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Turkey Weaves its Spell


Founded in 637 B.C., busy Istanbul is the only city located on two continents, Europe and Asia. © Warren Lieb."It's not about money, my friend," smiles Mustafa Belli, as his assistant unrolls one dazzling carpet after another onto the tile floor. "It's about love. We love you man. We Turks love Americans."

 

With those blue eyes and that aristocratic profile, he could be Sean Connery's twin. Sexy, smooth. "You lucky man," he tells my husband Warren. "Pretty young wife. " He nods at me approvingly.

"Which carpet she like? Only best quality. Please, apple tea? Turkish coffee?" he offers.

A sudden downpour outside Istanbul's Grand Bazaar prevents us from escaping Mustafa's tiny shop. He insists we sit on his upholstered couch as another assistant graciously serves apple tea steaming from gold-rimmed glasses.

"It's possible I could offer five hundred dollars for that one," suggests my husband, gesturing to a burgundy and blue silk carpet. The ornate weaving of leaves and flowers would be a perfect centerpiece for my dining room table.

"You put shotgun to my heart," Mustafa counter negotiates. "This carpet best quality, from Hereke. A work of art! One year to make, maybe more," he sighs. "It is impossible, five hundred dollars."

The rain slows to a drizzle. "Perhaps my wife and I will walk a bit and discuss the possibilities," says my husband, ending the discussion. "Thank you for your hospitality."

"Not important to buy," Mustafa shakes Warren's hand. "We rich company. We love Americans. Nice wife."

Trying not to trip over the hill of carpets, we back out smiling, nodding thanks, relieved to be free. But 500 other Grand Bazaar carpet dealers are waiting for us with steaming apple tea. It’s time to escape to Cappodocia.

Every store had magnificent rugs piled high to the ceiling. © Warren Lieb.Hiking in central Turkey's Red Valley near the town of Zelve, we wander among Fairy Chimneys - red, yellow and beige lava rocks carved into wonderfully weird shapes from centuries of wind and rain. For the moment, we have put aside all thoughts of carpets to enjoy the spectacular scenery.

"These colors come from iron, sulfur and pumice in the stone," explains our guide Yasar Sanlibaba. To protect us while we scramble among the rocks, Yasar has given us "evil eyes": little blue and white glass eyes that we wear on our sweatshirts. So far we've had no bad luck.

The rim trail is high above undulating farms where quince, pomegranate, apricot trees, and grapes perfume the air. Trudging down through steep slot canyons, we come upon a Turkish family harvesting red and black grapes. The father offers each of us a bunch of luscious fruit.

"May I introduce Masar Karaco," smiles Yasar, "and his family." We exchange smiles. Should we eat the unwashed grapes? With all eyes upon us, we hope our evil eyes will continue their "protection," and devour our delicious gift. Pleased to have been hospitable, Masar and his family fill their car trunk with buckets of grapes and drive away leaving us alone in the beautiful vineyard.

"Yasar, do you think I'll get sick?" I ask.

"Not if you continue wearing the evil eye, "he grins.

Half an hour later, the valley trail wends out to a dirt road bordered by a cemetery. Headstone names suggest characters from Scheherazade's "Thousand and One Nights": Aziz Bulbul, Ali Kara, Kadir Oglu. At the end of the road is a sign with a familiar name: Chez Masar.

Masar, our friendly grape farmer is also a cafe owner, waiting for us with freshly brewed glasses of apple tea. "Serefe", he toasts. "For your health."

As I sip the sweet tea, I notice tables across the road laden with carpets. A carpet dealer smiles and waves hello.

The next morning we amble through the village of Bahceli near Urgup. The Ivgen family women squat outside their stone house chopping pumpkins and sorting potatoes. An orange tractor and trailer stand ready to haul their produce to market. On this hot day I wear a short sleeved T-shirt, shorts, and sneakers. These women wear ankle-length full skirts, long-sleeved blouses, vests, and white scarves covering their heads. Devoid of makeup or jewelry, their faces are beautiful. Across the dirt road, the Kesan family roasts pumpkin seeds outdoors in their tandoor oven, a large hole in a concrete floor. Grandmother Kesan greets us with a loaf of hot corik bread, shaped like a giant bagel.

