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Chronicle In Stone

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Each chapter is followed by an alternate chapter, a short "Fragment of a Chronicle" written by the town's official chronicler. The regular chapters are written in the first person, in the voice of a child, an alter ego of the young Kadare. He is fascinated with words, and reads Macbeth, as Kadare himself did when he was eleven. He applies human drama, imagining blood and crime everywhere. In Kadare's home town, ravaged by history, we see characters walking down the street with severed heads under their arms; the Italian fascists hang several young Albanian rebels, the Greek occupants kill "enemies" chosen according to the whims of their spies, and the Germans indulge in the killing of hundred-year-old women.

Chronicle in Stone was published in Albania during the years of Enver Hoxha, who came to power with the Communist Party after World War II, and stayed there until his death in the mid-eighties. In this context, we can speculate on the reasons for the episodic appearance toward the end of the novel of a character described by the Italian garrison commander as "the dangerous Communist Enver Hoxha." Since the dictator, like Kadare himself, came from the city of Gjirokaster (which with its steep hillsides and stone streets resembles the city of the book), this aspect of the protagonist's experience is probably authentic. However, government control of the Albanian publishing industry during the Hoxha regime may have provided an incentive for the dictator's inclusion, beyond narrative necessity.

Another fine novel from Kadare, this one is set in an unnamed Albanian city, which is obviously Gjirokastra, home town to Kadare but also, as we shall see, home town to Enver Hoxha. Much of the story is told through the eyes of the unnamed narrator, a boy at the time of the story and, presumably, Kadare himself. The town is old-fashioned in every sense of the world. It consists of a series of old stone buildings which seem to have been around forever, particularly the ancient citadel. Not only are the buildings old-fashioned but so are the people. Many still believe in witchcraft and strongly fear it. Many of the inhabitants seem old and some seem to have been around well over a hundred years. But everything is changing. The Italians have occupied the city (it is shortly after the Italian invasion of Albania in 1939) and the city is unwittingly caught up in the war. The Italians seem generally anonymous, except for chasing the local girls, till they take over the unnamed plain at the bottom of the town and convert it to an airfield. The result is that the English start bombing the town, causing some damage. The town gets its own anti-aircraft gun and manages to shoot down one of the planes and the left arm of the pilot who is killed becomes a sort of relic.

This repair proved to be a temporary measure. In 1222, one of Vsevolod's sons, Yury, razed the brick cathedral in Suzdal and erected a magnificent new limestone structure dedicated to the Nativity of the Virgin. The exterior was decorated with the ornamental stone carving that is such a distinctive feature of stone churches built in the Vladimir area at the end of the 12th century. The carved ornamentation includes the columns of the arcade band as well as the lions and female masks (implying the sacred image of the Virgin Mary) that decorate the cathedral at its corners and along its facades.

This monumental stone cathedral withstood the sack of Suzdal by the Mongols in 1238, even though the interior was completely pillaged. Suzdal was again subjected to devastating Mongol raids in 1281 and 1293.

Not until 1528-1530 did Moscow's Grand Prince Vasily III undertake a reconstruction of the cathedral as part of his campaign to restore the heritage of the Russian lands under the protection of Moscow. During this reconstruction, the remaining stone walls were uniformly lowered to the level of a "blind" (i.e. solid) arcade at the top of the first floor, while the upper structure and the drums beneath the five cupolas were rebuilt of new brick in the style of large Muscovite churches. Fortunately, much of the original 13th-century limestone carving was preserved

Some of Kadare's thoughts may have passed through mother's mind when she returned to Leningrad. He writes, "A very long time later I came back to the gray immortal city. My feet timidly trod the spine of its stone-paved streets. They bore me up. You recognized me, you stones... . My street... . My old house... . All are gone. But at street corners, where walls join, I thought I could see some familiar lines, like human features, shadows of cheekbones and eyes. They are still there, frozen forever in sto ne, along with the traces left by earthquakes, winters, and human catastrophes."

