The book Albumi is a unique publication in many respects. It was designed to celebrate Fan Noli through some of his works in the first half of the 20th century. The 2022 reprint that’s being promoted at St. George’s Cathedral in Boston underlines a void that is present in the lives of Albanians everywhere while paying tribute to the power of Noli’s words. Before attempting to talk about it, I will quickly point to two curious clarifications that are worthy of note in terms of both historical context and accuracy.
First, the original publication of 1948 has a dedication that reads: “Kryetrimave që e çliruan Shqipërinë nga fashistët, nga nazistët, nga bejlerët, u dedikohet ky album prej Federatës Vatra” (Albumi by Vatra Federation is dedicated to the valiant men who liberated Albania from the fascists, the Nazis, the landlords/Turkish governors) Whether the dedication was written by Fan Noli or inserted by Vatra to perhaps get the book in Albania and into the hands of Albanians in the immediate years after WWII, it is unclear.
Second, the publication is purported to be “the Album of his Eminence’s 40 years in America”. Yet, historically, in the span of those four decades, Fan Noli resided in America for about 25 years. He was in various different countries in Europe including Albania for a total of roughly one and a half decade. This makes sense considering that in the timeframe of 1906 to 1946 there were two major global events, namely two World Wars.
Those two clarifications aside, the collection of poems, artistic literary creations and adaptations in the book Albumi are but a fraction of his superb body of work and genius mind. One thing is clear: today Albania and Albanians need Fan Noli. Perhaps the 2022 publication of Albumi will serve to awaken the Albanian ideal “ideali shqiptar” as Mitrush Kuteli puts it in the book’s introduction of the 1948 edition, Boston, Massachusetts.
What is also clear is that today is a good day! Noli would have been very pleased with this event. Whether a few miles from here at his final resting place or inside this church in spirit, Noli would be content that the presentation of Albumi brought us here today.
More specifically, he would be pleased that it brought at Saint George’s Church, the Albanian writers, the Library and Vatra. And here is why: He founded the Albanian Orthodox Church as a center of the independence movement and to raise awareness that, contrary to the Greek’s state propaganda, religion does not equal nationality. Noli and other Albanian visionaries also founded Vatra to allow for all Albanians to gather and organize their efforts for a national awakening. Yet, neither the Church nor Vatra would be here, were it not for the most powerful gift he had: the word – and that’s what the members of the Albanian American Writers Society celebrate with the book presentation of Albumi – the power of the word.
It is through words that Fan Noli elevated the Albanian language to heights it didn’t know it could achieve. And Noli was aware of it. To illustrate this point, I will share a story that the Very Reverend Father Arthur Liolin shared with me. It goes back to the time of his youth. While he played organ at church, he would, now and then, catch glimpses of Noli sitting at the throne with his eyes closed seemingly asleep. After noticing this a few times, the young Liolin brought it up to others at Church who were also in agreement that Noli appeared to be sleeping while the music was playing. Someone decided to approach him with that question. “Sleeping?” was Noli’s response. “I am listening to the choir’s singing my own translations.”
Today, I imagine Fan Noli with the eyes closed listening to the music playing here and very likely nodding in admiration of his own words.