Monday, 28 June 2010

Holiday in Rome June 29

St-Peter atop Trajan's Column

St-Paul outside the walls basilica Rome

June 29 marks a major holiday in Rome, Romans celebrate two great Jewish guys, Shimon Ben-Yonah and Saul better known by their Christian names of St-Peter and St-Paul. Everything is closed, except us we work, you would think when the entire city takes a break, grocery stores, restaurants, coffee shops, banks,businesses, government offices and shops are all closed, the city is quiet, parking everywhere, no traffic, we too would join in this holiday, no way, we work. In fact because everything is close we have to make plans for coffee and lunch, because it will be impossible to buy anything. In fact people have been leaving the city since last Friday thus taking Saturday,Sunday, Monday and Tuesday off as a Holiday. Its the thing to do in Italy and no one thinks anything of it. Today at lunch the menu offered by the lunch place we go to was offerings only 3 choices, we were reminded, you know tomorrow is a holiday. Yeah we know, but we got to work. Can you imagine people taking 4 days off for a one day holiday in Canada or the USA, more likely the boss who is neurotic would want you to work overtime and maybe skip the holiday all together. This would not work in Italy, any boss suggesting such a thing would probably be found floating face down in the Tiber. Here management are the first out the office door on the race to the beach.

So how do two Jewish fellows who were clearly following Mosaic Law find themselves honored with monuments and festive holidays. They apparently started a new religion though today this is open to question. In rome historians will point to Emperor Constantine in 320 AD who kicked start the new Christian religion. The Vatican had to prove they really existed, archeologists found what the Pope claimed in 1949 to be the tomb of St-Peter under the basilica bearing his name. In fact it was a piece of bone, no bigger than a chicken drumstick stuck in a wall with an inscription. As for St-Paul it was in 2006 that a similar find was made. Now how did the Vatican official know for sure that them bones were from St-Peter and St-Paul well the Pope said so, it must be so. I know quite a few politicians who would love this type of authoritative power.
So then if Jews and Christians share so much in common why then all the nastiness and persecutions, a great mystery to human stupidity.

So happy holiday and enjoy the beach, tomorrow will be sunny weather with a high of 27C.

Saturday, 19 June 2010

Egon Ronay Food Critic

This week a great man died Egon Ronay, aged 94. He was born in Hungary, his family owned 5 restaurants in pre-war Budapest, the business was seized by the Soviets in 1944. He fled communist domination in 1946 by being freed by a Russian Soldier to whom he had sold coffee just before he was to be shipped off to Siberia. Egon fled to Britain where a family friend gave him a job as a waiter. He would later open his own restaurant in London The Marquee near Harrod's, introducing French food when it was largely unknown after the war in a London of food rations and austerity. Then he went into publishing with his famous Ronay Food guides, who in many ways surpassed the Michelin Guides. Egon had a staff of 30 inspectors and he himself would visit restaurants always under an assumed name, eating 4 meals a day.

I remember well a BBC World program about traveling and Heathrow airport in 1994 when he was inspecting food outlets and restaurants at Heathrow in London. One of the driving forces behind the remarkable change in Heathrow's catering standards at the time was food critic Egon Ronay who was recruited by BAA's chief executive, Sir John Egan, in 1991 to help overhaul the whole experience of eating at the airport. Ronay was an elegant man, always well dressed, very professional in his approach, witty, courteous and polite.

Ronay’s policy of accepting no advertising or hospitality from hotels or restaurants boosted his credibility with the public at large. He later began publishing annual pub and budget-restaurant guides.
The Ronay guide, published for nearly 30 years, could make or break a restaurant. Mr. Ronay bolstered the careers of chefs like Raymond Blanc, Marco Pierre White and Gordon Ramsay, although he could turn on a dime. In 2008, he complained to The Daily Mail that Mr. Ramsay and the celebrity chef Jamie Oliver “are not chefs anymore, they are businesspeople.They're not as good as they used to be."

