By Mark Brunga
Memorie.al / In the city of Durrës, many people have been active who have stood out for the skill they possessed as well as for their wisdom. One of them was the master, Xhemal Topi. Well known in the city of Durrës for the many skills he possessed and his communicative nature with clients during the period he worked as a photographer. He was a talented mechanic who contributed to several sectors of the economy. Coping with the lack of material base in the years after liberation, it was very sensitive and with different adoptions. Among the many crafts that he possessed in addition to being a talented photographer, he excelled at repairing cameras. Which were diverse in types and ages and there were no special spare parts for them.
Special customer, Sulo Gradeci
In 1964, a special customer started coming to Xhemal Topi. Not in the state bar where he worked, but at home. The client was Sulo Gradeci, the commander of Enver Hoxha’s escort group. Xhemal’s son, Ali, says that since there was no one to repair the device he used, his father was recommended to him. And Sulo, usually came home late.
“One night, – says Aliu, – the father had to repair a device that had to be used the next day. He went late and put us children to sleep. When it was past midnight, around 01:00, Sulo says: “Come, Xhemal, let’s have a cigarette, you’re tired.” Meanwhile, they had prepared to give him as compensation, after he had done some other repairs before, a shooting order with the figure of 500 old ALL. After smoking the cigarette, he told him to sign the shooting order to the receiver of the value. Xhemali saw the document out of the corner of his eye. It was a reward equal to the value of 2 working days of that time period. He said: ‘Well done, because it tired me a lot, but I don’t take this’. Sulo insisted on taking it as he had the budget. Xhemali told them that he would tell them a story before taking it, and then they would see and do what would be good for them. ‘Okay’, – said Sulo, – ‘I’m listening’…!
“Spicy story” and its special moral…!
…And Xhemal began to tell how a young King, who had just inherited the throne from his father, decided to put special order in his Kingdom. Since the merchants were abusing the prices and stealing from the people, he thought of taking them to a control trial, according to the professions. And the punishments would be in relation to the degree of errors that were found. Someone was beheaded, someone was put on a rope, and some were left in prison. One day his guards inform him that a little boy had been waiting to meet him for a week and had said that he would not leave without meeting the King.
The boy wanted to meet him to save his father whom the King had thrown in prison…! He ordered them to be brought to him, and when the boy expressed his concern, the King said: ‘According to you, I should release your father’? And the boy said: ‘Yes. It is not the father’s fault that he was not good at accounting, but it was the grandfather who did not educate him. For my father, I answer that he sent me to school’.
The king addressed him: ‘Think carefully that you are playing with your father’s head.’ He then called the experts who took the boy to a skills test. The boy faced all the questions and the King was pleased with him. For this he gave him a gold coin. The boy saw it well and could not believe his eyes. Then he said: ‘I can’t understand that my mother is talking to me’. The king addressed him: “Tell him that I gave him fish, because you made me happy.”
The boy again does not accept it and the King asks: ‘But why doesn’t he believe you? Are you such a bad boy?! And the boy answered: ‘You don’t believe me because she knows that when the King gives gifts, he gives with bags and not with grains’…! Sulo laughed when he heard it and caught the moral of this story in the air and addressed him: “Xemal and a good lesson”! Then he tore up the shooting order and wrote the figure 4,000 ALL on another.”
Ali says that when his father went to the State Bank, the cashier said: “What did you do that they gave you so much money”?! Because the value was 40 thousand old ALL. The figure given in the shooting order was not worth a monthly salary of 400 ALL, but a tenfold value.
And Xhemali refused to break it. When he goes to Sulo’s house again and asks him why he didn’t withdraw the money since the “Block” account (Directorate of Government Services) didn’t go through liquidation, Xhemali tells him that he gave him a lot of money. Out of the 4,000 old ones that he had wanted to write, he had noted the value of 40,000 ALL. An annual salary in those years. And then Sulo corrected the number.
The master of photography from Durrës, Xhemal Topi
The master of photography from Durrës, Xhemal Topi was born in Elbasan in 1915. In his early childhood, he started his professional career as a watchmaker. He was around 10-12 years old, as they say when he went and watched a watchmaker in the process of repairing watches from the work window. One day, the watchmaker asks him to go with his father to him. He asked his father to let his son work with him as a watchmaker, since from what he had seen; he had a passion for this craft.
He kept him at work and gave him a number of non-working hours to practice. They were very large pocket watches with many covers, Xhemali recalled. (It seems they were “George Prior” watches). Throughout his life afterwards, Xhemali repaired his own clocks and those of his relatives. Their glasses were worked with film-films from old cameras. It had also produced watch parts.
Professional “fraud”, with the firm “Lalymier”…!
Xhemali called it luck that he had worked for a period with 2 Italian professionals, a mechanic and a carpenter. As well as the work he did with the brothers Sulë and Sami Baholli, in their cinema in Elbasan, as a cinematographer. In order to take the photos of the advertisements, since he did not have professional materials, he was forced to take the negatives from the positives of the films to take these photos. This is a difficult and lengthy procedure.
Fortunately, the Baholls had a nanny of French origin, who advised them to contact the company “Lalymier” to bring the champions for trade. Wrote to the firm and by mail, a large amount of materials really came from France, which solved many problems.
The outstanding professional
In the first years after liberation, Xhemal Topi came to Durrës and stabilized at work at the Naval Shipyard, where within 6 months he received the highest professional category. And he started repairing bank calculators. “It was a difficult job, as they came there from all over the country”, – remembers the son – and as soon as he was given the opportunity, when the handicraft cooperative was created in Durrës, he became a photographer. A profession that he loved and that gave him pleasure. At that time, private companies in Durrës had a lot of competition.
“There is talk,” Aliu emphasizes, “of well-known figures in this field, such as Esat Hafizi, Palokë Gurashi and many others.” In the family album, a photo with the talented photographer Lekë Shiroka is preserved even today. These were well-known photographers with consolidated clientele and under these conditions; it took a lot of effort to survive their competition.
Meanwhile, since there were no professional guilds to repair cameras, Ali, who knew this skill in detail, repaired them at home. In this case, Sulo Gradeci “knocked” on him and Xhemali thus became the camera repairer of the high communist nomenclature of the state of that time. Yes, this made him more modest and until the end of his life, he remained a demanding man, in increasing his professional skills.
After new technologies and brands of devices started coming from the West and the East, for which spare parts were not imported even once. But Xhemali did not return any customer with an unrepaired device. Once he had achieved a high degree of knowledge about them, he adapted various parts, solving problems for anyone who asked for help. Until he passed away, the polyhedral mechanic never stopped learning and experimenting…! Memorie.al