the impression of just playing the part but he was playing it very well. When he discovered I was English he announced grandly, “Then you will be our guest.”
“I” he said with a significant pause, “am... Albanian!” He was the first Albanian I’d ever met. “You’re the first Albanian I’ve ever met,” I said. “Oh, we’re all Albanian round here!” he declared with a flourish. “It’s only the peasants who wear the white cap.”
I had read a lot of books on Yugoslavia, especially Serbia, my favorite Republic. I knew Albanians were the black sheep of the Balkans. They were in Kosmet in great numbers because they had driven the Serbian Christians out. They were the Balkan Christians who had ‘turned Turk.’ But that eve- ning I was to discover if the waiter and the band were anything to go by then Albanians had all the proverbial charm of the black sheep, too.
Outside the gypsy children on Marshal Tito Street had pressed up against the glass, gesturing to their mouths, till the man on the door chased them away and my Albanian waiter drew the thick red curtains. He was bringing out free saucers of the management’s potato chips which he called ‘krips’ and frowning at the men sitting nearby who kept going Psst! at me.
“If you like,” the Turkish drummer suggested tentatively, “you can sit at our table. Here it is not good for a girl to be alone.”
The band had started at seven thirty when the lights went up. They played St. Louis Blues, Beale Street Blues and Sixteen Tons and never once the miserable music that had been following me all round Yugoslavia that summer, the wan selection from The Merry Widow with its tinny, unheeded climaxes on stringy violins, the sort of music that made me wonder why Yugoslavia had had a revolution at all.
When the band stopped they came down to sit with me and ‘make the joke’ as Nada used to call it before her English got almost better than mine. All except the piano player, the oldest, who had been their biology teacher. He stayed up on the bandstand marking a pile of biology books behind the lid of the grand piano. They were all Turks and Albanians; saxophone, electric guitar, trumpet, and the Turkish drummer, fair with freckles. In fact, there was nothing exotic or Balkan about any of them. Two had degrees in physics, one was a vet. We played matchbox football on the table top and told bad jokes. At eight two singers had arrived; one very dark and quiet who spoke a little English and so became bashful and tongue-tied. He sang Granada and Be My Love. The other fair one, (“I am NOT Turk! I am ALBANIAN!”) belted out Beale Street Blues and Let’s Twist Again. He was a boxer, he announced and “The Champion Non-stop Tvister of Belgrade.” When I wrote down the words of Hit the Road, Jack he went off and did it right away as ‘Heathrow Check.’