Turn right as you leave our Paris studio and in two minutes you will be peering mesmerised into the Galerie du Luxembourg. With its brightly displayed rugs covering walls, floors and diverse pieces of furniture, walking straight past would be unthinkable. And if interest in the rugs palls, there is always some human diversion on display, at least during opening hours. At a table in the middle of the shop will be a young man doing repairs; if he is not there, an older man will be seated at his desk, head bowed attending to business.
My wife, Rohan and I must have stopped outside a thousand times to window-shop for a rug, but with their many colours, patterns and sizes, we could never manage to decide which one to choose. Anyway, hand-woven, woollen oriental rugs are very expensive, so we would soon walk on. Then, two weeks ago we ventured inside – suddenly we had the means to buy one for Christmas.
Nowadays our present giving is a two-tier affair. Minor presents for one another are individually wrapped, placed under the tree and distributed with everybody else’s before Christmas Lunch. The main present, usually something for the house, we buy jointly. Last year it was a set of twelve dinner plates with matching soup bowls; this year it would be a rug.
Inevitably the rug would be expensive and to cover the cost we would have to dip into two pots. The smaller sum would come from our traditional Christmas present budget; the lion’s share from funds that had come Rohan’s way late in 2017.
The purchase of a new rug is not a trivial matter. While the principal role of a rug is to cover the floor, through their different colours and patterns they also decorate, remind us of past events or feelings and tell tales that cross generation, as was the case when we visited the Museum of American Indian Art in Santa Fe, New Mexico some twenty years ago. The usual museum hush was suddenly broken by the sound of sobbing – the woman next to us was in floods of tears. She was standing in front of a rug that a hundred years earlier would have been woven by some of her story-telling Navaho forbears. Through its pattern and colouring it told her of a harrowing massacre of her people. For her, the rug’s message was overpowering.
Many of our rugs also have stories to tell. The rug we bought on our honeymoon in 1968 was treasured for years. The two handsome rugs that I knew as a teenager and which were possibly originally bought second hand, were very warmly received when they were bequeathed to us by my mother in 1987. One of them still occipies centre stage in our front room in London; the other, with its once rich bronze colour, has just been moved to a bedroom in the cottage. Finally, the rug bought by Rohan in 1984 to celebrate the award of her PhD is, appropriately, on the floor of her study.
We entered the Galerie in order to buy the bronze rug’s replacement. The man at the desk stood up, greeted us warmly and, after we had told him what we were after, led us down to an Aladdin’s cave of rugs piled high. With his colleague’s help he rolled rugs out on the floor one by one, selecting different styles and colours depending on our comments. The final choice was Rohan’s who has an eye for colour.
With the choice made, our Kazakh present was folded, tied up with raffia and passed to me to carry back to the flat. It was bulky and heavy – at least 20kg – and the walk was a real challenge, but worse was to come; next day it had to be taken to our Brittany cottage. Encumbered with a back pack, a wheely suitcase, my man bag and the newly acquired rug on a trolley, neutral onlookers could have have seen my struggle as part of some circus act. For me, the journey was a real challenge.
The purchase was soon laid out in front of the living room fire downstairs in its new home. Rohan’s choice was more than right – its colours and dimensions not only fitted with the surrounds, they also embellished them. But looking at the rug had it’s difficult side.
The second, larger, funding pot had come from the compensation Rohan had received following her bicycle accident three years ago (‘On Church Road’, joecollier.blog. 12 Feb, 2015). Without it, the rug would still be in the shop. So while our new rug is a success, and Rohan’s recovery extraordinary, the rug will always carry a bittersweet touch as it tells of the nightmare of her terrible accident.