By Ani Jaupaj
Memorie.al / The life of the most coveted girl in the capital in the 1950s – 1960s, relationships with men and disregard for power through her free life. The account of the ex-boyfriend and others who knew him. From the rides on “Zogu I-rë” Boulevard, to the internment in Grabian in Lushnje, in a pigsty, where he hanged himself together with his mother. “You had to have the courage of a boxer to approach Ganimet Cuka, one of the most beautiful girls of the 50s in Tirana”. This is what all the observers say, the young boys of those years, who could only greet him from afar. Just the thought of him was enough to make them feel insecure about themselves. Were they handsome enough!? Oh better, how many did they have to be to please Ganimet?! Most of them didn’t even pass this test with themselves, so they were content just to see her on her walk every evening on “Zogu I-r” boulevard.
Those who “chased” her and went after the scent she left behind on the promenade were not only the boys of old Tirana from the “Dibra Street of the Barricades” neighborhood, to see her! Their gazes did not meet, because Ganimet rarely looked at anyone. Besides having her image fresh in his head, they had “quieter” nights, thanks to fantasy…!
Ahmet Golemi, boxing champion at that time, met all the conditions to approach him. Young, handsome, and most importantly, he had the courage that others lacked. However, even he didn’t dare with the first one…! He measured each boardwalk tile before speaking to them. So assured in advance, in the air, his keen gaze had received the approval he needed.
He broke the ice, so that he could then enjoy the dream, for three years in a row, until he was stopped. Falling into the footsteps of the State Security, did their story get in the way? Not that Golem hoped to wear the white dress. During their coveted history, young as he was, he had received silent signals that she was not the woman for him. This, not only because she was almost 5 years older than him. An old rumor in Tirana, from those that still echo today, almost 50 years after her death, made her unworthy to create a family relationship.
In fact, everyone affirms that Ganimet Cuka liked handsome boys and enjoyed their company, but either Ahmet Golemi or other peers of his time refuse to accept that Ganimet received money for this. First, because he came from a rich family, with his fathers an old merchant of Tirana, and he didn’t need money. Secondly, because they had never seen men enter her house without an account, as is said in the novel “In front of a woman’s mirror”, by the writer Ismail Kadare. All the data in Kadare’s novel lead to Ganimeti’s villa, which he named Margaritë.
So the novel, perhaps with the right of the creator, leads to another reality, which all the dreamers of the time deny. Of course, she was not one of the classic girls who spend time by the furnace waiting for her husband, but not a prostitute either. Any reader who knows more may even pucker their lips when reading this, but we are not drawing any conclusions. We are only showing you the testimonies of her boyfriend of three years, Ahmet Golem, and another athlete. The captain of the football team of Tirana, Osman Reçi, who lived a few meters away from her. To read both of them, together with fragments of Kadare’s novel, you create without a doubt a prefiguration of reality, where Ganimeti lived, coveted by everyone…! The one who later challenged the system, why did she hang herself with her mother…! Immediately after he was interned in Lushnja.
Mr. Golemi, how did you know Ganimet?
In the early 60’s, when I was only 22 years old, all the boys my age, or even old men, knew Ganimet. It was everyone’s dream, quite beautiful. With long thin legs. For the first time, I saw her near her house, when she was walking with her mother, where the small tour was taking place. Of course, I did not immediately find the courage to stop him, I must first know who he was, what reaction he might have, if I took this step. I asked a friend of mine, a resident of that neighborhood, who it was. “You don’t know Ganimet, he likes young guys”, that’s all I needed to think about how to meet him. I continued the round behind her 3-4 more times, before I stopped her, and we met in front of her house.
Immediately at home…?!
We met there in front, and then we went for a walk. Several such experiences passed before our relationship moved to another stage, that is, it became more complete.
As you were told, Ganimet liked young, handsome boys. Did you talk about that when you first talked, even just to make sure there wasn’t a parallel story…?
We definitely talked; she told me a lot of things, starting with her first love story in Italy, with a lieutenant, when she was 14 years old. Then she told me about her engagement to an English officer, who left Albania in ’45. Ganimet tried to escape and go after him, but he couldn’t, so their story ended. Then there were some other stories, which of course we could not go into details.
She could have as many as she wanted, but at that time two are enough, not including you, that after her name was mentioned, her story came…! You were not afraid of hurting yourself, of damaging your career, from her image?