I completely agree with him, in my travel I noticed to often in one city or another a celebrity chef opening a restaurant and letting others do the cooking, only his name is suppose to guarantee excellence, but that is all a scam really, celebrity does not equal merit.

I also travelled countless times through Heathrow airport and always found at the time the restaurants cleaner with better food than other airports in the world. Air travel nowadays is a chore, security, rude staff, overcrowded and poor dirty facilities, that is what most airports are all about, push people through. Imagine having a good coffee or a sandwich that is fresh with good ingredients, as if you made it yourself. Pleasant staff and clean facilities, all this to me enhances traveling pleasure.

I think I liked Egon Ronay because he cared about food and quality and loved simple food well prepared. He use to say:
“I really wanted to see better food. That really was my purpose.” Going to a restaurant, you want to be able to understand the menu and know exactly what it is you chose, I simply hate it when you read the menu, you look at an item and wonder what is that or how is this prepared, the waiter does not know, has to go and ask, comes back with a vague answer. No that is not what restaurant dining should be, I am not interested in the fact that it is fancy, food should never be fancy, just good and well prepared. At least that is the way I learned it in Switzerland at the hotel school. How to cook green vegetables, so that they are crisp and with a beautiful color, or prepare a steak so that it is cooked the way the customer wants it or offer a dessert that is simple and yet pleasant without being heavy and difficult to digest. It seems that those qualities are difficult to achieve these days in most restaurants because they are more focused on the decor and the atmosphere than on the food.

When I think of all the pre-prepared, processed frozen and factory shipped food being served nowadays in countless restaurants, with countless additive, too much salt or sugar, this is when I remember Egon Ronay and his efforts in raising the standards. As the old saying goes: '' Eating well is the best revenge''. The world needs more people like Egon Ronay.

In 1989 he published a memoir, with recipes, “The Unforgettable Dishes of My Life.”


Some people spend their entire lives reading but never get beyond reading the words on the page, they don't understand that the words are merely stepping stones placed across a fast-flowing river, and the reason they're there is so that we can reach the farther shore, it's the other side that matters.
-- José de Sousa Saramago

José de Saramago died of Leukemia on June 18 at the age of 87 at his home in Lanzarote, one of Spain's Canary Islands. The Spanish newspaper EL PAIS devoted 8 pages to him as a tribute. He moved to Spain from Portugal after a dispute with the Portuguese Government in 1991, which he accused of censorship after one of his books was banned.Saramago's controversial novel, The Gospel According to Jesus Christ, was excluded from the European Union literary contest Ariosto by Sousa Lara, Under-Secretary of State of Portugal, but after international protest it was returned to the list of candidates. Saramago interprets the key episodes from the Gospels from an ironic point of view, inventing new miracles and prophesies.

The human heart is never content, and that doing one's duty does not bring peace of mind, though those who are easily satisfied would have us believe otherwise."

José Saramago was born in Azinhaga, in the province of Ribatejo in Portugal. He was forced to abandon school in order to earn his living. Saramago was educated as a technician, and before becoming a journalist, translator, and writer, he did a number of manual jobs. He joined in 1969 the Communist Party of Portugal, which was forbidden during the military dictatorship of Salazar, but he also criticized the party. In the 1970s Saramago supported himself mostly by translation works. Since 1979 he devoted himself entirely to writing.
International critical acclaim came late in his life, starting with his 1982 historical fantasy "Memorial do Convento," published in English in 1988 as "Baltasar and Blimunda."
The story is set during the Inquisition and explores the battle between individuals and organized religion, reinforcing Saramago's recurring theme of the loner struggling against authority. he was the first and only so far Portuguese author to win the Nobel Prize for literature.

Saramago published plays, short stories, novels, poems, libretti, diaries, and travelogues. His first novel appeared in 1977. Its basic theme is the genesis of the artist, of a painter as well as a writer. In Journey to Portugal (1981), Saramago searched for the idea of Portugal, a few years after the dictatorship had ended. To see his country with with fresh eyes and fresh wonder. His style was described as experimental.

