Tending a Blaze of Beautiful Words
`ISN'T it so beautiful?'' Eva shrieked as Whitney Houston crooned her latest song on the Voice of America radio station.Skip to next paragraph
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I nodded, not really liking Whitney Houston so much, but unable to keep from breaking into a smile at Eva's enthusiasm. And her choice of words.
As I've noticed in the three months since I moved to Tirana, the capital of Albania, ``beautiful'' is the adjective used to describe everything from puppies to shoes to music to food.
Albanians say ``beautiful'' the way Americans use ``great'' or ``good'' or ``fine.'' They have their own words for those, of course, but something moves them - and this is not just an Eva-ism - to pick ``beautiful'' as their word of choice.
From what I can detect, with only a childlike grasp of this difficult language, Albanian is itself very beautiful, both in the nuances of the words' meanings and the way in which they are spoken. What is memorable about an Albanian storytelling experience isn't the use of gestures or body movements, but the teller's tone of voice.
The voice rises and falls as if in song. The volume increases as the climax nears. The tongue forms the complicated, multi-syllabic words at an ever-quickening pace. The solo voice is joined by protests or a chorus of approval. When the symphony of conversation comes to a close, laughter fills the air rather than applause.
Perhaps the dramatic presentation also lends itself to a more dramatic word choice, and it makes sense for the Albanian speaker to choose ``bukor'' instead of ``mire,'' that is ``beautiful'' instead of ``good,'' even in describing the most commonplace items or experiences.
But at the same time that I listen to the pure vowels, the lilting phrases and think of beauty, I can't help opening my eyes and being surrounded by sights more ugly than I could have dreamed.
The people in Albania are worn and tired looking. They wear poorly fitting clothes sent to them by family in America, Italy, and Germany. Hand-me-downs. They have dirt under their fingernails, and their hair cannot easily be cleaned because water runs into people's houses only at certain times of the day, and at certain times of year.
Tirana is tattered.
The rows of apartment buildings, all the same, are like a child's cardboard and paint creation that has been left out in the rain: paint washing away, sides coming apart at the seams. Trash lines the streets and the small, straight Lana Canal. A soda can brought from Greece bobs in the water, and a Turkish candy wrapper skids across the pavement, powered by the wind. Color has been sucked out as if with a syringe. The brown grass is trampled down. A coating of dust mutes the brilliance of now-green shoots popping out of Tirana's few trees.
GIVEN what I see, I wonder how Albanians can speak of beauty at all. The landscape is scrubby. Stiff, silver-leafed olive trees grow in rows like gravestones in a cemetery. The earth is rocky. The seaside near Tirana is industrialized. My eyes are starved.