To Buy a Turkish Carpet

Istanbul, Turkey

Z and I walked stepped out of the courtyard of the Suleymaniye Mosque quiet.
“Shoe shine?” a man asked loudly.

Z shrugged and smiled and put his boot up on the man’s stool.

“Madam?” the man said, after he had finished with Z.  His boots glimmered.

I put my foot up on the  stool too. His thick dark fingers wrapped around his brush. He polished and buffed, and then nodded. I took my foot down. He looked up at Z: “Twenty Lira.”

“Twenty lira?” Z asked. My scarf was ten lira, Zilla’s coffee was two. Twenty was too much. We shook out heads.

“Twenty lira,” the man repeated. He pointed to the mosque. He looked up at us from his stool. “Have three hungry children. Twenty lira.”


“Next time,” I told Z, as we walked down the cobblestone street, “keep your foot on the ground.”

He shrugged. “When you travel, you open yourself up to these things.”

“I know,” I said, “But it doesn’t feel good to feel cheated.”

“Maybe I should have kept my scarf over my head,” I said.

Z smiled. “Maybe.”


We walked around the corner, past a row of small shops, welders and smiths working. Inside one of them I saw a pot of beans.

I was still full from breakfast, but I gazed a moment too long. A round man smiled and waved us in, ladled us a plate of beans and set down a basket of bread.

When I was a child, I would spend afternoons with my Grandma. Probably whole days too, but I remember the afternoons. She’d make me Campbell’s Bean and Bacon soup; open the can, add water, and ladle the white beans and orange broth into a heavy white bowl.  Then she would set it in front of me and unroll a sleeve of Saltines.   Her house was quiet, shadowy, and now, years ago, sold.

I took the last bite.

“You were hungry,” Z said, smiling.

“My grandma used to serve me something like this when I was young.”

He nodded and motioned to the man for the check.

He walked over to the table and peered into bowl, smiling.

Twenty lira, I thought, but instead he held up five fingers. “Bech?”

Is that fair? Are you satisfied? He seemed to ask. He patted his belly and smiled.


We walked out feeling warmed.

“He wasn’t trying to scam us,” I said.

“No,” Z agreed, “He wasn’t.”

We turned a corner and followed the wall of the university. Students passed us, holding books, holding hands. Large red Turkish flags hung over the walls, swaying gently in the breeze.

A man scooted by us, and dropped something. Z dropped my hand to pick it up. A shoeshine brush.

“Sir! ir!” Z said, running after him.

The man sighed and bowed in thanks and continued on in his direction.  A moment later he was back with us. He put down his shining stand and took out his recently recovered brush.

“Please,” he said, “Please.”

Z put up his foot. A moment later, another man appeared.

“I him cousin,” he said pointing to the man we had helped, “Please.”

And so I too put up my foot. When they were done, we thanked them.

“Twenty lira,” The first said whose brush Z had retrieved.

“Twenty lira,” the cousin added, frowning.

“No,” Z said. “I thought…”

“Three hungry children,” the first said, with great injury.

“Three hungry children,” the cousin said to me.

We paid them ten each and walked around the corner to the edge of the Grand Bazar. Our shoes had never been shinier.  A man was setting out his wares, on the sidewalk.

I turned to Z.  “Do you want to buy a carpet?”


Istanbul, Turkey

“Spend your money! Madam, Sir, Hello, MADAM!”

I turned my head.

“Please,” he said softly, his eyes glittering, his hands together, as if in prayer.

I stopped and looked at him.

His mouth moved into a smile, “leave your money HERE!”

I jumped. Z took my hand. Another man in grey stubble swept through the scarves and saffron, lanterns and locum, with his tear-drop tray tipping, collecting abandoned glasses of tea.

We ducked out of the close gold light of the Bazar.

“So bazaar, means market?”

Z nodded.

Bizarre, I thought. For me it still means crazy.


Behind the Bazaar the shops were full but the streets were empty.  Naked mannequins, and plumbing parts, coats and carpets and vacuum cleaners and samovars stacked quietly behind glass.

“What’s next?” I asked.

Z looked at the map.  “The Mosques. Suleymaniye is closest. It’s just around the corner.”

I nodded and sighed as we climbed the hill.  When I looked up two women were walking down the street past us. The older covered her head. The younger, the daughter maybe, did not.

I stopped.

Z looked at me.

“Should I cover my head?”

“If you want to.”

I wrapped my scarf around my hair, knotted it in the back, and brought the tails into my coat like a scarf.  I was sure it looked wrong. But Z nodded. And you should know he is very honest.

“Not bad.”


Suleymaniye was quiet, almost empty.  Slabs of grey marble rose into the distance and slim spires rose into the sky.  Long thin grave stones leaned against one another, like they had been blown over in the wind. Dry leaves danced around them.

“What is he doing?” I asked.

A man sat on a small stool in front of a long wall of taps.

“Cleaning himself,” Z said. “Before prayer.”

We passed a great pile of carpets, removed our shoes and stepped inside. The ceiling domed upward like a great round breast. Large gold lanterns floated down, like jeweled earrings.  The windows glowed blue and green and gold. Red carpets covered the floor.

No nave, no cross, no echoing footsteps. Silent. Still. A place to look inside, not out.


I stared.

Z read the sign in a whisper. “Built in 1550… the biggest dome at the time of construction…the carpets are gifted by the faithful.”

A man rose from his prayer. His long white cotton dress flowed.

Z turned to me.

I took his arm. “Can you imagine all of the prayer it would take to wear out a carpet?”

Z reached for the shelf where our shoes were stacked.

“Taking our shoes off  probably helps,” he said, “keeps them clean.”

Then he pointed to a vacuum in the corner.  The cord plugged directly in the mosque wall.

I turned to him to smile and headscarf almost slipped off.

“I guess they’ve upgraded since 1550,” Z said.

Bizarre, I thought. Imagine the noise.