Getting There - Aneel's Travelogue

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Friday Istanbul, Turkey, Friday, 08 January 2010 7:30pm

Perhaps I should have paid a little more attention to what day of the week it was, since Friday prayers were today, and mosques were busier than normal. It led to an interesting day anyway, though I didn't do everything I'd planned.

I started off by walking to the Grand Bazaar, which seems much more relaxed than the markets of Marrakesh: more orderly, lighter crowds, less aggressive salespeople. I asked at a couple of places that were selling inlay boxes if they had the 10-star/5-gon pattern that I've been seeing so much of on doors here. The salesmen generally had no idea what I was talking about and pointed me at a bunch of 6-star and 8-star patterns, and in one case a 12-star/6-star pattern, which is nice, and all, but not the one I've been seeing. One was curious enough to ask me what it meant, which I don't actually know. I'm going to have to research this pattern when I get back.

After leaving the Bazaar, I headed for the Süleymaniye Mosque. It was near midday, and the courtyard was full of people getting ready for prayers, so I assumed that it was full to overflowing for the main Friday service, so I had lunch. When I was done with lunch, they were still praying, so I had another lunch at a different restaurant (there are a bunch right next to the mosque, in a related complex). I was seated at one end of a table for 8, and, after my food arrived, a large group in fancy suits sat down next to me, a number of young men, a young woman, and an older man.

The older man struck up a conversation with me, and it turned out that they were from Istanbul University (which is across the street from the mosque). The older man introduced himself as Adem and said he was a professor of criminal law, and the younger people were his assistants. He and I talked a bit about Istanbul and San Francisco, and I talked to the others about the difference between a "Computer Programmer" and a "Computer Engineer", and what assistants to professors of criminal law do (research, and expert witness testimony, it seems). I was invited to tour the University. When I said "Oh, I didn't know that was possible", the assistant across from me said "Of course it's possible, he's the Dean of the Law Faculty".

So I got waved through the turnstiles and metal detectors, and assigned an assistant as a guide, and got to see the Law campus of Istanbul University. It turns out that the University was founded in 1453 and that their experts on jurisprudence were consulted by King Henry VIII of England. The Law building was used as the central command for Ottoman forces during World War I. I was amused to see a pair of students juggling as they walked through the corridors.

After the tour, I returned to the Süleymaniye Mosque, to discover that the people in the courtyard were not the overflow crowd, they were the entire crowd, because the interior of the mosque is currently being renovated and is closed.

I walked downhill towards the Eminönü shopping district and the Spice Market, where I picked up some sundries, looked at some spices, and ate way more baklava than I should have. Next to the Spice Market, there's a pet and plant market where they have different pet foods displayed just like the spices, a wide variety of small animals, and big glass jars full of leeches with various doctors' names on them.

I had dinner in Eminönü and caught the tram back towards my hotel. Walking back from the tram stop, with a cup of hot chocolate in hand, I stopped to look at a carpet in a shop window (a very large black-fielded one). A man who was standing outside told me it was Chinese, and I told him I couldn't afford it anyway. He invited me in, and I assured him that I wasn't going to buy a carpet.

He introduced himself as "Sam", because his Turkish name was too complicated, and we spent the next 45 minutes or so playing the carpet-selling game. I told him I was only interested in seeing carpets from Turkey, but I wasn't going to buy any from anywhere, and he showed me what the various styles were. He asked me which one I liked best, and I indicated one of them, and he said "why is it Americans always choose that one?". It turned out it was the most expensive one on the floor at the time, a dowry carpet used for prayers on the first night of a marriage. He showed me some other ones, finally finding a Turkmen one that I thought was really interesting.

It had what he called "mandolin" patterns repeated in the field, which looked a bit like paired, inset paisleys with lines connecting them (the mandolin strings?), with big cross-shaped separations between them (which he suggested might be Armenian crosses, so this might be the result of an Armenian/Turkmen marriage). There were lots of little fish shapes everywhere, and there was an interesting geometric border. Black squares set in diamonds in a not-quite-regular pattern. It was fascinating to look at. I can't say I actually liked it. It had some saffron yellow and orange details that don't really fit my favored color schemes, and the imprecision of the geometry was like an itch to me. But it kept drawing my eye. After eliminating all of the other carpets, he started talking price. Hypothetically, of course, since he pointed out that he knew that I wasn't going to buy a carpet.

Interestingly, he explained the fees he was subtracting. He admitted up-front that the price given on the tag ($4900) pre-included all of the things that they would normally mark it up for. He said he was knocking off the 30% commission that he'd pay someone for bringing a buyer into the store (Me: 30%?!? I should bring in some carpet buyers! Him: Yes, you should!), 12% for shipping and insurance, 8% for credit card fees (apparently Amex here is outrageous). He talked a bunch about how they would give me a certificate of authenticity and would buy back the carpet at any time for the same price (apparently carpets increase in value as they lie on floors). He knocked the price down to $1425 before he even asked me how much I could pay.

I laughed and said that was a thousand dollars more than I could possibly justify spending on a carpet. He rounded that up to $500. He worked on me for a while longer, telling me that it was clear that I liked the carpet because I hadn't taken my eyes off of it for 20 minutes (true), and then made a phone call to the owner of the store to see if they could offer a better price and was told that the owner would have to look at which carpet we were talking about before offering a price. After a few minutes, the son of the owner of the store showed up, looked at the carpet, punched some numbers in a calculator and gave me a rock-bottom price of $787.

Now, $787 is a lot cheaper than $4900, and this carpet was fascinating to look at, but I still wasn't even sure I actually liked it (fascination is something quite different), and $787 is about $787 more than I told him I was going to spend when I agreed to look at some carpets, so I told them thanks, but I couldn't pay that. We all shook hands on the non-deal, and I thanked "Sam" for showing me a style of carpet very unlike any I'd ever seen before.


carpet melissa Friday, 08 January 2010 2:11pm

I think this is my favorite entry yet. and, I think thus far, this has been your least frustrating trip. At least it appears that way from the tone of your entries.

Quincy (Anonymously) Tuesday, 26 January 2010 9:52pm

In Lovecraft's version of that story, you buy the carpet...

10-sided pattern Quincy (Anonymously) Monday, 19 April 2010 6:10pm

This one?

aneel Monday, 19 April 2010 8:43pm

No, that doesn't have a 5-gon at the center of the next repeat.

This is the one: