Friday, March 19, 2010

Dad, your rug guy is totally stalking me.

Just kidding, my dad doesn't read my blog. But his rug guy is stalking me. Or courting me. Or trying to sell me a rug. Or all three. I like attention and textiles, so it's a workable relationship.

My parents came to Turkey last summer on a cooking tour. My mom came home with several new kebab recipes and my father with more rugs than floor space in his house. When I decided to stop in Istanbul on my way to Ethiopia my father offered to send some emails to acquaitances he had made in Turkey. After much online research I had selected what I thought would be the best hotel for me- only to learn that of the hundreds of hotels in Istanbul, this was the same one my parents had stayed in over the summer. It turns out that my dad's rug guy also happens to be the owner of the hotel. A few emails later and I had secured a room at the hotel for a reduced rate and was assured they were awaiting my arrival.

When I did arrive I was surprised to find that the guy at the front desk already knew my name. I didn't think too much of it, or think anything at all after my red eye flight. I was shown to my room and immediately crashed for several hours. When I woke up the guy at the front desk told me that Hamit, the rug guy/hotel owner had stopped by to see me. It wasn't until the next morning that I was able to piece together that I was the only guest at the hotel and that's why they were so sure of my name. It seemed a little strange until they walked me to breakfast at their neighboring hotel, then it seemed really strange. The sister hotel was entirely booked, and my hotel really was just that "my hotel". As in, I come and go as I please and there are full-time doormen and housekeepers. At the sister hotel I met Hamit, who showed me to breakfast on the terrace. I thought he was just showing me where to go, but it turns out he had been waiting to have breakfast with me. After breakfast I mentioned I wanted to go to the Topaki Palace, and he walked me there, told me where to have lunch and suggested I come to his shop for tea afterwards. After the Palace (which was awesome!), I blew off his suggestion to come back to his shop and went on a quest for shoes that wouldn't get me stopped on the street and asked what was wrong with my feet (apparently the Turkish don't understand my Spanish Ace bandage shoes either). This quest ended up with me in a mall in the suburbs, only to later observe that Converse are sold on every street corner in Istanbul. After an adventure on public transportation, I made my way back to the city and wandered through the Spice Bazaar and a few other tourist attractions. I spent the night in a tea lounge, drinking beers, smoking a hookah (or nargliegh as the locals call it) and losing backgammon games to the guy who works at the front desk.

This morning brought a mild hangover and the ill-effects of only three hours of sleep. After a lovely solo breakfast on the terrace, I came back and crashed for a few more hours. I woke up to an email from my mom, "Watch out for Hamit; he can be a very persuasive man, just ask your Dad! " I was beginning to get the feeling that my dad had really done something to win his favor. When I really think about it he is the most soft-spoken and least aggressive of all the Turkish men I have met thus far. In a classic "blowing off my mothers advice" move and feeling bad about blowing off Hamit yesterday afternoon, I decided to stop by his store. After tea and chatting I pulled out the photo I had of an inspiration rug. He the began pulling dozens of rugs from piles that almost reached the ceiling in his tiny (maybe 6' *12') shop and laying them out for my inspection. Having no real home to envision a rug in, I was shooting from my hip. What I did and did not like is really subject to my current whim. I picked a few favorites from the ones that did strike a chord with me. It wasn't until we started talking prices that I realized all the ones I really loved were at least twice what I'd budgeted for my homeless carpet. It wasn't til I was safely out of my price range that I got to feeling really lavish and picked out two rug that were much bigger and more expensive than I'd initially envisioned and even re-envisioned. Not wanting to make a rash decision and pick between the two, I decided to try to work my way out of the situation and come back tomorrow.

It kind of worked. Somehow me leaving turned into me leaving to go to the German Hospital on the other side of town with Hamit. He suggested that I could go with him and check out the neighborhood near the hospital- known for being the hip center of town. As we got closer to the hospital he convinced me to come with him while he dropped off paperwork and he would show me around. Being a public policy/health geek, I decided it would be interesting to come see the hospital. The hospital rivaled some of the nicest hotels I've ever been in. After waiting for half an hour or so for his paperwork to be completed, we walked through Beyoglu, a neighborhood that winds down the hillside. We stopped for coffee and I inquired about something on the menu called "chicken breast pudding." Big mistake. After a quick exchange with the waiter in Turkish, it was delivered to me for a special treat. Kind of like an especially glue-like gelatin tasting of cinnamon and chicken. We wound up our afternoon wandering through the spice market, walking across the Bosphorus on bridges crowded with old men fishing for sport and profit and Hamit telling me about his childhood as a nomadic tribe member. A priceless afternoon. Or maybe an afternoon worth the price of a rug?

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