The news

-Hmmm. I see a pregnancy here. – Grand-aunt Ramye says, turning my coffee saucer this way and that.
– Where? – I ask peering into the saucer. Grand-auntie points at a big clump of coffee dregs drying at the bottom of the saucer.
– I thought that meant a bad disease – I say – like a tumor. Or maybe HPV.
-Girl, shush your mouth. You should not ask me to read your fortune if you don’t believe in what I see.

I haven’t been a girl for a long time but grand-auntie is right. I did ask her to read my coffee dregs. It is kind of a given when one drinks Turkish coffee. The saucers are usually small and elegant, the coffee is dark, strong and frothy if done right. One has to sip slowly and daintily from the saucer, and swill it around once in a while, so that the grinds do not precipitate too much. Once done, the saucer is swilled a couple more times and turned upside down to dry onto its plate. There is talent in swilling the dregs before the drinker turns the saucer over. If one swills it too much and then drinks the mixture, there may not be enough dregs for the fortune reader to see anything. If one doesn’t swill enough, the grinds precipitate and the dregs might end up forming a big lump into the bottom of the cup. And it might mean that there is a pregnancy, a big misfortune or a tumor looming in the present or future of the drinker. The interpretation is on the reader, of course. And my grand-aunt is the best in the business.

Grand-aunt Ramye is a fixture in my life. She really is my grandfather’s sister, married and widowed at a young age. Her only son immigrated here twenty years ago and married an American woman, which did not make his mom very happy. However, his wife was a sweet soul who did not complain when he brought his mom to live with them. My mother’s second cousin passed away soon after, and his widow found herself caring not only for her son but also for a strange Albanian woman who did not speak a word of English. The two women had nothing in common except the memory of a dead man and the care of a child, but somehow managed to live together and have a great relationship. The American woman learned enough Albanian to communicate at weddings and funerals, and grand-auntie learned enough English to pick up her grandson from school, and terrorize the teachers who dared give him bad grades. She also visits me every week, driven in style by her obedient grandson, and often accompanied by her saintly daughter-in-law. My friends know this, so they drop by at every opportunity, eager to have the authoritative and brash old woman give them a glimpse into their murky futures. The bottom of the coffee saucer carries a lot of hope.

My grand-aunt’s voice shakes me from my reverie. She is still a little flustered:

-If I tell you it’s a pregnancy, a pregnancy it is. And it looks like you’re the one with the full belly.
-Auntie, it cannot be me. How on earth would I get pregnant? – I tell her.
– The normal way. You don’t think I don’t know you spend every Friday and Sunday night out? Your mother tells me everything. And whatever she does not say, the coffee dregs shows me.

I want to kill my mother. She’s never been one for secrets, and her biggest pet peeve and misfortune is that her daughter is in her forties and still unmarried. She has no pictures of grandkids, no gossip about in-laws, no son-in-law to boss around. My mother and my grand-aunt have scrutinized so many coffee dregs that they could probably write text-books on the subject. They’d make a fortune too. My grand-aunt is a fantastic story teller.

-Auntie, it is not happening – I tell her.
– What do you mean, it’s not happening? The women in our family get pregnant even if a man sneezes near them. Your cousin Angela has only one ovary, and she still got pregnant the first time she slept with that bum. Don’t you remember how fat she looked at her wedding?

It is true. The women in my family are very fertile, and this is one of the reasons why I kind of ignored my biological clock and paid attention to other things through my 20ies and 30ies. I wanted to have a career, a life, an exceptional partner and do things the American way, not the whole – fresh off the boat groom – kind of thing. However, nature has different ideas. My periods have been flickering on an off for a few years, my hormones are crazy and my chin hair needs daily plucking or I start looking like a porcupine belly up. I went to the gynecologist two years into the madness they consider hormone imbalance, and he confirmed that I was going through early menopause. I haven’t told anyone, not even my crazy boyfriend. My last period was 6 months ago. Getting old and infertile hurts more than I care to admit.

-It is not true! – I tell her.

