By TUFAN AKSOY
(1947 – 2012)
Cüneyt Ayral, popular ex-boss in the Istanbul underwear industry, once sold bras in an open-air market in Marseille, calling out “bonnets for the twins” ! This was after he left for France in order to escape from his creditors. It would be difficult to find another person in the whole world who can tease and juggle with life to such an extent. Just have a look at the exploits of this exceptional being, ever true to form; Cüneyt Ayral, poet, writer, journalist ….
Did he come from space, arriving from a country unknown until now, or from the planet Krypton? Nobody can answer these questions, becuse he is so different from other people. He has mocked life during his whole existence until the present, and, in spite of his setbacks, his failures, his bankruptcies, he has never stopped smiling. Nobody has ever seen him sulking or grumpy even when he was faced with disaster and distress…. His name is Cüneyt Ayral… and he continues to astonish all those who know him with his incredible resilience towards life.
He has never been afraid of anything or anybody, with just one exception… His fear of death led him to become a poet, a writer and a publisher of books. Having reached his goal, he now says that he will live on in his books and his poems when he is no longer physically present. He believes that he will survive for posterity in his works.
You could have come across Cüneyt Ayral, big businessman, in Istanbul. It was he who invented the Turkish term “içgiyim” (underwear) to describe women’s lingerie, and he was the county’s representative for women’s favourite brands, Warners and Gabriel Veneto. As he himself says, his firm went bankrupt, mainly because Turkish people are not used to the “concept of association”. Every year he organised fashion shows, presenting ladies’ lingerie in the most prestigious Istanbul venues, and overwhelmed Turkish high society with the lingerie from abroad which the models displayed. …His activities made the headlines of the most important newspapers… He was the tops…
Those who saw Cüneyt in a provincial street-market near Marseille, selling his bras, shouting out in Turkish “Bonnets for the twins”, must have been very surprised. But this was Cüneyt… He knows how to make a living whatever may happen, even if he has to move mountains. He sells bras, pants, suspender belts, but when he arrives home, he lights a cigarette, as he has done for forty-seven years, that is to say since he was ten years old. He is back in his own world.
When he gave me two of his latest books, I began to understand what sort of stories inhabited his creative spirit. I watched him gently sipping mouthfuls from his glass of “raki” (too dilute and rather too light for my taste), which he himself called “raki for girls”
“Gümüs Gölge” (“Silver Shadow”) is the story of a travestite. The young Deniz, who was abandoned by his father has run away from his uncle’s guardianship which he felt to be a constraint, and ends up in Paris where he meets up with Cüneyt Ayral. His adventures, which he recounts during the long nights spent with many cigarettes and a little raki, come to life through Cüneyt’s pen.
The other book, entitled “Mimiti” is a science fiction novel with a theme of interplanetary love. This may please those readers who are fans of “conceptual elements”, but for my part I have never been able to become involved with science fiction. It is a field into which Cüneyt made a rapid incursion after meeting, in Sri Lanka, one of the masters of the genre, Sir Arthur C.Clarke, who introduced him to its subtilities. Clarke wrote the novel from which Stanley Kubrick made the film “2001 Space Odyssey”. In this case, a chance meeting was very profitable for Cüneyt, who enjoys teasing life….
We talked about Sri Lanka… Cüneyt took his entrepreneurial initiative to this mysterious Island, just south of India, in order to set up a big lingerie factory and thus rise to the top place in this, just as he had done in Turkey. The desire to reach the top is in his genes. When he became bankrupt in Turkey, the managing director of the newspaper “Hürriyet”, Nezih Demirkent, came to his rescue by helping him to emigrate to France while clearing all his various debts. In the last few years, a businessman from Denizli, Ahmet Gökşin, has brought Cüneyt’s problems to an end by negotiating with the banks thus terminating abusive contracts, and allowing him to return to Turkey and continue to make fun of life.
Cüneyt Ayral, the specialist in ladies underwear, could not, however, distance himself from writing. Thus, while working for the ladies and their lingerie, he was, at the same time, publishing a newspaper, under the title of “Kostantıniyye Haberleri” (Constantinople News). I myself was a member of the editorial board. We used to work all through the night in order for the paper to come out the next morning. Cüneyt Ayral had a fabulous collection of personal archives which furnished us with a database of documents, photos and articles about Istanbul. Later, after an anonymous denunciation, the word “Kostantıniyye” was judged to be inappropriate, and the title was banned by law. We were flabbergasted, we could not understand what was happening to the country. We continued to publish the newspaper under the title “Our City”. The court’s decision was even less understandable when one considers that coins from the period of Mehmet the Conqueror bore the inscription “Darb-i Kostantıniyye” (Minted in Constantinople). Somebody obviously wanted to pull a fast one on Cüneyt… But he, with that smile which never leaves his face, continues to make fun of life.. He is on form.
His daughter Roxane and his son Sinan live in France. Roxane, who is twenty-six, is a curator. She organises exhibitions. Artists do not always know how to hang their paintings or photos or place their sculptures to their best advantage, and they find this worrying. So it becomes the job for the curator. All exhibitions in Istanbul are the work of curators. Sinan, who is twenty, is the image of his father. He takes life in Paris as it comes, improvising music and writing scenarios. He was Cüneyt’s assistant when he was selling underwear in the street markets.
Cüneyt Ayral, popular boss of yesterday, and author of seventeen books is at present working on a cookery book, telling of his culinary experiences. Some wonderful photos and recipes from ten famous cordon-bleus will be included in it. When he was last in Izmir, he wanted to eat in a small restaurant. We sat down at a table in the “Aci Biber” , (Hot Pepper) restaurant, in a street by the Hilton hotel. He order stuffed peppers with olive oil. What else could one eat for lunch in Izmir? Food cooked in olive oil of course. He found his peppers delicious. Who knows, maybe he will mention them in his book… After all, that’s Cüneyt….
Discussions, chats with him, friendship… It’s fabulous. An ocean of knowledge, a well grounded culture and heaps of jokes. I’m glad we have been “brothers” for so many years.
Translation Beverly Barbey