The Frog and the Harmonica: A Happy Ending

By sunrise early next morning the princesses, the young man whose name was Rolf, the two knights, and the nature guide were ready to go back to town.

“Princesses, I will drive you back in my horse cart,” suggested Rolf. “I realize it’s nothing compared to the luxurious carriages you are used to riding in, but it’s faster than walking.”

“Time is of the essence,” said Marianne as she and Elsa jumped on the wooden seat up front. Rolf had packed the musical frog in a cage which he gave to Marianne to hold. He was green, slightly bigger and prettier than a regular frog. Rolf also had packed his guitar which he threw in the back and the harmonica he kept in his pocket.

The two knights and the guide jumped in the wagon bed which was used for country labor. “Giddy up!” Rolf shouted, whipping the horse, and they began their ride around the forest. The princesses could not wait to get back home to save their dear sister!

When they arrived at the castle, the guards who recognized them, opened the wooden gates and let them in the courtyard. Rushing to the castle, Marianne and Elsa knocked on the large doors with great excitement.

“Daddy let us in!” They shouted impatiently. The large doors were opened by a servant and the princesses found their father in the hallway.

“What is it my daughters” asked the king. “What is it that has got you excited so?”

“Daddy we have great news!” Marianne spoke, catching her breath.

“We have found the frog that can cure Anja,” said Elsa.

“This is wonderful news!” rejoiced the king. “And who is this nice young man behind you?”

“This is Rolf,” answered Elsa, “the frog belongs to him.”

“I bowed to your royal highness,” said Rolf.

“We haven’t much time to lose daddy,” said Marianne, “let’s go up to Anja’s room.”

“She has missed you very much.”

The princesses jumped up the stairs up two a time. Rolf who was carrying the frog in the cage and his guitar strapped on his back ran behind them.

They opened the door of the bedroom and entered. They found their sick sister laying down with eyes half open, seeming as if she was neither awake nor quite asleep.

“Dear Anja, how do you feel?” asked Marianne.

“Anja, wake up,” pleaded Elsa.

Anja did not have the power to speak but preferred to stay quiet. “This is Rolf,” said Marianne, “He has a great song that he would like to play for you with his pet the musical frog.”

Anja and Rolf locked eyes something strange happened. They were both struck by love! “This secret they kept to themselves. Meanwhile Rolf took the guitar and held it up to play. The frog leaped onto his shoulder and he handed it the harmonica. Unlike all those ordinary frogs, the frog knew exactly how to hold it. He took his little green arms and moved it, playing a few notes expertly. Then the Rolf and the frog the started to play a song. Oh, how beautiful it was to hear, especially to Anja! Rolf sang words that came there and then to him out of his heart:

Dear princess Anja

Sweet princess Anja,

Most caring, and most kind,

We pray for you to heal


Dear princess Anja

Sweet princess Anja,

Your father, Your sister, your people,

We all love you, dear Anja

Dear princess Anja

Sweet princess Anja,

So pretty, so good and so kind,

We all need you in our life!

Upon hearing this tune of guitar, harmonica and Rolf’s beautiful singing, a miracle happened. Anja’s strength returned. Her spirits lifted and her incurable illness melted away! It was as if the evil spell had been broken and she was healthy once again. She sat up in bed, with a smile on her lips, and spirit in her eyes.

As the frog continued to play a harmonious tune, Rolf bent on his knee, put his guitar aside, and took her by the hand.

“Dear Anja, my name is Rolf,” declared he, “I am but a humble young man but I love you and always will for as long as I live. Will you make me the luckiest man on earth and say that you will marry me?”

“Rolf, I love you too” said Anja with heart, “You are my knight in shining armor.” and they kissed, married and lived happily ever after.

The Frog and the Harmonica: Part IV

The Sisters’ Search

The king gave permission and his blessing to Marianne and Elsa to go into the forest to find the frog that could cure their sister. Anja’s two oldest sisters believed in themselves. They believed in their love for their sister. These facts alone counted.  If they could not do it, no one could.

     They entered the fancy horse drawn carriage and sat in the back. Behind them rode the two knights in shining armor on their horses. The carriage driver sat out front, as well as the nature guide, a meek young man. No one could tell the carriage was carrying the princesses. This was a secret mission. Though the princesses were beloved they did not want anyone to know where they were going, or what they were doing. For it is not the job of a Princess to go deep into the forest in search of a mysterious frog. Moreover, everyone who heard would have wanted to come along and help. Though well intentioned, this mass of people surely would prevent them from finding the frog. Something told them the frog could only be found by them… 

When the carriage arrived at the edge of the forest the princesses jumped out. The knights tied their horses to nearby trees. The nature guide jumped off his seat, but if anything he seemed like a distraction.

     As the carriage rode off, the sisters were ready to begin their search.

     “Which direction, Marianne?” asked Elsa.

     “Oh, I don’t know where to begin. The forest is so large. It seems like one could really get lost in here.”

     “Would you like to begin at the stream where the soldiers searched?” asked the guide. 

     “Well, I suppose that would be a good place to start,” replied Marianne. “There are plenty of frogs in the stream,” and so the sisters took off down a footpath that led them there. In front of them walked the guide while behind them walked the knights with hands on their arms ready to guard against any and all things.

     When they arrived at the stream Marianne and Elsa put her hands in the flowing water and each grabbed a frog. There were so many of them jumping and leaping, it was easy to catch one.

     “These frogs seem rather ordinary,” said Marianne examining hers.