An intellectual who defended what he thought to be just, until the last moment.

‘We won’t change the world,
said José Saramago, if we don’t change our own lives first’.

Sunday, 13 June 2010


We visited on Via Del Corso at the Fondazione ROMA, the first major painting exhibit in Italy of the works of American painter Edward Hopper (1882-1967). Hopper painted landscapes, daily life and human solitude, his style is called American realism. The exhibit was a tribute to his entire career, in all 160 works. Some very famous works were on display and some never seen in public before like Girlie Show (1941). I also liked Soir Bleu (1914). His paintings are atmospheric, revealing beauty in the most ordinary subjects. The painting Nighthawks, probably one of his most famous, was not on display but an entire room had been constructed so you could experience the physical space of this painting, enter Hopper's world and become part of the painting itself.

Most of his work today over 2500 works are at the Whitney Museum in New York City and also at the Art Institute of Chicago. His female subjects are taken from one women, his wife who posed for him. The exhibit was well done and I liked the way it was presented. The comments were in Italian and English and gave just the right amount of information, helping you to appreciate each tableau. Looking at it today, he painted a world that no longer exist. A period not far from us but looking at it today, it seems to me it was centuries ago, strange, the world has changed so much in the last 50 years, it might as well be another planet. I noted that many of his subjects smoke, a cigarette and drink hard liquor. It was just part of life back then. So from an historical perspective it was interesting. A beautiful exhibit of one of my favorite painters.

Friday, 11 June 2010

memories of past summer vacations c.1961

I don't know why but today I had this thought, I remember that back in 1960 or 61 we use to go on vacation with my parents to Old Orchard Beach, Maine. We would spend a week at this place right off the board walk, it was very simple, wood cabanas big enough for 2 adults and 2 kids, simple beds and a hot plate to make simple meals on, no TV or radio. The whole point of the vacation was that you would spend your days at the beach, have sandwiches at lunch some french fries, at night have a simple dinner and retire early.
I was a little kid back then maybe 5 or 6 yrs old, but I do remember Old Orchard beach vividly, the place we stayed at was owned by a US veteran from WWII, there was about 20 cabanas all together and in the middle this huge or what appeared to my eyes as a huge green grass area and in the centre this flag pole made of wood and painted white, it was very tall I thought and this pole was surrounded by painted white round rocks and every morning Paul, the veteran would raise old glory and at sunset he would bring the flag down. He did it in silence and us kids knew to be quiet when he did his flag raising or lowering. The beach was clean and it was mostly young families. We got sunburned and we played in the sun and surf all day, that was it, very simple but so much fun, I still to this day have memories of this place every time I smell Coppertone Coco butter Sun Lotion, strange how the memory of those summers on the beach stayed with me all these years.

Monday, 7 June 2010

Favorite Hamburger recipe of the Summer

I learned this recipe from my butcher some 25 years ago, it is really a very good burger recipe and makes delicious burgers.
You need a mix of medium ground beef and ground veal, HP sauce or Worcestershire Sauce and Coleman's dry mustard, one egg and bread crumbs.

You mix your half pound of ground beef and half pound of veal together by adding a slightly beaten egg and 2 tea spoons of HP or Worcestershire sauce and a tea spoon of dried Coleman's mustard. Mix it all well and start making your patties. Your patties will be moist due to the egg and sauce. Take one patty and coat it with the bread crumbs set aside and refrigerate for about 3 hours.

You can now use your bar-b-q to cook these wonderful burgers. Let me know how you find it. To me they are the best of summer.

