features which made me fall in love immediately with the watch, a love of a magnitude which very rarely happens to me with products. Perhaps, my response to the injustice was perhaps a bit dramatic – along the lines of the Alice in Wonderland’s Queen of Hearts and her constant desire for cutting off heads or Achilles after his beloved Patroclus is killed by the Trojans, but when the owner of the store, who shamelessly informed me of his owner status, sarcastically told me to listen, “nice girl,” I retorted with “no, great guy,” and, from then on I remember nothing because all the blood rushed to my head and all rationality ebbed away from my being.

The bad mood resulting from this situation did not last long but in order to see the situation objectively I turned to my constant advisors, S. and J., mainly because I was disappointed with a place which looked much better than it actually was. “That store is not meant for us,” said S., “it’s overpriced and aims at attracting flashy rich guys who simply want brands.” I thanked S. for her succinct explanation and silently agreed. It is true, in fact. Finally, I even deeply understood Breil’s slogan: Don’t touch my Breil! Perhaps the atrociously-dressed owner did not think the texture of the strap important, but rather that it and the watch were the same brand and in the same color family. And, perhaps, I would have not cared about the feel of it or even noticed a difference if I hadn’t lived for so long in the place of rampant consumerism and material wellbeing, the distant America. Yet, S. steered me in the right direction regarding this slightly comical episode; here, in Albania, we’re still at the stage of bright colors and bling, a still unrefined phase which possesses an interesting kind of ugliness, the exact opposite of the severely understated beige, grey, khaki, champagne colors used in the U.S to indicate, noiselessly, a social strata that does not need to show off its wealth. This restraint is less aggressive for the eye but extremely boring, on the other hand. However, what I value in the famous American pragmatism is the need and respect for one’s own comfort, as for instance, the feeling of a soft material which gently, not aggressively, encircles the wrist. Thankfully, we are starting to understand this respect for comfort somewhat but the ubiquitous phenomenon of deformed high-heels as a result of walking too much on uneven streets and the synthetic materials which irritate the skin, still show that, in fact, our skin is the last concern and how others perceive us, the primary one. That explains why many people, living according to others’ expectations, are stuck in joyless work positions, stale friendships, boring relationships which have outgrown their purpose.

A kind of a bitter comforting thought came again from the easier-to-understand fictional world; this time the best (and perhaps only) contemporary Italian director, Paolo Sorrentino’s movie One Man Up (L’uomo in piu), in which the two protagonists share the same name, a wordless understanding of each other, and a similar fate; actually, the human fate where the ups are proportional to the succeeding lows. One is a formerly famous singer who ultimately survives his struggles while the other, a formerly successful soccer player, doesn’t. The determining factor in their ultimately different fates is freedom; the former soccer players depends on others to fulfill his obsessive and inflexible goal of becoming a soccer coach while the singer is too free, often at the expense of the people close to him whom he, at times, completely dismisses to fulfill his own desires. Certainly, he pays for it but not with his own life. “I am a free man,” states Tony Pisapia (the great Toni Servillo) and as the movie concludes with his smiling face, happy as e result of his cellmates clapping for the tasty fish he has cooked for them, the viewer understands that true freedom is internal and the careful and fierce guarding of it, our only salvation.

by Kleitia Vaso