Bukhara: "Need A Rug?"

Bukhara, Uzbekistan
June 1, 2009

Dear Family and Friends,

I love oriental rugs. I grew up with them. My parents had one in the dining room in our apartment in the Bronx. My grandparents also owned a few. Eventually I inherited them all. And I bought more.  Like members of the family, the thick rugs of earth tones and deep red and warm blue were always an important element in the interior of my home.

Did you know that I was a rug salesman in Boston? In one of my late "careers" I worked for Newton Oriental Rugs and Able Carpets. On the job I learned that Americans love a "story" and I was good at story-telling. To my attentive customers, I told fabulous tales about each intricate, "unique" hand-made rug imported from some exotic place somewhere. And, could I "hondl" and negotiate!

So when I realized that the city of Bukhara was on my itinerary in Uzbekistan, my first thought was "Bukhara!! That's one of the more popular patterns of oriental rugs."

I wasn't disappointed in Bukhara. As I wandered around to see the sights, rugs were on display everywhere: in the markets, in shops in the old medrassas, or simply laid out on the sidewalk. What colors! Golden silk. Bright orange. What designs! Persian gardens. Turkmen geometrics. Afghan tribes. What shapes! I wish I had a trunk to fill.

And the sights in Bukhara? This ancient city along the Great Silk Road? What colors! What designs! What shapes!

The Kalon Minaret (1127) is 47m tall and 10m deep (154 x 32 ft) with an additional foundation of stacked reeds. In 850 years, despite earthquakes and wars, except for Russian bombardment in 1920, the tower has never needed repairs. Its fourteen ornamental bands include the first use of blue glazed tiles.

Just outside Bukhara is the Bukhautdin Naqshband Mausolem. Since it was Friday, the Muslim Sabbath, the grounds were crowded with Uzbek visitors who pay tribute to Bakhautdin - the founder of an ancient Sufi order and Bukhara's unofficial patron saint. Folks are dressed in their best and the atmosphere is both devotional and festive.

Nearby is Chor-Bakr, a 16th Century necropolis – a haunting complex of ancient gravesites and a busy Friday Mosque.

Sitorai Mohi Hosa (Star-and-Moon Garden) was the summer palace of the very last Emir of Bukhara, Alim Khan. The three-building compound (that had electricity!) includes a harem and a pavilion from which the Emir could watch his women frolicking in the adjacent outdoor pool.

The Lyabi-Hauz, a plaza built around a pool in 1620, seems to be the tourist focal point in Bukhara. On three sides of the plaza are large, blue and turquoise medrassas. Around the pool, ancient mulberry trees shade restaurants and cafes. At dinnertime on this holiday weekend, the plaza is packed with large extended families. Kid take turns riding the "camels" and adults take turns riding with Hoja Nasruddin, a semi-mythical "wise fool" who appears in Sufi teaching-tales around the world.

Near the plaza is a group of old domed mosques and medrassas that now function as covered bazaars. There's Silk Road silk. There's rugs. There's hats and jewelry and puppets and knives and musical instruments and shoes and chachkas and rugs and rugs and more rugs. And suzani.

Suzani is the traditional needlework here in Central Asia. Circular designs of pomegranate and almond plants and flowers are stitched on to a white or light pastel cotton cloth. Red and blue and green and purple and orange silk threads produce colorful, even dramatic designs.

I left the rugs.

I took the suzani.

I bought three pillow covers. And three wall hangings. One hanging is a very large rectangle of crimson and light blue flowers. One vertical hanging is a delicate design in red and green on a beige background. And finally, from, Nazruda, a sweet young woman working in her family's large shop, I bought another vertical hanging of red, pink and green on a pastel background. With her own stiching, Nazruda had actually signed the piece.

And could I "hondl"!

After the sale, Nazruda invited me to her home. Her mother served tea and snacks of dried fruit and cake.

I suppose I need to return to Uzbekistan one day with a larger suitcase for more suzani and a rug or two. Or maybe plan a trip to Turkmenistan, the ancient home of the fabulous rugs. The walls in my apartment will be decorated now, but the tile floors are still bare.

Jan (ASID?)


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