     “Far too ordinary,” agreed Elsa, “my frog doesn’t seem that gifted at all. All he is good for, is for croaking.”

     “Would you like me to bring more frogs?” asked the guide.

     “No, not any more of this kind,” said Marianne, “besides, our father’s army dredged every single frog out and they found no talent here. I think we need to go deeper into the forest.”

     They walked deeper in and found a small pond. Marianne and Elsa put their hands in the water and grabbed two frogs. They examined them as they had examined the frogs from the stream.

“This is strange,” said Marianne, “these frogs all seem rather ordinary, in fact they seem just as ordinary as the frogs from the stream.”

“I agree,” said Elsa, “I do not see a single difference among these frogs from those frogs. All they are good for is for croaking. Something tells me they cannot play a harmonica. They could not even hold it let alone play it.”

“There’s another small stream down that way.” said the guide pointing. “Shall I take you there?”

“No, no,” replied Marianne, “that won’t be necessary. We have already searched a stream and a small pond. Something tells me that if we keep doing the same old thing, we shall only have the same old outcome and never find the frog. In order to find the frog, I believe we need to go do some exploring.”

“What do you mean Marianne?” asked Elsa.

“We need to go off the beaten path. Let’s just go walk down the woods and wander.”

“There could be dangers, your Highness,” said a knight.

“Our sister’s life hangs in the balance. Danger does not scare us! I think we have to keep going further into the forest,” repeated Marianne with determination.

The party started walking among shrubs and fallen leaves for now there was no footpath. Soon enough they saw something move among the trees. They stopped and one of the knights quickly took out his bow and arrow.

“Hold it!” shouted the other knight. “It’s just a wild boar. He’s perfectly harmless and nothing to be afraid of.” The boar ate some grass, grunted, turned his head and ran away. They walked deeper into the woods. Now the vegetation was very lush. They felt so very far away from the town. Ahead of them they saw more movement among the trees. It was a wolf! He saw them. He looked vicious and struck fear into the heart. Both knights took out their bows and shot an arrow straight through his heart. He fell dead on the spot.

“I am sorry that we had to do that,” said a knight, “but he was quite dangerous.”

“No, thank you for protecting us,” replied Marianne and Elsa.

The guide meanwhile was scared to death and he had turned back ten yards.  He urged them to go back, but nobody listened to him. Forward they had to go, forward to uncharted territory, for the love of their dear sick sister.

A cabin

After hours of walking, they came to what seemed to be the end of the woods. The trees thinned out and more light came in from the outside world. It was now evening. They had reached the other side! Beyond the trees they could see what seemed to be a small mountain. There was no town here. There was only a small path for horse carts. Beyond it stood a sole cabin. It was made of light-colored wood. It was small, with a high-pitched roof and was very cute. To the side of the cabin there was a small garden. It was neatly tended with all sorts of vegetables from tomatoes to green peppers, to lettuce.

“Wow I can’t believe this!” remarked Marianne. “I have never been here my whole life.”

“Neither have I,” said Elsa.

“I can’t believe somebody lives here. Knights, is this part of our Kingdom?”

“Yes, your Highness, but nobody ever comes here. I’ve never been here”

“I wonder who lives in that cottage…,” said Marianne. “let us go up to it and knock on the door.”

“No, let’s not!” said the guide, who was still scared.

“Why not?” asked Elsa.

“He could be dangerous.”

“Oh, please!” said she “Besides, we have two armored knights. Nothing could happen to us.”

The five of them opened the door of the white picket fence and walked through the front yard. When Marianne knocked no one opened. They thought whoever lived there was out. However, upon the second try, the door was opened, and their eyes beheld a very handsome young man. He was tall with flowing locks and a kind face.

“Hi, folks, may I help you?” asked he with enthusiasm.

“Folks? Don’t you know who we are?” asked Marianne.

He looked closely at the two maidens. “By Golly, I don’t. I don’t get a lot of visitors here where I live.”

“We are the king’s daughters.”

“Princess Marianne and Prince Elsa?” said he, examining their faces, “Oh my God, I can’t believe it!” said he and he bowed reverently. “What brings you two out by my neck of the woods?”

“You don’t know what is going on in the kingdom?” asked Marianne.

“By Golly, I don’t”

“How could you not know? Every person knows. Every animal knows. Every bee knows.”

“I’m truly sorry,” said he, “but I don’t know. The truth is I haven’t been to town in months. As you can see I lead a very humble life. All I have is this cabin which I built with my father before he passed away. I live on the very vegetables I grow in my own garden and on the fish I catch out in the stream.”

“OK, maybe you don’t know!” Elsa snapped, “but the truth is our family has a very big problem.”

“What is dear Princess?”

“Our sister Anja is very sick,” said Marianne.

“Oh, no, not Anja! She is so kind, so loving, and so pretty.”

“Yes, but now she is at death’s door. That is what brings us to your neck of the woods. Rumor has it that there exists a musical frog who can play the harmonica and when he does, he can cure illness. We are in desperate need to find him.”

“Worry not, dear princesses! The frog lives with me.”

“He does?” the princesses asked, surprised.

“Yes, the frog is my pet and we play music together all the time. I play the guitar and he plays the harmonica.”

“Is it true that he can cure the sick?”

“Yes, people come ask for his magic all the time, and we visit them and heal their illnesses through the power of music.”

“Well, why didn’t you say so?” said Elsa.

“It’s kind of a secret. If everybody knew, someone would steal him from me.”

