Viosa and Richard Lukaj, of Greenwich, Connecticut are no strangers to royals. A few years back, they welcomed in their home, no less than Prince Harry and Princess Beatrice, in a common effort to promote The Sentebale Foundation.
This Sunday evening, however, their royal guests were not exactly global celebrities, but for the philanthropic couple the sentiment was much stronger. Prince Leka II and Princess Elia are visiting from the Albanian lands, where their immigrant hosts were born.
They had traveled from New York to Stamford for a private viewing of the Marubi Photography exhibition at the new GR Art Gallery then followed their hosts to the gorgeous estate where the Lukajs live.
Unlike, the larger gala gathering in Greenwich, in 2010, where the well-known Albanian-American banker and Prince Harry promoted the work of Sentebale to dozens of high net worth potential donors, this of last Sunday evening was a much more intimate affair. A number of close friends were invited to see the exhibition, which offers a rare journey through the past of Albania and set probably the right context for the conversation that ensued later over dinner.
There was plenty to talk about from what they saw. This is the first time that photos of the famous Marubi Family have been exhibited in the United States. The Marubis were pioneers of the art of photography not only in Albania, but in most of Europe. Their work offers amazing insights from the Albanian past, especially in the 19th century.
King Zog of Albania, grandfather of the visiting Prince Leka, had chosen a Marubi to be his official photographer of the court. Marubi’s work is today listed among the worldwide UNESCO treasures.
Moreover, GR Art Gallery is Albanian-owned and operated by a formidable immigrant couple, George and Rozafa L Pali, MD. George is an accomplished painter and artist and coincidentally also the first art director of Illyria newspaper, at its inception. Rozafa is a medical doctor an Ob/ Gyn at the Montefiore Medical Center.
George was particularly impressed by Prince Leka. “A wonderful man. Very nice and simple,” he said. “He really enjoyed the fact that most of photos, which show Shkodra’s prosperity, were from the time when his grandfather was ruling Albania.”
Mr. Pali is left also with a souvenir to treasure, a handwriting note from the distinguished guest in his gallery guestbook. (See the photo below.)
While the exhibition in Stamford is about the past of Albania and the Albanian nation, the conversation over dinner in Greenwich turned mostly towards the future.
Haki Abazi, a program director at the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, one of the 12 guests of the evening was highly appreciative of Viosa and Richard Lukaj and was impressed with the profound conversation that took place. “The talk was of the highest level focusing on possible solutions for the stagnating processes from the region,” he wrote. “It was free of ideological colors and focused on the main priorities, challenges and opportunities to improve the situation of all citizens and of the region as whole.”
It was an unforgettable visit to the gallery, Mr. Lukaj wrote, “followed by deep and thoughtful discussion over dinner among friends afterwards”.
He urged everyone to see the Marubi Exhibition, which remains open to the general public through mid-summer.
Prince Leka and his wife had traveled to Lukaj residence after a reception in Manhattan hosted by Albanian Roots, an organization of young Albanian-Americans. Their visit in US has included so far an unexpected funeral of an old friend and ally of his family, and an official recognition by the State of New York for Saint Teresa.
This stop in Connecticut was certainly a highlight. While they touched on issues that revealed their common concerns about current events, the atmosphere was relaxed and friendly.
“We were all from Connecticut, all of Albanian descent and educated in US. We had a great time,” Mr. Pali, said.