Tuesday, 20 January 2015 00:00

Good Reads – From the cocktail bars of Italy to the mountains of Albania

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In this week’s edition of Good Reads, E&M's Frances Jackson shares a few online titbits that caught her eye over the last few weeks: prepare yourselves for a whistle-stop tour of current European hotspots, both culinary and cultural.


Frances, Diaphragm / Baby editor





This is not only my first Good Reads of the year, but also my first as a magazine rather than blog editor. I suspect that the festive season is still preying on my mind though, because I am very much in the mood to indulge myself and shall be shamelessly tailoring these picks to my own personal whims and interests. Some readers might recall that I have previously used these pages to argue that Western media outlets suffer from a chronic lack of interest when it comes to Albania. In general I stand by this point, but I was at least pleasantly surprised to see the country getting a couple of mentions in recent days.


The first, which even spent a little while trending on the website of the Independent, was connected to Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama’s decision to arrange three coloured pencils like Le Tricolore in his lapel pocket for the Charlie Hébdo demonstration last Sunday. The author is right to highlight the fact that Rama is himself an artist, yet I do feel that he misses a couple of other important points. Namely that the politician used to live in Paris, and, perhaps even more significantly, is now leader of a European country that – however secular it may be – does have a Muslim majority.


My other discovery was a travel piece about the mallësori, a mountain community in the far reaches of northern Albania. Amongst the sweeping and evocative descriptions of life in the mountains, there are perhaps hints of the strain of orientalism identified by Larry Wolff in Inventing Eastern Europe, but for the most part, I found the author to be fairly even-handed in his judgement. In fact, for me, the main effect of the article was simply to unleash a certain nostalgia for the country that I called home for a few months back in 2013. All I can say is read it, and go there. Seriously. Albania is a wonderful place that does not deserve the oft-unsavoury reputation it has acquired.


mountain Albania
Photo: Simon; Licence: CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Mountain behind the beach, Dhërmi - Albania



As anyone who knows me will tell you, I am never happier than when in the kitchen, think nothing of spending five hours preparing a single meal and secretly quite like reading recipe books in bed. So you can imagine my delight at stumbling across the Guardian’s Foodie Traveller column. There can be few more pleasurable ways of getting to know a country than via one’s stomach and the beauty of it is that even if your bank balance won’t allow too many extravagant jaunts abroad, much of the gastronomical groundwork can be done from the comfort of your own home (provided you’ve got a decent enough spice collection, that is).


Poring over the column, I was particularly taken by a piece on a rather exciting development that’s apparently taking Italy by storm: savoury cocktails. Never having been one for cloyingly sweet drinks of any sort, I think that it sounds like a marvellous idea and can’t wait to see what other culinary trends are set to sweep Europe in 2015.




Last but not least, as a card-carrying Czechophile (well, maybe not quite, but I do have a pass for the Moravian Library in Brno somewhere, if that counts), I was ever so pleased to see the west Bohemian city of Pilsen, or Plzeň as it’s known to locals, included in a list of recommended destinations for 2015.


Although no-one would dream of questioning Pilsen’s impeccable brewing pedigree, this small and gracious city does tend to be overlooked by most foreign visitors in favour of the more familiar splendour of Prague. It is, I feel, an unfair slight, and one that is hopefully soon to become a thing of the past now that Pilsen has just become the one of this year’s European Capitals of Culture (the other is Mons in Belgium, just in case you were wondering). Six months of art, music, theatre and cultural discovery lie ahead and I have no doubt it will strike a blow for diminutive cities everywhere, proving once and for all that bigger is not necessarily better.

Last modified on Tuesday, 10 February 2015 18:43
Frances Jackson

Frances Jackson is a former E&M editor and occasional contributor. Originally from the UK, she now lives in Munich, where she is pursuing a PhD in Czech poetry. Given the chance, Frances would probably spend all of her time in kitchen and is currently cooking her way around the world. She has also been known to dabble in literary translation.

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