“Well, we haven’t time to lose. We had better get going,” said Marianne.

“It’s too dark out now. Night has fallen. You must be exhausted. Why don’t you all sleep here tonight,” said the young man. “It’s a small cabin but nice and neat. I can offer you food and drink and a modest bed to sleep in. And we’ll leave by sunrise early in the morning.”

The princesses agreed and the party settled on spending the night in the young man’s cabin.

to be continued…

The Frog and the Harmonica: Part III

A funny audition

By dawn, next morning, the king had given orders that a great audition is to take place. They even brought in the kingdom’s best pianists, violinists, and singers to check which frog had the most talent. When all the frogs had been organized, they took them in turns of ten, to one big room. There stood ten soldiers, and one general.

     “Soldiers stand up straight! Form a single file line! Hold your frog in front in your left hand!” shouted the general.

     In front of the soldiers, the best musicians sat behind a large desk, and opened their ears wide and stood ready to judge the frogs for talent.

     “Bring out the harmonicas!” commanded the general. One small soldier went to a cupboard and took out a burlap sack with ten harmonicas, one for each frog.

     “Hurry up, soldier!” shouted the general.

     The soldier rushed to hand them out, one per man and frog. Then the general walked up and down the line, carefully inspecting each soldier. Each man stood tall with frog in one hand and harmonica in the other.

     “First solder up!” commanded the general.

     The first solder walked up in front of the musicians and gave the harmonica to his frog. But the frog dropped it immediately! The soldier picked it up and tried again. But again, the frog dropped it!

     “Soldier! This is shameful, to the end of the line,” commanded the general. “Second soldier up!”

     The second soldier walked up in front of the musicians and gave the harmonica to his frog. But the frog dropped it immediately.

     “End of the line soldier!” commanded the general. “Third soldier up!”

     The third soldier walked up to the musicians and gave the harmonica to his frog. But again, it was no use! The frog dropped it immediately.

     Soon enough the soldiers and the musicians saw a problem; and a big problem it was. None of the frogs could even hold the harmonica, let alone play it! No matter how hard each soldier tried to help his frog to hold it, the frog would not, or could not do it. It was like a newborn baby, who is not capable of holding his own spoon.

     These frogs were the most ordinary frogs in the world! And so, the whole day went in each of the ten rooms, for ten hours straight. Every single frog was tested. Not a single frog could hold the harmonica. All they were good for was croaking. The fort was more like a zoo than an army fort. By sunset, one of the king’s most trusted knights visited the king in the castle.

     “Sir, what say you about the frogs?” asked the king

     “I bow before you my gentle master, but none of the frogs have any talent.”

     “Not even a little?”

     “I’m afraid not, my lord. They cannot even hold the instrument,” said he humbly.

     “But my daughter is lying ill! The doctors can do nothing for her. The musical frog is my only hope.”

     “I’m sorry, your highness, but the old lady may have misled us.”

     The king stood thoughtful, looking at the moon from the castle window.

     “My lord what do you want us to do with the frogs? The fort has become a zoo and is no place for a serious army.”

     “Take the frogs back.”

     “Now?”

     “No, in the morning.”

     The soldiers woke up early next morning, after a rough night’s sleep. Some of them had not slept at all owing to the bothersome croaking of the frogs. So glad were they to be rid of the frogs, that they even skipped breakfast in order to start packing them. They gladly dumped all the frogs into large sacks and tied them with rope. They loaded them in neat rows onto the horse drawn wagons. Then the generals ordered them in line, and they marched alongside the work wagons back to the forest.

     “Good riddance to bad garbage,” they let out with a collective sigh of the frogs who if anything were ruinous to health by their noise.  They opened the large sacks and the frogs happily leapt out and into their beloved home, the stream.

The Sisters Visit

     One day, as they had often done throughout her illness, Princesses Elsa and Marianne visited their youngest sister. They consoled her, they comforted her, and they gave her heart. But good words, though soothing, were not enough. They alone could not cure her. So, Elsa got an idea. There, as the three of them were sitting alone around Anja’s sick bed in her room she said.

     “Anja, I have a plan, Marianne and I are going to seek the musical frog who cures people for you.”

     “No,” said Anja, “Don’t trouble yourselves for me, my sisters. No one can find him.”

     “No, Anja, don’t say so. We can.”

     “The whole army couldn’t find that frog. How can you?”

     “That’s because the knights aren’t your family. We are your dear sisters. We love you; we understand what hurts you, and we know how to help you better than they ever could!”

     “Thank you, dear sisters, but how are you ever going to convince dad? He would never let you go into the forest alone.”

     “Never you mind about dad. We will talk to him. We will tell him how we feel. We will tell him that we believe we can find your cure.”

     “Thank you, dear sisters! A sister can help a sister like no one else can. I had lost all hope for life but not anymore. I have total faith in both o you! I trust you,” said she and her laid to the side and fell asleep.

     When Elsa and Marianne saw Anja doze off, they got up. Carefully, so as not to awaken her, they walked out. They shut the door to her room, relieved in knowing she was sleeping peacefully. Then they both rushed down the stairs, jumping them two at a time and headed into their father’s, the king’s chamber.

     They knocked on his door eagerly, urgently, and loudly.

     “Daddy,” they screamed, “daddy, let us in.”

     The king got up from his desk where he was writing some important documents.

     “What is it my dear girls?” asked he opening the large wooden doors. “What is it that has you excited so?”

     “Daddy,” Marianne, the elder sister spoke, “Elsa and I are determined to help Anja.”

     “How so?”

     “We are going into the forest to find the musical frog.”

     “My beloved daughters,” the king replied, “I sent the whole legion into the forest to do that. And they found nothing. If my large army working hard from sun-up to sundown couldn’t find the musical frog who can heal, then how possibly can you? You are but two young women.”

     “Daddy,” said Elsa, “your soldiers did not know how to find the frog because Anja is not their sister. We believe we can find the frog because Anja is our sister. We know deep down how to help our sister better than they ever could! We believe that we shall fare better in seeking out the frog because we love her.”

     “My daughters,” said the king, “I love Anja as much as you do… and I wish to heal her too, but I don’t believe I am able to find the musical frog. Besides, I don’t want you to go into the forest. Don’t you know a forest can be a dangerous place? You could get lost. There are wild animals in the forest. There could be wolves. There could be bears. There could be poisonous mushrooms. I don’t want you to be exposed to the dangers of the forest.”

     “No daddy, deep down we truly believe that we can find the musical frog all because we love Anja,” said Marianne

     “My dear daughters, you will get tired, and it will be all for naught. You will come back disappointed and empty handed.”

     “No daddy, please!” echoed Elsa “listen to us! We can do it! All that we ask is that you give us a chance. Just one chance.”

     The King looked down in thought and considered his daughters heartfelt pleas.

“OK, my daughters, I will give you a chance.”
            “Yes!” Marianne and Elsa jumped for joy! “Thank you, daddy! We love you so much.”

     “But on one condition,” said the king, “you must take a nature guide with you and two of my most trusted knights for protection.”

Part IV

The Frog and the Harmonica: Part II

Part I

the princess falls ill

One common day, after breakfast, the princess suddenly fell ill. And no one knew what was wrong with her. Some thought she ate a bad piece of food, maybe poison fish or chicken, while others thought some jealous person wished ill her upon her. Her father the king went by her bedside all day long. All the servants brought for her home medicines like potions and herbs and for her meals she took only the freshest fruits, nuts and breads with butter and jam. But nothing seemed to help. The doctors could never come up with a name for her illness, even though the king had several doctors, and they were the best ones of the kingdom. Then her older sisters came over. She was happy to see them, and they were happy to see her. But they were sad to see her lying in bed weak and unable to get up.

     When word got out that the youngest princess had fallen ill everyone in the kingdom became upset. For one day, everyone stopped what they were doing. The farmers stopped farming. The fishermen stopped fishing. The seamstresses stopped seaming, and the traders stopped trading. For she was known as the people’s princess. She was the kindest, the prettiest and the most caring. But eventually life in the kingdom went on as before. The people prayed for her but other than prayer and wishing her well, there was nothing anyone could do. Her mysterious illness lasted one week, then two weeks and then three. After two months, everyone got ready to accept her sad fate and prepared for the very worst. Even her doctors prepared for the worst.

An anonymous tip

     One day, an old lady dressed all in black walked up to the palace gates. There, at the large palace doors, stood two strong knights in armor guarding it.

     “Excuse me,” said she in a weak voice to the two knights with sword and shield in hand. They simply ignored her.

     “Excuse me,” she repeated but they ignored her again. She left but she showed up the next day and the knights recognized her.

     “Excuse me, knights,” she said, “I am but an old lady, but I had some important news for the king.”

     “The king doesn’t care for news,” said one knight. “Haven’t you heard? His daughter is very ill.”

     “That’s what my news is about,” said the old lady.

     “No one can talk to the king,” said the other knight.

     “But I have something important to say.”

     “Goodbye, madam,” said the first knight. And so, the old lady left. But she showed up again the next day.

     “Excuse me, knights,” said she, “if no one can talk to the king then can you give him this secret message.”

     The knights pretended they didn’t even hear her.

     “When I was a little girl, my best friend got very ill just like the princess. And no one could heal her. No potions no herbs not even the doctors. But one day a frog jumped up through the open window in her bedroom and he started playing the harmonica by her sickbed. She heard him playing. Before long, when her parents heard the music and they entered her sickroom.

     “Honey, said her dad “Who was playing the harmonica here?

     “It was a frog, daddy,” said she.

     Her mom hugged her and noticed that her fever had gone. Then the girl got up and out of bed on her own strength.

     It was a miracle. The girl was healed. Her parents cried for joy.”

     The old lady turned away, as she said “Today the frog lives deep in the forest. Find it and the princess shall heal.”

     The knights moved not a muscle and pretended they did not hear.

the soldiers’ search

     The next morning upon the rise of dawn, the king’s trumpets sounded, and the large wooden doors of the army fort opened wide.

     “Soldiers, march!” their generals screamed. Out marched an endless army of men, on horse and on foot, with shield and without, with helmet and without, with sword and without, with breakfast in the belly and without. Behind them followed men riding on horse drawn wagons. In such a hurry were they, but where to? Why to the stream in the woods of course! There, where the old lady dressed in black had claimed lived a frog, a magical frog who with the sound of music could cure illness, any illness, even one as bad and mysterious as the princess’s.

     Once the army entered the forest, they found the stream which was full of frogs. All the king’s men made a line up and down the water’s edge long as the eye could see. Some even went in the knee-high stream with their muddy boots. Each one loaded his shield or helmet with croaking frogs and dumped them in their white burlap sacks. When the sacks became full, they loaded them in the horse drawn wagons. They did this work from dawn till dusk. Some of them even skipped lunch. They worked so hard and caught so many frogs that their backs hurt. When it got dark and the sun set, they formed a neat army line, and the generals led them out of the woods back into their army fort.

