Thursday, April 19, 2012

A Magic Carpet Ride

The "big" one
Some people collect art work, beanie babies, antiques or stamps. We collect carpets.   With this in mind, Glenn and I went to Istanbul with an extra suitcase and the idea of buying a new Turkish carpet.  Glenn owned two rugs when I met him and during his last deployment I flew to Dubai to meet the ship for Christmas.  As a Christmas present to ourselves we bought a carpet together and then he returned from his deployment with another one as a gift for me.  We both love our carpets and against the advise we received, we brought ours  with us to Albania.  After all, what is the point of having nice things if you don't use them?

While we knew we wanted to add to our collection we had never discussed the specifics of what we were looking for.  A specific size, color, and design were all up for grabs.  We figured that we would know the right carpet when we saw it.  Having a full four days to find the perfect carpet, we set out on our first morning in Istanbul to play tourist at the local sites.  During the short walk between our hotel and the Ayasofya we saw several carpet stores displaying their wares.  We looked but out of the fear of being accosted by aggressive salesmen, we didn't linger.

Outside of the Ayasofya we were approached by a local man offering to serve as our guide in the museum. The enticement of being able to bypass the long line led us to accept the proposal that we would normally decline.  The guide was surprisingly well spoken and as our tour wound down he offered to take us to a "special place" for tea since we were friends. We were not one hundred percent sure what we were getting ourselves into as we followed the guide down increasingly narrow streets in Istanbul's Suleyaniye neighborhood. When we abruptly stopped in front of an unmarked storefront I had my doubts but I quickly understood our destination when I saw the rugs lining all of the surface areas.  Small and large, silk and wool, brightly colored or subtly abstract the place was filled with nothing but carpets.

Following some rapid fire Turkish, an entourage of well dressed men escorted us into an elevator which swept us up three floors where we were led into a discrete, but well appointed showroom.  Offers of drinks quickly ensued and we opted for Turkey's famous apple tea.  As we sipped our first cups of tea we braced ourselves for the sales pitch that we knew was coming.  The pitch was delivered as one part sales and one part education with repeated reassurances that we were under no obligation to buy.  The differences between knotted and woven rugs, and wool, cotton, silk or a combination of materials was demonstrated and even the most untrained eye could notice the difference. 

Under the direction of the store's manager, carpets were rolled out on the floor by a series of silent men. Our most subtle actions were observed and reacted to.  I'm a horrible poker player and the minute I had the slightest negative reaction to a rug the carpet was whisked away and replaced with a new one.  The quality and size of the carpets increased with each new one that was rolled out before us.   As the time wore on the whole experience became increasingly overwhelming with beautiful colors, ornate patterns, and materials becoming an unrecognizable blur.

By the time we were drinking our second cup of apple tea, we had narrowed down our selections to a few beautiful carpets.  They were unlike any of the rugs we currently owned and I was surprised that I found myself really liking them.  Up to this time there had been no mention of cost.  (Discussing it later, Glenn and I both knew that we had narrowed our choices down to some of the most expensive carpets in the store). At this point the rug buying dance became more interesting.  Glenn first broached the subject of cost and a number for our preferred rug was thrown out.  We knew it was just an opening offer and Glenn quickly counter offered with a question of currency.  We were talking Turkish Lira, Euro, or American dollars? All were accepted as was cash or credit.

The "little" one
I never realized what a haggler I had married but Glenn's back and forth offers were impressive. With each new rug came a reassurance of how special it was.  Offers became counter offers that were met with polite refusals and explanations that they too needed to make money.   We knew they would be making plenty of money so the dance continued.  At one point the rug rollers brought out a carpet that we were told was in our price range.  It was one of the ugliest things I had ever seen and with just a raised eyebrow on my part it quickly disappeared. 

Our proposal to pay in cash with Euro and take the carpet with us reduced the cost slightly but not enough to satisfy us.  And so the danced continued with more back and forth on both of our parts.  When it appeared that we had reached a standstill the manager's "uncle" was brought in and with feigned reluctance he proposed a slightly lower offer for the one rug we were looking at.  Glenn said we'd take it if they also included a second, smaller, but even more beautiful rug.  (Two for the price of one!  How I love a great deal).  It was now the uncle's turn to act insulted and to reassure us that they were already offering us a great deal since it was "before the cruise ship season" and after all, we were friends. (Before our trip to Istanbul I never knew we had so many friends).  More polite counter offers ensued before the entire deal reached a rapid conclusion. 

For a few additional Euro our offer for both rugs was accepted.  Within minutes hands were shook, the carpets were rolled up and packed into their own carrying bags, and we were whisked into another room to complete the paperwork.  Glasses of raki were brought out for the men and I was offered my third cup of apple tea.  Soon we were back on the sidewalk with our museum guide lugging our carpets down the street. The sight of our new purchases made us prime fodder for even more aggressive carpet salesmen who shouted to us from their storefronts telling us that we needed to see their even better carpets.  After all, they told us, we were friends and they would give us a great deal.  No, even for us carpet lovers, two new carpets are enough for a single trip.  Besides, we need to save up for our return trip to Istanbul.  We already have several carpets in mind but need to figure out where we will put them.

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