“A Farewell to The Eye” by Kaya Genç
It was the summer I earned my first salary. At twenty three I was fed up with living in my mother’s house and with being the spoiled child who never needs to work. In May, I had a job interview at Hayal newspaper. I was lucky. Three weeks later I made my way into their coffin-shaped headquarters in Şişli. Getting paid for writing articles was sweet. Being around people and using them as subjects for my pieces was sweeter. I loved the change of numbers in my account balance. I loved the plastic card they handed to me: it had my name on it. I was sent to the culture department which consisted of a comparatively small number of reporters, editors and photographers. Someone from the desk said, on my first day, that the municipality had just decided to demolish a film theatre in Beyoğlu. It was a scandalous idea, he added, which would make a great first story. Who was I to question his expertise? Who was I to refuse a good story which came out of the blue and followed me like the albatross? With a photographer beside me, I headed to the crime scene.
She was perhaps the youngest member of the culture desk but seemed to have a firm grasp on the history of all its members. She informed me about the romantically engaged reporters and the married ones and those who have recently been seen flirting with each other. From the way in which she spoke to me, I realized we were destined to be part of the last group.
Before even meeting most of them, I had already been briefed about the troublemakers and the sheepish ones, the leaders and the adulterers. She was a good teacher and a beautiful one. Her camera hung on a strap around her neck and concealed her mysterious breasts. I couldn’t tell whether I found her attractive or not. She had this nice habit of touching you on the arm when talking about the most impersonal things, like the traffic or the sliding doors. She knew the shortcut to Göz theatre and thanks to her knowledge of directions we were there in less than half an hour.
It was a sensitive issue, she told me, the Göz story was. Some guy in the health ministry had a relative who wanted to rebuild the place. He had already invested tons of money in the project and his daughter, a film buff, would run the rebuilt theatre under the posh title of “international programs coordinator”. His plan was to build a full-sized shopping mall where you could drink cheap, delicious cappuccinos, read the latest edition of Cosmopolitan and shop H&M.
The locals were not impressed. Göz theatre was there for almost a century. It was the first public building where ordinary Turks were able to see moving images. People would react furiously, she told me, and when they did we had to be on the right side of things.
Back in my room that night I remembered my father’s reminiscences about his high-school years and about his Göz matinees. He used to escape from his crowded room in the Lycée Beyoğlu boarding school in order to watch movies and smoke rolled up cigarettes in the exotic darkness of the theatre. They had a film festival in the neighborhood in those days. Viewers would run from Göz to Işık, a rival establishment, in order to catch the screenings of new films by Antonioni and Bergman. Orson Welles was rumored to have watched Touch of Evil from one the front row seats of Göz in 1960. During the Vietnam war, an interior minister was stabbed to death while trying, unsuccessfully, to enjoy a French film with his wife. The assailant, a communist, had waited behind the curtain before the screening and was about to murder a young girl minutes before the close-up image of Maria Falconetti illuminated the theatre, revealing the terrified face of a beautiful girl and the closed eyelids of an ugly man.
* * *
As expected, people were outraged about the plans. One of my interviewees shook his right fist in the air and said there was no way out without a fight, he would never let them destroy the building, never. It was a personal matter for many people. A bald guy, one of the old regulars of Göz, was more interested in Laila and while she bended over to take a picture of him, we both had a chance to inspect her figure—a shared experience I instantly regretted. However, when she showed me the pictures that evening, I felt proud for working alongside an artist who was not only attractive but also very talented. But I told her nothing and in return, she said nothing about my first draft of the story. I could see she was a bit irritated with my amateurish excitement. “It is true one’s words can make a big difference in journalism,” she said. “But when you come to think of it later, you find out that it isn’t always a good thing.”
* * *
Hayal is the Turkish word for imagination. It also connotes daydreams, illusions and reflections. My fellow journalists at Hayal were suitably dreamy creatures. They were full of illusions about life and they loved writing their reflections on recent political and cultural issues. Their articles were often too sentimental and over the top and I was instructed to imitate their style.
Göz Isn’t Going Anywhere Without a Fight, thus became the title of my first story.
Next morning I was congratulated for writing such an effective piece that inspired a public discussion about the future of the building. My editor, Kemal, was all smiles and he bought me dinner that evening. In less than a month we became good friends. He told me stories about the newspaper and about how it was used by the government to rationalize those terrible projects they imposed on the city. He was an old-school Marxist and hated having to work there. But the pay was good and he could at least order lunch to his old friends. During an afternoon in July I witnessed how he actually bought four meals for his little group of unemployed journalists. They didn’t even thank him for it. Perhaps they had got used to his favors.
Göz story was important for him, I could see that. He sent me to the neighborhood almost every afternoon. There I would sit down and have coffee with ticket collectors, projectionists and Murat, the young fellow who inherited the building from his father a few years previously.
They were in a terrible state. There is no future for a bankrupt theatre owner, Murat told me. Ticket collectors would probably be forced to work at tea places for a few hundred liras a month. The projectionist mentioned a job opportunity in one of the neighboring primary schools where he expected to work as a janitor.
A week after these interviews I had managed to collect more information about Göz. The building belonged to the Turkish government who rented it to Murat’s grandfather as part of its “culture friendly” policies during 1920s. In Ottoman times it was used as a depot for storing imported goods. They invested in it; a French architect designed the interiors and the projector came from Moscow after Lenin’s special orders. During the opening night when The Hunchback of Notre Dame was shown, leading figures of the republican elite were present in Göz. Mustafa Kemal, the founder of the republic, smoked a cigar throughout the first half of the film and people saw it as sign of his satisfaction with the picture.
