Saturday, June 16, 2007

from Istanbul: swept away

So here is the truth: deep down, I had hoped, I had dreamed of purchasing a Turkish rug.

All these times, when carpet salesmen would come up and say: do you want to visit my carpet store? Do you want to see my rugs? I wanted to say yes! I do! Show me, show me!

But I remained silent. What do I know about buying a Turkish carpet here? About the authenticity of any of them? About whether I would be scammed? About how to take the damn thing back, should I be so lucky as to purchase it?

I had secretly measured the space in my new condo. 9 x 6. Just in case someone was throwing something in my lap, I’d know. 9 x 6.

On the first days here I ignored all the thousands of carpet stores. What happens to those who enter? Do you get sucked into an exchange from which there is no turning back? Is stuff poured into your tea cup so that you wind up handing over credit cards willingly for carpets that you don’t even like?

I concentrated on exploring Istanbul and ignored the carpets.

Until today.

It was determined at breakfast that on this day we would turn our attention to the markets.

I took out my little scrap of paper. 9 x 6.

I poked through my books and came up with several addresses of reputable carpet dealers. Just in case. Anyone who knows Istanbul would laugh at that, but I was of the belief that carpet dealers can be divided into the reputable and the questionable and that knowing a good street number is all that you need for instant success in carpet acquisition.

We set out. Over the Bosphorus and into the tangle of streets.

First though, I need to feel like I am at home here. Like I know about life.

I pause and buy an ear of corn. Like the locals. He picks an ear out a stack, I smile wickedly and say no, no, not the old ones, I want one fresh from the coals. He shrugs and hands one over. Fresh from the coals.


I burn myself bigtime.

We enter the lesser Bazaar, the Arasta. I had already determined that looking at rugs at the Grand Bazaar would be like looking for the perfect croissant in Alaska. I’m sure they’re there, but where do you even begin.

At Arasta, all is calm.


I pass shop after shop, looking only for one dealer, whose name I ripped from a book on doing Istanbul the right way.

There it is. Gengiz. In we go. Small shop. So now what? Unlike the 99% others out there on the streets of Istanbul, this one seems supremely indifferent to my shopping needs.

Carpets, I want to look at carpets, I prod. (Was that a yawn?) He shows me one. All wrong, I think. Shouldn’t I be looking at a catalogue? At samples? Shouldn’t we discuss my tastes, my demographics? My budget?

After a minute or two, he says – follow me to the other store.
Ah, there is more. Good.

The other store is not just up the block. It is up and down, and turn this way and that, into a jewler’s and up the stairs and finally, I am in a room with many many carpets.


In the meantime, my man from Gengiz is gone.

I am now before Ilker (from Nakkas), with the pink shirt. Ilker is big. But Ilker does not himself bring out the carpets. Workman one and Workman two do that when Ilker issues a command.

The search begins.

I want something big-ish. 9 x 6.
That’s too yellow.
I prefer flowers.
Too red.


That wont go with the brick love seat.
No, I don’t really remember the shade of brick, but this seems a mismatch.
Maybe we should go for the deeper reds.


No, not that.
How much is it anyway?

Too much.
Do you have something for less?That one has pink in it as well.
Too yellow.

Ilker is sweating, which is strange because he is not the one lifting carpets. Both he and my daughter look discouraged. I am offered apple tea.


We talk prices again. I tell him my bottom line. My daughter looks at me. Are you supposed to reveal your bottom line? Should you visit only one carpet dealer? Aren’t I doing this all wrong?

We continue. Workman one brings out another roll and another. Workman two may have decided to quit, I don’t know, he’s gone. Ah, there he is – we are now on round two of tea. Turkish tea. A step up, perhaps?


How about something lighter, bigger, cheaper, and something that will go with my brick loveseat?

Ilker brings out a carpet and then he takes another to imitate a brick love seat placed right on it.


To me, it looks perfect.

I lie down on the floor next to it (really). I place a cup of tea on it, just for visual effect.


Still perfect.

Bottom price? Ilker comes up with a price considerably lower than his first offer. Too high. We have been here the entire afternoon and now I am about to walk out on the perfect carpet.

I remember the words from my book on how to do Istanbul the right way: squabble if you must; worry about the thread content, the dyes, the authenticity, the right price, but in the end, if you like that particular rug and that one only, buy it.

And so I buy it.

Everyone is happy. I save money on not shipping it. Of course I can carry a 9 x 6 carpet with me – to the restaurant for dinner, to the airport, to Paris, to France, to Chicago – hearty Polish peasant stock here.

The carpet is put in a satchel. We are set to go.


Ilker looks troubled.

Where are you eating tonight? Oh, the Balikci Sabahattin? He nods approval.That’s just a little way down, not too far from here. That has the best fish! Straight from the sea. You cannot walk there with this carpet. I’ll have Workman no. 3 drive you there.

We gratefully accept, but not just yet. I am in a daze. I need several hours to recover.

We walk to the Great Bazaar, looking at soaps and shawls and coffee urns, trying hard to steer clear of carpets.


Up one aisle, down the next, allowing ourselves to get lost in the chaos of soaps and textiles, tea sets, and hookah pipes. Finally, we are ready for dinner.

At the Balikci Sabahattin, we sit in an alley beneath grape vines. Small dishes (meze) are brought to us and we select what looks best: marinated sea bass, roasted eggplant, rice with mussels.


I let the waiters guide us in the fish selection. You like them grilled? Yes, yes, a simple preparation, it is always the best for fresh fish.


The waiter hovers. When I take a picture of my daughter, he is right there beside her. I am thinking that maybe he, too, will want to marry her and I consider if this would be a better choice than a carpet salesman. The man knows all about fish and olives and roasted eggplant.


The meal ends with fresh cherries and stewed figs. No espresso here. This is a place for fish and wine and roasted eggplant. A wonderful wonderful spot to bring your 9 x 6 carpet to after a long day.

We are ready to head back to Asia. They call us a taxi and we speed across one bridge, then another. The sun is just now setting over the mosques. The birds circle over the waters, screeching, dipping, on their last spin around Istanbul tonight.