Istanbulís aromatic and colorful Spice Market is irresistible for chefs. © Warren Lieb."May I give you a gift?" asks Rosalie Papoutsy, one of the travelers in our group. When not adventuring around the world, Rosalie sells designer home accessories at Neiman-Marcus. She takes a Polaroid of grandmother, mother and son. The women look elegant in velvet pantaloons, sweater vests over long-sleeved blouses, and white cotton head veils. In his navy blazer, sweater vest and green ballcap, the teenaged boy looks too dapper to be sorting potatoes. He's more suited for a Gap fashion spread. Rosalie presents them with their Polaroid portrait. It seems they've never seen a photo of themselves until now.

In the center of town, we stop for tea. Muhtarlik Cayeri, the cafe owner, moves a card table and 12 chairs off his outdoor terrace and into the road so we can relax in the sun. Bahceli is a pretty village, with whitewashed stone houses and grapevines cascading from second-floor balconies. Splendid carpets thrown over walls air in the sun. Ornately painted trailers pass by laden with vegetables, kids, veiled women, and dogs.

A beautiful teenaged girl shyly approaches our table. "She wants to practice her English," whispers Yasar. Wearing a form-fitting apricot sweater and blue jeans, she looks out of place among the village women veiled and covered in voluminous clothing. She, too, looks like a fashion model.

"I am Sharon Spence from New Mexico," I say, jumping up to introduce myself.

"I am Gamze Ayse Unal," she replies. "I live in Nevsehir, but I come to this village to visit my grandmother. I am studying to be a math teacher," she says in perfect English. Every young woman in this village has a child on her hip and another by the hand. I can sense Gamze has other plans. She will never be veiled, nor restricted to sorting potatoes.

We can’t leave Turkey without a carpet, so we check out Sentez Avanos Hali, a carpet factory in Avanos where we can follow the carpet making process step by step. "Here you will find only the finest carpets," states Suat Hurmen. "Silk-on-silk, wool-on-wool, wool-on-cotton, all works of art. But no charge to look." Another Sean Connery double, Suat wears a well-cut business suit that flatters his slim physique. "Only natural dyes make the colors in our rugs. Henna, saffron, indigo, onion skin. No chemicals."

One room is piled high with silkworm cocoons, waiting to be unraveled into thread. Another room contains huge vats of liquid plants and vegetables used for dyes. In the showroom, young women sit cross legged at looms weaving silk and wool rugs in the time honored method: tying each knot by hand. I envy their talent and skill, but not their long hours of eye and hand strain.

Most rugs are woven by women, a demanding art learned from their grandmothers and mothers. © Warren Lieb.Suat escorts us into a palatial room with high ceilings and a luxurious upholstered banquette along one wall. "Please be comfortable," he says, snapping his fingers for assistants to unroll dozens of carpets.

"I predict apple tea will soon appear," mutters my husband.

"Apple tea? Turkish coffee? What is your pleasure?" inquires Suat. Brass trays bearing exquisite china cups and gold-rimmed glasses are presented.

It's amazing how quickly a room can fill up with lavish carpets, one more incredible than the next. Designs so intricate and colors so rich it's impossible to believe human hands created them.

"Why are all the carpet weavers female? " I ask.

"Ah yes! I will show you," exclaims Suat. He commands us to crawl onto the 2-foot pile of rugs. Like obedient children, we fall to our knees. "Look at the knots on the back of the carpet. Look I say. In silk carpets of best quality you find ten knots per centimeter! It's true. Only from delicate fingers of the woman can this happen. Works of art my friends. Best quality. But no charge to look of course."

How it happened we have no idea. My husband and I promise each other we will not buy a rug here. We know the slick sales presentation and overhead of this vast factory means no bargains. Unfortunately, we fall in love with a cinnamon hued beauty that insists on returning home to our bedroom. Our Visa card floats into Suat's smooth outstretched fingers.

