Friday, September 5, 2008

The Rug Shop

Sweet narghile tobacco,
Brazier coal fire.
Mothballs and musty wool,
Furniture polish and 4711 German Eau de Cologne.
Cardamom-scented Turkish coffee,
Fresh lemonade tinged with rose water and orange blossom.

It was the winter of 1961. I was 11 years old. This pot pourri of scents encircled me as I entered my grandfather’s carpet shop. Etablissement Azar E. Nahhas & Associates, Saida, Lebanon.

The shop hummed with contentment. Elegant Persian rugs hung above stacks of neatly folded carpets. Hand-polished furniture glowed from the corners: olive and light oak, ebony and mother of pearl, walnut and acacia wood, all intricately carved into tric-trac tables, writing desks, and chairs. Antique brass lanterns dangled from the ceiling and gleaming silver ewers stood on table tops.

My grandfather, Jeddo Azar, sat behind his desk at the deep end of the shop and looked over his horn-rimmed glasses as I pushed open the shop door.

¨Ahlan, Ahlan wa Sahlan, Ya Habibi. It’fadal wa foot. Ta’ala hoen, wa I’teena bausee. Ya habib, Jeddo.¨

(¨Welcome, welcome, my dearest. Come over and give grandpa a hug. Dearest grandson.¨)

Youssef, the office boy, stopped stoking the coal fire and got up to fetch me a chair and a glass of freshly squeezed lemonade.

I took the lemonade, declined the chair, and climbed onto a carpet stack, dangling my legs and kicking my heels rhythmically against the heavy, soft wool of a magnificent Tabriz carpet.


18 years later, I felt a familiar emotion as I entered George Yeremian’s shop, Indo-Iranian Rugs Ltd, on Temperance Street in Toronto, Canada.

Distanced by 6,000 miles and two decades, the two shops shared a link to rugs and carpets hailing from ever more distant places: Turkey and Turkmenistan, Isfahan and Kashan, Armenia and Azerbaijan, India and Afghanistan. Here was a 19th century Kashan from Central Persia, a weathered yet still graceful survivor (two World Wars, three Middle-Eastern wars, and multiple generations of small and large feet). There a charming Isfahan, allegedly the original purchase of a Canadian diplomat in Iran. The lure and magic of oriental rugs was back upon me.

Written by "Roro"

Lamb-soft Kurk wool, bristly coarse camel hair. Indigo blue, deep red madder. Pure cotton, fine silk. Pistachio green and aubergine. Colours and textures harmonized into delicate flowers and stark geometry. These products of wool and loom originated in steppes and deserts, villages and cities.

After 30 years of discovery and appreciation, here are some of my favourites from our collection:

1) Yomut Turkomen Asmalyk (camel trapping), Central Asia, 19th century

2) Silk mini pattern Holbein rug, Afghanistan, 20th century

3) Western Anatolia, Melas prayer rug, mid 19th century

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