Wednesday, April 03, 2013

Marrakech Report ~ Buying a Carpet: A Cautionary Tale

In this report from Marrakech, The View From Fez's intrepid reporter, Derek Workman, dives in the deep end of the carpet trade.

There are two ways people buy Moroccan carpets.

The first is to carefully mull. Will the colour clash with the furnishings in the living room? Will it get too much wear in the hall? Is that orangey one better value than the greeny one?

The second is to simply have the smiling vendor throw half a dozen down on the floor, take off your shoes and squish your toes in the pile to see which feels good.

I like the second way.

And don’t think the salesman is taking the mickey when he grins and says, ‘You only pay for the front, the back is free,’ because in the High Atlas Mountains, where some of the looser pile carpets come from, the shaggy side is for winter warmth while the smoother reverse is for summer wear. And speaking of wear, some rugs actually are worn as a winter wrap or used as bed covers.

In Morocco, every carpet tells a story – quite literally, although you may not be able to decipher its meaning. Each tribe has its own repertoire of imagery which differs by village and region, but there’s no such thing as a pattern or design. Every weave and weft is learned at the feet of a mother and grandmother – and a carpet weaver is always a woman.

The designs tell of grand ceremonies and minor happenings in the village, but the essence of a carpet is the story of the weaver, the rhythm of her daily life. Her trials and tribulations, her small joys and larger happinesses are woven into her carpet, as a painter puts his emotions on canvas by the subtlety of his brush.

Wander Marrakech’s higgledy-piggledy souks and you will find carpets everywhere; piled, rolled, unfolded and folded, spread on floors or cascading from hooks and balconies, casually thrown or elegantly presented like a perfect pearl in a Bond Street jewellers. Technicolor existed in the shades and subtleties of colour in Moroccan carpets long before the idea hit the silver screen. Subtle or screamingly outrageous – they're all there.

But buying a carpet is a serious business, a special moment to be savoured, accompanied by mint tea sweetened with cardiac-arrest levels of sugar. ‘There is no need to rush, madam.’ ‘No hurry, no worry.’ ‘This price is special only to you so please don’t tell your friends.’ ‘If only I could to give you a better price, sir, but anything less and my children won’t eat today.’ ‘Do you have a credit card?’

You can read more from Derek on his site, Spain Uncovered.
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