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Jack Smith

Fly-by-Night Carpets : 'Let's Don't Buy Any Moroccan Rugs,' I Said to My Wife. What Happened : Between That Decisive Moment and the Signing of Our Visa Slip?

December 27, 1987|Jack Smith

OUR MOROCCAN RUGS should turn up on our doorstep any day now.

During my tour of Morocco, we bought three rugs. I have been too embarrassed to admit it, but now it's time to tell the story, if only to exorcise my feeling of stupidity.

On our last day in Fez, we were going through the old town, inside the walls, with our tour group. The medina of Fez is so labyrinthine that a foreigner is lost as soon as he turns the first corner.

Our tour guide had warned us about the danger of getting separated from our group. He introduced us to a sharp-eyed Moroccan lad of about 15. "If you get lost," he said, "don't try to find us. Stay where you are. This boy will retrace our steps and find you."

An hour later we did get separated from our group. My wife had been haggling with peddlers over caftans and bracelets, and suddenly I saw the boy staring at us from the nearest corner. None of our group was in sight. I panicked.

"Let's get out of here," I said.

That incident was still in my mind when our guide led us into the rug shop. Rugs covered the walls and the floor and the stairway up to a loft, which was also full of rugs. They were piled high on the floor, so that one's step was cushioned by their thickness.

We were seated in a small room around a pile of rugs. An intense young man came in to greet us. A boy served us glasses of hot mint tea.

The merchant began with a passionate spiel. He told us that his rugs were made by Moroccan women, working long, hard hours to make a living for themselves and their families and for the greater economic glory of Morocco. How could we not buy a rug to assist this noble cause?

"Let's don't buy any Moroccan rugs," I said to my wife.

"No," she agreed.

The merchant began throwing rugs back from the pile. He described each one, its pedigree, its quality, its cost. They were several hundred dollars each. I was beginning to get restless. One or two of our group got up and left.

"Let me see the rose one again," someone said. "Two rugs back."

I realized that, incredibly, it was my wife. We were finished right then, of course, though I didn't know it.

With alacrity the merchant threw back two rugs to get at the one that had caught her eye. Others began to get up and leave. The merchant paid them no attention. He had found his mark.

It occurred to me that we had three small Indian rugs in our bar-dining room, and that the cat had picked the two smaller ones to pieces.

"Do you have any 3x6s?" I heard myself saying.

The merchant snapped his fingers and spoke sharply. Two boys appeared. They threw down a pile of 3x6s and began unrolling them.

"Do you have any of these in blue?" my wife wanted to know.

By then the merchant had moved us into his office, where a girl sat at a desk with a telephone, to check our credit.

He was showing us two small rugs and a 5x8. "They're the wrong color," my wife pointed out wisely.

"We can redecorate," I said. I was worried about getting left behind.

She wasn't sure. The merchant gave us a price and lopped $200 off. "Because you take all three," he explained.

Hearing it expressed as real money, we balked.

"What would you pay?" he asked me, dividing us. I refused to say. I cannot bargain.

My wife refused to bargain, too. She said she couldn't do it in good conscience, thinking about all those toiling women.

I was growing more and more impatient. I wanted to get out of there. I saw the boy down below at the entrance, looking for us.

I think my wife meant only to be ironic, about the toiling women, but the next thing we knew she was signing her Visa slip.

We realized later that she thought I wanted the rugs and I thought she wanted them. The gift of the Magi.

Delivery was promised for three months from that date.

I'm not even going to unwrap them. I'm giving them to the Pasadena Art Alliance for their Treasure House sale.

I'm not blaming the Moroccan rug merchant. It was our fault. We simply lost our senses.

Unless there was something in the tea.

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