Murat told me many stories like this and thought they could be instrumental in bringing about a cancellation of the new plans. Laila found his perspective naive. The people in the government want to forget about the past, she said. Everyone speaks about the future now. The new building would have a 3D projector, charging stations for tablet computers and a franchise deal with McDonald’s. Did Murat even want to adapt to this brave new world?
His current projector was purchased before Batman’s Turkish release in 1989. He said he would sell it after the takeover and spend all the money in Bodrum during a luxurious holiday. Then, he would put his head in a noose.
“Are you serious?” I asked as he smoked another cigarette in the Göz cafeteria.
“What else can I do? I am the dangling man,” he replied.
* * *
Laila told me not to worry too much about him. His words were intended to produce a dramatic effect. And they did make a great headline two days later.
Destroying Göz Amounts to My Death Warrant, was how I formulated it.
Kemal loved the piece; all the columnists seemed to dread the prospect of the death of this salesman. I was dizzy with the effect of my cold and rational sentences. Next day, before giving me a lift to the bus station, my mother said work was the only means for achieving the feeling of self-worth. I was proud of my contribution to the Göz cause.
Laila was waiting for me in the bus which was filled with numerous Hayal readers. We spent a physical weekend in Bodrum and not once did either of us set eyes on a newspaper. It was great having her without the camera.
But during our final night, I felt that the reason she was having sex with me was the tiny bylines that were attached to my Göz stories and I wondered whether I really existed for her beyond my signature in the newspaper.
* * *
Göz is the Turkish word for an eye. There is an expression about the “touch” of the evil eye which brings bad luck with it. Göz becomes independent, mobile and threatening. It comes after you, throws you onto the ground and sits on your back.
Following the day of our return we were touched by that evil eye: the only explanation I was able to offer in those days. It was an extremely hot August morning and I was dying to drink a glass of lemonade when I saw Kemal in the cafeteria. He told me to hold my horses and say nothing to him. This rich guy whose uncle was an aide to the health minister, wanted to talk to us, he said. When we met in Starbucks a few minutes later, the rich guy thanked me for giving the public an opportunity to discuss the Göz “issue” which came to a satisfying end with the court’s last decision. His aides in the company complied a long list of complaints from all sides, thanks to my articles which were surely necessary to begin a proper conversation “around and about” the issue, he said. Had I seen the Sunday papers? No, I said. I hadn’t.
Kemal later told me about how Murat had left the theatre on Friday evening. He said to the ticket lady that “an evil eye” was following him for the last couple of weeks. He couldn’t explain but knew perfectly that evil forces wanted to destroy him.
He instructed her to pack the archive of Göz which consisted of about a dozen boxes filled with photographs, press clippings and posters. He carried those boxes to his car and parting with his crew said he would try to get rid of the evil eye and the history of Göz. The police located his car on Saturday morning, near the city border of Ankara. It was abandoned and apart from a box of bullets, nothing was found in the vehicle.
Examining the neighboring grove the police came across a few photographs which were scattered on the gravel road. An autograph of John Wayne was silently waiting on a large stone next to a set photo from L’Avventura. Inside the small lake, the body of an unidentified man was found swimming and when the officers attempted to look at his face they saw he had none. The ashes of a pile of documents was discovered near the lake but apart from a handful of dust nothing solid was left from the history of Göz. The face of the unidentified man was burnt so severely that even the most terrible horror movies couldn’t match the feeling of repulsion that it inspired. Was it Murat? Impossible to tell, according to the officers.
This was the summer of convincing, the young entrepreneur told me, and it would be followed by the fall of rebuilding. “I congratulate your for all the effort you’ve put into your stories. It’s thanks to your work that we will be able to begin anew, as a company and community.”
* * *
For the last couple of weeks I was living on my own in a building close to Göz. On the last day of August I took a walk in the neighborhood. Many people had marched there against the planned demolition that Sunday. The protests gave us a sense of shared purpose and a feeling of community. As we walked amidst the deserted gray buildings I could feel Laila’s rhythmic touch on my arm.
Walking past the theatre we saw the ticket lady who was taking her time while bringing out the garbage.
“Nothing left to collect,” she said. “We’ll be out of here tomorrow morning. The bulldozers are coming at five a.m. Why so early, I wonder.”
Then she surprised us and opening its doors let us inside Göz theatre. It was dark and I could feel the smell of moisture rising from the back seats. Murat had never let me inside and Laila was amazed to be able to photograph the interior. It had been closed to the public for the last four years and there were cobwebs around the walls. Looking around, I saw the emblem of the huge eye gazing at me silently just above the screen. Its pale, silent, ghostly surface brought to my mind the image of my late father. He seemed trapped there alongside other specters of this sad city.
Before we went to sleep that evening, Laila told me this was why they circulated one million copies of the newspaper every morning. Nobody could complain now, it was all discussed, agreed on and Göz was on its way to become a thing of the past.
“A typical Hayal story,” she said. “In a few months you’ll have written dozens of them. Words are indeed able to change things, you see. It’s a writer’s biggest dream come true.” And she concluded her observations with the grammatically simple question: “Isn’t it?”
I lied there, a mute man who had nothing left to say. I thought of Göz and I thought about my father and I thought about the coffin-shaped headquarters of Hayal. She seemed to expect an answer from me but I didn’t want to be a collaborator in the desperate act of conversation.
Indeed, when Laila fell asleep a few minutes later, I had already made up my mind to quit my job, give up the flat and go back to my mother.
Kaya Genç is a novelist and essayist from Istanbul. His work was published in the Guardian, Index on Censorship, Guernica, Songlines and Squawk Back, as well as the Millions and the London Review of Books websites. L’Avventura, his first novel, was published in Turkey in 2008.