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GJIROKASTER (1995) 11111.The ancient city dated back to the first century B.C. Over the centuries it had been occupied by Byzantines, Ottomans, Greeks, Italians, and Germans. But, was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2005 because of the outstanding Ottoman architecture. A lot of the old city needed restoration and was happening. There were over 200 homes in the city preserved as cultural monuments.

But, I didn't visit for the history. An email from Minnesota brought me back to Albania the second time. Taulant, the son of Haxhi and Vita from the bed and breakfast, found my website. He was now 22 and living in the States. He said his parents still thought fondly of me and showed off my drawing in their guestbook to any and all visitors who came to their now expanded bed and breakfast. I decided it was time to go back and make another drawing. I emailed Vita with the approximate dates. She said it didnít matter when I arrived. There would always be a room for me.

MARTIN

It was a long haul on the bus to get to Gjirokaster. I was really, really ready to arrive. But when I was dropped off in the center of old town, it was dark and raining. I wasn't sure where to go. Fortunately, it was a small town and the first man I saw pointed me in the right direction. Haxhi, umbrella in hand, soon found me. Obviously, the first man telephoned him and I was glad to be in a small town. Vita awaited outside at the entrance. After fourteen years and eleven hours of travel, I felt like I had come home.

We sat in their living room and I got the special treatment which included one of those incredible meals that I remembered. The guesthouse had expanded and Haxhi no longer worked as a barber in town. They were written up in several guide books and even went to Spain to accept an international award for their work with the guesthouse. Life had changed for the better. Their guesthouse had changed their lives. Fortunately, some things didnít change in the city of stone. Cobble stone streets were easy to trip over. Stone roof tiles looked impossibly heavy to support. And, the city remained overshadowed by the castle dating back to Pre-Christian times.

Of course, my main reason for coming to Gjirokaster was to see Haxhi and Vita Kotoni. And, topping my to do list was a new drawing for their guest book. They were almost finished with their second book. I said Iíd have to come back a third time to do a drawing in the third one. Vita said that could be next month. She was so very happy with the second drawing that she simply glowed. Vita said that when she finishes her fourth book, about the guest house, she wanted to put my art on the cover. Who woulda thunk that my first book cover could be published in Albania? Time would tell.

MARTIN

Copyright 1995 and 2009 by Phillip Martin All rights reserved.