Sunday, November 23, 2008

The Carpet Salesman. Part 1.

T
he wind kicked up after dinner last night and never let up until sunrise. Just outside my hotel room is the terrace where, on nice days, meals are served. The wind blew with such ferocity last night that terrace tables, chairs, lamps and basically anything that wasn’t tied down were tossed around every which way. The sound of things banging around outside my room coupled with the sound of the howling wind and lingering jet lag meant that I watched the clock on my cell phone trip 3:40am before I even remember nodding off. I did manage to wake up at a decent hour – sometime around 9:30a. I took my time getting ready and then headed out. It was a slightly overcast day and the wind was still blowing.

I headed for Şahin’s shop but it was closed. The poor guy was not feeling well the night before and I was hoping he would sleep in and rest. The locked door on his shop was a good sign that he was doing just that.

It was Sunday today so pretty much all the commercial establishments –except for the diehard few catering to tourists – were closed. The usually sleepy village of Goreme was pretty much slumbering today. I didn’t have any activity planned for today – staying in and reading a book seemed like the best thing to do.

But I was already up and out so I decided to walk the streets that Lei and I had not wandered to on my previous visit here. I started my walk near an Anatolian antiques store that I had been to before. Fortunately, it was closed otherwise I would have gone inside and once again pined over the artwork.

Though a bit cloudy, it was still a good for photos. I whipped out the camera and took a couple of shots. Nearby to the antiques shop is the old village mosque, built sometime in the 1300’s – nothing spectacular from an architectural perspective but nonetheless an image still worth capturing. But before I could even click off one shot, I heard the sound of a man’s voice telling me that I could go to the terrace of his shop and take photos – there were good views to be had from there. Sure, I thought….after I pay a lira or two…..but no, this is Turkey, they don’t expect payment….just another kind gesture. I looked at the name of the shop that the man was standing in front of - Anatolia Gallery – and knew I was in trouble. It would not any arm twisting to get me to go inside. I have such a soft spot for native artwork and handicrafts, it’s not funny. On trips, I will actually go out of my way to find such places as I think that someday , much of the arts and crafts created by human hands will be lost to be replaced by mass produced goods being spewed forth from factories in China, Japan, and India.

Sure enough I was soon inside the shop admiring the handmade Turkish carpets and the unique designs of Anatolian textiles, wall hangings and other materials. Passing my hands over each piece, I could feel the roughness of the fabric and I could see the expertise of the craftsman in the design and in each stitch of the weaving. Then, a charismatic (and when are they not?) Turkish man walks up to me and starts to chat. Oh no, I thought. Here comes the carpet salesman who’s going to try and convince me of the virtues of his wares over those sold in other stores. He’s going to charm me into spending money. I must quickly hatch an escape plan. The conversation continues and I feel myself getting sucked in by this very charming man.

Next thing you know I have my first cup of çay (tea) in hand. I am now doomed to buy a carpet. We begin with the usual chit chat – Where are you from? Is this your first time in Turkey? Yada, yada, yada…. and for as many hours as I have been in this country, I was once again asked who I voted for. I replied “Obama” and when you say that, all is good. I’ve not yet come across any Turkish person who wanted John McCain to take the presidential vote. Then, we introduced ourselves. Zeki Iserio is his name, born in Istanbul, raised in Amsterdam, returned to Instabul during his college years and now living in Nevşehir and working in Göreme. He used to own his own carpet store but sold his inventory to the shop he works in now. I asked him why he gave up his business. He told me it’s a complicated story. I quickly changed subject. No need to press on uncomfortable conversation topics.

Before long, Zeki had 2nd cups of çay brought over for each of us. More talk about life, work, love and topics in between followed. By now, we have both forgotten about the carpets.

Then Zeki asks if I've eaten lunch. I reply “No” (which was absolutely true) and he extends an invitation to join him for a simple Turkish lunch in the shop’s kitchen. How could I refuse his hospitality? As I followed Zeki to the kitchen, I marveled at the beautiful carpets and tapestries that adorned the walls. At the same time, I thought to myself, we’ll do the carpet thing after we eat. Better to negotiate on a full stomach.

Lunch was indeed a very simple fare – cooked macaroni flavored with cheese (something like feta) and parsley; a bowl of some sort of green salad mixed with tomatoes and hard boiled eggs and dressed with a mayonnaise-y sauce. Lunch was topped off with more of those wonderful vine ripened grapes – little nuggets of sugar that are just absolutely addictive. More conversation with Zeki continued over lunch. Other shop workers trickled in and out – I was introduced to each. No one hung around to chat with us – they just ate and left. Zeki and I talked until he had to leave. We swapped contact information and he asked if I would be interested in returning to the store on Monday so he could actually show me the Anatolian wall decorations that I had expressed interest in. Oh yeah….I was actually in a shop looking at stuff to buy. :) Of course I would return, I replied. After all, I have to repay him for his hospitality by going back to the shop – it’s the least I can do.

We bid each other good bye and as I left the shop, I realized I had been there for nearly 3 hours. In Zeki’s company, I had completely forgotten why I had entered the shop to begin with. Maybe tomorrow I will buy a carpet.:)

Oh....and if you want to see what Zeki looks like, read part 2 of The Carpet Salesman story. ;-)