This morning I was woken in my cave-room (the Old Treasury) for the second day in a row by the system I’d requested here at Sacred House (just look at this place – I don’t yet have the wherewithal/time to describe it — is the link to the hotel, and a short video is available — just ask and I’ll email it to you, as I can’t yet work out how to post it here.)

In this place, Sacred House, amongst other blessings, there are no phones or clocks in the rooms. At 8 a.m. the staffperson on duty knocked on my door until I shouted “Hello!” from my (gargantuan, and far-away-from-the-door) bed. Ten minutes later, he returned with a glass (not a cup) of strong black tea and a (real) silver sugar bowl (with real sugar in it). This arrangement is infinitely superior to my usual system of hitting the snooze button every ten minutes for an hour and a half, trying to bribe myself to get up with promises of making myself something to eat.

In the interim, between the first and second wake-up knock, I got dressed and searched for some tip money for my dear wake-up-person, whose face I had not yet seen. I opened my wallet and found about 6 bills. One was for 20,000, one was for 5,000, and four were for 50. Well, I didn’t feel I could give anything as small as 50, but neither could I afford to give 5000 Turkish lire. I had not yet learnt the conversion rate, but I thought about 200 would be a decent tip for tea and wake-up. Not having a 200-lire note, I decided to give the guy 3 of my four small pink bills, which were for 50 each. I hesitated, because I didn’t want to insult him by giving him the equivalent of 3 quarters. On the other hand, a small tip is better than no tip at all. And that way I’d still have one 50 note in case I needed to use the loo or something on my day’s tour of Cappadocia.

And I felt sure that I was right about a small tip being better than none when I handed the man who brought my tea the 3 bills. He looked surprised – maybe because I neglected to tip yesterday morning – and said thank you in two languages, making me glad I’d bothered to give him even that paltry amount.

About my tour of Cappadocia I can’t even begin to write yet – I need a whole new vocabulary and syntax, plus a more time – but I did buy a bunch of postcards to show some friends and family some of the amazing scenery. I also took about 400 photos — here’s just one:

The postcards (which, my guide assured me, I was buying from the very best place) were 10 for “1,5” according to the sign. I didn’t know if that meant 1,500 of something or 1.5 of something  or something else, so I handed over one of my large notes, apologetically, feeling bad because I’d be surely getting all the post-card-seller’s change. He shook his head sadly, and I took the note back and looked for something smaller.

“Is not Turkish,” my guide said, looking over my shoulder. He examined the big note and gave me to understand that I had tried to pay for my postcards of Cappadocia with Hungarian florins.  Oh, I thought. I hadn’t realized that I still had any Hungarian notes.

That is Turkish,” the guide said, pointing to my one small pink note.

“But it’s not enough,” I said, wondering if I could use my Visa card to buy postcards.

“It’s enough to buy many,” my guide corrected me. I handed over the money and received a lot of notes and some coins: 48.5 lire. “Can buy 1000 postcards,” the guide murmured. I didn’t want 1000 postcards, and I wondered if I’d have enough to buy a lemonade. Turned out I did – a lemonade was only 2 lire. I still had 46.5 left…

…but that was the end of my Turkish money, because I’d given away 150 lire to the tea-man. This seemed regrettable, but I had no idea how much money I’d actually paid in that tip, and anyway we were moving on to another fascinating stop.

After my tour guide departed, the driver took me, at my request I think, to a carpet and handicrafts co-op. Anyone who knows me (or knows my mother or knew her mother) knows that I love rugs, so my visit to this co-op was not entirely for research purposes. I had decided that if I saw a rug I loved, I would invest some of my savings into it, with the idea that someday in future I would again have a) a job, to replenish said savings and b) a place to lay the rug.

