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Authors: Orhan Pamuk

The New Life (36 page)

BOOK: The New Life
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Walking along the first street I became aware of the stillness in my mind; in the second street, a weeping willow caressed me; and when I came across a long-lashed and angelically beautiful child in the third street, I thought of pulling out of my pocket the slip with the address and asking him the way. Was the alphabet of my filthy world foreign to him? Or could the child not read? I didn't know. But when I looked at the slip of paper on which I had managed to get a local functionary two hundred kilometers south of here to write the address, I realized it was hardly legible. I tried making out the syllables aloud, but before I could say “Ray Hill Street,” a crone stuck her head out of her enclosed balcony. “There,” she said, “there it is, over there, the street that goes uphill.”


The end of the road had to be uphill; that's what I was thinking to myself when a horse cart carrying metal drums full to the brim with water beat me turning into the street. I assumed the water was for a building under construction somewhere up on the hill. Watching the water spill out of the drums as the cart went up, I wondered why the drums were made of galvanized iron and not plastic. Had plastic still not made an appearance in this place? It was not the busy driver with whom I exchanged glances but the horse, and I was ashamed of myself. His mane was drenched in sweat; he was angry and helpless; he was under such a strain pulling the heavy weight, what he was suffering could be called pure pain. For a moment I saw myself in his large sorrowful, grieving eyes, and it dawned on me that the horse's state was even worse than mine. We climbed up Ray Hill Street, accompanied by the sounds of the metal water drums clanging noisily, the wheels clattering on the stone pavement, and my humdrum existence huffing and puffing uphill. The horse cart turned into a small yard where mortar was being mixed, and I, just as the sun vanished behind a dark cloud, entered the garden and then the dark and mysterious abode that belonged to the originator of New Life Caramels. I stayed six hours in that stone house surrounded by a garden.

The gentleman called Süreyya, the manufacturer of New Life Caramels, who might provide me with the key to the secrets of my life, was one of those octogenarians who blissfully puff away at two packs of Samsun cigarettes a day as if tobacco contained an elixir that prolonged life. He greeted me as though I were a longtime pal of his grandson, or a close friend of the family; and as if continuing a story he had left at midpoint yesterday, he proceeded to tell me about a Hungarian spy who had come to his place of business in Kütahya on a winter's day. Then he expounded on some candy store in Budapest, on the identical hats all the women had worn to a ball given in Istanbul in the 1930s, on the mistakes Turkish women made in their efforts to look beautiful, on the reasons why his grandson, who kept leaving the room and who was about the same age as myself, had failed to get married, going into detail about a couple of engagements that had gone sour. He was pleased to hear I was married, making it clear it was a true sign of patriotism in a young insurance man like me to be willing to take long trips that deprived him of his wife and daughter in order to organize the country, alerting citizens and marshaling them to protect themselves against catastrophes.

It was at the end of the second hour that I told him I did not sell life insurance, but that I was curious about the New Life Caramels. He stirred in his chair, his face turned to the gray light that came in through the shady garden, and he asked me out of the blue if I knew German. Without waiting for an answer, he said, “Schachmatt.” Then he explained that the word “checkmate” was a European hybrid made of the Persian word for
“shah,” and the Arabic word for
“mat.” We were the ones who had taught the West the game of chess. In the worldly arena of war, the black and white armies fought out the good and evil in our souls. And what had they done? They had made a queen out of our vizier and a bishop out of our elephant; but this was not important in itself. What was important, they had presented chess back to us as a victory of their own brand of intellect and the notions of rationalism in their world. Today we were struggling to understand our own sensitivities through their rational methods, assuming this is what becoming civilized means.