     When they arrived in the fort, the king gave orders that the frogs be dumped out in the largest room. This room was so noisy by the sound of croaking that if anything the noise would make one sick to hear, rather than heal. Nevertheless, the soldiers did the king’s bidding.

The Frog and the Harmonica: a fairy tale

the beauteous kingdom

Once upon a time, in a land faraway there was a kingdom whose name today has long been forgotten. Cobble stone streets ran up the mountain side, which were lined with magnificent stone houses. Some of them were big, some of them were small, but the castle of the king upon the peak was the greatest of them all.

     The kingdom had farmers who farmed, fishermen who fished, seamstresses who seamed and traders who traded. The king was a wise and noble king. Years ago, his wife, the beautiful and righteous queen had suddenly fallen ill and died. But thankfully, in their early union, she had bore him three lovely daughters, the three princesses. The oldest princess was called Marianne. The middle princess was called Ilse and the youngest princess was called Anja.

     Of the three princesses, Marianne was pretty, Elsa was prettier, but the youngest one, Anja was the prettiest one of them all. Of the three princesses, Marianne was nice, Elsa was nicer, but the youngest one, Anja was the nicest one of them all. Of the three princesses, the oldest one, Marianne was beloved by the people, the middle one, Elsa was more beloved, but the youngest one, Anja was the most beloved one of them all.

     As time passed, each of the king’s daughters grew up and became of marrying age. The oldest princess found her husband in the neighboring kingdom of Walloonia. His name was Prince Ludwig. Though he was cold, he was also fair. The middle daughter sought her prince in another nearby kingdom. His name was Prince Klaus. Though he was a miser, he had moments of generosity.  When the youngest daughter, Anja, became of marrying age, everyone in the kingdom curiously wondered who it would be that the beautiful princess would marry.

no match

     Of course, her father, the king, had his allies in other neighboring kingdoms. Some of these kings had sons who were about the same age as Anja and who were looking for a wife to make their princess. One by one they came to court to ask her beautiful hand in marriage. First, there was Hans from Lichtenberg.

     “Bring me twenty large stones,” said he upon arrival.

     When the stones were brought, he took out a large sack out of his pocket and loaded all of them in. He then threw the sack upon his back and he looked at the princess in the castle window. Then he paced with the sack back and forth twenty times in the courtyard of the castle, showcasing his strength. A week later came Jurg from Brunswick.

     “Bring me a large bull,” said he upon arrival. When the bull was brought, he looked at the princess. Then suddenly the bull charged at him. But instead of running away, Jurg charged forth and grabbed the bull by the horns! and smiled. A week later came Olaf from Hamburg. He arrived by night and during a blizzard.

     “Come in, please,” said the king. “I have a comfortable guest room for you.”

     “Never! I require nothing to be comfortable,” yelled he, looking at the princess. He laid down on the snow, as if it was a bed and he slept outside all night long, uncovered in the courtyard. When the king’s men went to awaken him in the morning, they found him covered under a pile of snow. Underneath, they expected to find him frozen to death. But as soon as they poked him with a stick, he jumped up at them, and shouted: “Ah! I feel better than ever.”

     So, these were the three suitors, all of them princes who proved their strength and might. There was Hans who could carry twenty stones on his back. There was Jurg who could grab the bull by the horns. There was Olaf who could sleep all night out in a winter’s blizzard.

     One day the father talked to his daughter. “Anja, you have met the young princes who wish to marry you. Each of them is good and worthy of your love. Whom do you choose?”

     “I cannot choose any of them, father,” said she, “for none of them suit me.”

     “Don’t you like any of them?”

     “I’m afraid not,” said she, upset.

     “But Hans carried twenty stones on his back for you.”

     “I’m sorry, father.”

     “But Jurg grabbed a bull by the horns for you.”

     “I’m sorry father.”

     “But Olaf slept all night long in a winter’s blizzard for you.”

     “I’m sorry father.”

     Although they were strong and mighty, in their own way, none of them seemed good or proper to her.

     For the next few days all was quiet in the castle and in the kingdom. Everywhere everyone minded his own business. The farmers farmed. The fishermen fished. The seamstresses seamed, and the traders traded. And of course, the king ruled over the kingdom nobly and wisely. But his daughter was not quite the same. She was still upset, and insecure about her own future. Would she ever find her prince? Now was the time and if not now when the time passed finding her prince would only become harder not easier. Also, now that her sisters married, she was alone with her father, and had no one to talk to. Because she was a princess, she was not allowed to have many friends.

Part II

Photo: Michigan J Frog by Charles Jones

Albania: history of Shkodra

Shkodra is a city in North Western Albania. It is located on the coast of Lake Shkodra, the biggest lake of the Balkans and surrounded by three rivers, the Buna, the Drin, and the Kiri. Its population is around 120 thousand people, making it the largest city of northern Albania. Outside the city proper, it has three suburbs: Bahcalleku to the South, as well as Shirokaj and Zogaj to the East. To the south and East it is also bordered by the hills of Renci and Tepes. This is where the fortress of Rozafat, famous for the Ottoman sieges of the late 1400s is located. Rozafa is the site of the earliest pre-historic settlements in the area.

