Memory Monday – Turkey, Part 3
The young carpet seller into whose shop I somewhat reluctantly ducked was, in fact, a carpet seller, and he really did only seem to want to offer me tea. I sat in a chair and drank the apple tea and he asked me about America and England and my family and why I was in Istanbul. I asked him about him and his family, too. He was about to go for his two year military service and he had some family in the United States and maybe he would go visit them sometime. I told him he could explain to me about carpets if he wanted, and as long as he understood I wasn’t actually going to buy one. So he told me.
We became penpals for years after this, losing touch maybe 3 years ago (right around when I got married, incidentally, but I think at that point he might have met someone, too). Since I don’t exactly have his permission to post this photo, I have obscured his face. Thanks for the friendship, Senol!
After I said goodbye to my newfound friend, I went off to lunch. The problem with having lunch by yourself when you have stuff to think about, though, is that you end up thinking about it. I’ve always been an overthinker to begin with, and I was even worse in my 20’s and 30’s than I am now. Not having ever been a Normal Person, I don’t know this for sure, but I suspect that a Normal Person a) wouldn’t have accepted an offer to go to Taksim with a guy she didn’t know in the first place and b) if she had and then thought better of it, would simply have decided not to show up to the meet, and gotten on with her day. But not this chick. I tried, though. Really, I did.
After lunch, I went to the Grand Bazaar, but if I were already freaked out by being hollered after by people supposedly intent on selling me carpets or Turkish tea glasses, that place was enough to send me into an ever so mild state of PTSD. It’s a shame, really, because had I been accompanied by just one other person I knew and trusted, I would’ve loved a place like that. As it was, I probably blew through there faster than anyone else in the history of the bazaar, saw nothing but a blur of textiles and curious male faces, and took no pictures. Not even of the outside.
Like this picture. I didn’t take this picture.
Then I beelined back to the Hotel to try to journal myself into sanity. It didn’t work. I decided walking around some more might help. I went up to the park on the far side of the Blue Mosque and walked in it. Then I sat down on a bench and tried to breathe. Then a male voice said, “What are you doing?”
It was Mr. Married-to-an-American-Redhead. Given the tizzy into which I had launched myself, seeing him felt like seeing an old friend, almost a father figure. Almost comforting. One teeny tiny part of my brain sent me a warning signal, but the rest of my brain sighed with relief and then apparently shut off completely, as I let MtaAR sit down next to me and began to confide in him my troubles. Did he think it would be a good idea to go with some other, younger, carpet seller to Taksim that night?
He gently suggested that this might not be the best idea, because Turkish men, he gently suggested, believe that American women go to Turkey for the sex. I’m not sure if he was including himself in this generalisation, but seeing as he was already a self-confessed Turkish man with an American wife, he might have been speaking from experience. I’m not sure he could totally understand what was so upsetting to me about not keeping my word in this instance–and honestly, can you? But I had a code, and it–as well as Jesus, for goodness’ sake–told me to let my yes be yes and my no be no, and I just couldn’t stand the idea that I had said “yes” and was about to act out “no.”
Clearly he wasn’t going to get me off my mental roundabout this way, so after a bit he suggested, still gently, that maybe I would like to learn how to sell carpets. Maybe, when I moved back to America, I could be an importer. For some reason this seemed like a super-fantastic suggestion. Maybe, he said, I could come back to his own shop, which was in his home, and he could teach me what to do.
I don’t know if it was because in London I was used to visiting the homes of relative strangers from varying countries until they became friends, or because I had this idea that MtaAR’s American redheaded wife a) actually existed and b) would be home and not weirded out at all by his bringing home another American woman, or if–as, in hindsight, it has felt–there was some kind of spiritual ominousness going on (I definitely remember feeling in something of a fog from the time I sat on that bench), but I immediately agreed to this plan to MtaAR’s evident surprise, and we got up and began to make our way across the park.
