.. Travel (Which is to say, Shopping) Is Not for the Faint Hearted

Tucked partially under a chair in my office a colorful basket squats, slightly misshapen from being packed, on an equally colorful carpet. Souvenirs both, but neither declares its point of origin. To do so would give away their pedigree . . . Young Weavers

Caveat Emptor

To visit Turkey and not buy a carpet is to defy some law of Byzantine nature.

"Beautiful Kilims!"

"Just step into my shop, only for a moment."

"Where are you from? You want to buy a carpet?"

Swarthy men try to be non-threatening while exuding Turkish aggressiveness. My first carpet, bought my first day with two weeks of shopping to go, represents a moment of weakness. It's not a bad rug, just not a great one.

The Turkish carpet salesman is one part used car salesman, one part art dealer, one part psychic. He reads you as you approach, speaks your language, describe his products in historical, cultural, falacious detail, and convinces you that you need a carpet for the foyer in the home you may one day move to.

Most Americans have never experienced anything like Turkish carpet shopping. It's far more seductive than a Turkish harem, much more dangerous than Turkish prison, and approached properly, as much fun as a Turkish bath.

Never Let Them Know What You Want

You venture into a shop draped with intriguing silks, kilims, and woolen rugs. He urges you to sit, take some apple tea or Turksih coffee, let him show you some things. You're weary. You've heard that if you accept a drink you're agreeing to buy something.

"What size?"

"What colors?" The Carpet Showroom

In no time his minions have unrolled a half dozen marvelous specimens. It would be impolite not to at least look. "Which do you like? I'll show you more like it." You've been warned not to let on which you like. But your every gesture and glance tell him volumes. Like a lamb to the slaughter, a minion separates you from your discouraging friends and negotiates a price. You emerge blinking and dazed into the sunlight with a tightly wrapped bundle and far less money than you had going in.

My office rug, a thick wool affair of deep reds, blues, and greens, was my third carpet. It, and number two came from a recommended dealer amid the chaos of Istanbul's Grand Bazaar. In my possession was a written note from a friend with shopping instructions and the name of Hassan's shop. To the Turk, friendship, no matter how tenuous, is tremendouIy important in business. This note made all the difference, although Hassan had no recollection of my friend who'd shopped there several years before. He showed us rugs that fit my written instructions, and his minions did not separate us to move in for the kill. I selected an old tribal carpet in a design my friend did not currently have in his collection. That was carpet number two.

I had settled on number three even before that. The moment it was unrolled I was hooked. I saw many more rugs after it, but in the end I returned to its jewel tones and single center medalion. Among us I and my friends bought three rugs and four chair pads from Hassan, and we all had Turkish coffee.

Sipping and Shopping

A week or so into our trip (between the two rug-buying episodes), we visited a grocery store in a small coastal town to buy provisions for our chartered sailboat. The store was well stocked and boasted a modern scanner at the computerized cash register. Working from a list we blithly filled two shopping carts.

Mid-way through our spree, the store clerk asked if we'd like apple tea. Shortly a tray of little glass cups was delivered from a nearby restaurant and we sipped it while we double-checked our list. Some old traditions do stand the test of time.

Migratory Sales Techniques

Two months later touring the stalls at a country fair in the Loire Valley in France, an old man in a booth full of baskets asked my friend (of carpet number two) and I to have a glass of wine with him. On sheer instinct (a Turk in France?) we declined. Certainly previous customers had accepted his offer, and he poured himself another glass without us. Then he demonstrated his baskets. Woven of a flexible grass, they can be soaked and crushed, soaked and reformed. He dipped one into a bucket of water, pulled it out and crushed it flat.

"What shape?"

"What color?"

He cheerfully searched through his piles and produced one after another for my inspection. I payed him the asking price--the relief of a civilized land where one does not have to bargain! And I managed not to suggest that he include rugs in his inventory next year.