Had I noticed—his grandson had—that storks coming up north at the end of spring and migrating south in August back to Africa flew at a higher altitude than they used to in happier times? This was because the cities, mountains, rivers they flew over were in such a sorry state that those birds no longer wanted to behold the misery of all these lands. Talking of storks with affection, he was reminded of a stork-legged female French trapeze artist who had performed in Istanbul fifty years ago, and then he reminisced about old-time circuses and fairs, describing in great detail the kind of candy sold at these places, which involved more local color than nostalgia.

I was invited to their table for lunch; and while we ate and drank cold Tuborg beers, the old gentleman told the story of a bunch of knights stuck in Anatolia during the Eighth Crusade who had gone underground by way of a cave in Cappadocia. Their influence had continued increasing over the centuries; their children and grandchildren had enlarged the caves, dug new passageways underground, discovered new caves, and founded underground cities. Sometimes covert agents from the sunless land of labyrinths where lived the Multitudes of Persons of Crusader Ancestry (the MPCA) would surface under a different guise, and infiltrating our towns and streets they would begin preaching to us about the glory of the Western civilization, so that the MPCAs who undermine us by digging under our territories could complaisantly rise above ground by undermining our thoughts. Had I known that these spies were known as OP? And that there was a brand of shaving cream also called OP?

I don't know whether it was Süreyya who brought up the addiction to roasted garbanzo beans which Atatürk considered a great national catastrophe, or if I was merely imagining it at the time. Did he lead the conversation to Doctor Fine, or was it me who alluded to him through some association? I can't tell. Doctor Fine's mistake, he said, was that of a materialist putting his trust in things, assuming that he could prevent the dissipation of the spirit inherent in objects by preserving them. If that were true, then flea markets would be bathed in spiritual enlightenment. Enlightenment. Light. Luminous. Brilliant. So many products made use of such words, all fake—light bulbs, ink, what have you. When Doctor Fine realized he could not save our lost souls by preventing the loss of objects, he had resorted to terrorism. Naturally, that had suited the Americans just fine; the CIA was second to none in dirty tricks. Today winds howled where his mansion once stood. His rosy daughters had fled one by one; his son had already been killed. As to his organization, it had fallen apart; and perhaps, as it happens when great empires collapse, each assassin had declared himself the sovereign of his own autonomous fiefdom. That was the reason why the magnificent terrain which through a clever tactic of the colonialist genius had been dubbed the “Middle East” was swarming with inept colonial prince-assassins who had declared their independence. He aimed his cigarette not at me but at the empty chair next to me, underlining the colonialist paradox he pointed out: we were at the end of the autonomous history that pertained to colonized lands.

Evening was descending on the shady garden as if on a graveyard, augmenting its stillness, when he suddenly opened the subject I had been waiting for hours to broach. He had been telling me about some Japanese Catholic missionary he had encountered in the vicinity of Kayseri who had attempted a brainwashing operation in a mosque courtyard, but suddenly he changed the subject: he could not remember where in the world he had come up with the trademark of New Life. But he thought the magical name was appropriate because caramels had associations for the people who had lived on this land for a considerable length of time, binding their own lost past to a new taste and a new awareness. Contrary to what is commonly surmised, neither the word caramel nor the candy itself was a French import or imitation. After all, the word
as it had become when it migrated into the Indo-European languages—was the most basic word in the language of the people who have lived here for ten thousand years, supplying the prefix for all the words that take up several pages in the dictionary, meaning things that are
both good and bad; so he had included the word for thirty-two years in each and every wrapper on his candy, which was good and dark.

“Yes, but what about the angel?” the unfortunate traveler, the patient insurance man, the hapless hero again inquired.

By way of answering, the old gentleman recited eight of the ten thousand doggerel rhymes he had included inside the wrappers. Guileless angels that were neither beguiling nor in keeping with the memories of my childhood signaled to me from the lines of doggerel verse, where they were compared to world-class beauties, likened to drowsy young women, drenched with fairytale magic, and increasingly endowed with a childishness that was repellent to me.