To this day, I also don’t know if MtaAR’s conscience began to get the better of him, or if I wasn’t presenting enough of a challenge, or if his greed trumped his libido, or if he had, for a moment, really genuinely thought it would be a good idea to go into business with a naive American woman who couldn’t even make good decisions about bad decisions and then he changed his mind, but I do know as we made our way across the park, he first began to give me some outs. I didn’t take them. Even in a psycho-spiritual fog, evidently, I am stubborn and contrary, and the more he suggested I probably wouldn’t actually like selling carpets after all and I didn’t really have to go to his house, the more determined I was to do so. One might suppose this was his plan all along, except then, to his credit I guess? He said, “Now here’s something to learn about selling carpets. You have to be able to read people. See that couple over there? They are rich Americans and they will buy carpets. Watch.”
I looked where he was pointing. There was, indeed, a couple, probably in their mid-sixties, strolling through the park. I couldn’t tell for sure if they were Americans (and sometimes, my friends, you really can tell) nor even that they were rich, but I decided he could be right and I guessed I would find out. He walked up to them, told them he had invited me to view his carpets and wondered if they would like to come along, too. They looked at me quizzically, and the one thing I am absolutely certain of in all that mind-hazy day is that they really could have cared less about this guy and his carpets, but they had a funny feeling about my role in the whole thing, and so they went along to give me some back-up.
We followed MtaAR out of the park, away from the Mosque and Ayasofya, down one back alley, and another back alley, and another back alley, and I was merely interested. Not nervous, not having second thoughts, not even remembering that anyone had ever warned me about going down back alleys with anyone. I talked to the American couple. They were friendly but reserved. I probably told them I had been working for some churches in London. They probably thought I was under the mistaken impression I could convert this guy. And maybe I was, a little bit. Eventually we stopped at a tall corner building. There were some men outside. MtaAR spoke to them in Turkish and they opened the door and began bustling about–presumably to find us some carpets to view. As it happened, they probably didn’t really need to do anything. The entryway of the house was somewhat narrow with a staircase that climbed around the walls and had rooms opening off around it, going up and up for three or four storeys. There was a room to the back I could see through the open door across from us, where the sunlight was streaming in, but everywhere else was all dim with incandescent lighting and carpets. Carpets on the floors, carpets on the walls, probably carpets on the ceiling four storeys up. It was beautiful and impressive and fascinating . . . but after I got out of there I realised it was also intensely ominous. Those carpets would have muffled any sound–or anyone–ever made in that house. I looked around for the American redhead, but I didn’t see her. I didn’t see any little boys, either.
MtaAR led the American couple and me up the stairs one flight and showed us into a room, also entirely lined with carpets. His lackeys brought in a pile of carpets. MtaAR went through a long schpiel telling us about his carpets, how you could tell a good quality carpet, how you could tell his were good quality carpets. It dawned on me that I had learned all of this at a Persian carpet emporium with nine companions in India, nine summers before. I wasn’t learning anything, not really, about getting into this business myself. The American couple didn’t seem impressed, either. MtaAR told us he would go out of the room so we could decide which carpets we wanted to buy. I guessed he probably couldn’t really overtly coach me in the business when he was actively trying to sell to these two.
As soon as he left the room, the couple turned to me. How did I know this guy? How was it I was with him by myself until they came along? Was I planning on this turning into a date?
What?? No! He had a wife and two kids . . . I thought . . . I didn’t know . . .
MtaAR came back in to see what the couple had decided. They had decided they were not buying carpets that day. They had decided to go back to tour the city. I could leave with them if I wanted . . . or I could stay here for a while . . .
No, no, I said. I would go with them. I went with them. We stepped out into the sunshine and suddenly I snapped out of whatever little spell I had been under all afternoon. I stared at the American couple. I thanked them profusely. “You’re going to be okay now, right?” they asked. Yes, I assured them. I would be all right. I think I probably wanted to stick close to them for the rest of the evening, and maybe even until I headed down to Izmir the next day, but that didn’t seem to be an option. Maybe they were angels–or maybe they were just a sternly kind retired American couple who didn’t want to see ill befall a younger compatriot, but who also didn’t want me tagging along on the rest of their holiday. Either way, this experience alone convinces me that there is a God and that that God is merciful–even to wayward blunderers like this one. Either way, I never saw that American couple, or MtaAR, again.
I never saw Taksim, either.