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."