The old gentleman confessed that he himself had written the rhymes he had recited. He had penned almost six thousand of the ten thousand rhymes placed in New Life Caramels. During those golden years when the demand for the candy had reached incredible proportions, there were some days when he had come up with twenty such rhymes. Anastasius, who minted the first Byzantine piece of money, had his own portrait stamped on the head side of the coin, had he not? The old candy maker reminded me how his own creations once used to be kept in glass jars between the scales and the cash register, how the product that bore his stamp had been carried in millions of pockets, how they had once been used in lieu of change, telling me that he had tasted all the gracious things in life that might be enjoyed by some emperor who had once created his own coinage, such as wealth, power, good fortune, beautiful women, fame, success, happiness. It was for this reason that he had no need to take out a life insurance policy. But to make it up to his young insurance agent friend, he would explain why he had put the image of an angel on his caramels. In his youth when he frequented movie theaters, he had especially loved watching Marlene Dietrich. He absolutely adored the film called
Der Blaue Engel
which was shown here as
The Blue Angel,
based on the novel by the German writer Heinrich Mann. The old gentleman had read the novel in the original, the title of which was
Professor Unrat.
Professor Unrat, played by the actor Emil Jannings, is an unassuming high school teacher who falls in love with a woman of easy virtue. Although the woman appears angelic, in reality …

Was there a strong wind outside rustling in the trees? Or was it my mind listening to itself being swept away by the wind? For a while I was “not there,” as good-natured teachers say about dreamy and innocent students who are confused enough to be indulged. The vision of my youth enveloped in the light that surged from
The New Life
when I first read it glided past in front of my eyes like the blazing lights on a wondrous ship disappearing inaccessibly into the darkness of the night. In the silence where I had descended, it wasn't as if I didn't know the old gentleman was telling the sad story in the movie and the novel he had loved in his youth, but it was as if I heard nothing, saw nothing.

Presently his grandson came in and turned on the lights; at that moment I realized simultaneously three things: 1) The chandelier that hung from the ceiling was identical to the one which the Angel of Desire at the tent theater in Viran Bağ presented nightly to the lucky winner along with peerless advice on the subject of life. 2) The room had become so dark that I hadn't been able to see the old candy maker for quite some time, whose name, Süreyya, meant the star cluster, the Pleiades. 3) He couldn't see me either because he was blind.

Before some belligerent and contemptuous reader scoffs at my intellect and attentiveness for not having realized for six hours the fact that a man is blind, may I inquire just as belligerently if that reader has expended enough attention and intellect at every turn of this book? Let's see you remember now the description of the scene, for example, when the angel was first mentioned? Or can you immediately say what kind of inspiration Uncle Rıfkı's list of companies in his work called
Railroad Heroes
provided for
The New Life?
Have you caught on to the clues through which I would eventually figure out that Mehmet was thinking of Janan when I shot him at the movie theater? In the life of those people like me whose lives have slipped off the track, sorrow presents itself in the form of rage that wants to pass itself off as cleverness. And it's the desire to be clever that finally spoils everything.

Looking up from my own sorrows, I realized the old man was blind when I observed the way he looked up at the chandelier that cast its light over us, regarding him for the first time with a kind of reverence, a kind of awe, or speaking honestly, a kind of envy. He was tall, slender, graceful and, considering his age, quite fit. He knew how to employ his hands and fingers dexterously, his mind still chugged away with vigor, and he was able to talk for six hours without losing the interest of the dreamy murderer who he stubbornly refused to believe was anything other than an insurance agent. He had been able to achieve some sort of success in his youth which had been replete with happiness and stimulation; and even though his success had melted away in the stomachs of millions of people, and even though the six thousand doggerel rhymes he penned had ended up in trash cans, they had provided him with a sound and optimistic assumption on the subject of his place in the world; and what's more, he had been able to smoke up two packs of cigarettes a day until he was eighty-some years old with a great deal of pleasure.

BOOK: The New Life
9.23Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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