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TURKEY | THE ART OF THE HANDWOVEN CARPET

 

As it stands today, visiting Turkey is taboo. We have become accustomed to the news that yet another unexplainable act of violence has been carried about by yet another terrorist. We keep tabs on the ongoing refugee crisis, mildly aware that hundreds of thousands of people are fleeing their homes and crossing countries for fear of their safety. We look with skepticism upon a government that appears increasingly totalitarian and inhumane. Ultimately, most of us decide to keep our distance. In fact, when we planned our trip to Greece this spring, we opted for a more expensive flight so as to avoid a route that would take us through Istanbul. It was a choice we made out of fear. Little did we know, our aunt & uncle were planning to surprise us with a wedding gift: an Aegean cruise, which just so happened to be dropping its anchor on the Turkish coast for a day.

After perusing the wondrous ancient ruins at Ephesus we piled into a bus, believing our stay to be done. The experience had been a pleasant one: Turkey did not seem so different than Greece, actually. Perhaps that is why they have always struggled to get along throughout the ages; cursed by their similarities. But rather than heading back to the port, the bus took a turn for the mountains. It crawled up the slope, teasing spectacular panoramas of the world's most beautiful sea and the Greek islands that reside in it. The bus came to a stop. Peering out the window, I could see a courtyard with low-hanging trees and flowering plants spilling over the stone patio. Underneath the red-tiled arcade was a line of brilliant, handmade rugs. A man strolled out to greet us.

We had arrived at a Turkish carpet weaving cooperative—one of several state-sponsored enterprises funded by taxpayers around the country. In an era that has seen the demise of so many genuine handmade goods, the people of Turkey moved to protect one of their great cultural symbols: the carpet.

We were ushered into a workshop free of mechanization. Absent of an assembly line, the room was filled instead with antiquated looms and natural fibers. Three women sat on low benches, each of them weaving their own carpet with impossibly skilled hands. They worked with swift and concentrated movements. The man who had welcomed us explained that all of the rugs produced there were made from wool, cotton and silk. Depending on the size of a rug, it would take months or even years to complete. Hanging on the walls and lying on the floorboards beneath us were rugs whose creation undoubtedly spanned several years of my life. 

Taking a break from her work, one of the weavers led us to a vat of warm water with egg-shaped objects floating all along the surface. She brushed the objects from side to side; then suddenly, reaching down with cinched fingers, she pulled hundreds of spindled fibers upward. The circus-tent-like spectacle that she had produced before our eyes was made entirely of silk. The egg-like objects floating in the vat were silkworm cocoons. These were the weavers' hardworking companions in the workshop; a sustained source of invaluable material to be made into products of great value. The magic of Turkish carpet weaving had dawned on us.

We are true believers in the ethic of handmade. The same goes for our feelings on hospitality. The people who ran the cooperative, bringing these gorgeous rugs to life, took great pride in the what they were doing. They also took pride in sharing that with us. They made us feel at home and at ease as their guests. Turkish tradition dictates that no guest should leave your home without having a drink: the host always offers and the guest always accepts. So, we were invited to delight in the local beer & wine (we decided to skip the raki) and experience the fine touch of the carpets with bare feet. One after another, the carpets were rolled out and layered atop one another. Tantalizing floral and geometric patterns danced beneath our bodies; colors rich and subtle beckoned the presence of our heels and toes. Some of the carpets were brand new, while others were aged & weathered—which, in fact, makes them more valuable. A metaphor for life, no doubt.

It seemed that our fates were sealed. We were going to go home with one, however small it had to be on our budget. As it is, Turkish tradition also involves haggling—a practice that seemed foreign and difficult to us Midwesterners. And whether or not we truly got a good deal on the humble little cotton-wool blend carpet that we picked out, we believe we made the right call. We felt honored to be supporting such a pure embodiment of culture and artistry. So, as we get set to officially move into Pink Cameron, we do so with a little piece of Turkey beneath our bare feet. 

As they say, "a room without a rug is like a body without a soul."


—M

UP THE HAYSTACK

 

Neither of us had ever climbed a mountain. True, there are metaphorical mountains that we (all) face on what seems to be a daily basis, but this one was real—made of earth, sticks, and stones; piled nearly 2000 feet high. Haystack Mountain has been on our To Do List ever since we arrived in Vermont. It's a beautiful mountain. Its slopes are steep and dotted with trees, situated prominently at the end of a ridge that looms above the town of Pawlet. At some point during nearly every day that we have spent here, we have remarked about Haystack, resolved to summit our favorite local landmark. Yet our ascent was delayed by a quizzical rash of rain and snow on our days off, bookended by pristine, sun-splashed days on the farm. March passed, and most of April too—our return to Ohio (and Greece) rapidly approaching.

During those days and weeks we did not spend climbing Haystack, we spent gaining a real sense of calling on the farm. Strangely—at least strangely to two family-obsessed Ohioans—Consider Bardwell Farm began to feel like a home. It revealed itself as a place where we could grow and learn about a craft, a lifestyle, and ourselves. So we suddenly found ourselves faced with a new mountain: the desire to stay in Vermont.

