Last month, I posted our photos from Turkey in 2006, one of my all time favorite trips. Now, I’ll tell you the wonderful tale of how the Nyes bought carpets in Istanbul.
You probably all know that European tourist hotels catering to Americans tend to feature a breakfast demonstrating a peculiar understanding of what Americans actually want for breakfast -- sliced coldcuts, cheese, french bread and crescent are routinely featured, accompanied by fruit (if the tourist is lucky), coffee and juice.
Our hotel in Istanbul got that memo, but it seems to have been run through translation in several languages before arriving here. The local variant includes a tepid porridge-like dish we believe to be baked scrambled eggs, fried baloney, a stir-fry consisting of onions, peppers and minced fried baloney, large thick triangles of feta and Tang (if it is good enough for the astronauts, it is good enough for us right?) The coffee comes from Hills Brothers, which I had believed not to exist anymore.
So all fine, but we were ready for a break after 3 mornings, and also ready for some English-language papers, so we hied ourselves down to a large, local establishment the name of which, when translated from Turkish, is the Four Seasons Hotel. This was formally the prison featured in Midnight Express. It is nicer now. There, we had a delicious breakfast of orange juice, pancakes, french toast and read the Turkish Daily News with its English-language coverage of the various distasteful shenanigans of those Armenians, Kurds and Greek Orthodox trouble-makers.
But this entry really has nothing to do with the breakfast menu. Because we will now leave our 85 lira breakfast, and step a cross the street, I am sorry to say, to the far more financially ruinous Pilavci Carpets and Kilims.
First, however, another digression. You see, we did not intend to go to Mssr. Pilavci 's establishment. Oh no. We were not going to buy a carpet or a kilim unless we happened to find one we fell in love with, and unless it happened to be just the right price, and the fact that we had the measurements for our faded living room rug in my wallet -- why that was only a coincidence.
And in fact we had laughed -- ha, ha, ha -- as we callously ignored the importunings of the carpet sellers in the Grand Bazaar, and in the smaller markets, and in fact ın every store-front on every damn block in Old Istanbul. There are between 10 and 16 million Istanbullus, and half of them are male, and half of those are carpet sellers, and guess what -- there is absolutely no charge for looking.
But we're not getting sucked into that, oh no. We're going to see the Alexander sarcophagus and the other unparalleled antiquities. We're going to look at the 5000 year old cuneiform writings and Nebuchadnezzer II's 6th century BC tile bas relief lions from the processional street in ancient Babylon. We are going to gaze upon the 13th century BC treaty between the Egyptians and the Hittitites. All for approximately 3 American dollars.
We are definitely not going carpet shopping.
So there's nothing wrong with taking a look. Besides, we're just looking at the ceramics in the front of the store. What is the worst thing that could happen?
Ha ha ha ha.
You know, they really did leave us alone when we were in the front of the store with the ceramics. The margin in ceramics just doesn't merit any more effort than 'Hello' and 'are you from the states?'
But some people can't leave well enough alone. We had already inexplicably entered the only carpet store in Istanbul without a shill or a barker in the doorway, so we had nobody to blame but ourselves. So what did I do? Why did I do it? I ambled into the back of the store where they keep the carpets. Because they were there.
And there we met Murat. What a nice young man, maybe my older son’s age. And he was wearing high-top converse tennis shoes. Who's going to get swindled by a 25-year-old in high top sneakers?
Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha.
Murat was extraordinarily skilled at fanning the carpets over the floor, ıdentifying our preferences in color, size and material without ever broaching the subject of you-know-what. He was particularly adept at demonstrating the silk carpets that turned different colors as you viewed the nap from the opposite directions.
Now I'd read about this process in my Lonely Planet book. I knew we'd be maneuvered into comfortable seats, that we'd be offered glasses of apple tea, and that the floor show would accelerate before we got down to the hard bargaining. And of course all of that happened right on schedule.
But what I wasn't prepared for was the appearance of Hassan. The closer.
Now the fun really started. Were we negotiating ın dollars or Turkish lira. Alas, dollars. Could we do a better deal with two rugs instead of one? How about this price for 3? So what if we didn’t like the 3rd one all that much -- it was an antique (which is why it had a hole in it), and much more valuable than the newer ones.
Yeah, but actually the hallway rug we were looking to replace was getting some fraying and a thin spot, just like the antique one, and that is why we were hoping to replace it and send it to 'big junk day.'
Hassan and I negotiated some more. He never quite asked me what kind of monthly payments I'd feel comfortable with or what it would take to put me in this rug today. And when we reached agreement on the rugs (just over half the original asking price -- leave me my delusions, I'm happy) we began to discuss an aftermarket product -- rug no. 3. We watched that one free-fall to about 30% of the original price, but told Hassan it was a no go.
Hassan threw in the towel, then asked me a post-negotiation question -- had he left any money on the table? I assured him -- honestly -- that I'd overspent by about fıfty bucks.
On our way out, with much good cheer and bonhomie (and two carry-away rugs) Murat and Hassan pinned us both with 'evil eyes.' Supposedly, these ward off bad luck. I don't believe ıt, though. I think they have a coded message for the other storekeepers to tell them whether we have any money left.
It's kind of hard to put the brakes on that kind of buying spree without causing whiplash, so as we departed the neighborhood, we bought a few pillow shams, some earrings, and anything else that was handy. After that, we stopped cold turkey and went to the archeology museum.
The Alexander sarcophagus was really incredible.