Guest blogger Ben Fountain is the author of Brief Encounters With Che Guevara. On Sunday, his tribute to poet Robert Trammell appeared in the Dallas Morning News. Ben succumbed to the carpets in Turkey; I didn’t. Guess who’s sorry…
I went to Turkey and bought a rug.
Not that I meant to. The goal was to see the country and try to learn something. Rugs are for old ladies, I told myself, and people with good (i.e., nonexistent) allergies, and collectors who know their way around such terrifying subjects as thread count and weave and vegetable dye. A man’s gotta know his limitations, and mine very much included rugs, textiles, fabrics, in short the entire universe of warped and woofed material objects. This was one Americano who planned to breeze through Turkey rug-less and carefree, a condition that lasted for exactly three days, right up to the point when our group sat down in a rug emporium outside of Izmir, and the salesman’s assistants unfurled that first rug.
Took my breath away, it did. So much for limitations. What is it about color, design, texture, and sheen that make the human brain go zoom? This is your brain on off-white wall-to-wall, zzzzzzz zzzzzz zzzzzz, and this is your brain on Turkish rugs,
Like a bungee jump with a soft thump and bounce at the end. Over the course of his disquisition on rugs and rug-making this master salesman showed us probably 60 or 70 rugs, one piled on top of another, overlapping, intersecting, a horizontal mosh-pit of color and design. Imagine the Northern Lights embedded in wool, or blueprints for cosmic computer chips, and you’ll have an idea of the richness and cumulative intelligence of all those carpets piled one on top of another.
We drank tea. We looked and listened. From time to time we walked, or rather, wafted, in our sock feet over the ever-deepening pile sumptuous wool. “You don’t have to buy anything,” the salesman kept saying, and he meant it, and the more he said it the more we wanted to buy. When the time came for actual commerce, he smiled, bowed slightly, and stepped back as a phalanx of junior salesmen suddenly appeared in our midst.
Lambs to the slaughter, or at least a good shearing. A handsome young salesman named Ali approached. Could he be of help? Possibly, I said, trying to play it cool, and pointed out the rug that had caught, no, swallowed my eye whole, a glossy red number of recent vintage, 3’ x 5’, wool on wool, the sensory equivalent to my underdeveloped American mind of, say, a Corvette, or five debaucherous days in South Beach. Ali led me into a private room. The carpet followed. We sat on the floor, he in a casually practiced way, reclining, like a Julio Iglesias album cover. This began to feel like a date, albeit a highly educational one as he explained the origins of the rug (Bilecik, in eastern Turkey), the meanings of the symbols, the nomadic traditions embodied in the rug. But how much? I wondered. A rug like this, Ali went on, this will be in your family for three or four generations. You have children? Yes, I said, wondering how much? Your children will use this rug, your children’s children, their children, this is not a rug the family ever sells. But how much? Some young girl in Bilecik, Ali continued, this young, smart, hardworking girl, she spent six or seven months making this rug. But how much? Fascinating and informative as it all was, I began to understand how a virgin must feel in the hands of an expert seducer: it’s fun, it’s exciting, it could be leading to something great, but at a certain point you just want to get it over with.
So, how much? Not telling. All’s fair in war and rugs, but I can tell you that I handed over my money with a smile. And my man Ali, he was smiling too. The rug is here in Dallas now, and while I can’t say that having it in the house has made me a better person, that red shocks me into sentience every time I see it. If red was a city, this would be the neighborhood where you’d want to live, the ur-red of crushed rubies, brilliant sunsets, cardinals on the wing. The reservoir of true red where all the other reds come from. That young girl in Bilecik, whoever she is, she had a line into the original source.
No regrets. I went to Turkey and bought a rug.