While my husband is in the next room filling out shipping forms, Suat returns to sit next to me. I am sick over the cost of this magnificent carpet. Suat takes my hands in his, pressing them to his cheeks.

"You are happy?" he asks, looking deeply into my eyes.

"Well, it is a beautiful rug," I stammer. "But far more than we intended to spend..."

"Because you are happy, I am happy," he exclaims, kissing my cheek. Before I can say more, Suat has disappeared for his next performance

Of the hundreds of Turkish rugs we drooled over, this one now graces our home. © Warren Lieb.Back in Istanbul, just a few hours before our departure to the USA, we return to the Grand Bazaar. We walk through dim crowded alleys where 4,000 shops overflow with gold jewelry, ceramic plates, brass teapots, and leather coats.

A handsome young man attaches himself to my elbow. "I am Mehmet Ozkaraca, you are American!" he exclaims. "We love Americans. Please, I invite you to my father's shop."

"And I bet your father has a few rugs," my husband smiles. "Yes, of course. Only best quality. Works of art. But free to look, sir."

Warren and I laugh. We've been on a nonstop flying carpet ride all throughout this intriguing exasperating country. And now it's time to fly home.

When You Go:

For further information, contact The Turkish Tourist Office, 821 United Nations Plaza, New York, New York 10017, 212-687-2194. Email: tourny@soho.ios.com.

For further information on walking tours in Turkey and other countries, including the United States, contact Country Walkers, P.O. Box 180, Waterbury, VT 05676-0180.

Telephone: 800-464-9255.

Masar, our friendly grape farmer is also a cafe owner, waiting for us with freshly brewed glasses of apple tea. "Serefe", he toasts. "For your health."

As I sip the sweet tea, I notice tables across the road laden with carpets. A carpet dealer smiles and waves hello.

The next morning we amble through the village of Bahceli near Urgup. The Ivgen family women squat outside their stone house chopping pumpkins and sorting potatoes. An orange tractor and trailer stand ready to haul their produce to market. On this hot day I wear a short sleeved T-shirt, shorts, and sneakers. These women wear ankle-length full skirts, long-sleeved blouses, vests, and white scarves covering their heads. Devoid of makeup or jewelry, their faces are beautiful. Across the dirt road, the Kesan family roasts pumpkin seeds outdoors in their tandoor oven, a large hole in a concrete floor. Grandmother Kesan greets us with a loaf of hot corik bread, shaped like a giant bagel.

Istanbulís aromatic and colorful Spice Market is irresistible for chefs. © Warren Lieb."May I give you a gift?" asks Rosalie Papoutsy, one of the travelers in our group. When not adventuring around the world, Rosalie sells designer home accessories at Neiman-Marcus. She takes a Polaroid of grandmother, mother and son. The women look elegant in velvet pantaloons, sweater vests over long-sleeved blouses, and white cotton head veils. In his navy blazer, sweater vest and green ballcap, the teenaged boy looks too dapper to be sorting potatoes. He's more suited for a Gap fashion spread. Rosalie presents them with their Polaroid portrait. It seems they've never seen a photo of themselves until now.

In the center of town, we stop for tea. Muhtarlik Cayeri, the cafe owner, moves a card table and 12 chairs off his outdoor terrace and into the road so we can relax in the sun. Bahceli is a pretty village, with whitewashed stone houses and grapevines cascading from second-floor balconies. Splendid carpets thrown over walls air in the sun. Ornately painted trailers pass by laden with vegetables, kids, veiled women, and dogs.

A beautiful teenaged girl shyly approaches our table. "She wants to practice her English," whispers Yasar. Wearing a form-fitting apricot sweater and blue jeans, she looks out of place among the village women veiled and covered in voluminous clothing. She, too, looks like a fashion model.

"I am Sharon Spence from New Mexico," I say, jumping up to introduce myself.

