Thursday, November 23, 2006

Meet Edip.


This is Edip, carpet merchant and former Istanbul U. professor (economics) extraordinaire, who stands out from all the other carpet merchants in old Istanbul (and believe me, that is saying something) for his sheer persistence, friendliness and general camaraderie. Rich and I had headed to the Hippodrome, between the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque, to look at the obelisks there. It was the first or second item on our itinerary of things we wanted to see just because it was the most convenient thing to see just then, and because Rich was still trying to figure out our map. The weather was pretty fine-- cool, but comfortable, so Rich was in just a polo shirt while I had on my trusty raincoat which doubles as an extra layer, and a pashmina scarf. (I'm always borderline cold). I paused to take a picture of just a street scene with minarets in the background and saw Edip emerging from a building. He had such a great face that I wanted to get him in the picture as he headed our way, but he saw me taking a picture and moved aside. As he passed us, he asked if we were from the States, and then said to Rich, "You must be a professor from the Midwest!" Our mouths dropped open and we asked him how he knew that. He replied that he had been to Illinois and that it was very cold there, so only a Midwesterner could manage shirtsleeves in the present weather. He himself was wearing a black wool overcoat. Besides, Rich's beard was, he said, a giveaway of profession.

It is very, very difficult to avoid the carpet salesmen in Istanbul. There are more carpet shops there than places to drink coffee or buy food. By the time we were talking to Edip, we were already jaded about this, and we had been there only two hours since our plane had landed. The shop owners don't wait for you; they come out to find you, befriend you, share a story about how they have relatives in Chicago or LA or lived in the US themselves. ("Hello, excuse me, are you from the States? How are you?") They get you into pleasant conversation about what you hope to see in Turkey, take a picture of you and your companion and then invite you to come for a cup of tea while looking their rugs. "No pressure to buy", they all say. But very few people come away from Turkey untouched by carpet fever. It's impossible to resist. The danged things are truly beautiful, and while they are not cheap, they are not out of just about anyone's price range, either. Can't afford much? If nothing else, you can buy a remnant of an old kilim made into a cushion cover for about ten bucks. By the time you step into their shop and begin to admire the rugs, they've plied you with wonderful tea-- regular, apple, sage or rosehip, all delicious, and you get to a point where it would seem downright impolite to not buy something. Americans are so accomodating! These folks are very good at what they do, and they do it with great interest and goodwill. You have to play along with it. The only way to ward them off is to say that you've already bought a rug and are not interested-- but that doesn't work with all the other things for sale, like ceramic, leather and gold.

Well, Edip went the extra ten miles for us. We got so engaged in talking-- he was really knowledgeable and interesting-- that he took us to a friend's shop where we drank tea (of course) and he smoked about twenty cigarettes one after the other. Of course he wanted us to see his carpets, but we hadn't planned on buying until the next day. A licensed tour guide, he actually took us to places to see things we would not have been able to see otherwise. He took us to rooftops for a view of the Bosphorus. He took us to Topkapi (pronounced toep-COPpuh) Palace, and argued in the usual and time-honored Middle Eastern manner with the Army guard at the gate, who flatly refused to let us in (it was closed that day).
After tossing some Turkish epithets at the poor harrassed soul, Edip then took us into the Blue Mosque (the prayers were over with) where we removed our shoes and toured the inside. By this time we were old friends and had started talking religion, and we found that Edip was a Sufi Muslim. We discussed comparative theology with him for some time, which was extremely interesting and a refreshing change from American cowardliness on the subject.

The sun had by now gone down, and Rich was so cold that he was finding it difficult to interact (I had taken over the theological discussion on Rich's frozen behalf), so we went to Edip's shop and looked at his rugs. Bought one, of course, after much humble haggling and more tea. At one point the entire floor was littered with rugs, and his poor assistant, a handsome, cheerful young man named Mustapha, had to fold them all up again after we were done. Edip was so pleased that he invited us to stay for shish kebap, which we did. Six more cups of tea later, we had to leave for reasons of...comfort...and Edip had Mustapha drive us back to the hotel.

But Rich did not sleep well that night. Part two of the story tomorrow.

2 Comments:

Blogger The Clinging Vine said...

What a terrific story, Eleanor! How I wish I'd been present to hear you discuss comparative religion with Edip. That must have been something, indeed. ;^)

Are you going to post a photo of the rug? What a super way to buy it, instead of from either a department store's furniture department or one of those perpetually "Going Out Of Business!" rug stores here in the States.

Anxiously awaiting the next installment, dearest!

Oh, and Happy Thanksgiving!

8:44 PM  
Anonymous Heidi said...

What a wonderful experience, and what terrific people!

glad you made it back safe and sound, dear. With your new rug.

11:05 AM  

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