As I told you, I was only 22 years old, too young to go into things that deeply. I enjoyed what I wanted and was content with that, perhaps due to naivety. But the time also came when, with all my redemption, others caught my ear.
What were they told? Who?
The State Security, which was everywhere, must have known everything. Besides we were openly dating, it’s not like we tried to hide our relationship. They told me that I shouldn’t continue with it anymore, that it would damage my future and, in fact, they prevented me from going abroad, with boxing, at that time. They also asked me to become their informant for him.
Informant, for what?!
Her father was quite rich and had gold, which the state could not find all of it. That’s why they wanted me to do my own provocations to get information. Which of course I didn’t.
After that, did you break up?
Yes, after we had been together for three years, we broke up. It was not a little, to be called to the Internal Branch at that time. Moreover, as much as I enjoyed her or felt good, also because of her older age than mine, we had not thought about any relationship that could last forever.
What do you remember from those 3 years? Besides, as they say, the envious glances of your friends followed you, where did you go, what time did you spend together?
We often went out for a walk. We gathered with two of her friends and two of my friends to dance in her backyard. So, we became three couples. I called him Ganush, she Metush. We went to the “Dajti” tavern, leaving the Artificial Lake. We used to go to my room, or to Ali Pazar’s villa, as it was then called in the Black Bird area. Only she never took me to her room and never allowed me to rent it. The whole of Tirana did not consider our history as romantic, but as romantic.
Since you came out to the tenant, the writer Ismail Kadare, in his novel; “In front of a woman’s mirror”, dedicated to Ganimeti, describes her as a prostitute, who was paid to go with men. Classy, but a prostitute! The villa of Ali Pazar that you mention, either because of the area where it was located, or because of the access that Ganimeti had to it, remains a suspicious element…! What do you have to say about this?
I don’t know why Kadare has described it as such! No doubt she enjoyed stories with handsome boys, who might have been more than 2 or 3, but I don’t know if she was paid to go with them. As I told you, he never allowed me, even to buy him anything. However, I can’t say that I haven’t heard this variant, which has been circulating since then. A friend of mine told me that he tried to go to his house, showing him 500 lek from the outside door. I only remember his insulted face after an answer he received from her. I don’t know about Ali Pazar’s villa, she had her own acquaintances with the owners, who allowed us to stay.
Did it happen to you that, when you were walking, you felt the gazes of other men directed at Ganimet?
Yes, definitely, several times. In one case, we were walking by the lake, when we noticed that a boy older than me was walking behind us. I told him that I will come back to catch him and ask him what he wants, but he stopped me. “Leave Matt,” he said. He had noticed other times that he was following him; he was a young doctor at the hospital. It was starting to take a toll on him, all the stares and stalking. It was quite boring. I asked him if I could help him, or if I couldn’t, he should turn to someone else who could help him.
And what answer did you get?
He mentioned to me Enver Hoxha and the friendship their family had with him, before the liberation. Ganimet’s sister’s husband was a senior military officer, Rakip Kalenja. They used to gather and play poker together. Shortly after, our separation came, so the teasing around had started. She was starting to have a bad feeling and expressed it to me. But no one could do anything to stop him from what he did.
What Ganimet had predicted happened. Beqir Balluk’s brother, Qemali, was one of those who wanted to add it to their hands. He took revenge to the point that it led him to exile, since he could not do his own thing.
Referring again to Kadare’s novel, it is said that in Albania, in 1967, a purge began of those who sow bad spirits, drunkards, whores, homosexuals of the Opera Theater, moral and political lightning bolts, gamblers, etc… ! Is it possible that even Ganimeti was involved in this campaign?
She was constantly challenging the regime, living the life she had chosen to live, and it probably had an impact, but I think the main reason was what I mentioned above.
After the breakup, what happened to him?
As I found out, he had made friends with another guy, who was considered the most beautiful in Tirana, Jani Jumani, and then I don’t know. The last news I learned was the most terrible, that of her self-sacrifice, in the village where she was interned in Lushnja. He had hanged himself with his mother, a few days after they were taken there. He did what no man could do. And so it remained immortal, not only in my memories, but in everyone’s. To those who had loved him and didn’t love him…!
The captain of the football team of Tirana, Osman Reçi, lived a few houses away from that of Ganimet Cuka!
