One of the young Albanians who works in Loutra, was recently refused re-entry into Greece. His older brother Genc who has been here in Kythnos for 16 years, told us as much and looked very worried, though he didn’t seem to know why it had happened. Nor have I ever found out why the errant baby brother Jimi reappeared out of nowhere one day, beaming his vast and handsome smile and obviously glad to be back in God’s home country, Greece. Jimi, aged 26, has a good job with a Loutra travel agency as he happens to have a reasonable bit of hit and miss English. He struggles with the subjunctive and sometimes slips into the muddled future tense(‘will you look to view at the kurrengt timetable, sir, mister, missus’?) when he means the present, but he is nowhere in the same league as the amiable English teacher that Ione and I met in Kosovo in 2013. We had just arrived in Gjakova and were looking for a certain part of town, and the waiter in the restaurant, where we had just put away epic quantities of food, was trying to do his best. In strides to our rescue the short, squat, friendly, blond haired man of about 40, who explains he is an Albanian Shiptar, who teaches English, and indeed has TEFL equivalent qualifications.

“I was long qualified by external Cambridge,” he explained. “I teached every day in Unique English School, Gjakova, and also gave some private lessons. Where were you seeked? Let us gone a short way up there, where there was a better view of the city, and I can pointed it out to you. It wasn’t far.”

Where were you seeked? God this is so wonderful, I thought to myself, this is so bloody great! He is a Shiptar who teaches English, and maybe charges a fair rate of Kosovo euros for his services, and look he can only talk in the past tense! Bugger me,  I monologued silently, and turned to Ione, and told her, I wish I could only talk in the past tense. It would be such a joy with everything out of the way for once and all! None of this bastard present tense, where you don’t know what is going to bite you like a viper up the arse in five minutes time. As for the future, I snorted, that can be a real old horrifying can of worms, cat’s cradle, purulent and malodorous epic collection of anal warts writ large etc.

Kosovo is a wonderful country though nowhere near as remarkable as beautiful Albania. Part of the unexpectedness, is its relative prosperity, except perhaps for some of the neglected Serb villages, peopled only by the old and the sick and the embittered. The prosperity is down to hefty remittances from Kosovans working in Germany, many of whom retire to the homeland and build big and beautiful houses in the countryside, and generally live the life of Riley. However there is little love lost between the victorious Albanians, and the defeated and ghettoised Serbs. Our Gjakova hotel was close to the Carsija district, and you can still see the bullet marks and the charred wood and masonry, as evidence of the Serbian army torching the place. The Serbian army was gleefully genocidal, pure and simple, though many Kosovan Serbs had got on fine with their Albanian neighbours for decades. The fact remains that in the old communist Yugoslavia, the area of Kosovo, part of Greater Serbia, made on average a third per capita income of the rest of the country. What that means is they  were as poor as church mice. In 1982 Annie and I passed through a Kosovo town whose Serbian name is Urosevac. The main street didn’t even have a paved road, just a scratty, ugly dirt road, and as it had been raining, it was a filthy and incredibly dispiriting quagmire.

By contrast  Gjakova had the biggest and smartest bar I had ever seen in the whole world. It took up half a very long street, and I would estimate on its always busy nights, there were 500 kids at least sat around 200 tables. It was kids exclusively, plus me aged 62, who was you might say a very big kid, and proud of it. Within two minutes Ione had spotted the best looking lad among the 500 present, and had used her always flawless technique of going across and asking him for a light. She smoked in those days, and even though it didn’t do her health any good, it worked wonders for her love life, which I have to be frank about, and say I envied her enormously. I’d have loved to have effortlessly ‘copped off’ as is her favourite expression, though right enough in the month we were there in all those Balkan towns and villages, there were but few single and available Albanian or Kosovan females aged between 50 and 75, which are my two decidedly elastic outer parameters (be assured I would not have thrown away a night of tender romantic dalliance with a stunning 49 year-old Shkoder lass, or a ribald and voluptuous 76 year-old Permeti gal, or a swinging and carefree 103 year-old Prizren siren come to that).

By way of underlined emphasis, I  would like to add that I saw the most intensely desirable woman I have ever seen in all my life, selling cut-price hotdogs outside Durres railway station in Albania in May 2013. She was blond haired, about 45, doubtless married with three kids, but how can I put it those ample yet tapering hips of hers, were like gleaming golden firebrands to such as me sat sipping coffee, and unable to believe my goggling eyes, about ten yards from them. She had tight pink jeans which allowed you to see every contour and weft and weave and errant pimple on her glorious worthy-of-fifty-panegyric-stanzas Illyrian bottom, not that she had any pimples at all bless her, and she also wore a rather strange fluffy white woollen top, such as would have prevailed in Workington, West Cumbria on a rainy market day circa 1964. I permitted myself the equivalent of doing an Ione, by asking her in Albanian if I could take a photo of her and her hot dog business. I smirked to the extent of silently communicating, that if one of the two compositional elements had to be renounced, it would definitely be the hot dog stand. At any rate she guffawed and blushed and fluttered, then grabbed Ione and put her arms round her for a new and innocent study of Two Handsome Blond-Haired Women Beaming Outside Durres Railway Station. And I still think about her and her ramshackle hot dog stand about once a month at least….

Ione got her light from Gjakova’s Very Sexiest alright, and she also got a date. He was throwing a party that night about five miles away, and would pick her up from this bar at 8pm. I meanwhile could lachrymosely stay in my hotel, and possibly knit or learn Serbian, or how to excel at origami (qv morose and mordant 1950s Tony Hancock staying in alone in his London flat on Christmas Day, and reading Bleak House, by way of sentimental comfort). More impressive than that, this lad of maybe 28 actually owned the massive bar we were in,  meaning he must be one of the richest souls in Gjakova. So she, my genius of a daughter Ione, had not only scored an exquisite Kosovan Adonis, but a Massive Moneybags in Short Pants as well.

I was impressed, but envious, and even a tiny bit melancholy, as I saw that 62 year-olds, no matter which way you look at it, are not 23 year-olds like Ione. Then I looked at a really beautiful, sensitively dressed woman of about fifty parading majestically down Gjakova’s High Street, and I wondered something all to the purpose.  I wondered if, after 41 years, I should say ah to hell with it, and take up smoking fags again…

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