What are you looking for," asked the Turkish stranger on the street.
"We're looking for the Church of Chora," we replied.
"Let me show you our carpets," he said.
"Why? Do you have a magic one to take us there?"
Everyone and his brother has a carpet store in Istanbul. And it's an acquired skill to avoid being sold a rug in Istanbul. If you buy anything from a Turk, he will sell you a rug. If you're buying earings, he will sell you a rug. If you're buying M&Ms, he will sell you a rug. You have to practically scream "NO" at him and run away as fast as you can to avoid be sucked into his web of slick sales lines and offers of apple tea.
Walking through the streets of Istanbul, I mentioned to Mr. Wild Dingo that our house in California was seriously in need of rugs for the foyer, parlor and other rooms, and maybe we should get one here. But he adamantly resisted because of the complexity buying and bartering for a quality rug.
"Mrs. Wild Dingo," he said, "you need to know what you're doing when you buy a Turkish or Persian rug. You need to understand what they're worth based on materials and how they're woven." I have to admit, I was a bit relieved to hear that answer because I really didn't have all my home specs available to buy one on a whim and be certain it would work. Afterall, some of our more personal stores in California often let us "try before we buy" purchases like that. I didn't push it.
So on our first day, I hired a private tour guide to guide us through the Hagia Sophia and Blue Mosque. Sherif was a fabulous historian with details that would certainly surpass your basic audio guide tours. Plus he had special privileges that got us to the front of the long queues. That alone made it worth it.
At the end of our first day we headed out of the Blue Mosque toward the Grand Bazaar. To make conversation, Sherif casually asked, "Are you interested in rugs?" But you know, he's Turkish. And he has a thick accent. And damn it, I swear he asked if we were interested in DRUGS.
Needless to say, I’m flabbergasted. But then I thought: we're not in Switzerland anymore, Toto. This is Istanbul, a city of 15 MILLION people. And it's crazy, vibrant, exotic and chaotic. Maybe, just maybe, they are a bit more unreserved about drugs. As I was trying to process the shock and grasp the rationale of how a muslim-based society could be so uninhibited, I managed to stammer out the answer, "NO!"
Mr. Wild Dingo followed up as well. "No," he said in a surprisingly casual tone, "I don't know enough about them and I'm too cheap to buy any." Which, hello, that answer totally fits a question about drugs.
To emphasize it even further, I added, "My last experience was ten years ago in Amsterdam in the smoking bars and it was a nightmare!"
Suddenly it got very quiet. Naturally anyone talking about rugs would be confused at this point. So when I saw both Mr. Wild Dingo and Sherif look at me with "What the F*ck?" faces, I thought I should clarify and dug my hole even further.
"I took one puff,* and it totally made my heart race so I freaked out and ran out of the bar."
"Um, so how did this conversation suddenly turn to talking about drugs," asked Mr. Wild Dingo. To which Sherif also wanted to know the answer.
Damn it! Where the hell is a pile of sand to stick your head when you need one? All I can say is that I'm glad my answer was "no." Can you imagine if I was like "Hells yeah!" and then later asking "What the F*ck are we doin' at a rug store?"
After our long stay in Istanbul, I have to say I'm sure glad nobody actually offered us drugs. Because when it comes to rugs, apparently to the Turks, our repeated "no" sounded more like "maybe, show me some rugs." As we educated ourselves on quality and pricing, we slowly succumbed to their intoxicating sales tactics and gorgeous designs. In the end, it was Mr. Wild Dingo who caved to peer pressure--not me, Internet, I swear--and bought not one, not two, but three rugs.
Nancy Reagan would be so disappointed.
*I did not inhale. For the record. Just in case I run for president of anything.