Rozafa is a woman’s name. In legend, she was the wife of the youngest of three brothers who built the castle. Though they labored tirelessly, their construction crumbled each night. A wise man told them that in order for the walls to hold up, one of their brides must be sacrificed. The brothers agreed to make a secret pact not to tell their wifes and to sacrifice the bride who next day brought their lunch meal. The two elder brothers broke their pact and alerted their wives. When Rozafa of the youngest brother came, she was to be entombed within. She cried for baby and husband and requested to be entombed with one breast out to feed the baby, one foot out to rock him, and one arm out to hold him. And so the castle got its name.


Shkodra is blessed to be near the Adriatic coast, where the beach of Velipoja is situated. At the same time it is also blessed with an impressive mountain range. To the north, past the lowlands of Fush Shkodra, begin the Alps of Albania, the most dramatic range in a country known for mountains. This dichotomy makes one wonder is Shkodra a mediterrenain paradise? Or is it a rugged highland town? Perhaps it is a bit of both. When sunny, its skies are bright. It has a warm climate down in the plain. However, just outside the city, in the mountainous winter, the climate is harsh. So harsh and life so hard, that perhaps this is why the locals have named them the cursed mountains.

Shkodra is one Albania’s oldest cities, and has been inhabited since the Illyrian Era in the 4th century BC by the Labeats tribe, capable sailors and traders, who laid the foundation for it. Here the likes of King Gent and Queen Teuta ruled until the Roman conquest of 168 BC. It remained in Roman hands for over four centuries. In the fourth century Shkodra was the seat of a bishopric. Then it fell to the East Roman Empire. In 1043, it was captured by Montenegrin Slavs. In 1180, Shkodra was captured by Stefan Nemanja of Serbia. Then it was ruled by the local Balsha family until in 1396, the Venetians moved in and used it for their own mercantile purposes. Italy has historically exerted more influence in the north. The Christian population here is Catholic, unlike the south where Christians are Orthodox. Likewise, after Communism, many Albanians from here have immigrated to Italy as opposed to Greece.

In 1470’s the Ottomans launched two long sieges against the Rozafat Castle. These events were captured by eye witness and Albanian historian Marin Barleti (1450-1512) in his book, the Siege of Shkodra (1504), an international bestseller in the 16th century:

Now it came to pass that the Ottoman, realizing that Shkodra was the most eminent city and epicenter of the region of Epirus…the shield of Italy and all the Christians-began to nurture a great hope that he could subdue it…therefore he decided to dispatch an amazingly large army to invade it…It would be too lengthy to describe here how many thouands of Turks lost their lives there in humiliation and how the Shkodrans fought so corageously, defending themselves, their fatheirland, their women, and their children…The Turk was repulsed by the besieged-and what a loss it was!


Sultan Mehmet II was only 21 when he captured Constantinople, a feat that earned him the name “the Conqueror.” Having reached such heights so fast, his eyes were set on Rome. After decades of conquering the Balkans, he reached Shkodra, the final Balkan frontier. He personally led both sieges of the Rozafat fortress but here his dreams of reaching Rome were cut short. Venice, which was in power, eventually signed the city over to him but his army was too weakened and he died two years later.


When the Ottomans captured it in 1479 they caused further disruption to life and self determination. People fled in mass to southern Italy creating an Albanian-Italian minority that exists today. The Ottomans suppressed native ways and brought in their own culture and religion. Yet, whether in native hands, or under the foreign yoke, in each epoch Shkodra has persevered and remained an important city, both economically and culturally, producing much Albanian talent in the way of art, music, painting and writing.

Shkodra has a cute quarter of old fashioned eclectic architecture. Here the main streets are lined with buildings that date to the 1920s, an era of monarchy in Albania. Today, Shkodra also has the new modern apartment buildings of lean, clean, and light aspect, with bright and colorful paint like pink, orange, and yellow. Although a bit “lego like,” for those unaccustomed to this type, these buildings may please the eye. Besides, athough not famous landmarks, residences do matter; they are what a city is most comprised of. These apartments are the new wave, as if a reaction to the deliberately drab, no-nonsense apartment buildings of Communism. The new apartment complexes can be highly stylish, and have a modern flair unique to the Balkans.

Sources:
“Karakteristikat gjeografike.” Bashkia Shkoder. Sept. 13, 2021.
http://www.bashkiashkoder.gov.al/web/Historia_889_1.php

Dhora, Romina. “The Social and Cultural Impacts of Tourism, A Case of Shkodra.” University of Shkodra Luigj Gurakuqi: 131-135

“Shkodra.” Albania. Sept. 12, 2021.
https://albania.al/destinations/shkodra/


Barleti, Marin. Hosaflook, David, translator. The Siege of Shkodra. Tirana, Albania: Onufri, 2012.

Gjergj Fishta. Elsie, Robert, translator. The Highland Lute. London: IB Taurus, 2005.

Motivational Quotes 9/3/21

It is easy to like those who are like you; the key is to also like those who are different from you

We make the world a better place by leaving behind children who are better than ourselves

Allow chance to take its course and it always arrives at fate

Oftentimes normal is best and what’s best is not normal

The imperfections make art. Exactness makes science

Everyone has a burden to bear

There are ten broken hearts for every light on Broadway -popular

Forget normal; be special!