Sunday, 6 June 2010

Palazzo Farnese, Piazza Farnese, Rome

Since my arrival in Rome I have wanted to visit the Farnese Palace in central Rome near the Campo di Fiori. However given that this building is the Chancery of the Embassy of France, it is not so easily done. A few weeks ago my friend Lionel C. suggested that we visit the Palace with Professor Yannick Nexon of the Inventer Rome group. This group organize tours of sites in Rome for French speaking resident and visitors of Rome. Their staff are University professors and archaeologists, many with years of experience doing research, writing, teaching and lecturing on Art and Culture in Rome and in Italy and when appropriate how it all relates to France.

The Farnese Palace has a very long history with France and its diplomats in Rome. It all goes back to the time when the Palace was actually built by Cardinal Alessandro Farnese later known as Pope Paul III. When one thinks of the Farnese, you are also thinking of the Farnese Hercules and the Farnese Bull and other art treasures, most are now in the National Museum in Naples. Needless to say that I was very excited with the prospect of visiting this Palace with its association to the history of Rome but also of the relations between the Papal States and France in the context of European politics over several centuries.

Yannick Nexon gave a very good presentation, he first explained that he would not speak on the architecture of the Palace, its art collection or the history behind its construction. He instead concentrated on what it was like to live at the Farnese Palace in the 17th century in Rome and what Rome was like then as a City State. Under Papal authority Rome at the time of the Renaissance was a nasty little police dictatorship, teeming with papal spies ready to pounce on anyone who deviated from the strict moral code of the Papacy, it made Iran today under the mullahs look positively liberal. Rome as a city of men, governed by several Cardinals who reported directly to the Pope. Women were not seen in public and in fact it was a lucky women who could claim that she had been allowed to leave the house 6 times a year to attend mass. Everything was about power and politics covered by a veneer of religion. The Papal prisons were notoriously evil places, anyone unfortunate to become the prisoner of the Pope was sure to die in jail, there was no parole or forgiveness. As they saying went, God would forgive you but not the Pope.

Nexon then went on to explain that the Farnese Palace is one of the largest palaces in Rome, it was not just a palace but a Papal residence, this is why all the State rooms which occupy all of the first floor are double the normal size of such rooms and go all around this enormous building. Construction first started in 1515, the palace was designed by Antonio da Sangallo the Younger, commissioned by Cardinal Alessandro Farnese, who had been appointed as a cardinal in 1493 at age 25 (thanks to his sister, who was Pope Alexander VI Borgia's official mistress) and was living a princely lifestyle.

When, in January 1534, Cardinal Alessandro became Pope Paul III, the size of the palace was increased significantly and he employed Michelangelo who completed the redesigned third story with its deep cornice and revised the courtyard as well. The post-1534 developments were not only a reflection of Alessandro's change in status but employed architecture to express the power of the Farnese family, much as at their Villa Farnese at Caprarola. The massive palace block and its facade dominate the Piazza Farnese.

During the 16th century, two large granite basins from the Baths of Caracalla were adapted as fountains in the Piazza Farnese, the "urban" face of the palace.
The palazzo was further modified for the papal nephew Ranuccio Farnese by Jacopo Barozzi da Vignola. It was finally completed by Giacomo della Porta.

Following the death of Cardinal Odoardo Farnese in 1626, the palazzo stood empty. No Pope ever lived in it and this is how Cardinal Alphonse de Richelieu, the older brother of the famous Cardinal de Richelieu became interested in finding lodgings for himself as the new French ambassador to Rome.

Since that period and until 1685 French Ambassadors lived in the Palace, at one point 2 French Ambassadors lived with their entourage of about 150 persons each in the Palace. In those days, ambassadors were sent to a foreign Capital with one brief and so you could have many ambassadors at one time all working on very different briefs for their Sovereign, France had 3 ambassadors at one period in time.
After Odoardo's death, Pope Alexander VII allowed Queen Christina of Sweden, who had converted from Lutheranism to become a Roman Catholic, to lodge in the palace for 7 months, but she "proved a tenant from hell". After her departure for Paris, the papal authorities discovered that her servants not only had stolen the silver, tapestries, but also had "smashed up doors for firewood".

