Thursday, September 19, 2013

Buying Turkish Carpets

Turkey, how the hell do I even start?  Everything about the country was so intense, especially to my innocent little American senses, right down to the simple act of buying a floor covering.

After over 24 hours of travel and an 8 hour time difference, I had arrived in Turkey miraculously with my luggage and ready to throw all of myself into seeing the city.  This was my first time traveling with someone that I had not met along the journey since I was 19 years old and went to Mexico with my crazy roommate.  I was nervous about it, but she didn't kill me, so I think it went ok.

After walking around in a daze wandering old town, we ended up on a cobblestone street leading up a hill, not far from our ghetto-fab Turkish guesthouse.  So many great things to see from windows! Gorgeous ceramics and whole shops filled floor to ceiling with lanterns... or jewelry, tiles, hookahs or rugs!

I managed to convince my friend to go into a rug shop, I just want a little look, I said, afterwards I promised we could go to the jewelry shop next door that I could see she was eyeing.

A good-looking Turkish man, just slightly shorter than myself, dark hair and a figure that any gay man would kill for swiftly jaunted over and led us over to a sofa in the corner of the shop

Make yourself at home! Make yourself at home!

He yelled in between ordering for a few idlers to bring tea! bring tea! you like tea, yes?

Somehow after a brief introduction and establishing that I was vaguely interested in seeing some carpets, Sahin, as I learned the man was named, was able to convince us to move to another room in the basement of the building filled with piles upon piles and rolls of carpet wall to wall where we sat drinking cup after cup of tea as he yelled to four different helpers to unroll this! Take away that! Get this! As I was dazzled as carpet after carpet was unrolled before me, Sahin of course refusing to share the price until the end.

The carpet is for the home! Only gets more valuable with time! A piece that I would be able to have that was beautiful and would last me a long time.  Feel the carpet! Look at it from here! Look at it from there!  If you buy carpet, I will send you Christmas card!

We established a little pile of carpets that were my favorite, of course all of them were enormous, hand dyed, hand knotted carpets that I knew long before hearing the price would be far beyond my price range- which they were and the larger carpets were removed within a blink of an eye.  Now let the haggling begin.

Haggling has to be one of my least favorite activities.  Most of the time I just wish that someone would offer me a reasonable price when traveling, I'd gladly take it over arguing over a price for extensive periods of time.  In this case, I was honestly not so keen on buying a carpet when I had been in Turkey for less than 6 hours and especially when I heard that Istanbul is one of the most expensive places to buy a Turkish rug.  I was unsure of what the fair price for the carpets would be, but regardless, I was sure that the prices were outlandish.

I was torn between truly not wanting to purchase a carpet on my first day in Turkey (holy crap, how will I survive the next two weeks if I get suckered in this easily?) and being totally completely buttered up by Sahin and pampered by cups on cups of apple tea (elma cay) and fingers deep in a vegetarian casserole he had brought for me from his family owned restaurant.

For anyone that has known me for any period of time, I think the fact that I am a major sucker shines through.  I may have resisted officially purchasing the carpet that time, but I did agree upon turning in a $100 deposit on it with a written agreement that I could have my $100 deposit on my return at the end of our two week trip if I no longer wanted the carpet.  I think even at that point 75% of myself knew that I would never come back for that deposit after the end of two weeks, but I was truly at the mercy of the tea.

Sahin seemed to be pleased enough with this agreement and we again were whisked off to the top of a rooftop bar where white wine was ordered, and despite the 90 degree F heat during the day, the air was chilled and breezy as we watched the sunset over the Bosphorous and creating dramatic silhoettes of Hagia Sofia and the many mosques dotting the hillside.

Next we were whisked off to a new section of town with his friend and his cousin.  To be honest, I have no idea where we were but it vaguely reminded me of Chelsea in New York.  Narrow cobblestone alleyways with restaurants and bars open to the street, while people and music overflowed making it difficult to make our way through the street.  I had been promised a night of jazz music by the Sahin, what I got was an all male Turkish band playing some Turkish music but mostly covers of American music that ranged from U2 to Adele.  I had my first and only drink of raki, the traditional Turkish alcohol.  It was infused with anise and tasted like dark licorice despite its white smokey look, the first taste was interesting the second disgusting and I next opted for what became my official drink of Turkey, Efes beer.  Named for the city of Ephesus, refreshing, always cold, and tasted like Miller Highlife (champagne of beers).  We ate mussels bought from a street vender, served cold on a paper plate with lemon and as more Efes' were emptied, danced, sang along and I was crowned with ridiculous light up Minnie Mouse ears.

I liked that bar just fine but was somehow convinced to try another, without realizing it would entail another cab ride.  Getting into a cab with three strange men in a foreign country where you don't speak the language on the very first night is generally frowned upon.  In general, when traveling on my own I am the most boring least daring person ever, but give me a travel buddy and I will make poor decisions left and right until the other member of the party throws in the towel.  Together the two of us agreed that we would take the cab, but ditch the guys at the next place and head back to out ghetto-fab Turkish guesthouse to call it a night.

My travel buddy tried to help box me into the cab in a way so that Sahin could not sit next to me, but instead he went around to the other side of the cab and squeezed in next to me.  I kept looking at my travel buddy who had gotten stuck next to Sahin's cousin who was fairly mild mannered, but had also been drinking.  The cab ride carried us along a highway outside the main area of the city and in the opposite direction as old town.  Again I glanced at my friend and saw Sahin's cousin try to hold her hand as moments later we pulled up to another club in a somewhat more residential area.

Get out! my travel buddy yelled, we are staying here, you are getting out of the cab, we are going BACK.  Sahin who had been quite the sweet talker to this point, attempted to get back in to escort us back the way we came but was essentially booted out of the cab.

YOU are staying HERE.

The hand had been held, the line crossed.  It was the end of party time.

Thankfully Sahin told the cab driver how to get back to his carpet shop as the cab driver only spoke Turkish and despite months of listening to my Pimsleur's Learning Turkish CDs on my three hour drives to visit my boyfriend, my Turkish was still sub par, to put it mildly.

I think it was 3 or 4 am by the time we got back to our guesthouse, with bright red glossy bed covers and beige wallpaper that must have been put up by someone either blind or missing a few fingers, possibly both.  Although I set my alarm for 8am, I rolled over in bed at 1pm only to be informed that I had promptly turned off my alarm in my sleep and went back to bed as it awoke my travel buddy and left her staring at the ceiling for hours before I allowed myself to wake up on my own sweet time.

We saw the rest of the main sights in old town and as the day was wearing to a close, it became clear that it was now or never if I was interested in ever getting my carpet deposit back.  Again, likely against my better judgement we went back over to the shop and of course are greeted once again at the door by Sahin.

As I explained that I simply could not afford the carpet, he was surprisingly silent, thoughtful.  He rolled it out in front of me.

I ask you something, how much you pay for this carpet? I will not be offended.

Well, $400.  That's it.  That's my carpet budget.

My carpet was taken away and again more carpet rolled out in front of me.  Some of them antique, all of them smaller than the one I had chosen, then I laid eyes on MY carpet.  After some haggling we agreed on a price.  I got my hand dyed hand knotted Turkish carpet that I would have the privilage of lugging around in my travel backpack for the remaining two weeks, Sahin got to keep his deposit plus some, and best of all, in four months I will get my promised Christmas card from the rug shop in Istanbul signed, Sahin.

1 comment:

  1. I'm glad you're safe! And I'm glad you got a carpet!