Last Thursday, with the ink barely dry on that morning's agenda, the ongoing debate over the proposed Central Texas toll road study careened onto the dais. One of the council's first items was approval of an Interlocal Agreement between Austin, Round Rock, surrounding counties, the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority, and the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization – all stakeholders in CAMPO's proposed, toll road-centered, mobility plan (some holding noticeably more stake than others). Raul Alvarez had pulled the item from the consent agenda, while expressing concerns over the direction and independence of the study's steering committee. Brewster McCracken tried to sooth Alvarez concerning the study's delay, arguing that as noncity stakeholders joined what had originally been the city's get-together, the study's scope inevitably expanded. Unsoothed, Alvarez characterized the newcomers as party crashers. "We get two votes on – potentially on – what the study says and does, versus us being the managers … driving the process," he said. "It's great to be working with everyone, but it does raise some questions with me about how independent the study is going to be." Alvarez's doubts were milder versions of the outrage already expressed by toll-road opponents, most notably the Austin Toll Party's Sal Costello.For his part, McCracken said the study and steering committee represent "the best example of [regional] cooperation in Central Texas history" – take that, Envision Central Texas – and that any fears of the study changing direction were unfounded, as its financing makes it "pretty dang near set in stone." The measure passed 6-1, Alvarez the lone wolf. "To a certain degree," he said afterward, "it's out of our hands now."Later on, the council fussed over a yearlong agreement with Waste Management of Texas to haul trash and recyclables from city facilities and Downtown, in an area newly extended to include parts of the Warehouse District. The contract squeaked by on a 4-3 vote, with those voting nay – McCracken, Mayor Pro Tem Danny Thomas, and Lee Leffingwell – citing Waste Management's shabby environmental record at their Northeast dump site. Several speakers reminded council that WM has been fined several times in connection with the site; Robin Schneider of Texas Campaign for the Environment suggested Austin taxpayers would now effectively be underwriting an eventual "$50 million cleanup" of 21,000 toxic sludge barrels buried there. "This company is known as a bad actor," said Schneider, noting that WM has been prohibited from operating in the entire state of Indiana. "We have to be aware of the pattern, not just [at] this landfill, which has been horrendous, but across the county," Schneider said. Ultimately, such protestations weren't enough to sway one more vote, as the otherwise publicly taciturn council let this one hang all out. Betty Dunkerley, noting the contract's renewal in 12 months, called for a long-term waste management (the practice, not the company) plan to address Austin's unuseables.Between the traffic and the trash, during Citizens Communications the council faced more immediately human concerns. Several members of the newly minted Home Depot Corner Committee spoke, with the help of an interpreter. "We want to work, we are honest workers. We need support and help from the city," day laborer Marvin Rodriguez told the council en españól. He reported the committee had conducted an informal door-to-door survey in the St. John's neighborhood (near the I-35 N. Home Depot), and found that 90% of the residents support their request for Home Depot to create a safe environment on their property for day laborers looking for work.An APD representative recounted reports of catcalls to young girls walking across the interstate to an elementary school, along with incidents of laborers blocking nearby roadways. "Sometimes, people have said that we are delinquents or criminals, but that's not true," responded Rodriguez. Health and Human Services Director David Lurie encouraged the use of the city's First Labor site, less than two miles south at 51st and I-35, and said they are considering building another site, possibly in Southeast Austin – though that will be of little use to the controversy unfurling on St. John's. Raul Alvarez said an advisory committee to examine workers' concerns could be established rapidly, once the stakeholders have been determined. Speaking in Spanish to the laborers, he drew their applause.Alvarez garnered applause again that afternoon with the approval of funds and construction contracts for the Mexican American Cultural Center, with Mayor Emeritus Gus Garcia in the house to observe the long-delayed start.But the chambers were eerily quiet when Assistant City Manager Rudy Garza laid out yearlong-dormant proposed changes to Austin's public order ordinances, aimed specifically at the itinerant homeless. As Garza laid out the proposals, which would expand prohibitions on solicitation, and sitting or lying down on the sidewalk – House the Homeless President Richard Troxell and others stood quietly to one side, holding banners and signs demanding a living wage. Will Wynn, acknowledging the ordinances as "sensitive because they deal with people's civil liberties," said they are modeled after proposals elsewhere that have withstood legal challenges. Expect lots of public input today (Thursday, Nov. 27), as the ordinances are slated for public hearing at 6pm (Item 29).Also scheduled for presentation this evening are the city staff recommendations from the African-American Quality of Life Project Implementation Team, who will present their findings from the city survey commissioned in the aftermath of the Midtown Live nightclub fire and the accompanying controversy over the city's treatment of its black citizens. (The presentation is Item 28, also "scheduled" at 6pm, but before the Public Order Ordinances.) Also on the agenda (early, Item 10) is a possible prohibition against parking cars in local front yards – soon to be known as the Softball-for-John-Kelso Ordinance. Finally, on the happy talk agenda, Item 19 is a resolution to approve a re-siting of the Austin Energy Control Center and a downsizing of the Seaholm substation – adding developable space to Austin's own front yard. Can we park our cars there Got something to say The Chronicle welcomes opinion pieces on any topic from the community. Submit yours now at 59ce067264


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