His eyes gleamed with intent. Bright intelligent eyes. “You ask” watching carefully, pacing his pitch. “You ask what price for such a carpet”. Now leaning forward as if to give away a great and ancient secret. “But I ask you this …” Negotiations in the great market of Constantinople have been conducted in such a way for centuries. “I ask you, what price would you pay for such beauty?”
It is an experience of a lifetime to buy a carpet in the Old Market of Istanbul. One does not do it in a hurry and one must be calm before entering into such a transaction. “You see this one here” pointing to a deep ruby red and white carpet hanging on the wall. “This one comes all the way from Iran. We call it Persia. This was a master weaver and look” pointing to a small block at the bottom of the carpet. “Here he leaves his signature”. “But forgive me I am being rude. I get so carried away.”
He turns to his associate and barks an order in Turkish. “Please sit down. Faizel will bring us some apple tea. You will join me? Yes?” And so Faizel scoots off next door and reappears with a gaudy gold-plated tray with small squat tumblers and glass teapot. He pours out the sweet light brown liquid and offers it around. The warmth and the friendship is definitely having the desired effect.
“Now tell me, where are you good people from?” He seemed satisfied. “I have a business associate in Bloemfontein” and just when you begin to doubt this likeable salesman he breaks into faultless Afrikaans and continues the conversation. “’n Bietjie meer tee?” he offers, an extension of his already generous hospitality and friendship.
The generosity and the show of carpets blend and meld into an intricate design all of its own. Seductively woven, the fragrances of the market, the noises and music are set against patterns and ideas displayed in the timeless way.
Will Jew and Muslim ever find peace? What of the roles of women in the home and society? How close the stories told in the Quran are to those in the Torah and Bible. Slowly it becomes obvious, here in this strange light in this busy market place you begin to understand that your life is but a strand in a finely woven master piece. Here, on carpets such as these – over which we bargain, argue and haggle, the devout believer prostrates in daily prayer. And in their fervour and in their faith we are the silent witness to their supplication.
The carpet seller from Istanbul leans forward and grabs my leg. His eyes are shining. “These are not carpets, my friend” He is earnest. This was not a man desperate to make a sale; this was a man on fire. A face that shone, eyes alive and bright. Tension, a sprinter in the blocks. “No my friend, you do not buy a carpet when you come to me, you take away a philosophy”.
And then I began to see it and to understand it. My whole life is but a strand in a great and intricately woven masterpiece. “And think of this” about to tell a great secret of antiquity. “When a weaver makes a mistake, then that mistake is woven into the pattern and the art-piece takes another direction”.
“And you see, my brother” the market swirls and bumps around us. “This is how God is with our imperfections. He is the Master Weaver and he weaves all our frailty and our weaknesses and our sin into the Great Tapestry. More tea?”
The time for philosophy is never over. The time taken in such a market lasts but a second and yet it spans hundreds of years. “My friend, what price would you pay for beauty?” When it came down to it, I knew that to accept the first price would be almost as rude as rejecting his offerings of sweet apple tea. How does the haggling begin? In markets far from this one, in China – I was taught the art of the bargain.
The opening price, when offered is frowned upon and is looked down upon as an insult. And so with a look of feigned disgust, a firm yet polite rejection is offered. “Walk away from the deal”. I was taught “but not so fast that your opponent cannot catch you”. “Offer a price that is low, but not so low as to insult one’s intelligence”.
Backward and forward go offer and counter offer. And the skilled negotiator will bring in other factors. “Standing watching you before I even approached you to sell you one of my carpets, I knew you were going to be a worthy adversary”. The carpet seller admitted. “My friend this is not an insult, but a great compliment”. I can see by your demeanour that you are a man that places high value on things, even on your own life”.
It is so with everything we do, from making a cup of tea to making a fire or buying a carpet in an ancient bazaar, all things, all actions are sacred. Today I take with me all that I have into the Temple of Life. In my home there is a carpet that makes me smile, an ancient and secret smile. I say a small prayer when I pass – “Inshallah”