In his text, Albanian writer Arian Leka takes us on a stroll through the Pazari i Ri market in the Albanian capital Tirana. Here, the author opens up another fairytale wonderland full of its own rules and customs, which stand in contrast to modern Tirana. The text, written exclusively for Stadt-Land-Geld, combines humor and wordplay with a quiet melancholy about a world in the process of disappearing. Arian Leka wrote the original text in English. Translation into German by Marion Hertle.
Arian Leka: Poet in Market
When I go out to buy something, at the same time I go out to lose. First: to lose my money. Second: to lose my mind. Usually, I pay in LEK. Forty years before my birth, precisely in February 1926, an Albanian coin called “LEK” was put into circulation for the first time. The coin was named after Alexander the Great, which nick name in Albanian is “LEKA”. LEKA is also my family name and from this point, the story starts to become spicy.
Thus, everywhere and for everything I have to pay with “my own” money. This is the joke (unsuccessful, often), which I tell to people (mostly, overseas friends), as a way of saying that the one who has to pay the bill is me. Do you want a convincing reason? As the question of who will pay the coffee bill is still a matter of prestige in Albania, I’m the only one among them who has a “family brand money”! And I know: the loveliest things in Tirana are still free or cheap.
The fresh Market/Pazari, as locals call it. It is the place where happiness manifests itself along with sadness, like racing horses, trying to overtake each-other, running towards me.
Walking towards Himë Kolli street, an alley where, despite crammed among skyscrapers, I can still see some old Tirana’s houses with a red roof, chimneys, any cat on the walls and persimmon or green citrus trees protruding from their yards’ walls. It is not a matter of nostalgia, but I like cities where various forms of nature, the past and the future, still exist. I come here because, in this street, located somewhere between the catholic church and the mosque, there is another institution of Faith: the fresh Market/Pazari, as locals call it. It is the place where happiness manifests itself along with sadness, like racing horses, trying to overtake each-other, running towards me.
Could you imagine for a moment how a member of the Leka family, who pays in LEK, can look in the middle of an old market of an almost modern city? So, I am here with some “personal” money in my pockets, and around me, like in a slow motion movie, everything is for sale: flowers and partridge eggs; honey and medicinal plants, to cure everything except death, according to the sellers; mushrooms and unnamed green plants; fruits, vegetables, and different spoken dialects. Nothing is important. Nothing is imposing. Nothing is imported. Everything is so fresh that it can not be called seasonal but daysonal. From yards and gardens straight to this street market.
I come here for the fruits and vegetables, but mostly for the people who sell them. None of them can buy a small apartment or a tiny shop in the surrounding skyscrapers. Though Pazari has no ethnic nor geographical conflicts, as the expensive supermarket has within, in which, a fruit from Africa sits next to an Australian fruit, having not a wide ocean among them. The goods’ transition in Pazari is like walking from one field to the next one.
It is real, but this space is not a paradise. It has always been murmured that pesticides and hormones are getting closer and closer to this Pazar in the heart of the city. At some point, the sellers are honest, somehow. They do not swear that they are candidates for saints. They never promise that they are strong enough to resist the temptation to the market’s call to war and the sweet clink of LEK. They are simply saying that they are still poor and they cannot buy hormones.
But what intrigues me is that nothing belongs to the futuristic world in this quarter. No credit cards! Only in cash!
But what intrigues me is that nothing belongs to the futuristic world in this quarter. No credit cards! Only in cash! Sellers think simply: as long as the fruits and vegetables are not virtual here, why money should be virtual? And everything around is immediate and frank. If not sold, products wither and rot, just like voices and greetings of nearby people. Nothing lives for tomorrow. Nothing is more important than smiles. Smiles play the role of traffic lights in Pazari. Warm (is red). Cold (is green). Tired. (is yellow). A smile replaces the advertising adds. Faces are human screens for them. A smile is beyond any language: they are translingual. Everyone mobilizes his senses and sensors. Each one knows the rules. I have to touch the fruits and vegetables. The seller must touch my “family brand money”.
The best introductory expression to dialogue may not be “how much does the fruit cost (?)”, but “how much you will give it to me (?)”, as it is useless to ask for written prices, in a space like this, where language is not written, but a spoken one. Pazari belongs to the fairytale world, where writing has been not yet invented and the green crown goes to the one who speaks beautifully and raises his/her voice louder, as oral poets.
But, nevertheless, even in Pazari poets are not something worth, although, as usual, I insist to pay with poets. Every day I use 2 banknotes with Naim Frashëri (=1.5 EUR) and 1 with Fan Noli portrait (=1 EUR). It is a paradox for our times to continue living thanks to the poets, as well as it is ineffective to address them the prayer our poets in heaven, give us this day your daily face! Can you imagine how might look like in the middle of an old Pazar of an half-modern city, a member of Leka’s family, who not only pays in LEK, but uses banknotes with the faces of dead poets, holding poet’s faces on them?
However, it would be better to talk about the weight, which is still a non-standardized element, as it is not an extremely significant item in Pazari. Once, when I came back home, just out of curiosity, I tried to weight my bag of fruits and vegetables. All I saw was that I had few grams less than they should have been. I am aware: whenever I get back from Pazari I have something less in my bag. It’s self-evident why. The smiles and the seductive jokes of the street vendors are not anymore in my bag. But sometimes, when the municipal police try to force these “little street pirates” to become a legal part of our archaic free-market economy, their calls, and complains find shelter in my bag too. But, I always believe my obsession: I pay less than I get.
From the corner, I can see another skyscraper, with a large shopping center on the first floor, rising close to Pazari. Soon, despite the fact that I am writing about it, its aura and the urban myth about it will disappear.
There are less advertising tricks and demon consumers in Pazari and I finished what I had to do. At the end of the journey, I still have some coins in my pocket for a good coffee, which costs cheap for the quality it has. From the corner, I can see another skyscraper, with a large shopping center on the first floor, rising close to Pazari. Soon, despite the fact that I am writing about it, its aura and the urban myth about it will disappear. Then, with “my personal family LEK money”, holding poet’s faces on it, I will buy clamorous brands and nice geometrical forms of goods in supermarkets. Maybe I will no longer buy plastic bags, but synthetic smiles, for sure yes.
by Arian Leka
 Naim Frashëri (1846-1900) is nowadays widely considered to be the national poet of Albania.
 Fan Noli (1882-1965) was a pre-eminent and multi-talented figure of Albanian literature, culture, religious life and politics.
Click here for the German translation of the text by Marion Hertle:
Arian Leka (*1966 in Durrës, Albania) writes poetry, prose, essays and literary criticism and has already published several collections of poetry, short stories and one novel. In his hometown of Durrës, Albania, he founded the poetry festival Poeteka. This gave rise to the literary magazine of the same name, of which he is editor-in-chief and publisher. His literary works have received numerous national and international awards and have been translated into German, English, French, Serbo-Croatian, Romanian, Macedonian and Bulgarian. Currently, Arian Leka works as a lecturer in literary studies and researcher at the Academy of Albanian Studies in Tirana.
Stadt – Land – Geld #MYNCHEN
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