So I went for a walk in Tirana Park. The Park is a square mile or so -- a couple of hundred hectares, say -- of wooded ground on a ridge south of the city. It's rather shaggy and overgrown, and many of the trails and paths are disintegrating. But I had a couple of hours unexpectedly free this morning, and I thought it would be nice to take a stroll.
It was. The morning was clear and warm. Albania has a climate like, oh, a slightly cooler Southern California. Mid-morning in late April, it was t-shirt weather. Lovely blue skies, sunny. The park was full of people. Old, young, little kids, couples. Why so many on an ordinary Wednesday, I can't guess. Maybe it's always like that. There's a small lake, which is quite lovely. To my surprise, the other side of it has not yet been built up with the villas of Albania's nouveau riche. Give it another couple of years, I guess. There's also a children's amusement park, with a ferris wheel and various rides. Since I nearly fainted from terror the last time I was on a ride in this part of the world -- the small ferris wheel in Belgrade's Kalamegdan Park is far more terrifying than any roller-coaster -- I wasn't in a hurry to explore it. Still, it was full of happy kids. And there's also a little enclosure with forty-five white headstones. They mark the British war dead of 1940-45. Albania wasn't a major theater of action, but apparently things were happening, because forty-five British soldiers got killed. (I counted the stones.) It was very moving. The stones were simple white limestone. Each had a regimental crest -- "South Lancashire Fusiliers," and such -- a name, age, dates, and a short line. Sometimes these were obviously dictated by the family ("Your wife and mother will cherish your memory"); more often, they were lines of poetry or Bible verses. The youngest soldier I saw was 22; the oldest, 37. The whole enclosure wasn't more than twenty feet by thirty, tops. It sat at a wide spot in the path, overlooking the little lake. There was a small stela with some withered poppy-flower wreaths, presumably laid by the local British community. One odd thing: the enclosure and stela were obviously new, not more than a few years old. But the headstones looked older, possibly old enough to date back to the war. The obvious conclusion would be that there was an original cemetery set up by the British just after the war, but that the Communist government shut it down after relations soured. (But then, why keep the headstones? Or did they simply move the whole thing to some isolated spot in the mountains for 45 years?) That's not the end of it. Walk fifty meters further down the trail, and there's another enclosure. This one is set back a few meters from the path, and the fence around it is higher. Inside are four tall slabs of black marble, each one covered with names. This is the German war memorial, and these are the Germans who died in Albania. There are a lot more of them. Hundreds, perhaps a thousand. They're in alphabetical order. The whole thing is clearly recent construction, not more than maybe five years old. So: the Communist government didn't allow anyone in to commemorate their dead. (Probably not even the Soviets. Hoxha's Albania hated them too.) But in the last few years, the British have been allowed to move their headstones to a new memorial site on the little hill by the lake; and the Germans, who never had one, have been able to build one... a bit further down the hill, to be sure. I don't really have anything to add to that.