– Of course it is. Right here at the bottom. See? – she says and points at it again. I look at the lump underneath her finger and feel like yelling at the old woman. Why is she so smug?

-Auntie, I did the last test two weeks ago – I say. – There is nothing.

-My girl, the coffee does not lie. Didn’t I see your promotion and your free trip to the Islands?

She did find all of that, but only because my mother has a very long tongue. It is useless getting upset over it. Privacy is a foreign word to my family.

-And you have a little belly already. I can see it in you – she says. I want to cry. Not only I am not pregnant, but also I am fat enough to look pregnant.

– My body is getting old prematurely – I tell her, and because of her confused look, I explain further – My “aunts” have almost stopped visiting. My boyfriend and I have not used any protection for years. If anything was to happen, it would have happened already. I went to the doctor, and he told me the same thing.

My grand-aunt does not bat an eyelash to my confession of having a boyfriend, having sex and discussing sexual matters. I guess she has heard it all. An old widow who reads fortune in coffee dregs has probably heard everything under the sun, including sob stories like mine.

-What do these American doctors know? My mother, your great-grandmother, had your grandfather at 41. She had no periods for a year before that – she says.

-Really? – I ask without much interest. My grand-aunt isn’t above embellishing here and there, to ferret out secrets and get information to back up her coffee dregs predictions.

– Yes, really. – she gives me my attitude back – She hated your great-grandfather and would not go near him for the longest time after my birth, but she still managed to get pregnant by him, after she was done with menopause. She was only 1 year older than you.
This is kind of new. According to family legend, my great-grandparents were the envy of their region. He was the richest and she was the prettiest. My grandparents were the only other couple who surpassed their dream status. Grand-aunt Ramye was only a footnote in the family history, even though she was much older than my grandfather.
-They still managed to have two kids. – I point out.
– Well, she was only 12 when her parents married her to your great-grandfather. – my grand-aunt says. Wait, what?
-Those were different times. Your great-grandmother was beautiful but her family was poor. Beauty equaled trouble in those times, so her parents married her to the richest man in the region as soon as they could. They were terrified that some lovelorn shepherd would take her cherry and spoil their precious ticket out of poverty. Your great-grandfather was a 45 year old widow who was taken in by her beauty. To his credit, he let his young and unmarried sister sleep with Mea until she was 16. That was a lot of restrain for a village leader, I tell you. Everyone made fun of him, saying he was too old to catch her. It was embarrassing and definitely true. Your great-grandmother was mischievous and stubborn. She used to hide inside an old travel trunk in the attic, so that he would not find her. Once he learned her secret place, she would run around the house until he got too tired to chase her.
In my mind, I see a curly-haired girl crouching inside an old wooden trunk and keeping quiet, until the old guy goes to his cold marriage bed, cursing under his breath and dragging his cane. Grand-aunt Ramye chuckles to herself and continues, swirling the saucer in her hands.
– The teasing got very bad and your great-grandfather had to hire a couple of men to guard his house, because several young guys tried to steal his wife. That was how poor guys found wives in those times. You either had to have enough money for a dowry, or be strong enough to steal yourself a wife. Nowadays, the girls have to kidnap the guys instead.
Grand-aunt Ramye is right. Sometimes, I do feel like hoisting my on and off sweetheart over one shoulder and depositing him at city hall with a gun to his head as a convincing argument. However, I am not sure he is worth the trouble.
-He finally went and had a talk with her father. Her father talked some sense into the girl, and she went to your great-grandfather’s bed that same night. However, the experience was so bad that she swore she’d never go back to his bed once she was with child. After I was born, she went back to sleeping with her sister-in-law and my father learned to live with the idea that he would never have a son. I think the women had something going on, because they slept together any chance they could. Your great-grandaunt was married but widowed within a year so she came back to live at her brother’s house as tradition mandated. She used to smoke like a chimney and took to wearing men clothes. Between her and my mother, my father never had a chance.
Wait, what again? I can’t believe what my grandaunt is saying, but she soldiers on.
– Anyway, I was married at 18 and shipped off at my husband’s village. Your great-grandmother’s periods were mostly gone by the time she was in her late thirties and she was glad. To her, it meant that she was not a fertile or beautiful woman anymore and men, including her husband, would finally let her be. I know because she would not stop talking about it. Adam, your great-grandfather, gave up on conjugal life as well. Not sure whether he whacked it to death or found some hot young widow to keep warm in the next village over, but he stopped chasing his rebel wife.
Grandaunt Ramye stops for a moment and looks at the saucer in her hands. She smiles for some reason and then goes on with this weird little story. I am not sure what to think about her glee at her parents’ unfortunate married life.
-And then one night, sge had a dream. An old wise man appeared to her and told her to get up and go wash in the stream behind the house, just as she used to do when she was a young bride. And then he told her to go to her husband’s bed because they would create a blessed and miraculous boy. When she woke up, she found herself bloodied and went first to the stream to bathe, then to her husband’s bed. He was startled to see her and could not believe his eyes, but he did not refuse the vision climbing over him. She whispered to him about their future blessing who would live a long and enchanting life. And sure enough, she was pregnant and gave birth to your brat of a grandfather nine months after.
I don’t know what to think. I like this story because it is so improbable. My grandaunt surely knows how to kidnap my fantasy.
-I have to go home – she abruptly says – Where is that no-good grandson of mine?
– But you haven’t finished reading my fortune – I tell her. – All you told me is that I am pregnant.
– You get your muleness from Mea; that’s for sure. – she says. – Your grandmother and your mother are both angels. What else do you need, a picture?
We call my cousin, her grandson, on my cell and he comes to pick up his feisty grandmother. We say our goodbyes at the door.
I haven’t had a period in three months. I walk into my gyn’s office without an appointment the next day. He is not there but his nurse tries to convince me that six months is a very normal delay for women going through menopause. Then she gives me a pregnancy test, just to placate me. I really enjoy the look in her face when she gives me the results. Yes, the nurse says, congratulations, it’s a miracle.