"I am Gamze Ayse Unal," she replies. "I live in Nevsehir, but I come to this village to visit my grandmother. I am studying to be a math teacher," she says in perfect English. Every young woman in this village has a child on her hip and another by the hand. I can sense Gamze has other plans. She will never be veiled, nor restricted to sorting potatoes.

We canít leave Turkey without a carpet, so we check out Sentez Avanos Hali, a carpet factory in Avanos where we can follow the carpet making process step by step. "Here you will find only the finest carpets," states Suat Hurmen. "Silk-on-silk, wool-on-wool, wool-on-cotton, all works of art. But no charge to look." Another Sean Connery double, Suat wears a well-cut business suit that flatters his slim physique. "Only natural dyes make the colors in our rugs. Henna, saffron, indigo, onion skin. No chemicals."

One room is piled high with silkworm cocoons, waiting to be unraveled into thread. Another room contains huge vats of liquid plants and vegetables used for dyes. In the showroom, young women sit cross legged at looms weaving silk and wool rugs in the time honored method: tying each knot by hand. I envy their talent and skill, but not their long hours of eye and hand strain.

Most rugs are woven by women, a demanding art learned from their grandmothers and mothers. © Warren Lieb.Suat escorts us into a palatial room with high ceilings and a luxurious upholstered banquette along one wall. "Please be comfortable," he says, snapping his fingers for assistants to unroll dozens of carpets.

"I predict apple tea will soon appear," mutters my husband.

"Apple tea? Turkish coffee? What is your pleasure?" inquires Suat. Brass trays bearing exquisite china cups and gold-rimmed glasses are presented.

It's amazing how quickly a room can fill up with lavish carpets, one more incredible than the next. Designs so intricate and colors so rich it's impossible to believe human hands created them.

"Why are all the carpet weavers female? " I ask.

"Ah yes! I will show you," exclaims Suat. He commands us to crawl onto the 2-foot pile of rugs. Like obedient children, we fall to our knees. "Look at the knots on the back of the carpet. Look I say. In silk carpets of best quality you find ten knots per centimeter! It's true. Only from delicate fingers of the woman can this happen. Works of art my friends. Best quality. But no charge to look of course."

How it happened we have no idea. My husband and I promise each other we will not buy a rug here. We know the slick sales presentation and overhead of this vast factory means no bargains. Unfortunately, we fall in love with a cinnamon hued beauty that insists on returning home to our bedroom. Our Visa card floats into Suat's smooth outstretched fingers.

While my husband is in the next room filling out shipping forms, Suat returns to sit next to me. I am sick over the cost of this magnificent carpet. Suat takes my hands in his, pressing them to his cheeks.

"You are happy?" he asks, looking deeply into my eyes.

"Well, it is a beautiful rug," I stammer. "But far more than we intended to spend..."

"Because you are happy, I am happy," he exclaims, kissing my cheek. Before I can say more, Suat has disappeared for his next performance

Of the hundreds of Turkish rugs we drooled over, this one now graces our home. © Warren Lieb.Back in Istanbul, just a few hours before our departure to the USA, we return to the Grand Bazaar. We walk through dim crowded alleys where 4,000 shops overflow with gold jewelry, ceramic plates, brass teapots, and leather coats.

A handsome young man attaches himself to my elbow. "I am Mehmet Ozkaraca, you are American!" he exclaims. "We love Americans. Please, I invite you to my father's shop."

"And I bet your father has a few rugs," my husband smiles. "Yes, of course. Only best quality. Works of art. But free to look, sir."

Warren and I laugh. We've been on a nonstop flying carpet ride all throughout this intriguing exasperating country. And now it's time to fly home.

When You Go:

For further information, contact The Turkish Tourist Office, 821 United Nations Plaza, New York, New York 10017, 212-687-2194. Email: tourny@soho.ios.com.

For further information on walking tours in Turkey and other countries, including the United States, contact Country Walkers, P.O. Box 180, Waterbury, VT 05676-0180.

Telephone: 800-464-9255.