2013 Grateful 29

Thursday, after an unexpected stopover in Washington DC, I called a mate in Ireland in an attempt to track down another mate in DC. I found both. The conversation was simple. ‘Hi, it’s Mary. Am in DC. Need to cadge a couch for two.’ The reply was simpler. ‘Sure. Here’s the address.’ That it had been five years since we’d last hooked up was irrelevant. That it had been more than a year since we’d spoken didn’t matter. It was as if it had been yesterday and we were simply picking up from where we’d left off. That night I met some of NQ’s mates, he met mine, and new friendships were forged.

Fast forward a few hours and we’re in Kentucky enjoying the hospitality of another mate whom I’ve not seen since 2001. We’re in pretty regular e-mail contact so inviting myself to stay wasn’t an issue. When the airports contrived to keep us away, RB said that he’d wondered whether the universe was trying to tell us to stick to e-mail or whether it was deliberately creating a difficult path to paradise. Suffice to say that we’ve arrived – in paradise. Tired, cranky, but otherwise unscathed.

IMG_4662 (800x600)RB’s house sits on 32 acres and overlooks Nolin Lake in Kentucky. He designed it himself, under the influence of Frank Lloyd Wright, and has unpacked his bottom drawer to great effect. The place is stunning. More than 300 square metres of light, air, views and a fantastic array of Alaskana are replete with the good taste, style, and elegance that so epitomise the man himself.

IMG_4664 (600x800)With columns painted to look like marble, and floors that actually are, the place is a work of love and attention to detail that encapsulates a lifetime of memories. It’s one of the most comfortable spaces I’ve ever been in and were it not for the slow Internet connection and the fact that opinionated women don’t do well in Kentucky, I’d move in tomorrow 🙂

There are houses and there are homes. There is interior design that looks like it has been designed and then there’s that wonderful piecing together of single items that just connect, each one working towards creating a feeling of togetherness. A little like life, methinks, and the variety of friendships that make up a circle of friends and reflect a life well lived.

IMG_4667 (596x800)The place is a joy of discovery, a veritable treasure hunt of perspective and taste. My favourite? The powder room. I can see a whole new use for statues now. I could even get attached to the bears.

IMG_4670 (800x592)Our homes reflect so much of who we are and what we like; how we live, and how we have lived. Opening them to others to enjoy, too, is a pleasure I know well. I never give much thought to how friends abroad might live until I get there. I never try to imagine what their places look like until I arrive. And then, it somehow all seems to fit. No two are ever the same. They might share elements that reflect a common past – in my case, both RB and I share Alaska and our respective collections reflects our length of residence. We both have a fondness for chobi carpets, too. And we even have a thing about hall space and galleries. But his space is very much his, as mine is very much mine.

IMG_4669 (800x591)This week was often difficult, trying, and downright annoying. It had ups and downs that were poles apart and the ensuing highs and lows kept the adrenaline running. As it draws to a close and I finally get to sip a mint julep on a rocker on the porch overlooking an expanse of water, in the company of good friends, I am truly grateful for the friendships I have made in my travels; for those people who have come into my life for whatever reason … and stayed. I am truly blessed.

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Note: For a reminder of what the Grateful series is about, check out Grateful 52


Living room: Chobi carpets

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 Churchill’s ‘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 an 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 slightly.  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.


My first Chobi 263 x 204

‘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!