When I was in India early last year, I found myself effectively kidnapped on a number of occasions by rickshaw drivers who were working on commission for carpet sellers and gift-shop owners. It didn’t matter how many times I asked to be taken directly somewhere, there was always the inevitable detour. And, being a firm believer in Churchills ‘never run when you can walk, never stand when you can sit and never sit when you can lie down’ philosophy, they had ample opportunity to hijack my lazy ass. Serves me right really.
On one of my course-free days, I struck a deal with a driver to take me sightseeing, thinking that a full-day’s hire might be enough to induce him to stay away from the shops. It wasn’t. He took me to a carpet shop. I’d been to so many at this stage that he had to go inside and get the owner to come out to see if I was a ‘repeat customer’. Apparently, the drivers only got their coupon for ‘newbies’ and with three coupons they could get a shirt for their kids. So really, what was a hour out of my day.
But this shop was different. Hanging in the middle of a large blank white wall, just over the main door, was a carpet woven in various shades of creams and browns. It showed the inner courtyard of a temple. The shadows, the light, the texture of the brick, the cracks on the floor, each detail had been carefully woven into the tapestry, for that’s what it was. A tapestry. Not just a carpet…
I was so enthralled and stood looking at it for so long that the owner brought me a chair… and then a little table.. .and then a pot of tea… and I sat for ages just looking at it. He turned on the lights and turned them off again. And on again. He closed the window shutters and opened them again. And shut them again. Each time, the change in light did something to the carpet and my perspective changed, ever-so slighly. Occasionally he came close enough to whisper a price in my ear. We started off at $20,000 and eventually, when cold tea was running through my veins, we were down to $8000 and I was wondering what I could sell to raise the money. Sheer madness, but I was hooked.
Later that week, I ended up in yet another shop. I have to hand it to the salesmen in Bangalore – they’ve done their training and they know what they’re about. This chap explained how carpets were hand-knotted and dyed with vegetable and plant pigments. He told me that in India, as with the tartans in Scotland, each family/village has its own pattern. The only carpet I’d ever heard about was the plush, thick-piled Axminster that was such a status symbol in Dublin in the eighties. And, to be honest, I’d never really given carpets much thought.
Then my mate JFW, who has accumulated quite a number of carpets since arriving in Budapest, explained how you can use a rug or a carpet to define an area. This way, you can effectively use the whole room creating, as it were, rooms within a room.
There was little point in wishing I’d bought while I was in India. I had signed on the flat but hadn’t yet had the keys last spring and anyway, I was even more clueless about what I wanted then… So it was back to square one. I’d notice the ‘sale’ sign on the BÁV window on Jasai Marie tér, on the Pest side of Margit híd (Margaret Bridge) telling of 20% off all carpets and rugs. Upstairs, hanging over the banister, I found my chobi.
‘Chobi’ is the Farsi word for ‘colour like wood’ (one word replaces three – ummm I wonder if that’s why the Creed sounds longer in Hungarian than it does in English?) The rugs hail from the border region of Pakistan and Afghanistan. The wool is generally hand-spun and the rug itself hand-knotted. By anyone’s reckoning, that’s a lot of work and a lot of knots.The dyes are made entirely from fruit, vegetables, roots, tree barks and dried fruit shells, making Chobis the most labour-intensive of all tribal carpets. The colours range from soft muted tans and browns to rich coppers, deep maroons, and sage greens. Mine is a deep orangey maroon with sage green and creamy gold colours throughout. It is stunning. And I love it.
But back to the BÁV as it’s the fist time I’ve taken you there. There are a number of them in the city. The one in Jasai Marie tér is one of the biggest and takes up three floors. From what I can gather, they used to be State owned – places where the Government sold goods that had been seized by customs because the owners hadn’t gotten the necessary permits – but now they have been privatised. You can give your antiques to them on consignment and then they sell it for you to … people like me! Unlike Ecseri, there’s no bartering – the price has already been contracted between the seller and the BÁV so that’s what you pay. Mind you, if you have faith and patience (I have lots of the former and very little of the latter), you can hang on until what you want goes down in price (sometimes this happens if it’s not selling – mind you, it always seems to happen to stuff you don’t want) … but you take the risk that someone else is doing the same. It’s like an ebay auction except that you never know when the auction is going to end!
The first day I saw it, I didn’t buy it. I had to think about it. Yes, it might have taken ages to make and it certainly was very, very beautiful and it would go perfectly underneath my table. I could already see the chairs I had yet to find for my table upholstered in the same burnt orangey red. And I could get an invoice for it and pay for in on my euro credit card and take advantage of the excellent exchange range which would really make it considerably cheaper than if I had bought it four months ago when the forint was at 230 to the euro instead of the 280 it’s hovering around today. Ah, the justification. The guilt. So I checked another carpet shop just to see what their chobis were selling for… and I figured I was getting a deal at the BÁV. I just wouldn’t be flying to New York any time soon!