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.
8 thoughts on “Every Rug Tells a Tale”
Let’s have a look at the rug – and the dinner service!
I couldn’t believe my eyes. I was only six. It must have been my first movie: Alexander Korda’s “Thief of Bagdad”. Sabu, who was a kid like me, sat on a rug, looked straight ahead and said “Arise!” Slowly the rug, with Sabu upon it, rose from the floor, floated through the room, out the wide door and over the city.
I thought “when I get home, I’ll try it”.
Dear Rob, I think we would have had to pay even more for a rug that flew. The man in the shop made no mention of such a property. Joe
Dear Rob, Overnight I have thought more about your story about Sabu and realise that I probably missed something in my reply. It seems that as one listens to the stories that carpets tell us, we are all transported to an imagined world. It is not the rug that flies, it is us. Joe
Let’s see the rug – eh? And the dinner service…!
That’s not so easy. We are now on our way back to London and I won’t be in a position to photo the carpet until sometime in March. The dinner set is more accommodating – it lives in London. A photo will be on its way in a day or two.
I loved your description of the rugs and how they came to embellish and dignify your floors in Brittany and in London. From your description I became fond of the bronze rug- somehow that seemed an unusual color for a rug, but it was one I could see.
I remember a small rug with the image of a war tank woven into it-it was in a carpet shop owned by an Afghan man nearby. That was after the Iraq war and was not beautiful but poignant.
Dear Robin, Thank you for you comment which made me think that while in some countries there is a strong tradition for making and using carpets, in others this is not the case. Imagine how homes or buildings might feel where carpets are a rarity. Joe