Friendship and forbidden love in Istanbul

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Friendship and forbidden love in Istanbul
Friendship and forbidden love in Istanbul

The popular Italian screenwriter, director and writer Ferzan Özpetek transports us to Istanbul through his nostalgic novel, painted in the red of Istanbul sunsets, old trams, exquisite tea cups.

"Istanbul Red" tells the story of a man and a woman - two strangers who met on the plane to Istanbul.

He is a Turkish director living in Rome. The sudden return home is also a return to the past, to the memories of his mother, a magnetic and sad woman; about his father disappearing mysteriously and reappearing just as mysteriously after ten years; about his grandmother, the sophisticated "Ottoman princess". For the first kite, the first movie, the first stolen kisses. She is a businesswoman traveling on business with her husband. The city with a centuries-old history and many names will offer her not only strong morning coffee, but also friendship, forbidden love and an opportunity to reinvent herself.

"Istanbul Red" is a sweetly melancholic text that manages to convince us that it is not how we lived that matters, but how we tell the story of our lives - to ourselves and to others. Because only in this way is it possible to find some meaning in mistakes, pain and death.

Ferzan Özpetek is an Italian director with Turkish roots, born in 1959 in Istanbul. He is known as the director and writer of the scripts of films such as "The opposite window" and "The last harem". Istanbul Red (2013) is his successful literary debut. The book is an explanation of love for his native Istanbul, and the film of the same name, directed by Özpetek himself, has won numerous awards and is part of this year's program of the international cinema-literary festival "Cinelibri"!



Never forget that it doesn't matter how you lived. How you tell your life story to yourself and most of all to others is important. Because only in this way is it possible to find some meaning in mistakes, pain and death. /from the movie "The Last Harem" with screenwriter and director Ferzan Ozpetek/

It's warm. I take my seat on the plane, put on my seat belt. Why is it actually so warm? It shouldn't. Perhaps I brought the frozen and heavy air outside with me. The evening in Rome is warm, but I know that the city I am going to will welcome me with a cold wind. Istanbul. Our old house is waiting for me there. That old white house I grew up in and then left before I turned eighteen. But in a sense it has always been Home to me. Is it possible for a person to leave the home of his childhood? I do not think. He lives on in us even when the house is gone, torn down and bulldozed, as ours will be.

I close my eyes. Feel tired. I can't count how many times I've been on this plane and others like it, returning to Istanbul. And when I think about it, once the horizon of my world was reduced to a garden with two large linden trees, whose smell - when they bloomed in the spring in Istanbul - mingled with the sea breeze. If I close my eyes, I can still smell this fragrance.

Reed, the name of my old neighborhood, has the same sweet power; the moment i say it i go back in time.

I return again to the houses with gardens where we played as children. I return to my room, from the window of which I could see the blue sea. It's wonderful to have a room with a view, especially if it overlooks the blue shimmering in the distance.

In my house in Rome there is no garden, no linden trees, no skyline. Just a terrace surrounded by gas meters. A landscape that is not particularly Roman, but nevertheless I love with all my heart, as I love everything connected with this city. Yet every now and then, surprisingly, I still think of the window from my childhood: when I wake up at night, dazed by the time difference, in some hotel room in Tokyo or New York and see nothing but skyscrapers around me. A long way from that white house that will soon be gone.

Slight rustling. Sound of boyish feet running fast. A rolling ball. Is it possible? I turn to look. There is no one. Just the sound of the plane's wheels on the runway. Then there was silence again. In the almost empty plane, the stewardess pushes a cart with coffee.

I close my eyes. I don't feel like drinking coffee, I don't want to talk to anyone, I just want to think about what awaits me in our old house.

Rustling again, slight stirring of the air. This time the boy laughs as he runs down the path. He picks up the ball and smiles at me: he looks me straight in the eye. It's like it's me staring at myself. It's as if I'm looking at myself from the depths of the past, from the garden, from the lime trees.

The boy is not alone. There is a blonde woman with him; dressed in a strict, formal gray suit; a sweet, slightly sleepy expression. There is also an elegant gentleman with a Venetian gondola in his hand; he holds her as if she were something extremely precious. I recognize the gondola, it's like the one we had at home in a cupboard and then got lost somewhere… For years I admired this glass, hand-made, varac-gilt, shiny gondola. When my father disappeared, I was told he had gone to Italy. So I imagined him traveling in such a Venetian gondola, an exact copy of the figurine I was not allowed to touch.

Then my father most surprisingly came back. A real mystery to me. As he had disappeared, so he appeared, without warning.

One day, returning from school, I saw our old faithful maid Diamante waiting for me on the steps outside the door.

– I have good news, she said with a smile on her face.

Then he ran his fingers through my hair, maybe to smooth it or maybe it was a gesture of tenderness, a desire to encourage me.

He took my hand and together we walked towards the living room. Through the open door I could hear the excited voices of my mother, sister and brother. Then I heard the commanding voice of a man I didn't know. My father. There he was, here he was, after so many years of absence, sitting in the armchair, wearing a burgundy-red silk robe with small patterns; this outfit would become an integral part of him in the years to come.

