The Weekender, November 17, 2017
1) “In the Land of Vendettas That Go On Forever” (VQR, 32 minutes, Fall 2017). The sub-head: “In Northern Albania, vengeance is as likely a form of restitution as anything the criminal-justice system can offer.”
One of the first things I learned in Albania is that when a stranger pours rakia—a sweet brandy typically distilled from grapes or sugar plums and served cold in a short, sweating glass—you drink it, promptly and with vigor, regardless of whether you are already swallowing back a hot snake of vomit, or if it is barely nine o’clock on a Tuesday morning, or if it was poured from an unmarked plastic water bottle stored under the sink amid graying jugs of bleach, or, especially, if the person who has offered it is simultaneously recounting how, a few years back, he got angry and shot a man. Such is the custom here: You honor your host’s hospitality. You honor everything.
I had flown to the Balkans in late July 2017 to learn about blood feuds, or the ancient oaths of vendetta sworn between warring families and passed on from one generation to the next. The killing is concentrated in northern Albania—in the rural, often unreachable villages of the Accursed Mountains, and in the modern city of Shkodër, one of the oldest municipalities in southeastern Europe. Here, justice works like this: When a man is murdered, his family avenges his death by similarly executing either the killer himself or a male member of his clan. Sometimes, after a killing has been successfully vindicated, the feud is settled. Other times, the head of the family that initiated the feud, while admitting both sides are now ostensibly “equal,” nonetheless chooses to perpetuate the cycle by killing a second male from the avenging family. “In this way the feud might rage backwards and forwards for years or even generations, each family being in turn murderer and victim, hunter and hunted,” the Scottish anthropologist and ethnographer Margaret Hasluck writes in The Unwritten Law of Albania, one of the first accounts of the customary law of the Albanian highlands.
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3) The Now I Know Week in Review:
Monday: The Great Norwegian Butter Crisis of 2011. It’s over, but as some readers told me, Paris is not so lucky.
Tuesday: The Spam That Saved Lives. The lesser of two evils does some accidental good.
Wednesday: When the Government Outlawed Love. Love is a key ingredient to many things. According to the FDA, granola is not one of them.
Thursday: A Blue-Blooded Solution: How we milk horseshoe crab blood for our own benefit.
4) “What Did 17th Century Food Taste Like?” (Res Obscura, 7 minutes, November 2017.) This is a deep, well-reasoned approach to answering a seemingly simple but likely difficult question.
5) “Meet the Teenagers Who Started a Film Production Studio in Their Refugee Camp” (Narratively, 7 minutes plus videos, November 2017).
The young boy cradles his head, emitting a low moan as blood drips through his fingers and soaks the soil beneath him. His friend, wearing a bright yellow “Pediatric Dental Group of Colorado” t-shirt, uneasily makes his way through the shrub to examine the injury he has caused. Upon seeing the blood, he gasps theatrically and stumbles backwards. Frightened, he tucks a slingshot into his trousers and runs away.
Throwing his arms in the air in exasperation, a lanky 20-year-old yells out, and everything stops. Fidele is directing this film, and he isn’t happy. He wants more emotion from his cast, more feeling.
Regan, the 12-year-old boy with the bleeding head, gets up from the floor and wipes some of the sticky red liquid from his cheek, a smile spreading across his face. The kid in the yellow t-shirt, Pasyan, 11, saunters back into the shade beneath the trees. They watch as Fidele re-enacts the scene, crouching down, holding his head, moaning dramatically, showing them how it’s done. The boys nod, concentrating intently on their director’s instructions.
All of the kids in the film’s cast and crew live in a remote refugee camp in Northern Kenya. They are waiting, along with 185,000 others, to be resettled in the U.S., Australia, Canada or Europe, or for peace and security to return to their respective counties so that they can go home.
6) “All 59 fast-food restaurants I can remember eating at, ranked” (USA Today, November 2017). I haven’t heard of at least a dozen of these places and haven’t visited the vast majority of them. It’s a truly enjoyable read, but I am going to add a funny/stupid-me story to it: A few years back, I was in Amsterdam on a business trip. The whole trip lasted about 36 hours (excluding travel) and I had the opportunity to eat exactly one meal in the city of my own. I found a falafel place called Maoz which I had never heard of before and assumed it was a local restaurant. It isn’t. When I got back to New York the next day, a co-worker — coincidentally — ordered lunch from a Maoz. There’s one not six blocks from my office. Oops.
Have a great weekend!