Heroes, unexpected, from the land of eagles

He called from the cabin of the truck, Gogol Bordello singing it all out in the background.

The soul of the balkan man is complex. He lives to achieve heroic deeds. He can’t help it, he needs an impossible mission or he will not survive the burden of time. That’s when someone like Alban ends up being chauffeur.

An impossible job these days. Crossed the Adriatic sea and the Alps, drove though Germany tugging a load full of Albanian treasures- and his bodily envelope, packed with feelings he will never understand. He is  a superhero, a bit like this poster hanging behind his seat in the cabin, with the addition of a weak spot he’s ignoring and anyone else can see.

We meet at customs nowhere in particular.

He’s tired, his burning cigarette hanging from his dry lips. The sound of Gogol Bordello’s pains is still yelling angrily all that is wrong with him without mentionning what it is and when it happened.

His gentle smile shines through the curtain of fatigue and God only knows what else. He’s made it to France, misty and cold France, the freezing drizzle decorating his hair with tiny pearls. He opens the back of the truck and this is what he has brought, making it look like someone from his family, his sister or even his mother, has made with their hands. There is always something personnal about his truckloads. This one he is particularly fond of.

“Bukur!” he says admiring the carpet he could imagine of having crawled on as a baby exploring that bed of roses – it was  cold tiles instead.

He let’s a sigh escape under his wiskers, brushing his trousers trying to shake off the memory of some ancient pain off his delicate knees, and turns to a pile of cushions: Shikoni Ketu! Fantastike! Acoma Obama më Xhacsoni

Bidonat mini-bar!

Me Karrikë perqafoj…

më Llamarina! Bukur po? Per clubi, locali…

Plot më Karrike!

Most of this load is leaving for our distributor in Sweden,  in Brazil, Abc in New York…Alban a bit sorry I’m not keeping it all for my family. He would like it to know he did something for me personally. Those Americans, he’s happy for them, but he has never met them.

We share these thoughts over a Turkish coffee contemplating the crowd gathering for the friday prayer in the mosque opposite our studio. The pilgrims look respectfully at the pile on the pavement, wondering if it is an act of God and where this is going.

Then, with no more words, he climbs back in the drivers cabin and he’s off on a new mission, Holland this time.

Po! Paris

Hedgehogs and news from the girls up North

When Drande let’s you in she pulls you in. Energetic, that’s something you can say about her.

Usually I am treated like an Albanian. A seat, a coffee, a raki and a series of questions about my family, children and ancestors.

This time no one is around, just her husband playing around with a hedgehog he found in the field.

That’s when she feels like to…well  she’s not amused.

They are not sweet words she is saying there in Albanian.

Makes her forget the sacred rituals.

So after “How are you, the family etc” we get down to work.

The workshop that was built when Anthropologie first ordered Nathalie’ cushions is not quite ready yet.

Another order and it will certainly be. Windows, a door and perhaps even a light bulb.

In the meantime it’s new looms she is buying so we can experiment on new ideas

And this is the carpet they just finished-at last.

Now a coffee. One sugar.

And put that beast away!

MR PRESIDENT!

 

 

We don’t do politics.

Neither do Albanians.

Not officially. But when George W. Bush came over for a short visit, bars carrying his name opened all over the country.

Then the phone rang and a women spoke in Albanian: “Pershendetje John, si jeni? Mire?”

I don’t speak Albanian, I couldn’t understand as she went on and on. “A keni pare Obamen dhe Romney-n ne televizion?”

The only word that came through clear enough was “Obama” followed by “television..Romney…”

My albanian translator later spoke with Rina, the lady that organises the girls doing our cross stitch cushions covers and bags.

Albanians have big televisions and follow the news from the global scene.

Lately America has been on the news a lot.

The girls do their cross stich watching television.

What Rina was trying ot tell me is that the girls have made plenty of Obama cushions. Plenty.

Nothing to do with politics, of course.

Po paris

New Yorker in Paris – Abc New York

It will always be a mistery for me.

Fresh, kind, relaxed, just as if on a Saturday afternoon stroll downtown.

The average mind would be clouded with dark thoughts, having to spend this sunny September morning in a huge mall in the outskirts of Paris, instead of talking about the meaning of life at the “Café de Flore” down at Saint Germain with the rest of the buddies.

But no, she smiles, comes in, says hello gently.

