The innkeeper at the Tradita Hotel set down his tea regretfully. “You want to see castle or bridge?” A mutual friend had asked him to take good care of me, but clearly he didn’t relish the role.

 

A few minutes later, four of us climbed into a dark sedan and lurched into the crowded streets of Shkodra, a city in Albania’s northwest. Heat and noise poured in the windows as Mr. Gila and his wife and brother continued what seemed to be a fractious debate in Albanian, punctuated briefly by Mr. Gila waving at various sights and shouting their identification into the back seat for me.

“There is cathedral, which Communists make into gymnasium years ago! Now crowded with Catholics again.”

“There is university!”

“Tobacco factory! Busy once, now closed.”

As the buildings became smaller and the streets… More…

What is it about autumn and the dedication of major engineering projects in the American Southwest? Seventy-five years ago, on September 30, 1935, Franklin Roosevelt traveled to the Colorado River just south of Las Vegas to dedicate the Boulder Dam, better known as the Hoover Dam. On October 16, 2010, dignitaries and public spectators will gather 1,500 feet downstream to dedicate the Mike O’Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge, better known as the Hoover Dam Bypass.

Colossus: Hoover Dam and the Making of the American Century by Michael Hiltzik. 512 pages. Free Press. $30.

The Bypass dedication ceremony is going by the name Bridging America. Its website warns attendees to expect high temperatures, dry and windy weather, little shade, minimal refreshments, long waits, and “walking on dirt.” One hopes that with such adverse conditions, spectators don’t fail to note the irony of marking the 75th anniversary of an engineering… More…