I had no real intention on purchasing and lugging around beautiful large-scale handmade rugs. Being a migrant with no real home makes it difficult to buy home furnishings. I'm loathe to buy as much as a tea pot without having to seriously consider the consequences of having to pack it up and ship it eventually. But alas, I am a sucker for beautiful artwork.
There were lots of places in Marrakech that had rugs, and Fes had its fair share as well. One place in particular caught my eye- Coin Berbère. The shop, a bit more enclosed than the rest, was filled with treasures. Amazing things. Antique things. Pottery and Jewelry and carved panels and weavings. I would have gladly paid admission just to look...it was a treasure trove. Not too many souk stands get a nice write up in the New York Times either.
The owner, Mohammed (oh, everyone other guy we met shared the name) motioned for us to follow across the street and up a narrow staircase. There, a room, bursting with color.
I knew this was the man I would be buying carpets from. It's just narrowing them down that's the problem.
We talked dyes, we talked tribes, we talked spinning, we talked sheep. Each Berber tribe has their own distinctive style and pattern and palate. Indigo, saffron, flowers, cochineal, roots, and henna are all used to make the amazing colors. Everything is handspun, hand woven, by Berber women, working for a pittance, with the skills passed on through the generations. It is much more than a mere floor covering.
Mohammed patiently pulled out the ones that fit the criteria. Not too huge, not small. Nothing with sparkles or too much knotting. No silk. No pressure.
I loved this embroidered one.
But they were all amazing, one-of-a-kind works of art.
Some of them reminded me of Gee's Bend quilts.
Mohammed had the habit of unfurling the rug dramatically, while simultaneously hushing everyone in the room.
I kind of fell for this slightly shabby antique:
But the more intricate ones called to me as well.
This one he called the "Berber Picasso":
It was enormous, but I wanted it. He says it sells for $40,000 at ABC Carpet in New York. Having shopped for rugs there, I believe it.
The idea of buying a house and decorating completely with furnishings and rugs from this store started playing out in my mind.
But remember, no pressure. He said, "Think about it. Discuss it. Come back when you are ready." Which no one else in Morocco has ever said, ever.
And come back we did. After browsing more rugs around town, I could honestly said he had the best of the best, and he had handpicked the finest out there. And we brought friends with us as well. And the friends also had no intention to buy, yet they went home with three of them.
I showed Mohammed the pictures I had taken of the ones we liked best. He pulled them out of the piles, put them on the floor, and sent his brother to fetch some mint tea.
I found out I was terrible at haggling. It was just too much pressure. Plus, the price he was asking, I thought it was more than fair for the amount of work that went into it. So count me out when it comes to negotiating something handmade.
"Close your eyes, open your heart, and take this rug home with you" Mohammed commanded.
Several cups of tea and bathroom breaks later, I went home with the above carpet. It's amazing. Now that it's home, I'm even more in love with it. It's my colors, all wool- natural grays and browns and mauves that were dyed with poppies and then left out in the sun to age and fade.
This one was purchased as well. It's much larger than the mauve one, with a sturdier cotton warp and it's mind blowing to have this currently in my apartment:
The colors...the patterns...
Our friend went home with the "brother" of the colorful one. It's the same pattern, but more negative space.
Which, if I wasn't so afraid of spilling wine, I would have grabbed that one too.
Everyone went home happy. Mohammed rolled up the rugs snug as a bug in a rug, wrapped them up with plastic and tape, and we were even able to put this in our hiking backpack for the plane ride home. He does ship as well, but it was going to cost way too much and take weeks (and I am just in love with La Poste in so many ways right now) so we opted to carry it out.
If you are ever in Fes, do yourself a favor. Buy a rug from this man.
Coin Berbère 67 Talaa Kebira (in the Haddadine quarter of the Fez medina) (212) 35-63-69-46.