Monday, November 15, 2010

things i love

in the process of de-accessioning things
that don't matter i find myself rediscovering
the things that do. things with stories.

fes, morocco
spring 2006

I was almost home free. The others in the group had succumbed, one by one, to the enticements of the carpet store in the medina in Fes while I sat and sipped my mint tea admiring but not seduced by the offerings now piled high on the floor.

One of our hosts, Ahmed - or perhaps Said - had given us a brief overview of Berber and Arabian carpets rattling off details about kilims, flat weave, embroidery and knotting, short pile, long pile, camel wool and cactus silk as quickly as his minions could unfurl an example of each with dramatic flair. He explained natural dyes - peppermint, indigo, saffron, poppy. One after another in all the exotic patterns and vivid colors of the moroccan rainbow, no two alike, they piled up faster than we could take them in.

One by one each of my companions has been swept away by a carpet or two or three, swept up by a salesman to begin the bargaining process central to the experience of buying a carpet - or anything else - in Morocco.

Soon each disappears upstairs into a small office where a disinterested woman writes up the transaction and processes the credit card payment while a young minion makes a show of folding and rolling the carpet into an impossibly compact and waterproof package which he proceeds to sew together.

Only two or three of the us remain in the enormous show room, not unmoved by the beauty but firm in our resolve that we neither need nor want nor can afford a carpet. Not to mention the dilemma of whether to schlep or whether to pay the exorbitant cost of shipping. I am happy sipping my tea watching the men in their djellabas remove, one by one, the carpets that have been rejected.

In truth, while I could appreciate the beauty of some, most of the carpets have not appealed to me. They have not whispered “Morocco” in my ear, seeming more imitative of Persian or Turkish or even Navajo motifs. None have spoken to me of the red sands of the desert or the blue sea at Essaouira, none have recalled for me anything of the High Atlas mountains where Berbers washed clothes in streams and carpets dried on rocks.

The floor is almost clear of rugs when I spot it across the floor. Bands of rust-red alternate with elaborate geometrically patterned bands in off white and dark blue or brown. It’s edges are stained and its fringe faded. At perhaps 5’ by 7’ It is larger than anything I would want. Or need. Or be able to afford.

But I am probably lost even before I whisper quietly to myself, “Now that I could be seduced by.”

Ahmed or Said has caught my drift and my eye. “You like?” he asks, already gesturing for the boys to bring it over. “Too big” I shake my head vigorously, already realizing, that I am entangling myself in a web - a web of wool and cotton - from which there will be no extricating myself. I suggest that maybe he has something like this but smaller. It is all he needs to hear.

His crew disappears and almost instantly returns with several smaller red-banded carpets. Neither has the pull of the first. Inexorably I am drawn to the floor to sit upon it and Said or Ahmed begins to work in earnest. Or, more likely, relaxes into his task, knowing that his work is already done.

Perhaps he had me at the poppies...the red dye in this carpet is from poppies he tells me. Is this true? Is this carpet really “old” as he says? Maybe yes, maybe no. In any case I am reminded of fields brushed with red, of wading into the high wheat to try and capture the impossible redness of the delicate, fragile blooms.

I’m telling him it’s too large, I don’t want to ask what it costs and insult him with an offer of what I’m willing to pay even as my hands caress the rough texture. No matter. He has read my eyes and my heart. He knows it is just a matter of time. He leans towards me and in a concerned and conspiratorial whisper says to me “Be careful madam.” I turn to him questioningly.

Do they go to school to learn this or are they born with it, this balancing act of charm, psychology and poetry.

I have been easier than I intended. What was in the sweet sweet tea? I believe because I want to believe and in a way he is not lying when he moves closer to whisper “This is a magic carpet.”


  1. thank you for your story, judy. our eyes do give us away, don't they? i know you are happy that you finally gave in, and that the carpet has given you a lot of pleasure.....i hope it still holds its magic.

  2. I know all too well the seduction of the carpet sales in Morocco. My husband and I fell for 4 of them in our first week! At least for the rest of our 3 weeks we knew exactly what to expect when someone brought out the mint tea in the carpet store! By the way, one of ours is very similar to the one you liked...

  3. gosh between your "perhaps he had me at poppies" and kerry's "we knew what to expect when someone brought out the mint tea in the carpet store" - there is such strong poetry going on here! lovely.


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