At this point the French Ambassadors return to live in the Palace and will pay for all the repairs and up-keep as part of the lease. Nexon then went on to explain some of the politics of the time. Per example the Pope had 2 dangerous enemies the Turks (Muslims) and the Protestants in Northern Europe. The King of France had also 2 enemies, the Spanish Royal House and the Hapsburg in southern Germany and Austria. On the other hand France was friendly with the Turks and ready to support the Protestant against other Catholic monarchs like the Hapsburg.
Try explaining that to the Pope, yes France is a Catholic country but you see your enemies are helpful to us.

The French diplomatic staff in the entourage of the Ambassador were seen as libertines by the authorities in Rome, given to challenge Papal authority, but since they were covered by diplomatic immunity, not much could be done about their parties, drinking bouts and free thinking. Not that the Pope and his Cardinals were any more upstanding morally speaking, but appearances were important.

Nexon also went into details about the lease and rent payments for the Palace and things the French Ambassadors brought with them on their assignment or how much would be spent on a party and how. An ambassador would bring with him 150 barrels of good French wine duty free of course. They would also bring with them musicians and artists to entertain. This would lead to confrontation on musical evenings, Italian music at the time was considered the top in terms of style and fashion but French music which was different in composition and style was nonetheless trying to make in-roads amongst the powerful rulers and the elite. He explained how as part of the job, Ambassadors had to give sumptuous parties often involving fireworks, parades and concerts. With the use of surviving contracts and bills of sale, we were able to see expenses. Candles at the time were expensive and since all had to be illuminated by candle light this was a major cost of receptions and parties, sometimes up to 800 people of distinction would be invited and you had to light up not just the inside of the building but also the entire Piazza Farnese and side streets with thousands of candles. You also had to give something the general population who would receive goblets of cheap local wine spewing from the two fountains in the Piazza Farnese.

During the visit of the Palace we heard 2 very good musicians perform pieces of the time as we progressed from one State Room to the other. Many of the songs they performed were satirical and composed to make a political points against the brother of the king of France or their cousin Orleans. There was also Italian music on love. So we were able to compare and appreciate both style.

I was wondering how can anyone work in this building today, we went through offices which are decorated with great frescoes and beautiful fine furniture, silverware and fine porcelain, statuary and great Cristal chandeliers. The Ambassadors office is a a very large room with ceiling 8 meters high, truly magnificent, I though I would have a problem concentrating on work, the frescoed walls are witnesses to history.

Nexon gave us also much detail on life including riots in Rome against the French Ambassador and his wife organized by the guards of the Pope and his Cardinals in trying to force a change in French diplomatic policy, it did not work, King Louis XIV would have none of it and would resort to sending his army to occupy a Papal territory like Avignon and jailing a few bishops.

All in all a fascinating visit, rich in details of the life at the time at the Farnese Palace. Today the French Government has a lease on the Palace and pay a rent of 1 euro per month to the Italian government, however they are responsible for the up-keep which is considerable.

Saturday, 5 June 2010

Shopping an early morning activity

Shopping or la Spesa is an early morning activity in Italy. Shops of all kinds open usually around 09:30 am while fresh produce markets, Mercato Aperto, all over the city in Rome open usually around 08:30 am. Everyone goes out to shop early, you only need to buy food for the day and usually in a few minutes your shopping is done, on the weekend you need to shop for Sunday also unless you go out for the big lunch in a restaurant with friends and family. All the coffee bars also open early,serving tea sandwiches called Tramezzini and pastries called Cornetto and of course Espresso or Capucino. The pizzas makers are also open early, they sell pizza squares not wedges, it is easier to eat that way and also offer pieces of roasted chicken with rosemary roasted potatoes and other things like rizotto balls with tomatoes and meat with mozarella, suppli al telefono or on Saturday's roast pork sandwiches Porchetta. Only one type of shop will open at Noon time and that is your Gelato store. In the early morning Gelateria are making the fresh gelato to be sold that day, no fillings or chemicals or additives, everything is fresh based on very old recipes that are followed carefully to enhance freshness and taste. Some gelateria now offer ''gluten free'' ice cream, other specialize in Sicilian style ice cream, others follow the seasons and offer fruit ice cream made fresh the very morning with the whole fruit mixed into the recipe, gives you a very flavorful ice cream and a wonderful rich taste. You can buy 1 kilo of ice cream about 2.2 lbs for 15 euros or about $18 dollars. You can buy less of course from a simple cone for about 1 euro. So worth it and so good.

