The starting point of this project was the discovery of my Italian grandfather's WWII
I started asking myself many questions about the unspoken facts around my grandfather's experience in Albania from 1940 to 1944, and the consequences of his forced silence due to the interruption of all communication between Albania and Italy, for more than a year, after the armistice of 1943.
I gathered all the family documents and scanned everythnig I could find.
The most astonishing discovery was the small handwritten notebook, in which my grandfather had diligently listed places, events, and people he met day by day, from September 8 until his way back home, on foot, in 1945.
No one in my family was aware of its existence, and those notes finally shed light on a period about which no information was available because my grandfather had never wanted to talk about it.
During one of the lockdowns I had the time to focus on all the material gathered. I ordered the 120 pictures my grandfather took on the South Albanian front, on the back of which he had written the place and date.
I read all the books I could find on the topic and the period. At first, I wanted to focus on the Love Correspondence between my grandparents, as this is one of the topic of my curatorial research.
I started looking for love songs in Albania, past and present. This is how I landed on a website called Lyrics Translate, looking for the translations of partisans songs written by a woman, Dora Leka. I was surprised by the fact that a women wrote the most popular communist albanian songs of the 40's.
Having digitized my grandfather’s archive, in March 2021 I continue my search through Albanian partisan songs. In the middle of the third wave of the pandemic, from my flat in Paris, I cast a message in a bottle into the Ocean of the Internet. I write a message to the nickname “Gavagai”, a stranger who has translated a huge number of song lyrics from Albanian to English on a kitschy site called “Lyrics Translate”. Against all expectations, he replied at once and we initiated a long conversation that would be continued by e-mail.
“Gavagai”, the person I contacted on the website “Lyrics Translate” is Klodian, an Albanian researcher originally from Gjirokastër, now living in Israël. He helps me finding on the map many of the places that are mentioned on the back of my grandfather’s photos. His grandmother comes from one of the Greek minority villages in the South of Albania, where my grandfather stayed during WWII, and where many of the photographs are taken. He invites me to join him in Gjirokastër in the summer of 2021. We meet and start the road trip to the Dropull area by public transportation.
After our first exchanges in March 2021,during the summer 2021 I meet Klodian in Gjirokaster and we start searching for the places of my grandfather's photos.
We meet in the morning at the bus (furgon) stop in Gjirokaster, and we only have a few hours because the last bus goes back to Gjirokaster around 2 p.m.
The third and last place was Delvinë, not far from Sarandë.
From Sarandë, I need to continue my trip following my grandfather's notes.
From the notebook, on November 28, 1943:“Romsi-Busmati. We work for Muarem Sulo until August 44”.
In this second part of the research, I was looking for Muharrem Sulo, for whom my grandfather had worked in exchange for shelter like many other straggling soldiers fleeing the Germans.
I had not yet managed to find the location corresponding to Muharrem Sulo on the map. The Italian name my grandfather wrote in his notes was "Busmati". The current albanian name, I will discover later, is Buzëmadh. It was not to be found on Google Maps, but I knew that after the capitulation, Italian soldier were captured by Germans in the Mabrova area, on the mountains behind Vlorë. Curator Adela Demetja also hypotized that the other locality on the notes, "Romsi" was the current Rromes.
The furgon from Sarandë to Vlorë I wanted to take, the one that runs along the coast, was full and it was the last one of the day. So I was obliged to go back to Gjirokaster and from there to Levan, before reaching Vlorë. Super annoyed, I had to accept this deviation and I said goodbye to Klodian.
The only stop we do with the furgon from Gjirokaster to Levan is on a café on a roundaobout. I went down to strech the legs. And the street sign was there: Buzëmadh.
I couldn't believe it.
Once in Vlorë, I had to find a translator and driver in just 2 days, as I had just a few days left before going back to Paris. Thanks to curator Elian Stefa, I meet Aulon, with whom we went checking if Buzemadh was the right place. Was it the place where my grandfather hide and worked for Muarrem Sulo? I am grateful I found the perfect companion for what awaited me the day of our visit to Buzëmadh.
Thanks to Gano, I could find Muharrem Sulo's descendants, who invited us for lunch at their property, exactly the place where my grandfatehr used to hide. Right on time!