by Kelly Kramer
Last month, my wife Anne and I celebrated our 20th anniversary by taking an 11-day cruise to Europe. We started in Rome, then Greece, then Turkey. This was our first trip to Europe and I was not prepared for all the wonderful historic sites and education of history we were about to experience.
Even though I had studied about handmade rugs, I neglected to realize I was about to visit some of the countries from where some of the finest authentic rugs derived. But it didn’t take long once we walked down a crowded market street in Istanbul to be reminded. As a person that literally hates to shop, I found myself waiting out side the stores as my wife and our travel friends looked inside.
I found myself being bombarded by hustlers who were sure I was a “Rich American” and needed to enter their shop to look at their high-end rugs. With no attention of purchasing a rug, I found myself aggravated with masses of aggressive front men.
Seriously, these guys took aggressive to a new level.
So quite by mistake I stumbled into a new outlook on how to deal with these overbearing hustlers. In an isle outside a shop I took a picture of a young Turkish lady making a small 2 x 3 rug on a small loom. Then a Turkish front man approached me with a smile and in English said, “You know we charge 40 lira for photos.”
I knew he was kidding so I kidded back, saying, “Oh, well I charge 100 lira for taking the photo because my camera Immortalizes the subject.” Then I stuck out my hand and added, “You owe me 60 lira.”
He laughed and said, “You are a smarter business man then me, why don’t you let me show you my rugs.”
Still joking, I said, “I sell wall-to-wall carpet in the U.S., why would I want to cover my beautiful expensive carpet with these old rags.”
Again a smile and then he became interested in how Americans sell flooring. So he listed attentively while I explained how broadloom was machine made and how most of Americans had wall-to-wall carpet. This is different than most European homes which have mostly wood, tile and a great deal of marble. In fact in every building—in stores and even airports the staircases were all done in marble. I know I’d be retired already if I could sell that many marble staircases in the U.S. But hard surface is big over there, which means rugs are as well.
Then it was his turn to educate me a little. He explained in his culture handwoven rugs had a rich and very long history often dating back to the 14th century that he had knowledge of. He further explained how the nomadic sheep herding tribes would travel with make shift looms throughout the desert and make mostly clothing and rectangular shaped rugs that they used back then to cover the stony/dirt ground of their tents for comfort and décor. He told of how the different natural fibers like wool, cotton and silk were used for different desired effects in design. He also gave me a short history on how the different patterns were designed for religious, regional, cultural and symbolic effects. Then he said, “How do my ‘old rags’ look now?”
In the end I did not buy a rug, but he did want to come to the U.S. And now I’m thinking, “What a once in a lifetime education I received. And being an educator I’m thinking I can now write this trip off because of this article. So thanks for reading.