You would think she’s come over for tea, show you a couple of photos from her holiday in Maiorca, but no, this is a trade fair. This is business.

And she is professional. And from Abc Carpet, NY city, Usa.

So even if she is happy to come and pay a visit to a supplier, when she notices the Texan chap sitting lazy like the man in the “Dejeuner sur l’herbe” – and, as a matter of fact, on one of the chairs on sale in their store in New York- she eyes him in a way that makes him leave instantly.

We like that. Kind but professional.

And we like Abc Carpet and Home. they have been supporting our project since the very start.

A couple of table mats at the beginning, then the chairs.

Now you can find our cushions there.

And that is going to make the Tirane girls who produce them, very proud.

Abc Carpet and Home

888 & 881 broadway
at east 19th street
new york, ny 10003

manhattan store: +1 212.473.3000

customer service: +1 646.602.3797

store hours (est) mon – wed; fri & sat 10am – 7pm; thurs 10am – 8pm; sun 11am – 6:30pm

A street in Paris

Her name did ring a bell.

I know I’m ignorant and all, but you can’t expect me to know everything can you.

It was on the bus. I knew I had seen it on the bus with Giulia.

Somewhere.

Then we end up working together two years later.

Next time round on the bus I knew what I was looking at.

Meet Sarah Wilkins, on a Paris wall in rue Jean Pierre Timbaud.

She’s left Paris, they say. I still don’t believe that.

Po! Paris

America at last ! (part II)

continued  from America at last ! (part I)

There she was, Drande with her smile and blue eyes, the questions I could never understand, and her sharp sense of humour, next to Teresa, the mother, her strong fingers always in the wool, knotting, weaving, the traditional catholic scarf covering her head.
teresa
Then Leta, the daughter, who had leaped more than two generations ahead, responsible of the women community center of the area.
Sometimes Ana was there too, Leta’s friend and colleague working for the local Ngo dealing with gender orientated social issues.
No man in sight.

Our meetings always ended in a good laugh, drawings scribbled on a loose piece of paper between two piles of coloured wool. A Turkish coffee, and an innocent hand shake.
I would later find my driver smoking and smiling leaning on his BMW in front of Kafe Vivaldi.

This time it was different. The husband was home. We had to talk lead times for the American order.
I was offered a customary raki with the coffee. I couldn’t understand the details of the long story I was told, sitting on the couch in the kitchen.
It was about a man from Turkey who had been going around taking all the wool from the villages.
I tried to picture the man with a wicked smile and escaping carrying bags and bags of the wool that we needed for the American order.
Casually asking if the problem had been solved, Ana spoke of an alternative solution.
Negotiations were going on with a village in Serbia where a producer was to bring a load full of wool of top quality.
I finished the coffee. Ana grabbed the cup with her usual energy and checked the remaining content on the bottom. « It will be okay, she said » putting it back on the table.
With such solid evidence I emailed America to reassure everyone.

On Easter Monday, I am told the Serb never turned up.
The text message was short but precise : « cannot deliver on time ».
Albania, another one of those moments. One never gets used to it. I simply emailed America again dreading the consequences.
On this last trip Aida, from our office in Tirana, is with me. It is dark and late, an unusual time to pay a call to someone.
We push the gate open and notice the peculiar warm light from the house. Every room is full of piles of orange and red wool, cushions in each corner, four looms under the plum tree, ten ladies of all ages working actively.
And four holes in the ground. The foundations of the future workshop.

Leta comes and greets us. She is tired, anxious. Everybody has been working hard, little sleep. Her husband is there, for moral support. No one wants to be in the way. Cold soup and salad, no time to cook till the order is ready.
« I think we are going to make it for Tuesday », she tells me.
She also shows me the prototypes of the new bags, also developed with Nathalie Lété.S05NTL11-sacs-tapis

I remembered again why I kept on working with this amazing country. The people are just to good to be true. No life without passion. You got to give them that.
And they love Nathalie’s designs.

These cushions are changing things in the community. Families get together to achieve a common goal, put aside differences, men accept that their wives don’t serve dinner because their work is more important to the household than rules.
The foundations of the new studio are the proof that they believe things can change.
And Po Paris is glad to be part of it.

Po Paris

As we write we know the cushions are on their way to be delivered. Nathalie Leté’s cushions will be on sale in Anthropologie in the United States and the United Kingdom starting from June 2012.
Please enquire for any other retail stores carrying this item in Europe and Australia (yes, Australia)