Jennifer Carpenter
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January 15, 2010 @ 9:12 AM | Permalink

There’s no holding your breath in Krujë. 

You’re too busy gasping for air. 

For Albanians and any Balkan history geek, you’re also too busy gasping in awe. Krujë is the epicenter for Albania’s post-communist national identity, and birthplace of its most famous hero, Gjergj Kastrioti (Skanderbeg). It’s one of Albania’s proudest military sites: it took the Ottomans four attacks and 35 years against Skanderbeg’s unyielding Albanian militia for Krujë to fall to Sultan Mehmed II in 1478.

And it’s not hard to see why. It’s a rugged, ruthless mountain terrain. Wind-beaten evergreens, bent and warped, shadow jagged gray rocks and thick, prickly brush. Cobblestone streets twist and turn among the buildings as if chasing the wind itself – rattling wooden shutters and snapping laundry lines in its path – the way it does, and always has.

Jon, Garrett, Lonni and I made our way through Krujë’s dark, winding alleyways, jumping into antique and craft stores between gusts. I made an effort to dart into all the carpet shops, and crouch down with the industrious women inside. I smiled and chatted as they threaded coarse, thick yarn through giant, rickety looms – and listened to the creaks and cracks from the old wood as it sang with the howling wind outside.

We hurled ourselves up to the Krujë castle, where about 3,000 Albanian soldiers once fortified themselves against the Turks. There, we escaped the swirling chaos outside – at the Skanderbeg and Ethnographic museum – relieved to take in the damp, stale air inside.

Of course, we couldn’t ignore the view. In a moment of collective bravery, we ventured to the citadel’s southern point. We braced ourselves against the rough, stone walls and shuffled, inch by inch, to the corner of the castle. Our eyes and lips went dry and brittle, as our lungs filled with cold, mountain air. We shouted quite desperately at one another – all quite for nothing. I couldn’t hear them, at least.

Huddled close together, cameras out and shaking, we kneeled at the cliff edge and looked out. The wind was rushing eastward, forcing the gray, swirling clouds up against the mountain ridges. And as the afternoon had rolled on, the sun was peaking over the west, and was glossing the horizon in yellow and blue. 

It was the kind of view that makes you feel very small, very caught up in all. And so I just opened my mouth and let the wind breathe for me. 


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