Peas in a pod

There are two peas in a pod. I don’t know which one to pick for under the princess’ mattress tonight. They told me that it has to be a special one, but how do I know which one is special? Both peas are in front of me, peeking from the half-open pod. I pick one up and hold it in my hand. It is so round and green. I try to get a feel for it. Can this pea make itself known under twenty mattresses? Can it bear the pressure? Can it last the whole night through and emerge victorious in the morning?

Maybe I should choose the other one. I look at it, half hidden by the pod’s lips. I suddenly take my eyes away, my cheeks aflame. It looks like a woman’s private parts. I confess, the sight embarrasses me a lot. I did not even know what my private parts looked like until the prince showed me in his mirror. Ah that mirror! Clear, noble, pricey, just like the prince holding it. The other maids had told me about it but I never believed them. Each claimed to have heard about it from one of their friends as none of the maids would admit they had been close enough to the prince to see it. There were a lot of words about the prince and his, um, noble foibles. I never was one for gossip but then the prince noticed me while polishing the library shelves one day and he started asking for me…and well, he showed me his mirror and myself in his mirror among other things. He liked to acquire fine things and then show his treasures off. Like he did with me.

And now, this rain-drenched girl in the castle is going to get everything. If she is who she says she is of course. She is certainly finely made, with thin wrists and ankles, dainty hands and feet, and long blond hair. she could be my twin really. I could have come to the castle looking like something the cat dragged in from the moat and claim I was a princess. Hence the pea under the mattress. One of these round green soft balls here will determine the fate of a whole kingdom. If she is a princess, she will be so finely tuned to the pleasures of a noble life that she will feel something is out of order. Even if it is a little pea under twenty mattresses. Or a little prick under twenty petticoats.

I mentally slap myself. Why have I become so crude? Being forced to view oneself’s most intimate secret should not be a reason to shed all propriety and civility, even with my lowly maid position. I am after all nobility and I should act like it.

