Matthew Wheeler has kindly brought to my notice a new seven-minute video by Dr. Juan Cole, who serves as the Richard P. Mitchell Collegiate Professor of History at the University of Michigan:
I commend the video to you, as well.
Matthew Wheeler has also alerted me to this interesting item:
Helen Condon alerted me to this personal essay:
It really hit home with me.
I’m immune to most souvenir shopping. Indeed, to most shopping overall. I’m not a collector. It’s rather like gambling and casinos: You could give me $10,000 and leave me for twelve hours in a casino in Las Vegas and I wouldn’t feel even the slightest tug of a temptation to play the slots or sit down at one of the tables. I simply lack the gambling gene. But put me in a bookstore? Given at least five minutes, whether it’s in the United States or Cairo or Jerusalem or Zürich or London (London! Blackwell’s!), I’ll find at least one book that I want. And probably several.
And then there are “oriental rugs.” Sigh.
I’ve bought Turkish rugs. I own a small Persian carpet — a Tabrizi, from Iran’s northwest — that cheers me up and brings happy memories whenever I look at it.
And Egyptian carpets? I can see two from where I’m sitting. (I would see three, except that, because we’ve run out of space, the newest of our large rugs is on top of another large rug, covering it up.) And I can also see a hand-woven Egyptian tapestry hanging on the wall, done for us to a design by an Egyptian artist, a close friend of ours, back when we lived just south of Cairo from 1978-1982.
In recent years, when we’ve taken tour groups to Egypt, we’ve visited a “carpet school” in the Nile Valley not far from the plateau of Saqqara where the famous step pyramid of King Zoser stands. These carpet schools are places where young children from fellahin or peasant families weave rugs as a way to allow them to continue their educations. (Otherwise, their parents would likely be obliged to pull them from school and put them to work in the fields.) The carpet schools bring money into very poor rural areas. Are these children being exploited? I hope not. I think not. When we first lived in Egypt, our artist friend introduced us to something of this world, and we’re not entire strangers to it, or merely acquainted with it as transient tourists. I know that at least some such efforts — that of the famous Ramses Wissa Wassef, for example — are legitimate, and I believe that the school that we typically visit nowadays is legit, as well. The childrens’ smaller and more dextrous fingers allow them to do very fine work; when they are older, they sometimes remain in the carpet industry as sales personnel and managers, or they use the basic educations that they’ve received for other things.
Anyway, my wife and I have been going to the Akhnaton Hand Made Carpet school for years now. And, each time, we’ve agreed beforehand that we already own enough such rugs and that we won’t buy another. And, each time until very recently, we’ve spotted a carpet that we’ve loved, and we’ve bought. Again. Rather like a drunk passing by the swinging doors of a tavern and, after a brief hesitation, entering in with the vow that “This will be the last one!”
I’m supremely proud to say, though, that we haven’t bought a rug on the last two occasions that we’ve been there, in December and in May. Not even a small one. This is a personal breakthrough. It’s like being able to stand in an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting and announce that one is a recovering alcoholic.
I do enjoy watching others in our group make purchases, though, and I shamelessly urge them on.
Would I myself love more rugs? Yes. We simply need a larger house.