I stepped timidly into the living room, reluctantly. So much time had passed; I hadn't even walked when he left, and now a stranger stood before me. I didn't dare hug him, and if my mother hadn't pushed me into his arms, I wouldn't have.

And Venice? We didn't talk about her. Not then, not later. I didn't ask either. Children instinctively know what they should and should not ask about; they sense when they won't get an answer to their questions. However, when I first found myself in Venice, this city of labyrinths, this city of water, I couldn't resist and took a gondola tour in honor of my father, in honor of the child I once was.

How many riddles, I think with a smile on my face. Unsolved mysteries and unrevealed family secrets. True crimes and crimes against the heart. Maybe that's why I like to talk about them in my films; to reveal them carefully and gently; to untangle and explain them.

Maybe this is the main reason I always carry an old postcard in my wallet. Black and white, with crumpled edges. On it you can see the domes of the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia, the curves of the Bosphorus, and in the distance, far away indeed-so far that it can only be distinguished by those who love it-my house. My old white house. On the back of the card in my father's elegant and confident pen handwriting (he never gave up using a pen) was written only one date: 1963.

He used this card to keep track of how far he got in the book he was reading and I only got it after he passed away a few years ago. I took it out of the book on the bedside table next to his bed. It's been in my wallet ever since. It's not just a memory. It is an invitation, a promise. I know that no matter where I am, Istanbul is always waiting for me. My Istanbul, the city I will land in very soon.


On the plane

The man sitting next to them on the plane is a bit strange. He seems to be eavesdropping on their conversation, staring as if watching a movie running on a screen in front of him. Of course, Anna says to herself after glancing casually at him: it's that director… Then she bends down and picks up the postcard that fell on the path. Old black and white postcard.

– I think this is yours, she says.

He wants to say something more but refrains.

– Thank you – the man replies with a smile.

Anna is happy because of this trip. She is happy to go to Istanbul for the first time; she is happy that she is not traveling alone for once; that she would not be alone in the hotel room, where she would have to fight her eternal battle with the air conditioner. She is happy because of the party they are invited to; because of this unexpected vacation with her husband; and even that she is with him. Well, and with them: with the "boy from the studio", who is no longer a boy at all, and with his fiancee with the child's face. When she thinks of her, her hand rises to her face in an attempt to smooth the deep, permanent wrinkle on her forehead; and how will she not be there when she lives with so much stress, so many worries…

The years go by. Not only for her, but also for her husband Michele. How many years, how many wrinkles, how many compromises… How many failed vacations, postponed trips; how many planned and unrealized things. But they're still here together.

“You are my promised land that I failed to keep.” Someone had spray-painted this on the wall across from their studio; she sees the writing every day when she comes to work. Although it is unrelated to her life, he had touched her after all, and she thinks of him from time to time.

Vows, promises? She kept her promises. The same goes for the promises she made to herself. Did you want this man? Get it. He promised him and himself a world that belonged only to them. She helped him and supported him. Countless nights spent correcting the irregularities in his accounts; spent countless days trying to convince him and his clients that yes, he could, yes, he would. And actually we really did, she thinks with satisfaction. Now they had a place they called 'the studio' - a lively, dynamic place where many young people worked. Like Andrea and Elena, who met – and fell in love – there. One day Elena found another job and left; good decision; one must separate love from work, draw a clear line between the two; not everyone can do it. Both are talented and pleasant. Anna likes their unrestrained energy, joy, enthusiasm and vitality, so characteristic of thirty-year-olds.

He looks at them and thinks: he was their age when he met Michele. She was exactly like Elena, with a gentle face and smooth skin without a single wrinkle; her smile was spontaneous, radiating innocence and faith that anything was possible, that everything was yet to come. And it's up to you to make it happen.

Now they are on this trip as couples. When was the last time she did something like that? Probably never after those spontaneous and chaotic journeys of her youth. She was in her twenties, and with a group of friends they would go somewhere, meet, break up, adventures awaited them around every corner… In fact, she had never really liked adventures, even when she was twenty. She had always longed for something else: to build something solid. And he succeeded. He has the life he dreamed of; solid, secure life, without hesitation or deviation. Now he just needs a vacation.

From vacation and from rest; that's why he plans to go to the hammam tomorrow or one of the following days. Yes, she definitely wants to go to the Turkish bath. She had never been to a real hammam, only those fake alpine saunas and massages at the luxury mountain resorts. In those places, they also serve tea in glass cups with varak-gilded rims to add an exotic flavor to the experience.

This time Anna wants a real hammam; moisture, steam, silence; and along with his shoes and clothes he will take off his thoughts.

Just a few weeks ago, a friend brought her a box of goodies from Turkey - sticky and sugary Turkish Delight. The box was pink and kitschy, the kind of stuff you buy at the airport at the last minute. The words "Turkish Delight" were printed above a pale reproduction of a 19th-century painting: harem women in colorful and light silk dresses, adorned with many jewels. Did harem women really live like this, or was it just a romantic fantasy? Whatever the truth, the scene was mesmerizing; as soon as he opened the box and tasted a piece of the sweet delight, he immediately imagined himself walking through one of the doors of the harem in the picture and falling inside. Cold and heat, water and steam… She wanted to get rid of her clothes and stress. And not to think about anything.

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