Spring time in Istanbul
‘You don’t look like a tourist; you look like a traveller,’ I heard someone say to me as I strolled along the street eating roasted chestnuts. I turned toward the voice with a big smile, and so began a lazy hour with Mehmet who took me to his uncle’s carpet shop.
Uncle Hasan, at the age of fifty-nine, is worldly wise and has had several girlfriends, including the one from Birmingham with whom he went to live for a while. We while away the time sitting on beautifully crafted kilim covered benches, sipping sweet Turkish tea and talking about religion.
‘I am Sufi,’ he points out. ‘Why do I have to pray five times a day? I can pray when I feel I need to pray.’
We talk about the travels we’ve been on, the things that are close to our hearts. I tell him that whilst I concede the tea is very welcome and the company interesting, I am not in the market for a carpet. He informs me of the fact that it his belief that around sixty percent of young Muslims in Turkey are quite unaware of the proximity of their nearest mosque. I point out that I read on the wall outside one of Turkey’s many mosques that ‘a Muslim is such a person that all people are sure of his tongue and his hand.’
‘Hasan,’ I ventured, ‘What do you make of that?’
He went on to tell me that he frequently makes the trip to Iraq to see a man and pay him good money. Come the month of March, when the last of the snow has gone, he will go back to the same man who hands over the dyes that Hasan uses to colour the wool that his girls will weave into kilim rugs and throws.
‘Tell me about the Kilim,’ I prompt him with interest. ‘Where do the dyes come from?’
A romantic expression suffuses Hasan’s face as he replies, ‘A kilim is like a love letter. Young maidens weave them and send them to their boyfriends.’
‘But,’ I ask, amused, ‘what if the boyfriend does not understand the message?’
‘Then,’ comes the immediate retort, with arms up in the air, ‘the boy is undeserving of such a maiden! He doesn’t deserve the girl at all!’
The dyes come from a variety of vegetable derivatives; onionskins, for example, produce the honeyed colour that is typically woven alongside natural ivory shades, which are derived from leaves of particular trees.
‘A man,’ continues Hasan, ‘simply cannot ask to take his wife to bed. That is almost rude. A man must work at getting her there without being so blunt. If he understands her, he will never have to ask; she will lead him without him realising what he has achieved.’
Staggeringly beautiful silk and wool carpets are strewn around the floor by this time; kilims in every size, colour and design have been tossed here and there.
‘Hasan, I must leave you now. It has been a pleasure talking with you, and I regret to say that I am not going to buy a carpet.’
‘You will never make me rich if you were to buy my carpets, neither will you make me poor if you do not,’ Hasan states simply as he clasps my hand in his hands, dry as sticks, and guides me to the door of his shop.
Before I depart he gives me a warm smile and says, ‘Welcome to Istanbul; enjoy your time here.’
An extract from Sand and Stilettos. A Girlfriends’ Guide to
Life, Work and Play in the United Arab Emirates. 2011, Georgina Chaplain