Paths cross when two people have something to say

Work is happiness. Sloth is depression

Scanderbeg: King of Albania

I really don’t know if I can do this man justice. He is the most renowned national hero to us, the Albanian people. However, if we go back in time into antiquity, we may find more renowned, more famous figures, such as emperors Constantine, Diocletian, or Justinian of the Roman Empire. In fact, for that matter, there were nineteen Roman Emperors believed to be of Illyrian origin, an astonishingly high number if you ask me. However, these leaders furthered the Roman cause and not the Albanian cause and for that reason we Albanians do not revere them. Also, over 1500 years separate us, the moderns, from them, the ancients. Thus, we really trace our roots, the founding of our modern nation to Scanderbeg. We view him as our national hero and founding father. Just as America has George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, and the like, we have Scanderbeg. His figure combines fact and fiction, struggle and glory, myth, and truth. Although members of other noble families in his time such as the Dukagjini Family, or the Arianiti family were important, Scanderbeg we may call the king of Albania.

Let me give you a few facts. Scanderbeg was born in 1405 as Gjergj (George) Kastrioti. His father lost his fortress to the invaders, the Ottoman Turks, and his sons, Gjergj and his two brothers, were taken hostage, a cruel yet not uncommon practice, in the Ottoman Empire. While in Adrianople, Gjergj as a youth proved himself capable at war games, just what the Turks were looking for. In his first battle as leader, he did so well that the Sultan, gave him the nick name Iskender Bey, or Lord Alexander, a reference to Alexander the Great. He was known as a great warrior right from the start. He would remain in Ottoman service for twenty years, both as a general and as a governor of several provinces. When the Albanians, who longed for freedom and independence from their new Turkish masters, heard of one of their own, ever so strong, and capable, they dreamed of him to come and rescue them.

Scanderbeg was a symbol of pride and hope for Albania. Although he had his plan in mind, he was wise, patient, and strategic. He was not going rush it and loose his opportunity by attacking the Turks at the wrong time. He waited a lifetime for the right moment to realize his youthful dream. When Scanderbeg was an Ottoman general, several rebellions against the Ottomans broke out, the most notable one being in Hungary, led by Hunyadi. Scanderbeg was called to crush the Hungarians. But since he himself wanted to join the rebellion, and knowing the Hungarians were stronger, he led his troops into a battle that he knew they were destined to lose. Thereupon, he switched allegiance to Albania and forced the Ottoman secretary to write a decree issuing the fortress of Kruja over to him. With this in hand, he rode to back to his father’s fortress and took possession of it. He received a hero’s welcome and made a reclamation of his family’s old feudal territory which the Ottomans had taken. But Scanderbeg’s ultimate mission was to unite the whole of Albania into one country, Christian, and free from the Islamic Turks.

We often think of the Ottoman Turks as Scanderbeg’s only enemy, but there was another major power that had prodded all the way down to Albania, Venice. The Venetian republic held political sway in several cities in northern Albania. Venice was opportunistic, underhanded, and scheming playing both sides, Turkey and Albania. At first it was pro Scanderbeg. Then when it perceived his power, it turned into an enemy of Scanderbeg. It proved to be a major hindrance to his plans for liberty.  To Venice, a mercantile power, Albanian liberty was bad for business because if Albania threw off Turkey, then Venice would be next. So, they conspired with the Ottomans against Albania. Venice openly set out to assassinate Scanderbeg. Scanderbeg’s went to war with Venice. He defeated them in two battles. In the end, a peace treaty was signed. However, when Hunyadi mounted another campaign against the Ottomans, Venetian machinations delayed Scanderbeg from joining him, resulting in a loss that gave much ground to the Ottomans. Scanderbeg’s biggest ally was Naples, under King Alfonso, whose rival was also Venice.

Scanderbeg’s army was always undermanned. While the Ottomans had 20 – 25 thousand soldiers, he usually had about 10 – 15 thousand. These battles he regularly won. Historians only count one defeat, that of Berat where he went against him own intuition by listening to others. In the most astonishing battle, Scanderbeg fought his personal enemy, Sultan Murad II, the man who had favored Gjergj in his youth, and had nick named him Lord Alexander. Murad viewed him as a terrible traitor, and he really wanted to get his revenge on him. Thus, he came with an army of 100,000 soldiers against Scanderbeg’s army of merely 8000. Though one would assume a certain defeat, Scanderbeg successfully resisted the Ottomans. His army didn’t meet them “down in the field.” In that case, the Turks would have crushed a small army of 8000. He strategically hid his archers in the mountains, and they struck the Turks from the upper vantage points. Skanderbeg’s men harassed the Turks to the point of frustration and defeat. The Ottomans retreated and Scanderbeg would go on to have similar victories where his army was very tiny, and Turkey was very large. For this fact alone, Scanderbeg baffles reason. But owing to tactics of guerilla warfare with traps and pouncing, the Albanians did the impossible.

Scanderbeg was physically gifted, big, and strong; these were the days when battles were fought with swords, bows, and spears. Though it is true guns and cannons were a recent invention, and in limited use.  He himself was in frontline combat. He was also gifted at war strategy, brave or even reckless. He was a great leader on and off the battlefield. He was seriously injured only once. Scanderbeg really embraced the cause of the Albanian people: the love of liberty, self-rule, and Christianity. Albania was on the geographic frontline in the battle of Christian Europe against the Islamic East. Scanderbeg lived in a time only 200 years removed from the crusades, when the Christians of Europe went to war to capture Holy Land. Scanderbeg too viewed himself as a defender of the faith. For this reason, the Pope was his biggest supporter and called him a champion of Christ. European leaders often used the word Crusade against the Ottomans, implying a holy war. They united on the basis of faith in order to prevent conversion.

Scanderbeg’s myth spread during and after his time as a warrior who was invincible to human weapons. Certainly, the myth of Scanderbeg has been exaggerated; that’s what myths are, exaggerations. But I dare say there is a kernel of truth here. We’re talking about a leader who had far fewer resources, far fewer men, and he defended his nation against invasion from an army that outnumbered his ten to one or more. Scanderbeg’s story is really the story of David versus Goliath, the extreme underdog versus the giant. If war be a talent, Scanderbeg had it. Now, I’m not sure war is a good thing; in fact, war is good for nothing, if you ask me, but it’s the nature of life, I suppose. We sometimes need war even though we’re all against it. We all want peace. But if there must be war, we need Scanderbeg on our side.

It is interesting to know that today, we Albanians consider the birth of our modern nation with Scanderbeg’s principality even though after his death, in 1468, followed over 450 years of Ottoman occupation. We overlook half a millennium of foreign domination! This fact alone says something about the strength of our national identity and about the nature of nationhood in general. It cannot easily be crushed even when bigger and more powerful neighbors are aiming to assimilate you and take your land.

Sources:
Zavalani, Tajar. History of Albania. London, 1963. Reprint, Robert Elsie and Bejtullah Destani, 2015.

“Skanderbeg.” Wikipedia. Accessed August 18, 2021. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Skanderbeg

“Illyrian Emperors.” Wikipedia. Accessed August 17, 2021. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Illyrian_emperors

Malcolm, Noel. Kosovo: A Short History. New York: HarperPerennial, 1999.

Motivational Quotes 8/13/21

God made man hunger for food, so he would not get lazy. Then he plagued him with disease, so he would have the need for God.

Each person comes not only with a face but also with a fate.

Heaven is hard to earn; the price for heaven is life

When you add up all of life’s joys and all of its sorrows, the end result is nothing short of magnificent.

Why does the past seem beautiful? Even events that were painful to live through from afar assume a wonderful aura.

Every talent is a burden. It carries the burden of expression, the burden of hard work and the burden of frustration.

We admire kids for all the good qualities we have lost.

Happiness can never be pursued directly. It is in the pursuit of a goal that we find happiness.

The only thing worse than failing is failing to try.

Albania: The Readjustment Period

Hello friends, here I sit in my room all these years later. It is now a long time since my trip to Albania in 2014. And yet, believe it or not I have found an old journal with some of my thoughts fresh after that trip that reveal what frame of mind I was in after I got back.

5 3 2014

Back in America. You know there’s no place like home; not America, just your life, your apartment, your bed, your TV, your coffee shops, your room, your car. The life of a guest is no match for your own home.

I was happy to be back and enjoyed many advantages, or creature comforts, as this entry shows.

If you will recall I ended series one by saying, my boring old life in America no longer felt bleak, for now I knew this: America was home. It had a happy ending for every good story must end happily. But that is not the full story. Now that we continue, I can reveal to you although readjusting to the States was easier than after my visit to Albania in 2012, it was still hard. Let me share with you another old journal entry.

5/7/14

What a horrible day. Motivation zero. Exhausted. Miss Albania. Depressed. Why did I come back here? I don’t know what to do with my life. The only happiness I had was going to Albania. Now I’ve lost that, I’ve got nothing to shoot for. I have no purpose, nor any goals, no luck. I am stuck!

As this entry shows readjusting back home was no easy feat. We could argue life is not easy anywhere, but this readjustment period was especially hard.

Moreover, I did suffer some lingering aftereffects of the trip. I was, how to put it, culturally confused. One symptom I felt was a rude coldness. This negative feeling, I know I picked up in Albania, for it was not the normal me. I do remember a few instances where it came to play. Once I went to the gym and I gave this unfriendly vibe to this one girl, with whom I had previously been on warms terms with. We worked out near each other. We knew each other. Well, when she saw me, that I no longer cared for our warm neighborly relations, I read on her face, she was put off by it. I admit I had a bad attitude and I did not even want to improve it. We cannot easily alter our behavior even when we see it go bad. This also happened once or twice in public places where I gave off the same cold vibe. And I must blame Albania! I’m sorry to say, but I felt that the culture there, particularly in the big city, was cold and unfriendly. So, Albania gave me affected me negatively, but I overcame this influence gradually.

Another strange idea I picked up there was walking. I always walked around Tirana, and rode the bus too. So I thought I’ll bring that culture here. One day I decided to walk to my local coffee shop. It took me 30 minutes! Gimme a break! Nobody walks in the suburbs. Distances are way too long. What was I thinking! I was the only one on the sidewalk. Another time I deliberately parked my car far away, not in the lot but in a neighborhood alley, and walked 15 minutes to Starbucks. Again, what was I thinking? Was I trying to reinvent the wheel? Then when my wits returned, I realized something that I probably had known all along, that walking in the US is futile, and gave it up altogether. It is true what they say, “When in Rome, do as the Romans.” Likewise, when in the US, never walk!

I did go back to my local coffee shop here where the elegant brunette worked. But no, I never asked her out. I was resigned to my fate as a luckless loner. She always avoided my glance, even though she knew I liked her. There was no breaking through to this girl. Unless she was working the cash register, she would never look at you. But she was cute.

It was not an easy time to be alive. But eventually I did readjust to America. Most of all I felt that whatever problems I had were not caused by living in America. They were just caused by my particular life, the unique challenges that I faced at that time.