Swans Commentary » swans.com July 17, 2006  



The Pictures


by Peter Byrne


Short Story



(Swans - July 17, 2006)  Havril had seen Sposi up in the front row before the lights went out and the movie began. During the longueurs of the 1949 neo-realist flick, he guessed what the Italian's reactions would be. He was even already angry over them. Jesus, would the wops never forget about Rossellini? The only thing they forgot was his pre-war Fascist-friendly stuff. Why don't they spend their inheritance instead of making a museum of it?

Sposi caught sight of Havril at the exit. He'd felt the American was somewhere back there in the dark room grinding his teeth and marshalling his arguments. Of course neo-realism was passé. What else had Fellini been out to show? Still Godard said in so many words that Roma, Città Aperta led straight to the Nouvelle Vague. But you couldn't quote Godard. He'd regularly get peeved and reverse all his opinions.

Both Havril and Sposi opened their umbrellas with the same bureaucratic precision.

Miss Eaton, now Ms. Eaton, from Brit House, came over and spoke to them. That forced the door to vocal civilities. Otherwise the two would have simply grunted morosely and taken up their differences where they'd left them the week before after the screening of the Kubrick.

"I should have known I'd find you two cinéphiles here," she said.

"Then shall we three ronds-de-cuir confront the night together?" asked Havril.

He oozed French phrases. It annoyed people who'd decided Yanks couldn't learn languages.

"That was my fond hope," she said, widening her smile.

Sposi liked the old girl and the way she struggled to rise above the gloom left by the past forty-eight hours of steady rain.

"Istanbul autumn," he said, "no falling leaves, only waterfalls."

He'd recalled too late Havril's snide couplet about never attempting a pun in a foreign tongue. Well, screw him, the language snob.

"Was the Resistance really like that in Italy?" asked Ms. Eaton.

"Of course not," said Havril.

All three of them looked up in astonishment to find that the rain had stopped. They closed their umbrellas, Ms. Eaton without fuss. They turned into the pedestrian road and fell in with its peculiar, rapid pace.

Sposi cocked his head to speak,

"Naturally the times weren't that black and white, villains and saints. The young man's a storybook hero."

Havril stopped dramatically in full stride to guffaw. Sposi didn't give him the satisfaction of appearing to notice and continued,

"But the film does reflect what the immediate post-war was like. There were leftover German snipers on the roofs. Laws and organization were still Fascist. The carabinieri battered the peasants when they demonstrated for land reform."

Havril got a half step ahead of them and spoke directly to Ms. Eaton. They were both taller than the squarely built Italian. The Anglo-American dialogue went neatly over his head, as Havril intended.

"They were founding their flimsy republic and the left needed legitimacy. They couldn't pull that out of the Marxist grab bag. They had no more king, missed out on a genuine revolution, so they thought up the Resistance, a genesis myth."

"Interesting," said Ms. Eaton, who realized too late she'd put her foot in it. She quickly sought neutral ground.

That many more policemen were in evidence than on most evenings surprised her. Then she remembered the three busloads she'd seen at the Galatasaray gate when she'd walked past earlier. The plainclothesmen in their too well pressed leisurewear had looked less bored than usual.

"You two amaze me. You sit there in your consulates stamping visas morning till night, and all the time you're mulling over these momentous events of fifty years ago. It's admirable."

Sposi didn't relish that. It came too close to a portrait of a pencil-pushing clerk with a bee in his bonnet.

Chrisake, thought Havril, who were those two foul balls in Flaubert, Bouvard et Pécu -- what?

"People were being killed," said Sposi. "If you were there, you had to commit yourself, take sides, whatever the odds."

"Bushwah," said Havril. "The Nazi Fascists were killing people and something ought to have been done. But men like your hero refused to step out of line. He said, 'Not me, I'm a family man with responsibilities. What would my mother do without me?'"

"It's certainly debatable," said Ms. Eaton. "But what's happening here in the Istiklal?"

The regular brisk and good-humored two-way flow of walkers had been interrupted. People were running in little groups from the direction of Taxim Square. Some turned off and scurried through the passage under the modern bank building to get away from the pedestrian thoroughfare altogether.

"Political rally," said Sposi.

"Some hot-air session in the Square," said Havril.

They were both thinking about the 1949 movie. Havril reviewed the story looking for flagrant irruptions of utopianism. Sposi sorted out what wasn't embarrassing in the hero's last big speech.

"I think they're running from the global economy," said Sposi.

Ms. Eaton wasn't listening. She was speaking to a student type who had been hurrying the way they had come. Not having the two men's preoccupations with history, she'd learnt to speak Turkish.

"No, they're escaping from the triumph of socialism," said Havril.

"They have some Kurd on the run," said Ms. Eaton. "He stood in Taxim and heckled a patriotic speech, shouting about Kurdistan and independence. The police set that group called the Mothers of Ataturk's Martyrs on him."

"A suicide bomber without any bombs," said Havril.

"He must have been brain dead to run toward the police buses," said Sposi.

"He thought he'd be safe in one of the Christian churches," said Ms. Eaton.

"He's claiming sanctuary, for God's sake!" said Sposi.

"But the Sultans never went in for that. And they didn't read Shakespeare," said Havril.

"Come on," said Ms. Eaton, heading for Saint Antonio's Basilica.

They followed her to the church, much less eager than she was as she worked through a small crowd and reached the iron grill that closed the arched access from the street. Three policemen were inside blocking the gate with their bodies. They leaned into the ironwork as if ill at ease on the church side of the entry.

A half-dozen citizens stood in a circle in the far left hand corner of the churchyard. The church door had been locked and the fugitive could get no farther than the high wire fence beside it that blocked an exit in that direction. He lay on the ground now. A fat woman whose kerchief had come loose was kicking him hard. A stubby little man then hit the Kurd's head with his fist as if affirming a conviction on a tabletop. A tall, skinny young man bent down and tugged hard at the prone figure's shirt collar. He let the Kurd's head fall back hard on the pavement.

"They're killing him," said Ms. Eaton trying to grab the jacket of the closest policeman. He recognized a foreigner from the West and leaned backward, keeping his foot on the closed grill.

"You'd better keep out of it," said Sposi.

"And how," said Havril. "Ankara would have you on the Heathrow plane tomorrow morning."

Ms. Eaton didn't seem to hear. She shouted something in Turkish over the policeman's head and then regained her composure.

"I'm going to see what they know at our consulate," said Ms. Eaton, not looking at them and walking on ahead.

"Suit yourself, dear lady," said Sposi.

"Be careful," said Havril.

The two men continued toward the Galatasaray and Taxim, visibly relieved to be on the move again and on their own. The rain seemed to have stopped for good.

"I think the old girl shed a tear," said Sposi.

"Women," said Havril. "What's showing next week at the Institute?"

"Vietnam January," said Sposi. "That tear-jerking flag waver."

"It had its points," said Havril. "There's patriotism and patriotism..."

He intended to go on, but Sposi was bristling for argument, "And war and war?"

The two streams of promenaders in the Istiklal had now resumed their regular lively pace.


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About the Author

Peter Byrne was born in Chicago, attended universities in Quebec and Paris, and lived for long periods, teaching and writing, in Montreal, London, Paris, Italy -- north and south -- Sofia, and Istanbul. He now lives in the Italian city of Lecce within sight of Albania on a very clear day.



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Swans -- ISSN: 1554-4915
URL for this work: http://www.swans.com/library/art12/pbyrne08.html
Published July 17, 2006