-Osmani tells us about the “fame” of Ganimet in Tirana-
“People can talk a lot about him, but the truth is that Ganimet chose the people he stayed with. He wanted them first of all to be beautiful, dressed and clean. And, apart from these, they must be speechless, in order not to be exposed. They were two sisters who lived with their mother, their father had been killed. Nexhmija, the sister, married Rakip Kalenjë, a high-ranking official of the time, had two children. After his shooting, the street Nexhmija deviated from that right, that’s why Ganimeti took the children from her, who took care to raise them in the best way and educate them. One of her grandsons became a doctor and, later, Astrit Kalenja, for some reason time, Minister of Health, whiles the other engineer.
What have been heard about Ganimeti are exaggerations and abuses. It is true that she was not quite like the other girls of Tirana, she liked young and beautiful boys, but she was very selective. We lived near it; we saw and knew almost everything that was done in the neighborhood. As much as everyone looked after their own work, in such a small place, things got along and I can say that no men came in and out of her house, as has been claimed. She worked with brides, among the first to do their makeup in Tirana, according to the possibilities of the time. He adjusted white dresses, or made pillows and sewed decorations. Cuka was an ancient Tirana family and Ganimeti reflected this, with the culture and class it had.”
Although about 50 years have passed since he has these memories, Osman Reçi is convinced that, even if Ganimet Cuka were to pass by him now, he would still turn his head. As he did back then, anyone who saw him…!
Agim Musta: “How was Ganimet sacrificed with the same rope as his mother”?!
A double suicide was committed in 1967 in Grabian, Lushnje. Ganimet Cuka was one of the most beautiful women of Tirana in the 40s of the last century. She graduated from the “Queen Nana” Institute of Tirana and mastered several foreign languages. In 1945, an officer of the English mission fell madly in love with her, but he was forced to leave within 24 hours, at the request of the Albanian government, while Ganimeti was handcuffed and put to death in a Tirana prison cell. In prison, he was barbarically tortured, while some high officials of the State Security tried to rape him. They kept her in the interrogation room for several months, but they could not get her to admit that she was a foreign intelligence agent, so they were forced to release her.
When Ganimet Cuka was released from prison, they left him without a job, to starve. In order to survive, she used to decorate the girls of Tirana on their wedding day. She was very proud and defied the regime, taking her walk every evening on “Zogu i-r” Boulevard. She never stooped to ask for mercy. She was exiled together with her mother, on a rainy October day of the year 1967. There they were put in an alcove of a pig sty to live in. The holes in the unplastered walls were full of scorpions to mark the date. The dampness penetrated up to the marrow. The mud outside was knee-deep. For the first time in my life of her, Ganimeti was overwhelmed by extreme despair. No ray of hope could be seen on the horizon.
He strained his body for several days and nights without sleep, to find a way out, but in vain. Finally, she concluded that death was salvation for them, while their suicide would be a challenge and indictment of the hated dictatorship of Enver Hosha. He told the old mother of his decision and, as he embraced her, he told her to die together. The next day, she bought 10 meters of rope and divided it into two equal parts. He sat by the table and wrote a letter. To whom it was addressed and what was written in it, no one found out, except the operative of the State Security. When he finished the letter, he got on the chair and hung the two ropes made into a loop on a beam. After drinking morning coffee, he put his mother on the chair, threw the rope around her neck and kicked the chair.
The mother remained addicted. He moved the chair a meter away, climbed on top of it and placed the noose around her throat. She gritted her teeth so that when she died, she would remain beautiful. She knocked over the chair with her foot and remained hanging like her mother. Some interned children, when they heard the noise made by the fallen chair, came closer and saw the macabre scene. They were amazed when they saw from the holes of the stables two women hanging in space…! They ran away, scared, to tell their parents, but no one dared to open the victim’s door and put them on the ground.
The shop assistant notified the police chief and it didn’t take long, when the Security operative arrived there. Late in the evening, the corpses of the victims were thrown into a ditch by the side of the canal, which passed by the pig-sty, without any distinguishing marks being placed on the mound of earth which covered them.
The heroine in Ismail Kadare’s short novel, Ganimeti, “In front of a woman’s mirror”!
“For the League of Writers of Albania to be compared to a lavira, this would seem to me to be a very vulgar contradiction, as are usually the misused metaphors, especially after the fall of communism. And yet, the thought of how the history of the League (at least its history between the years ’62-67) could be written correctly, has been accompanying me for a long time, from the memory of the woman named Margaritë. I found it impossible to tear myself away from it, as is often the case with the memory that a distant scent brings. Margarita was a prostitute. Her house was located in a short alley, which went out to “Rruga e Dibra”, more or less at the same level, where the alley also went out, at the end of which, the League of Writers was located, on the opposite side.
