Just before the weekend of the 19th of June, posters began to appear around town here in Lezhe announcing Nata e Bardhe (white night), a night-long festival to celebrate the culture and arts of the Lezhe region. A few friends from other parts of the country came down/up to stay for the weekend and check out the festival.
On Saturday night as we headed down the hill to the festivities, the lightning that had been threatening for a while finally followed through with rain and the square outside the town hall and “culture palace” was full of people huddling under tents and umbrellas when we arrived. People were dispersing left and right. We were meeting friends – Albanian and American – who were manning the beer tent, so we hung out for a while in the rain and enjoyed the now-cool air and company. After a while I went inside the Pallati Kultures to see all the performers. There were instruments everywhere and many of the performers – from a punk rock band from Fier to a group of young people making up a classical ensemble to traditionally costumed dancers – were sitting and watching the end of the football match and drinking in the lokal inside the Pallati.
Back outside I mentioned to Adam, a fellow volunteer who plays the drums, that there was a drumset sitting inside. This quickly turned into Leslie (volunteer who has lived in Lezhe for two years and will be leaving in August) taking Adam and I inside to the lokal to meet Flamor, the director of the pallati and a key player in the planning of the event to ask about using the drums.
Inside Flamor stood up to greet us at his table and insisted we stay for a drink. The five of us (including Flamor’s brother or cousin?) started talking and soon it was apparent that Flamor’s brother spoke German – as do Adam and Leslie (and I have retained a pitiful few words from SPS). The conversation switched back and forth between German and Shqip and English as we discussed music and a girl behind us from the classical ensemble started to pull her violin out of the case to play for some of her friends and suddenly here in this loud café we were listening to Albanian folk songs on the violin and the din of the soccer game and Flamor (a professionally trained violinist) asks the girl for her instrument and starts to play…then the blue jean and bandanna clad long haired drummer from the rock band from Fier (whose name on his name tag was “storm”) grabs the violin and plays a version of the same song with a twist of ACDC’s thunderstruck mixed in with a flourish. Just like that it was a violin-off. In the middle of Lezhe during a thunderstorm and a dying festival with a group of german-speaking punk-rocking classical-musician Albanians. At one point Flamor gave me the fiddle and I embarrassed myself by just playing a few chords. Back to the rocker from Fier…and on around the group it went. Pretty soon the entire bar was captivated.
This random and wonderful sequence of events is an example of what I absolutely love about travel – those moments that you never expect that shake up the snow globe of the world in just the right way to let the dust settle to combine parts of your past that help you discover something new and raw about the place you are visiting, and, in turn, yourself. In a moment I met a man I will hopefully be able to work with in the future, and I saw him in his element. In turn, the drummer from Fier was willing to completely shed his stage persona and play traditional Albanian ditties for a crowd. While taking this all in around me, I remember thinking to myself that this moment was unimaginable that morning, or even an hour before. After a rain storm in search of a drumset we instead found something entirely unexpected and wonderful. This is travel, this is community entry at its best.