Content by Bruce McLaren

A Little Bit Of Afghanistan In North Carolina

I caught this morning, mornings minion
Daylights dappled dauphin, blah, blah, blah,
As one of those insipid English poets of yesteryear once wrote...

Let me simply say that I woke up this morning and it was a good one. And not only because I had the good fortune to wake up. It was actually really quite a pretty day.

I drove to work, whistling away, wondering what this day may bring. Life in the Rug Trade can be exciting and unpredictable, a bit like life in the Drug Trade but without the danger. Who knew what mysteries lay in wait?

Most often, if one wishes to pursue this most oriental of activities, one must go to Asia in order to purchase rugs at a fair price, cut out the middle man, go straight to the source, so on and so on. Yet every now and then it is the other way around, with Asia coming to you. Occasionally Muhammad doesn't have to go to the mountain after all...

Thus it was as I pulled up to work to discover a large yellow truck parked out the front. Two dark-haired gentlemen emerged from the cab and introduced themselves.

"We have rugs to show you, Peshawar style, from Afghanistan".

I studied their faces, these two men of the east, and detected the Asiatic features found in the Kazakh of today. These were no Sunni Pashtuns. Indeed, if Pashtuns were around knives would be drawn, for these were Turkmen, from the northern borders of Afghanistan, from Kunduz. They were of Central Asian stock, true and proper, and like many of their kind are also to found in the Afghan Mountains.

"Sirs", I exclaimed. "How did you get here from such far-flung shores? Did you come here on Bactrian camels?

"Alas" they replied. "We are merchants and traders, this is true, but in this unromantic and mechanical age we must drive in this rented Penske truck. No longer do we traverse rolling and majestic expanses beneath the glittering empyrean. Instead, we driver this from city to city on the Interstate System, a soul-killing network of endless traffic put in place thanks to President Eisenhouer. Such is the life of the travelling rug merchant in America. We drive from town to town to show and sell out wares. We have driven here from Bedford, Massachusetts.

"Well!" I said. "You are some remarkably loquacious gents. So what is in the truck then, oh Shamen of Scythia? Bust it open baby!"

I stood aback with a gasp, for never before had a seen a truck so loaded with booty, a veritable caravan of rugs appeared before me. Before you could say Zoroastrianisam we were up in the truck and rifling through the goods.

Doug makes a cursory survey while Jan Ali looks on with Hazara stealth

Selection are made.

Chapel Hill
From Kunduz to Chapel Hill.

The grand sultan of the shop, Professor Doug, came out a take a look, pointing at the rugs with bona fide authority. We lesser minions ran hither and non, while Jan Ali looked on from a distance at these gentlemen from Kunduz, a mere 100 miles from his own home in Mazar-i-Sharif.

"Small world hey Jan?' I said as I gave him a slap on the back. Jan remained as inscrutable as the sphinx and drew on his cigarillio. Genghis Khan with style, that's our Jan Ali.

In due course a selection was made and the possibilities were laid out in the car park. Hushed discussions were had about quality and weave and color, what we needed and what we didn't. The flaws were pointed out. They had many Kazakhs carpets from Lahore, but of a lower knot density than the ones we already have. As we speak of such things these chaps become aware that we are no mugs. We point out the rugs with bad colors so that they can take this information back to Afghanistan. They are very grateful for they are trying to get inside the head of the average American and having difficulty abandoning the somewhat more lurid colors that typify Persian and Central Asian tastes.

Potential selections laid out for review.

We pick out some runners, a formal 10x14, and a large round rug. Rounds rugs are difficult to come by so if we find a good looking one we usually buy it. They also have a bunch of new Baluchi rugs, which have all of the classic Baluchi colors but just look brand new and lack the character of the old ones.

Now, it comes to the crucial moment of talking shop. How much does this all cost? How much for this weave? How much for that weave? Everything is priced by the square foot. Their prices are reasonable but the quality is only so-so. Still, it is a lot cheaper than flying over there yourself, when instead someone has brought it to your door.

The Afghans state a price. Professor Doug does the math. Hang on a minute, there is a discrepancy here. His square footage differs from theirs. Someone has done their sums incorrectly. Tut tut...But the problem is easily spotted. It is the round rug. They have calculated 10x10ft, whereas Doug has only calculated the area of the circle, which, as we all know is pie-r-squared. No one will back down. Oh-oh.

Professor Doug throws out a price for the lot, "take it or leave it"!

But they can't do it. His price is too low for them. They start packing up. Doug heads inside. He knows their game and figures that they will go away for a while and then return. It is all part of the psychology of the haggling game.

Cynthia asks about the rugs. It seems a shame to just let them leave if they are right here right now and some of them are nice rugs. Surely we can just do a deal. She strides out with purpose. The rugs are unloaded again. Decisions are made, terms are negotiated, deals are done. Business in action! America is on the move...

This all calls for tea! Come inside, my friends, and sit down on this warm Spring day. Iced tea for you.

We have come across some very nice rugs from Afghanistan but they are extremely expensive. They look great but price themselves out of the market. We show them to the Afghans.

"These are not Afghan. They are from Lahore. You can see by the knot".

Incredible to think, is it not, that these men know the actual manufacturer of these pieces, out of the hundreds upon hundreds of manufacturers from Afghanistan to Pakistan to India. He will get us in touch with the right person, we will go direct to the source and then will be in business. That's how it's done!

But now for a further surprise. Professor Doug pulls out a very old Uzbeki rug, a Turkoman from the middle reaches of the Oxus River, the modern day Amu-Darya. It is old alright, mid 1800's. Yes, it is in poor shape but it has all of the old colors, with yellows and blues, that you don't find in yourger pieces.

Does our Afghan friend know the right person to reproduce this rug using vegetable dyes over in Afghanistan? This is a classic design and if done right then we would sell some for sure. There are lots of "Turkomaniacs" out there...

Of course he does! In the blink of an eye the antique piece is rolled up, wrapped and goes out the door with him, on it's way to Afghanistan.

So went the first hour of my day at work, in the thrust and parry of the oriental carpet business...

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