I had heard that after the design by a French architect, of a modern building, in the glass of which the Cathedral in front was reflected, such a thing began to become fashionable. However, it was difficult to establish a symbolic connection of something, much less an institution, with a woman who lived opposite, just because of this coincidence…! That I knew Margarita for the simple reason that the League of Writers was located right across her street that was beyond any doubt. On the right sidewalk of the “Dibra Street” was a small breakfast room, where on hot days, the young journalists who worked in the League, usually got a glass of beer. Adjacent to it was a private fruit shop. There I saw Margarita for the first time. We were leaving the bar, when someone said to me in a low voice: “This is Marga, who lives opposite.” Something had caught my ear about him, but what a blur, that I had forgotten it so much. An ‘atilla’, old-fashioned, who lived with her mother in a lodge in the alleys. Contrary to what I had thought, she was in her thirties, wearing a thin summer dress that made her look even younger. Untanned by the sun, without any sign of vulgarity, with brown hair that formed soft curls around her neck, a certain Anna Karenina, but without Vronsk and without the iron shock of the railway carriage, instead of which she had received a fate of a divorced woman, in a Balkan communist state, in the early 60s.
As we returned to the Writers’ League, I listened attentively to the curiosities our colleague shared about him. She was the highest-class prostitute in Tirana and, apparently, the only one. A real wonder how it was still left in this place. Customers were chosen, usually by word of mouth. He wore them all night. At 3 o’clock in the morning, the mother would bring coffee for both of them, her and him. The client carefully left the reward of 1000 ALL under the drawer. Rarely had I been able to devour the subtleties of a story so thirstily. A little while ago, if someone had told me that I would be such an old-fashioned woman, one of those whose pictures were often found in the albums of old bourgeois families, in hats and dotted veils, several times at the bottom of a gondola, right then and there, I would pass out.
After being a hidden fool, I would hide myself, a sentimental lolo in disguise, behind fashionable pants. To shave off the sweaters with two X’s on top, symbols of the 20th century, to shave off other clothes to make the girls like them. I thought these things and yet, in no corner of my consciousness, there was no doubt that I was getting old. On the contrary, vaguely, it seemed to me that there was something genuine, something very new and modern, in this new passion. In Moscow, from where I had returned a year ago, I had gone through a similar crisis, but the current one was deeper. It had to do with an essence from which something else was hidden: the type of woman I was attracted to.
As in a joyous crack of ice, a truth dawned on me that had apparently been brewing for a long time: the girls I knew, those white bodies smoothed by sports, excursions, and the pool, suddenly seemed barren. Without mystery, compared to Margarita’s imagined body. After midnight, I don’t know what time it was, maybe just when her mother brought the second coffee to bed, I was sleepy and I was trying to guess, her black sheets, thrown at the end of the bed, how and the tired silk of underwear, after love. A mourning of ladies of another time. In my mind it falls like dusk…! The thought of going to the opposite alley was alive inside me pleasantly, but wrapped in an obtrusive fog. How could I get along with him?!
Where was the network that found the customers? Sometimes it seemed to me that there couldn’t be any network, because such things were called dangerous, however the opposite, going to it simply, without an agreement, could not be done. It was probably her mother, through old faithful friends, the ones who were never missing in the streets of Tirana, who provided her with visitors. Maybe my love for Margarita would gradually fade, like many other things, if I didn’t meet her again, at the fruit shop…! I would definitely go to Margarita. I had the feeling that there was a decision, my whole being had made it, from the brain to the center of my body. Even when one part of this is lost momentum, it was the other part that pushed him toward sin.
And, to my surprise, the driver wasn’t always the meat. Unlike all the so-called love adventures, when the first stage: getting to know each other, hanging out on the street or in a coffee shop, or sending a letter, were easy things anyway, and the end was always unknown, that is, that thing was vulgarly called “pretending in hand”, in this case it was the last one that was ensured, while the first phase was difficult, almost impossible: the fall in relationship with Margarita. It had to be another map of Tirana, with other addresses and codes, which we did not know. One evening, after returning from a glass of beer at Bar “Voza”, me and my friend from the editorial office, the only one with whom we had had the conversation of M., as we now called him between us, our feet were taking us as if involuntarily, to the direction where her house was supposed to be. From “Rruga e Barricadave”, we went to Dibra’s and there I remembered very well, the street where she had entered the last time, with those feet with dream-colored nail polish…! Memorie.al