I really enjoy early morning shopping, most shops are family owned, there is no big box or shopping malls, they have been kept outside the city limits by the Government, so if you want to go to the mall you really have to drive out of the city. It is so nice not to have shopping malls and strip malls, a blessing really. Shopping in small stores, you get a far better deal and you also get personal service.

I have favorite stores for almost everything I want to buy from food items, pet store supplies, clothing, toiletries, drug stores, fresh produce and gelateria. There are so many specialty shops and they all appear to cater to their neighborhood customers. You get to talk with shop owners and often you will get the personal touch, if you are a regular customer they will really take care of you. You also develop the neighborhood feeling, you see your neighbors, it is a very nice feeling. This is something I will miss when we leave Rome and will stay with me as a memory of our time here. A quality of life typically Roman.

Friday, 4 June 2010

I predict...

Since April 20, the oil well in the Gulf of Mexico has been leaking millions of barrels of oil. At first the press and BP where playing down the incident, words such as ''could'', ''may'', ''appears to be'' were used to play down this catastrophe. We were told that dispersant were used, they still are and are highly toxic and dangerous to man and wildlife. BP CEO said It is a big area and this is not so serious, it can be contained. BP had originally said that they had the technology to deal with any disaster, they now admit they do not and never had any plans. BP does not know what to do, they are trying different ideas. One using an atomic weapon to seal the leak, brilliant! There is expectation that the White House and the President should deal with this crisis. They are not chemical engineer and what they can do, they have done, investigate and bring criminal charges against BP and its incompetent management. Of course all this could have been avoided had ideas like deregulation of industries and risk management never taken hold of society. It all started with a B movie actor who understood little of governance and probably knew more about chimpanzees, good ole Ronald Reagan, nice guy but not the right guy for the job and then the 2 Bushes and all the neo-conservative claptrap and white fundamentalist Christians values. What a horror show this has been.

On top of the current cover-up BP has engineered to minimize impact, per example hiding the true damage to the Gulf of Mexico and to its wildlife, already all kinds of species of fish, dolphin, turtles and birds are washing up dead on beaches. BP is doing all it can to keep the press at bay as far away as possible, while showing off robotics under water.

I predict that from this disaster BP will be bankrupted and disappear as a company, it has already lost one third of its value as a company in just a few days. BP will cover part of the expense of the clean-up but in the end will not be able to pay it all and given it will take years, BP will beg off claiming insufficient funds, etc.. BP management will quit and get huge cash bonuses which will anger the public but then so is life. In the end despite criminal investigations no one will be held responsible and the tax payer will cover the cost of it all financial and otherwise. The disaster will soil and ruin all of the Gulf of Mexico and wildlife will die and disappear, it will be the first major environmental disaster on such a terrible scale that we will be unable to cope with it. Livelihoods of all who live near the coast in the so many States and Mexico will be changed forever. Gone seafood, gone property values, gone jobs and communities, all gone. The clean-up if one is ever possible will take decades and the wildlife will not come back since it is dying at this very moment, that too is gone. It is not over yet, so there is much more horror to come from this disaster, stay tune. I am just waiting for the oil to arrive in the Florida Keys and really spoil the area.

All this for oil so we can drive a car and use it as a vanity item, humans are truly foolish.

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

I love oriental Carpets

Through my travels in the Near East, I developed a taste for oriental carpets, the other is for my lead soldiers, I posted earlier that I now have about 200 of them in the 54mm size from all countries and regions where I have been.

