The Grand Bazaar

We visited the Grand Bazaar twice. One late afternoon we made a “scoping,” toe-wetting, exploratory, exciting foray to “get a feel.” It’s bigger and more fascinating than I even imagined – more than 4000 shops offering everything from tourist trinkets to antiques – textiles, silver and gold jewelry, ceramics, silken ware, light fixtures, prints, books, and much, much more – all along street-like arteries and byways, under a high curved ceiling of tile or patterned paint.

Persistent shopkeepers assail would-be customers with jokes in English (and probably jokes on us in Turkish), “Do you feel like seeing some of my rugs. I could feel like showing you some of my rugs!”

At one point the trail boss said yes (his spirit of adventure to bargain strengthened by the sweet bride who has been bartering all her life at home in Thailand), and we climbed tiny stairs inside a shop to a low-ceilinged space. Of course the salesman was charming, calling my good-natured husband “uncle,” offering us tea and chairs, and explaining the quality of his carpets by showing the double knotting and describing the natural dyes.

So, so beautiful. I am no good at bargaining anyway – and speechless in front of these glorious rugs. (I love the worn and bedraggled rugs we have, many tufts gone from the one in my studio – the pattern fragmented – but still a constant, daily pleasure.) So I tried to stay quiet and drink my apple tea, only reminding the trail boss quietly that he had a birthday to celebrate coming up.

The salesman quickly figured out the styles and colors most tempting to the young people (who kept saying “so beautiful, but more than we can afford”), and instructed his assistant to bring carpet after carpet to unroll and spread out, till we were surrounded by carpets on the walls and in layers on the floor.

Then one after another he’d ask, “This one you like?” An irresistible question, our minds want to make that decision. Soon just a few remained spread out on the hardwood floor – not large rugs, but alive with peachy warm tones and blue and red in geometric designs, both mysterious and utterly satisfying.

But no agreement on price. “Thank you for tea, the rugs are beautiful, but more than we can afford.” Much regret all around.

On our second, more deliberate day, the trail boss having figured out how to decode the maze of shop addresses, we returned with a list of shops in hand (I wanted linens for a wedding shower present for the daughter of my clever friend and found large Turkish towels in muted stripes with tasseled ends, and also rose kilim pillow covers for the young writer’s reading couch). And, we went back to the carpet store.

The trail boss is by trade a good negotiator, but admitting defeat in the face of desire, he named a price, heard the counter offer, the sweet bride suggested a third number – and suddenly, deal done, the rug was wrapped tightly in a whir of strapping tape and paper into a carry-on duffle for the airplane.

A grand day at the Grand Bazaar and a rug for a lifetime and beyond.

The Grand Bazaar