Abby and I just came back from a five-day stay in Istanbul, where we celebrated Abby’s 40th birthday. Our hotel was located just behind the Blue Mosque; in fact, I chose the hotel based on the view, and it was lovely to eat breakfast on the terrace, gazing at the mosque in one direction and the Bosphorus in the other. Unfortunately, what I hadn’t considered when I booked the hotel was that if we could see the mosque, we would also hear the 5.37 AM call to prayer every morning blaring from the more than 30 speakers hung on the minarets.

Istanbul is fantastic – the mosques, the Hagia Sophia, the palaces, the winding streets, the shopping … We bought a few carpets, and the carpet shopping experience was generally relaxing – you sit, a boy brings you a glass of hot apple tea, you exchange pleasantries, and then somehow the conversation turns toward carpets, and “would you like to see something really special?” As it happens, the two vendors from whom we bought carpets both had U.S. Embassy connections, so we actually did have things to talk about before we got into the pitch.

Sometimes the special carpet isn’t particularly special, but other times the seller keeps unrolling beautiful piece after beautiful piece, and you’re stumped as to which one you’re going to take. We ended up with two hereke carpets and another of a less posh type. (Our herekes were made of wool and did not have gold and silver threads.) Still, you have to watch for scams, since you don’t really know what you’re getting. As we were looking for dinner one night, a Turkish couple came up to us and asked us where we were from; the man, Recep, was a carpet wholesaler who’d spent a lot of time in the D.C. area, and “because you are Americans,” he said, he offered to educate us on carpets so we’d know what to look for. He wasn’t going to sell to us, he said, since he was a wholesaler only; he just wanted to help us out.

Shrugging “what the hell,” we went up to his showroom (we happened to be standing right in front of it) where we were greeted by Pasha, an enormous, stinky but sweet Rottweiler who was happy to press against our legs while we sat so we’d scratch behind his ears. We were pretty shopped out and more interested in the dog at that point, but we listened to Recep explain how to tell synthetics from real fabrics, how to tell machine-made carpets from hand-made, and how to look for signs of chemical dyes instead of natural dyes. It was actually pretty helpful, but then we realized that Recep had slipped from showing us examples of carpet types and patterns to asking “do you like this one?” and “what do you think of that one?” We half-interestedly looked at a few more and started to take our leave – at which point Recep yelled “Pasha, sell!” and the dog suddenly turned mean and began snarling and barking and forcing us back into our seats.

No, actually, we just said thanks, shook hands, and left for a dinner of kebabs.

Anyway, I’ll post some photos next.

Author: cohn17

Photographer and baker of macarons.

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