My interest started when I was first sent to Egypt, though Egypt is not, in my opinion, really a good oriental carpet market unlike Iran or Arabia Felix and the trade route between Damascus and Mecca via Amman. At first I noticed the carpets in people's homes and how they were treated like heirlooms. Carpets are given as a wedding gift or when a boy becomes a man at age 12, he would receive a prayer rug. Many homes had carpets that were 40 to 60 years of age, various colors and patterns, carpets would be put down in the fall and warm the house in winter and then rolled-up in the spring and put away during the hot season. Beating them regularly and airing them was done every so often. Carpets are not like furniture or drapes, they have an history and who had given them and how they were acquired. They are individuals, like a person or a member of the family, they come from a region, they are hand woven and the dyes are natural made from vegetable extracts, some are tribal carpets, others told stories in their pattern and displayed symbols or forms, some had verses of the Coran, they were hug on a wall. Contrary to popular belief few are made of Silk mostly from wool. Silk carpets are a market,a niche for the wealthy, for display or the foreign tourists. I much prefer hand woven wool carpets and never considered buying a silk carpet.

I also learned to differentiate a hand made carpet from a machine made carpet and I learned that if you go into a store to look at purchasing a carpet take your time, it may in fact take hours, the whole afternoon, several visits. Purchasing a carpet is serious business conducted by men, its men business, women are not involved.

In Egypt the tourists on their way to the Pyramids at Gizah are usually bused to ''my cousin carpet shop, no cost to look'' outlet, mostly machine made carpets or if hand made, of so so quality for outrageous prices. A good carpet does not cost a lot of money, usually anything from $200 to $600 dollars tops depending on size. Many tourists even 25 years ago would pay thousands of dollars for a perfectly ordinary carpet worth no more than $300 dollars, ignorance is bliss!

I never actually bought a carpet in Egypt, never liked what they had on display and the merchants at the Khan Khalili in central old Cairo were con artists, selling carpets by the meter, each meter worth about $300 dollars. I bought all of my carpets in Syria, Turkey or Iran, spending afternoons looking at them and feeling them. I would remove my shoes, which is customary and walk bare foot on them, touch them and examine them closely as you would a painting or a fine object and do not forget to flip them over to see the hand work and the weaving, look at it closely, see how the weaver during the process used unequal amount of effort for every weave giving you the human touch a machine would be unable to give. Look also at the knots and count them, knots do vary depending from where the carpet comes from and do not be put off if a carpet is not perfect, what makes its beauty is the imperfection, though small and almost invisible they are there. Some will tell you that this adds value and interest to a carpet.
Carpets like humans are not perfect, despite their great beauty. An old carpet merchant one day told me while I was in his shop in Damascus that only God makes a perfect carpet and they do not exist in this world.

Oriental carpets are named in the following ways:

The name of the city or town where it was woven.

The name of the area in which the weavers lived where the design was first created, now being woven somewhere else entirely.

The name of the tribal group known for incorporating that particular design into many of their rugs.

Oriental carpets should be only washed in cold water with a stiff brush and let to dry in the bright hot sunshine on the roof of the house. Beat them face down on the clean snow and then let them air out in the sun. Never use chemicals or modern carpet cleaners, never put them in a machine to wash or use a steam cleaning machine or vacuum on them.

Buying carpets led to a lot of interesting adventures, meeting people and the merchants, hearing what they had to say, Often the merchant will offer tea and if you appear serious and ask to see more carpets and expand on what it is you want he will offer to send for food so you can have a little bite to eat while he displays even more carpets to you. In those conversations I learned a lot about the culture of carpets and a lot more than any book could show me on how to buy a carpet or the best carpet. On that subject there is no such thing as the best carpet, the best carpet is the carpet that appeals to you.

