“Chairs you say?”
The small man smiled looking over the shoulder of the visitor from Tirana, trying to have a closer look at the man with the suit case, obviously a foreigner.
A rainy day in November on the road between the airport and Tirana. Not the day to hang around scrap yards for broken cars. The unexpected visit was going to make the small man’s day. It might not be the sell of the year as the two didn’t seem to be in the metal business, but certainly a story to share with his friends.
Here he was, cleaning his hands on a tiny piece of newspaper, trying to understand why anyone would need thirty car bonnets so urgently. This called for thourough examination and, yes, it could really end up being a good story.
“Chairs you say?” and added with a smile, “let’s go and have a coffee”. The two visitors accepted, visibly glad to get down to business.
Surprisingly, behind a pile of old volfwagens there was a small square building with a sign, “Kafe Lili”, hosting two tables and eight chairs. For some, the ideal place to drink a turkish coffee on a rainy day waiting for something to happen. A ritualized moment, the customer indicates the amount of suger he desires and is served a small cup full to the rim of coffee, and a small glass of transparent liquid, by a waiter who also happens to take care of the petrol station or the veterinary pharmacy.
The visitors seemed more and more impatient as the younger Albanian led the conversation. He explained he was working for this french business man, well, italian infact, but living in Paris, promoting albanian handicraft and culture in the world selling furniture and other hand made commodities.
“Italian? Shume i bukur! Milano, Venecia, Ronaldo… Djali im punon me nje sipermarres italian…”
The two men kept trying to get down to quantities, thirty for now, eventually a hundered, if an american client ended up with confirming an important order.
“Amerikan? Nju Jork, i mrekullueshem, fantastik, burri i motres time…”
The boy from Tirana knew how to deal with the police on the highways, custom agents, and the crazy traffic in the capital, but this was getting complicated even for him. He was getting tired of knowing the whereabouts of his family and relations scattered all over the world. He felt it was time for an answer.
Then the small man finally said: “Yo.”
“No. I need them.”
“Of course we would pay”
“No. I need them to cover the engines of the cars. Engines are worth money. I don’t want the rain to spoil them.”
“But with the money you can buy some plastic…”
“And what will I do with the plastic when I sell the engine? I’ve been in the business since ’94 and I know how these things work.”
This scene was going to be repeated again and again.
Albanians always want to understand things in detail. Especially in business they are uncomfortable with the unknown. This story about promoting Albanian handycraft in America with chairs made from car bonnets, was obviously not going to work. Till the truth was not revealed in an intelligible manner, finding car bonnets was going to be difficult.
It takes time to build a network in an uncharted territory. The young man from Tirana knew where to find a BMW bonnet or transistors for his on-board computer. He once managed to find and install a turbo pump for his car stranded in the mountains in the south, in less than three hours. All he needed was a mobile phone and a first person to call. The rest would follow naturally.
But a car bonnet worth its price in weight as scrap metal, needed relations he didn’t have. He knew it was going to be tough, but it was his job to find solutions, till one day we arrived at a scrap yard and the boss wasn’t there. We made the deal with an adolescent, happy to sell us two pieces we had spotted between the crashed Fiat Punto and the Ford Fiesta, and no engine to cover.
The first four prototypes of the “Milingone” chairs, a homage to danish design, were a disaster. The producer was an entrepreneur with visions of grandeur and the dream of bringing back to life the old furniture Kombinat of the communist past. All that could be seen today were machines standing like sleeping giants in an enourmous warehouse and plenty of workers smoking cigarettes, wealding metal without protection.
Those first prototypes weighed nearely thirty pounds. Then we met the two brothers and their cousin, lovers of design and ready to explore all the local scrap yards in the North to make the new chairs. How Po!Paris met the brothers is another story, but it is to them that we owe the existence of the car bonnet collection as they are today, light and always different.