Saturday, January 16, 2010

Carpets 101

I've never been much into carpets, but last night changed my mind.

My lovely friend T. took me out to see the gold souk (shopping area of tons of Indian gold stores, that gorgeous 22K gold with a yellowy sheen) and then to the heritage souk. She was hoping we could get a bit of a carpet lesson at Houssan and Ali's, the shop where she bought several carpets for her home, and did we ever. The picture above shows me listening raptly (while also trying not to giggle because T. was taking my picture) to the explanation of what goes into these carpets.

I won't do it justice, because the worker (who might be Houssan or Ali, T. can't remember!) gave his explanations in a great English that wasn't so much broken as punctuated by interesting and unexpected words and phrasing. But I will try, because it was fascinating.

Carpets are built on a mesh of either cotton or silk, silk of course being the more valued and highly priced. They're measured by the number of knots per square centimeter. The first one he showed us seemed very detailed, and had 70 knots per square centimeter. He stunned me with, "It takes a minute to do five knots." Fourteen minutes per square centimeter, times how big the rug is. Unbelievable.

These rugs he called "four wheel drive". Every day rugs. But still high quality. "These will last for your life time, and also for your sons' life times."

After comparing two rugs like that, and explaining how the knots are tied and how to see which is more durable, he unrolled a rug that made both T. and I gasp out loud at its beauty. The first rug had SEEMED detailed, but with this one laid over it the first one now seemed like something a child could have done. The new one was silk, and the sheen was unbelievable. This rug had 100 knots per square centimeter, and unlike the others it didn't have a pattern that repeated over and over. So gorgeous. That rug would have sold for about a thousand Kuwaiti Dinars (around four thousand Canadian dollars) and while that's a lot of money it felt like a bargain at the same time. You could build a whole house around that rug.

T. and I laughed, but understood, when the seller explained that a rug like that is like a Lamborghini. "The guy who buys the Lamborghini, he knows he spent a lot of money, but when he goes out driving his car, does he think about the money? No, he just thinks, 'I have a Lamborghini.' And he's happy." As T. and I had had a conversation earlier about buying fewer things but making sure that those things are high quality, this resonated with us.

We were there for probably 45 minutes, and I think we all had a good time. He seemed to enjoy teaching us about the rugs, and at the end said that it was good to learn about them and then we could buy them later. T. plans to get several more small ones, and I might well pick one up when/if I return to Kuwait next year. (Which might well happen. I'm fascinated by the place.)

What else have I been up to? Well, after my rambling post in the Frankfurt airport, I realized I hadn't had enough to eat and was coming apart at the seams. :) So I found a cafe and picked up the oh-so-traditional German lunch of a bagel sandwich, brownie, and a delicious iced chocolate. I was much more cheerful after that! My second flight was almost entirely empty, which was nice, and then T. found me at the airport. We stayed up talking until about 3am, and I think I was asleep at 3:04. :)

T. had to work my first day, and then we went to her tennis lesson and then out to dinner at a Lebanese restaurant. "Kuwaiti food" is apparently not a restaurant-type cuisine, mostly meat and fish and vegetables, but the Lebanese food was delicious.

My second night didn't go so well, as I couldn't seem to get to sleep and STAY there, but I was still pretty energetic yesterday. We had a busy day, with a long walk along the Gulf and a great brunch at an outdoor cafe and then a fascinating movie at the Imax.

"Fires of Kuwait" tells the story of how the Iraqi army set fire to the more than seven hundred oil wells as it retreated in the early 1990s. The fires were burning five million barrels of oil a day, and it was estimated that they would burn a hundred years if they weren't put out. Crews from all over the world came to help with the fires, and they were all extinguished in nine months, leaving the desert drenched in oil and still covered in broken airplanes and unexploded mines. The level of devastation was sobering, and I've been thinking a lot since about how that must have changed the Kuwaiti people. They couldn't even see the sun for months, since the smoke from the fires was so overwhelming.

After my busy day and poor sleep the night before, I expected to fall asleep immediately, but no such luck, so I popped a Gravol and slept for nearly nine hours. :)

Today we are going to another shopping area and also to the (apparently wildly disorganized) grocery store. T. has to work from tomorrow to Thursday, so I will be on my own a bit, but that's fine because now I know what's going on.

It's an interesting country. People often stare at us without seeming to realize it's a bit rude, but the people we've talked to have universally been friendly, almost obsequious at times, and very helpful. It's about 20 degrees Celsius at the moment, and the Kuwaitis are wearing sweatshirts and leather jackets against "the cold". I got a sunburn yesterday. :)

T. is working at the moment, so I think I'll go sit on the balcony and crochet. It's 4:20pm at the moment; it feels weird to realize that it's 8:20am at home and Mr. W and Sapphire are probably sound asleep. :)

After the picture I posted in Germany, it amused me that this was my first sight at the Kuwaiti airport. I know it's a bit blurry, but it's those golden arches again! I've seen several other McDonald locations, and a Pizza Hut logo in Arabic, which I didn't photograph because that seems lame somehow. :)

More Kuwait adventures to come!


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