Like all things carpets are negotiable, you never pay the price quoted at first nor do you say anything even if the price appears outlandish. The art of negotiation is very important and one has to study the rules and play carefully, a bit like a card game, look at your cards, what is a strong card what do you have in your hand.

Same with carpet purchase, there are steps to follow and protocol to respect, if you are careful and thoughtful you may in fact gain the respect of the merchant and get the price you want for the carpet you chose. I remember once a lady in a shop who was looking to buy a rug for a relative back home. Bossy type, walks in with husband following and announces to the boy who was basically there to help with the display of rugs that she wanted to buy a rug but did not want to pay a lot of money and was looking for a good bargain like her sister got the last time.

Mistake number one, was speaking with the help and ignoring the merchant-owner, mistake number two was announcing she wanted a bargain and mistake number three gave the impression she knew it all when in fact she knew nothing. I was just looking at her thinking she made a big mistake. The owner came up to her and asked her if she had something in mind, what size and color or patterns maybe, hand woven or machine made. Just show me what you got and I will decide she answered, the only problem with that answer was that the store had thousands of rugs of different regions and style. So the merchant asked her what type of rug her sister bought, the lady did not know really, it so big and with all sort of funny designs, looked real different back home, you know. But this time she wanted a rug to match the color of the room and the couch. At that point the merchant started showing her carpets for the tourist trade at $50, camel saddle bags and other cheap rugs used as runners. She did not buy a rug but a couple of cheap looking runners and other items made for the tourist trade.

Tip no.1 never run into a story thinking that you can buy a carpet in 10 minutes flat and get what you want because you have money to blow.

Tip no.2 never go into a store as if you were in a shopping mall looking for stuff to buy at discount. A carpet store especially old family run stores in old markets are like famous expensive jewellery stores, show some sense that you know where you are. The merchant or his sons will watch you and they have a keen eye for body language, they know if you are a serious buyer or are knowledgeable or just the silly tourist ready to be fleeced.

Tip no.3 Ask first about the store and what they have in stock, if you know they have been around for a while or the store was recommended to you by a local friend say so. Do not look like you are in a rush and by all means never start by saying how much is this or that one and I want a good price and give me a discount if I buy more than one carpet. In other words do not try to bargain before you have seen the merchandise and decided on what you want. Look, appreciate, put aside some carpets and then go on eliminating those you don't really want and keeping those you are really interested in. The merchant at this point will probably try to engage you into a conversation to see how serious you are and what appeals most to you. It is the biggest faux pas to talk price first and one too often made by Western tourists.

One trick I use to muddle things a bit is to turn the conversation to another topic, asking more about the shop and where the rugs came from and maybe even asking what the merchant known of the carpet I might, I say might be interested in. Only once I am sure in my head of what I want to buy do I then indicate that my choice is made. But still I will not ask about the price, talk some more and even compliment the merchant on his shop and the quality of what he has, this may pay off in the end.

Tip no.4 once you indicate that you are willing to buy the carpet or carpets, ask the merchant how much he wants or would consider accepting for the carpet. He will name a price and then you have a choice to make, either accept to enter into negotiation or withdraw immediately. The merchant then may then turn to you and ask you how much you want to pay. Name the price 30% below what you want to pay in the end, leaving room for you to go up but not too much. Just wiggle room and this way neither you nor the merchant will loose face. Then it is a matter of politely bringing the price to a mutually agreeable final price. You must never once you have agreed on a final price change your mind and say that you don't want to purchase or pay that price in the hope of forcing the issue to a lower price. Unfortunately women make this mistake, I have seen it too often. It will not work and the merchant may simply throw you out of the shop for causing him to loose face by revealing to you his final price, agreeing on it and now trying to change the deal.

Here are some of the names of Carpets by country of origin, this is not an all inclusive list. I have highlighted the ones I have about 30 in all.

Kalar Dashi

Baluchi Region
Yuruk Region




our room Hotel Bristol, Salzburg

One of my favorite photos of me in Salzburg taken in May 2009.