Naples:life,death &
                Miracle contact: Jeff Matthews

 entry Sept 2015   Allegro ma non troppo #15  (original pub. date, Lion Magazine, June 1995)

Grab Your Coat and Get Your Hat,
Leave Your Worries on the Doorstep,
You Can Go Insania
On the Sunny Slopes of Albania

The ‘it’ in getting away from it all means different things to different people. If you’re just a bit frayed around the edges and maybe need a little less work and stress at the office, then  skip this altogether —you’re fine. I’m looking for people who are full-blown fed up with their puny and meaningless little lives! —people who want power and wealth beyond their wildest dreams! —rugged individuals who want to bring their innermost rapacious and swashbuckling robber-baron fantasies to life! Well, I’m not the one looking for them, really; it’s a fellow named Gerhard Kurtz, and when Gerhard gets finished with you, you’ll be so far away from ‘it’ all, you won’t even remember how to spell ‘it’.

A while ago, Gerhard ran an ad in the International Herald Tribune  titled “Getting Rich in Albania”. It started: “The once isolated country of Albania is now free and democratic. For men of action this provides an opportunity to get rich …in a country which lacks just about everything. In the process you can enjoy the pleasures of Europe’s last and most unknown paradise…”

Forget Gerhard’s grammar for a moment (“…most unknown…”). The main point of this full-page ad is that Albania is so poor you can live like a king on US$35 a month! Indeed, you can lead a “feudal lifestyle” —that means land and servants— (“surrounded by undemanding domestic helpers”). Also, you will pay no taxes. Then you can become an Albanian citizen and cash in on the benefits, one of which is that you can be an ambassador by just putting up the money to open an embassy. If all that isn’t enough, you’ll be able buy a “restored noble title”! Another major selling point is that Albanians are very friendly (“Mother Teresa was Albanian”). To sum it up, Gerhard assures us that in Albania everyone now has complete freedom in an atmosphere of newly reprivatized boom-town benevolence. And for only $60 he will send you his book on how you can finally and definitively get what’s coming to you. You can get yours.

I am tempted. First: Can I scrape together the $35? OK, I’ll wash a few more windshields. Wait. What if my nation doesn’t recognize Albania! I go to the library and look it up. No problem: “Albania is approximately 5’ 10” tall, swarthy and shaped like a vegetable.” Hold on. Maybe the myopic narrow-minded people in my own government don’t want to appoint me ambassador. I do a little more research. I can become Ambassador Without Portfolio, which works out fine, since there are almost no portfolios in Albania, anyway. That’s almost the whole ball of wax, right there (or whatever passes for wax in Albania). My ship has come in. Stop. I check to make sure that there is a port in Albania with docking facilities for my ship. Yes. And, as it turns out, the entire harbor is just a metaphor, too, so it’s better than I thought. I’m on a roll, and pass the butter, please!

Now I start pandering to my feudal fantasies, big time. I see myself unrolling that wad of one-dollar bills. Thirty-five big ones. The ooh’s and aah’s of the admiring peasant hordes sweep over me, and “undemanding domestic servants” hoist me to the sedan-chair which they have acquired just for the occasion (by removing the passenger-side front seat of the one sedan in Albania) and parade me in triumph over to my inauguration as Restored Duke and hand me my passport. I start worrying about my title. If I am ambassador and duke at the same time, what do people call me? What is the proper genuflection before my Highness? Mother Teresa wanders into my daydream, smiles at me and tells me not to sweat the small stuff. I am amazed at how well I understand Albanian. That language is called "Shqip" in the Albanian language, itself. Albania, is called "Shqipëria," which is probably what has deterred large-scale movements of foreigners into that nation in the past.

Wait. That flash of Mother Teresa unleashes a pang. I think of the Book of Isaiah: “They shall beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning forks; nation shall not lift up a sword against a nation, neither shall they learn war any more.” My conscience twinges at my lack of compassion. I make an e-coli bacterium look like Buddha. I think of the remark in the ad that “Albania lacks almost everything” and ask myself, "What can I do?" It comes to me. I’ll set aside some of my $35 to import swords and spears into Albania and then set my serfs to beating them into ploughshares and pruning forks. I then recall singing that passage in a church choir when I was in school and changing it to “tuning forks” instead of “pruning forks”. I start to giggle and wonder if Albanians have my droll sense of humor. I make a note to myself to brush up on sheep jokes.

I turn on the television and see that thousands of Albanians are practically swimming the Adriatic to get anywhere else. I ask myself why we don’t just give each one of them $35 dollars and let them return home to live in style? (I am, indeed, a simple klutz with simple-minded solutions.) Then, I remember the ad again. Gerhard has written a couple of books with titles such as: 225 Tax Havens, How to Get Rich, etc. I suspect that his advice on getting rich runs something like this: “For a few bucks, run an ad like this one. Then, tell the suckers who send you their money to run an ad like this one, promising advice on how to get rich.”

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