I think when we left off, I promised you a story about shopping for rugs in Marrakech, didn't I?
On Day #2 of my mad dash through Marrakech, with my private tour guide Aziz, we walked into this beautiful, multi-story rug shop. I was ushered upstairs and encouraged to take pictures of whatever I wanted, including all the little rooms filled with rugs, and the women weaving rugs.
Now you might think I would have caught on, that picture taking ain't really free in Morocco, nor is the incredible level of hospitality. But I hadn't. The thing is, my guide Aziz was incredibly skilled at his job. He would walk me places, talking all the while, telling me about Islam, or the Jewish quarter, or couscous, and when we walked inside somewhere, I wasn't always sure at first. Was it a historic site? A museum? A shop? That sounds totally daft. How could I not have known something was a shop? Suffice it to say that a pharmacy at home does not look look a pharmacy in Morocco. And a rug shop in Morocco does not look like Empire.
I was escorted upstairs and I could look down on this huge room where another tour group (apparently) was milling about, oohing and aahing at the rugs. They were probably just as clueless as I was. I dashed from room to room with my little Olympus, taking pictures of everything.
This is as good of a time as any, I guess, to admit that I made a huge mistake with this brand new camera for the first several days of my travels. It has a lot of buttons and such on it and I must have hit one at some point, and changed the capture from RAW to JPG. In low and extreme lighting situations like inside this rug shop, that means I have a lot of unusable photos. There's not enough detail in them to recover, so they're nice memories for me but definitely not images I want to share...
One of the shop employees (ahem, salesman) encouraged me to head up to the roof for a unique view of the medina. Even more rugs were displayed up there. I found myself wondering what happened if it ever rained in Morocco. Much of the living and shopping spaces are outside. When it rains, it must be a crazy whirlwind of people shifting everything from outside to in.
As I was dancing about on the roof, photographing the Koutoubia Tower and thinking that I must be one of the luckiest people in the world, the same gentleman came up to the roof and invited me to sit down with him for tea. And yes, my oh shit, he thinks I'm going to buy a rug alarm bell finally started to ring.
We sat in this lovely little corner, on two silk-cushioned, hand-carved, wooden benches. Rugs were everywhere - hanging behind us on the walls, folded and stacked in piles in the corners and on display on the floors, 3 and 4 rugs deep. A woman brought us mint tea, on a tray, in a silver pot, with 2 glasses in silver holders. The technique is to pour the tea from very high above the glass, which aerates the tea, and improves the taste. I was fascinated by the tea-pouring ritual. So fascinated, I guess, that I never took a picture of it.
My salesman and I sat on our benches and a porter pulled out rug after rug for me to look at. Don't tell me you aren't looking for a rug, or don't need one, my salesman told me, just tell me if you see something that you like. Here, he said, Walk on this one without your shoes. I took off my boots and walked on the thick, squishy, antique wool rug, and agreed that it was lovely. When I sat back down, my salesman put a small rug under my feet, winked at me and said See, we treat you right here. Rest your feet on this rug. Have more tea. And then, he took my boots and put them on the far side of him, well beyond my reach.
My alarm bell started to clang loudly. I sipped my sweet mint tea slowly and thought about how much I really liked those boots, and how many places they'd traveled with me. To Montana, for Cowgirl Yoga, to London and to Lucca and all over Iceland. To Santa Fe to photograph wild horses and to the Adirondacks to photograph wild flowers and flooding rivers. Chances were, if I had to buy a rug to get them back, those boots would be traveling to many, many more countries with me, until I could pay off the damn rug and buy a new pair.
A dozen rugs later, my salesman thanked me for sitting with him, and finally, finally, much to my relief, handed me back my dusty, well-traveled boots. Most rug shops take credit cards and ship all over the world so if you do want a rug, I highly recommend a visit. The tea is excellent but maybe just don't let them take your shoes...