How could we? It was a question both literal and open-ended. Literal in the respect that, when we arrived, there were no prospects for us to stay on in a permanent role. We were (and are) Kidding Interns: positions confined to a two-month period when kids are being born on the farm. But that changed in an exciting and startling way when we began discussing an extended internship. Then we began discussing becoming permanent employees. It was at that point that it became more open-ended: how could we do this? How could we move away from our families that we love so much, around whom our lives revolve? That is a question for which we simply do not have the answer.

So we are going to start climbing. We have resolved to face the mountain and seek its summit. We are going to stay in Vermont and learn how to manage a farm. We will learn how to manage a young marriage away from family. We will pledge allegiance to the land on which we stand, grounded in the knowledge that we do stand on the same earth that our loved ones do, only many miles away. It is both heartbreaking and exhilarating. Neither of us have ever felt so purpose driven before as we do now. 

We reached the top Haystack Mountain on a Monday afternoon so clear that we could look upon the Adirondacks and the shores of Lake Champlain, turn around, and view mile after mile of the Green Mountain National Forest. After a steep stretch of craggy trail—a challenge nowhere near insurmountable, but nevertheless worthy of heavy breathing and sweat on our brows—the view at the top was worth the effort. And so, we will keep trying, keep climbing.


—M

IRELAND | THROUGH TOWN & COUNTRY

 

I set foot in Ireland a sick man. Some ten hours earlier, I tearfully embraced my fiancée at the entrance of the security checkpoint at Cleveland Hopkins International Airport. My heart remained heavy as I passed through Chicago, and the flu bug I had been battling grew bolder still. I coughed violently and my stomach churned, I zipped my fleece jacket flush against my chin. My throat ached. Somewhere over the Atlantic ocean I fainted, 40,000 feet in the air. 

Ireland is the kind of place that heals you. She gathers you in her neighborly embrace, sets you down in a corner pub, fills your belly with beef & potato stew (and beer), and keeps you in the good company of your brother and your father. Well, in my case, anyway. When my brother moved to Dublin to study medicine, I hoped to visit him when given the chance. A few months later when I decided to leave my job and seek a new path, it only seemed natural. My dad, who lives in Greece and is unafraid of calling himself a nomad, joined without hesitation. And that is how a Greek father, his American son, and his surrogate-Irish son found themselves reunited on the banks of the River Liffey.

We walked, walked, walked. It is my preferred method of exploring a new place, and my dad's too—despite a hairline ankle fracture that kept us walking to a beat much slower than the local one. What we found was a vibrant place full of youthful faces, singing voices, and colorful doorways. We looked both ways before crossing the street, dodging traffic patterns that seemed all sorts of backwards to us. We dodged raindrops too, for the ever awake & alive city of Dublin lies in wait beneath a sleepy sky, blanketed with low-flying and well-saturated clouds, ready to burst at any time. Ireland's unpredictable weather gave us plenty time to catch up in conversation, to talk history & politics, to reminisce about the past, to eat & drink. It gave us a chance to seat ourselves among the crowds of Irishmen gathered to watch the World Cup of Rugby in pubs across Dublin on weekday afternoons. And when the rain relented and the clouds retreated, we ventured into the countryside.

Oh, the lush, lumpy and impossibly green Irish countryside. How I adored you and your vast flocks of sheep, your hulking beef cows, your age-old stone walls and castles. It was you who truly healed me. Your rolling pasture and bog; the lunar landscape in The Burren; the noble Cliffs of Moher, looming above the Atlantic Ocean in quiet splendor; the "Valley of Two Lakes" at Glendalough. It was you who confirmed in my soul an appreciation for rural earthscapes more heartfelt than any feeling that a city could inspire within me. My experiences with you were brief, but it is for you that I long to return to Ireland.

It is for my brother, too, that I long to return. During the past few years, I have learned what it means to have family spread out; to have great distances separating you from your loved ones. As I write this, I myself have chosen to spend time living away from the place that I have known to be home for all of my life. I wouldn't hesitate to say that my brother instilled in me some of the courage to make such a move of my own. Now, we find ourselves in beautiful & inspiring places where we can grow and learn. I, in Vermont; my brother, in Ireland; my dad, in Greece. It is not always easy, but it is reality. So, when we do reunite—and it is impossible to know where that may happen next—it is ever so sweet. It is savored, like a hot stew on a damp & chilly evening in Dublin; like fresh souvlaki at a Greek taverna on a mid-summer night; like warm oatmeal drizzled with maple syrup at the dawn of a frosty Vermont morning, before heading to the farm. 

It is miraculous to learn of all the places in the world that you can find the familiar, the beloved. For me, Ireland is one of those places.

(Ah, speaking of familiar: Guinness tastes the same there.)

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—M