I square my shoulders, jut my chin forward, grab the other pea from the pod and purposefully walk to the room where the alleged princess will sleep. I shove it underneath the mattress tower. Actually it is not really a tower. The prince must really like this one for the mattresses are only a little thicker than blankets. Oh well, good luck to them both. I think. I wonder if the prince will show her her own secrets on his clear mirror as well. I wonder if they will be the same as mine.

I take the pod with the single pea in it and I put it on the dresser in prince’s room. I am sure he will not get it, but it is a strangely satisfying and soothing gesture.

And then I go about my daily duties.

Albanian Film Festival In New York and Boston

All good things come to an end, including this festival. I was part of the volunteer crew that helped with putting it together, marketing, finding funds, networking and putting out little Albanian fires. I am grateful for the opportunity, proud to participate and totally exhausted in a good way.
In its third edition, the Albanian Film Festival once again charmed foreigners with discerning taste, made new Albophiles and brought a piece of home to us, the fast living Albanian immigrants here in New York. I was lucky to meet many talented actors and directors, catch up with a few friends and otherwise be a part of a good thing that brought pleasure to the lives of its participants.
People came in and brought their kids. They filled the seats, took pictures with the cast and crew, hung around with each-other and had a window into an art form they usually don’t pay attention to at all. I was grateful to see them pouring into halls and representing. (Yes i am all gushy today)
The films were something we don’t see every day. I am sorry for the ones who did not get selected (better luck next year), and the ones who did not participate (another missed opportunity) and I am happy for my friend Roland Uruci who won a financing for his next film with the best script in competition. I know he’s going to do great things with the money because I know first hand of his dedication, talent and inspiring ways. Look him up and come to the screenings in NYC for the next film festival and you’ll see what I am talking about.
I am happy there were comedies this year. I love it that Albanians finally dared to make people laugh on screen, without feeling the need to be depressed, interesting or subversive. I hope it continues.
The Festival will continue in Boston for two nights so drop in and support, while feeling a little more proud of the talent touching your lives.
Enjoy your popcorn!

New and Exciting…Albanian Film Festival is coming in New York!

Festivali i Filmit Shqiptar në Nju Jork njoftoi se ka nisur përzgjedhjet për dy çmime të paprecedentë, për të cilat mund të konkurrojë kushdo. Si në asnjë festival tjetër filmi shqiptar, organizatorët e Albanian Film Festival (AFF) me bazë në Nju Jork të SHBA-së i kanë shtuar listës së çmimeve tradicionale dy kategori për të cilat mund të konkurrohet pa pasur nevojë të kesh realizuar një film.

Bëhet fjalë për konkursin për Skenarin më të Mirë shkruar për film me metrazh të shkurtër, fituesi i të cilit do të sigurojë nga Festivali financim për realizimin e filmit, deri në 20 mijë dollarë. Në konkursin tjetër të veçantë mund të merret pjesë duke realizuar një video amatore deri në 30 sekonda ku të interpretohet një skenë e famshme nga filma shqiptarë në vite. Videot e përzgjedhura do të qarkullojnë në mediat sociale të Albanian Film Festival dhe ajo që do të pëlqehet më shumë do të shpallet fituese e dy ftesave VIP për në Festival ose e një iPad-i.

Themeluesi dhe drejtori artistik i Albanian Film Festival, Ariot Myrtaj, tha në një deklaratë se AFF mirëpret konkurrues nga të gjitha trevat shqiptare dhe kudo në botë.

“Misioni i Festivalit të Filmit Shqiptar këtu në Nju Jork është të promovojë trashëgiminë dhe kulturën shqiptare tek publiku amerikan e më gjerë. Ne jemi entuziastë të përfshijmë talente të reja në botën e kinematografisë panshqiptare,” tha ai.

Sa i përket procedurës së konkurrimit, AFF shpjegon se skenarët duhet të jenë të përkthyer dhe në anglisht dhe duhet t’i dërgohen Festivalit brenda datës 15 shtator duke u ngarkuar në hapësirën përkatëse të faqes së internetitalbanianfilmfest. Krijuesit e videove me skena nga filmat shqiptarë mund t’i dërgojnë Fesivalit videot e tyre me anë të emailit, nëinfo@albanianfilmfest.com, si dhe në mediat sociale kryesore duke përdorur #myAFFmovie.

