Evening was approaching and everything was perfect.
The last reflections of the blue sky light disappeared between the giant heroes of the revolution stuck in the mosaic on the facade of the Museo Kombëtar in Tirane.
The Italian style aperitivo is tuned to perfection with the rationalistic architecture.
On one side the buildings erected by the Italian fascists when Albania became part of a ridiculous empire, and on the other the severe looking socialist white public buildings.
The noise from traffic slowly shimmers, as people come out for their evening stroll, filling the air with a sweet sound of chatter.
The glass of “crodino analcolico” and its green olives sit on the small table at the cafe of the Teatër Kombëtar (National Theatre) overlooking the piazza.
But Victor is not happy.
He strives the final attack against “turbo folk“, a crazy pop version of traditional Balkan folk music, leaving his conversation partner wondering if some cruel Miss Lizzie, certainly a dancer, is playing around with his heart and feelings.
Victor is a good conversation partner, his knowledge on Albania is virtually complete, spanning from music to politics and ancient history.
Victor is also a pessimist.
Pessimists are a rare and essential feature of the Albanian society.
After the fall of the regime and the collapse of the collectivist economy in 1992, every single person had to re-invent his own present and future in society where new rules were been written all over again.
Head masters became drivers, doctors ministers, primary school teachers ambassadors, painters mayors and simple workers millionaires.
Pessimists alone carry the burden of the collective memory in this fast changing society.
Discreet by nature, pessimists are rarely heard as they avoid going to cafes where opinions and myths are forged everyday.
They can be poets, or indulge in some form of highly refined intellectual activity. Others continue doing what they had learnt to do in the past in an identical manner, ignoring the world of the past has been washed away by the new order.
Hysen is beyond doudt one of the most prominent pessimists around. He also has a rather daunting personnality.
Some designers in Denmark had made flattering compliments to the felt works we had brought back from Hysen’s workshop in Albania.
Covering Hysen with compliments made no difference. “Absolutish yo!” – No definitely no!- He said, counting the beads of his chaplet.
That is the answer when asked if some tiny improvements could be added to the hats he made out of felt, following a tradition dating back to times when the Turcs had not yet come to Albania in the 14th century.
Luckily his son has come to terms with his father’s strong character and developed new shapes. The tradition for felt is as old as time in Albania.
The wool is carefully selected, “opened” with a peculiar instrument, a primitive bow, with a string tied to a branch that shuffles the wool till is becomes fluffy like a cloud.
The wool is then put into shape and washed with cold water and soap till transformation in felt is achieved. At this stage the felt is mounted on a wooden mould, washed again and again and then vigorously pressed till it dries naturally.
The quality of Hysen’s felt is outstanding, thin but firm keeping it’s shape through time. Hysen and his son are one of the rare cases when the new generation takes the burden of perpetuating a traditional craftsmanship that most of the Albanian youth, often stuck in an confused vision of modernity, despises.
Po paris 2011