COLUMNS

Was Bush lost? Does that explain Albania?

BARBARA AMIEL June 25 2007
COLUMNS

Was Bush lost? Does that explain Albania?

BARBARA AMIEL June 25 2007

Was Bush lost? Does that explain Albania?

COLUMNS

BARBARA AMIEL

‘Send it back,’ she said. ‘Can’t,’ I replied. ‘The tabloids will accuse me of only eating cake.’

I'm trying to understand last Sunday’s visit by President Bush to Albania. Albanian Prime Minister Sali Berisha welcomed him as the “greatest and most distinguished guest we have ever had in all times.” Surely the only distinguished head of state—in an ex officio sense—Albania has ever had? Perhaps one of North Korea’s Kim family regime dropped by once, although I can’t see the luxury-loving Kims staying overnight in Tirana, at least not before 2003 when the five-star Sheraton hotel was built. As Stalin cattily pointed out when informed that the United Nations would have a General Assembly with a single vote per country: “The U.S.S.R. has not endured 20 million dead and fought through this terrible war to have a voice in the councils of the world equal to the Albanians.”

Albania’s history is complicated, as is everything in the Balkans, but essentially its primitive nature was left undisturbed by the Ottoman Empire. For a time the nation had a chance under the reforms of King Zog, but in 1944 the dark shadow of Stalinist dictator Enver Hoxha fell and never lifted until the early nineties. Albania is said to be terrific value for tourists, and rich Europeans have been buying up its coastline like mad. Still, one of the five Guantánamo Bay detainees who were released and flown to Albania told the New York Times they were not angry about their four-year detention in Cuba but are utterly desperate about their one year in Albania.

Why President Bush would linger even for seven hours is baffling. If it was to announce U.S. support for an independent Kosovo, which he did to rapturous applause in Tirana, it only reinforces the farcical nature of the Kosovo adventure. We, or rather NATO, bombed Serbia to stop ethnic cleansing of Albanians in Kosovo, and then stood by while Kosovo’s Albanians ethnically cleansed the Serbs. Choosing your favourite ethnic

cleanser strikes me as even more immoral than the activity itself.

Possibly Mr. Bush was uncertain of where he was. Europe is full of little crannies that can unravel even experienced travellers. San Marino, for example, has always puzzled me. I know it’s in Europe and is the world’s oldest republic, but I have never actually found it. This could be because it is one-tenth the size of New York City, with a population of around 30,000, and has fulfilled Stalin’s worst fears by becoming a member of the UN. It has a dynamic growth rate, which may have something to do with the fact that heads of state plus cabinet amounts to a dozen people. This is achieved by doubling up jobs as with Signor Paride Andreoli, who is secretary of tourism, telecommunications, transportation, economic co-operation and sports. One visualizes a lean, toned Andreoli donning

Nikes, grabbing a cellphone and whizzing off to christen a local train.

On June 22 we mark 100 days of this Chicago trial, which goes to the jury in under two weeks. While everyone around me is increasingly confident of the outcome, I am reliving Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Pit and the Pendulum,” a story that has given me nightmares since childhood. The blade swings lower and lower over the bound body, the red-hot walls of the cell move in closer to squash the victim, and the only escape is the unknown horror in the rat-filled pit. That pretty much sums up waiting for a verdict. I take my comfort from the Latin quatrain Poe composed to preface the story (referring to both the Spanish Inquisition and the French Revolution’s terror): “Impia tortorium...” begin the four lines, which translate roughly as “Here an unholy mob of torturers, with an unquenchable thirst for innocent blood, once fed their long frenzy. Our homeland is safe now, the baneful pit destroyed and what was once a place of savage death

is now a place of life and health.” Amen.

Paris Hilton is in her own pit of horrors, one of the Plexiglas-doored cells in the Twin Towers jail in Los Angeles—the same cells once inhabited by Whitewater holdout Susan McDougal, who called her time there the worst of the seven jails she was in. Hilton’s saga raises again the issue of a justice system that seems to live in perpetual fear of appearing to give privilege to the well-known defendant. This means that the famous and rich (as well as the poor whom we almost never hear about but haven’t a chance against prosecutors and have to plea bargain) are often treated unfairly. When I write about the Duke rape case, a Martha Stewart, Michael Jackson or Paris Hilton, some think I am really writing about my husband’s trial, which I am not. I’ve been writing about the law for over 30 years, first tackled Martha Stewart long before

my husband’s indictment, and would have written about Michael and Paris had this mess never occurred. But in view of this perception, I’m forced to go easy on such topics until this trial is over.

Actually, it is not only one’s typing hands that are half-tied. I realized this after being served a stale dessert at a London restaurant. “Send that back,” said my girlfriend. “Can’t,” I replied. “The tabloids will accuse me of only eating cake.” If the grocery shopping is short an item or you’re jumped in a queue, the wise response is to keep quiet. I’ve accumulated all sorts of helpful behavioural hints (more honoured in the breach) for situations like my own, including the key role of dry shampoo. You will scratch and pull out your hair at various times and then be far too enervated to wash it. My favorite brand, René Furterer’s Naturia, can keep morale and a hairdo going for several weeks. Which, God willing, should take me to the end of this phase of our lives. M

barbara.amiela macleans.rogers.com