Ariot Myrtaj tha për mediat se shpreson që këto dy nisma të veçanta të Festivalit të mund të afrojnë më tepër njerëzit, dhe sidomos të rinjtë, ndaj madhështisë së botës shqiptare të shprehur nëpërmjet kinematografisë.

“Ne synojmë – shtoi ai – që të inkurajojmë krijimtarinë e të gjithë atyre që mendojnë se kanë diçka për t’i ofruar kinemasë me identitet shqiptar, qoftë edhe kur nuk kanë mundësi financiare. Albanian Film Festival, me rastin e 100-vjetorit të shpalljes së Pavarësisë në vitin 2012, shfaqi 100 filma në Nju Jork dhe ndërsa ai numër është ulur për të na lejuar të përqëndrohemi më shumë tek konkurrimi, përkushtimi ynë ndaj promovimit të artit shqiptar nuk ka ndryshuar.”

Festivali i Filmit Shqiptar në Nju Jork do të zhvillohet në SVA Theaters në Manhattan nga data 2 deri më 9 tetor 2014. Më pas Albanian Film Festival 2014 do të udhëtojë në Boston, më 11-12 tetor. Festivali AFF organizohet nga Albanian Artists Association me bazë në Nju Jork. Informacione të mëtejshme mund të gjehen në faqen e internetit albanianfilmfest.com.

Matan Lumit (Beyond the River) Screening in New York

Recently, I was lucky enough to screen “Matan Lumit” a 20 minute short by Sabir Kanaqi. Sabir himself, is a timid and slightly off-center individual who listens very intently and is not very aware of his own talent. I enjoyed the film very much, even with its slight issues and I am happy the people of New York will have a chance to screen it at the Producers Club Saturday night at 8.00PM.
I wrote about it here because of the numerous complaints that the New York Albos don’t offer any quality events. Here is one, so you have no excuse. Show up people!
Matan Lumit screening
Saturday 7/26 at 8:00PM and 8.45PM
Producers Club theatres
358 W. 44th Street (off 9th Ave)
New York, NY

I’ll take Negativity for $500

I am often told that I have low self-esteem. Possibly. However, I fail to see how this is a damaging trait in this day and age. I believe that boasting and an overblown image of self is fare more damaging and makes one a horrendous person to be around.
Saying that someone else is prettier than me, does not make me underestimate myself. It does not automatically give the other person talent, wisdom and wealth above mine. It does not say that I have no admirers or that I hate the way I look. It just says that that person has more pleasing facial features or a higher charm level.
Saying that I am overweight, does not make me disparage myself either. Thanks to Pittbull and his positive message in modern music: “My girl got a big old booty, oh yeah, your girl got a little old booty, oh no!”, I also recognise the fact that there are men out there whose anaconda likes buns, hon, and that some of those men have either found or will find their way to me.
Furthermore, even if media and general opinion have shifted their attitude towards unattached women “of a certain age” from innattention to pity, I like where I am in life and what my jiggly thighs look like. And I also like to wallow in my misery, scowl at other people who are having a better day, and leave my hair uncombed for a whole weekend, without having to please every one. or shout a few self-criticizing statements without being shut down by my well-meaning friends.
Said all that, I still don’t see the point in waking up every morning and lying to myself about how it is a great day. Sometimes, the day is shit. And some days I want to feel like it is. I would like to get out the tension and anger in me, instead of bottling it up in a parfumed container and pretending everything is ok in the universe.
Inner peace is not the domain of people who have huge self-esteem and who see themselves as the kings of the universe. Rather, people who know where they fit, what they are worth, how they rate in the beauty scale, can reconcile everything around them and wake up with a serene smile in the morning. And if they don’t rate as highly as they would like in their own eyes, they choose what to do with their information. Making one feel as if he/she can fly, does not save him/her from splattering to the ground. Gravity gets us all in the end.