Thecarpet factory was the nicest co-op I’ve seen (not that I’ve seen many, but I visited a few in Bali and maybe Thailand). It was in the middle of a long, one-storey, new building, and it comprised many well lit rooms with an healthy cubic-metre of-breathable-air-to-human-being ratio. In each of the front rooms, two or three master weavers / teachers were working at looms, with plenty of light and room (and plenty of rights and looms, too) and, I was assured by the salesman, frequent breaks. These women are the experts who not only weave the best carpets in, apparently, you know, the factory, the city, the area, the country, and the whole world, but also they are teachers of the women of their own home villages, training the stay-at-home workers (all women) how to make carpets for sale, creating cottage industries that allow thousands of women to support their families.

The whole place seemed legitimate, and the employees unoppressed (apart from the fact that they apparently are required to wear bright pink shirts), and my tour guide had mentioned to me that it was government-supported enterprise, designed to pay fair wages to local women to prevent families from having to leave the area – and, oh yes, to make sure the carpet-weaving skills were handed down to the next generations. Income production for the government was, I was given to understand, a secondary consideration to ethical living standards for the poor people of Cappadocia and humane, sustainable forms of development.

I watched the women working for quite a while and took photos. One of them slowed down so I could get a photo of her hands doing one of the 10,000,000,000,000,000 knots in her current project. She was holding a sharp knife in one hand with which she cut off the thread after each knot. This seemed inefficient to me but my opinion has not been requested in the last few thousand years of carpet making in this region, and the result of her cutting was a lovely bowl of silk threads under her loom.

The English-speaking carpet salesman walked me through the workshop and the dyeing area, talking continuously about the history of the weaves and the dyes and the women and the designs and the area. He didn’t really like me taking photos but he allowed me to when I explained that I was a journalist – a handy glorified term for “freelance and thus impoverished travel writer” on assignment for a US magazine. He asked me if it was Architectural Digest and I had to admit it was not. The one I was working for is not so widely known in Turkey as the one that had awarded his carpet company the “carpet of the year” design award.

By the third or fourth or fifth roomful of rugs and auditory information I was ready to hear some prices, at which moment, conveniently, we happened to be entering the very showroom where the display carpets were kept. What timing! Of course there was no obligation to buy and could he offer me some Turkish hospitality?

He could. It was about 42 C. outside and I’d been scrabbling around cliff faces and in caves. I asked for water rather than coffee or tea, and in seconds I was offered a chilled bottle and a glass, on a (real) silver tray, by a woman dressed in some kind of costume  I couldn’t even really see, let alone classify.

She left and the two young men in the showroom began to haul out carpets and kilims in a practiced order. First I was shown the crudest and simplest of pieces, a nice small widely woven kilim in yellow and red. And then I quickly was shown better, more dense examples of similar techniques. The whole time, the salesman – who was wearing a bright pink shirt that made him stand out from the rugs – kept hammering the essential points that were vital to my appreciation of Turkish carpentry —  matters about single and double knots, about how long it would take “one lady” to make each rug, about the quality of the materials, the nature of the dyes used, and the origin of the design. He knew all those details and more about every single rug in the showroom and beyond – he’d been selling rugs there for 26 years.

I liked him and found his patter informative, but I had to laugh when he motioned one of the young men not to unfurl the carpet until the exact moment when he cued him. Although I don’t understand Turkish, it was clear that he was admonishing the young man for starting to show me the carpet before I had been properly advised as to its fine qualities and unique design features. I laughed, the boy holding the rug laughed, and the salesman laughed.

The technique was simple (for me, the buyer) and less individualized than that in the Chinese shop where I bought my last significant rugs. The salesman simply produced more and more carpets of better and better quality and higher and higher price, starting with the kilim for $150 US and going up to those that cost as much as my most expensive car, and then further.

Naturally the system worked. Not for nothing had my new friend been selling carpets for 26 years, and not for a penny under what the customer was prepared to spend, either. He knew my limit, I think, because I’d asked him earlier if he had anything in the $500 range, expecting a “no.” I was literally dizzy after half an hour of seeing carpets unrolled – and sometimes  FLIPPED from end to end in midair, to show me the different nap in different lights, which produced astonishing differences in color. Every time one of the young men flipped a carpet like that, I’d laugh and sometimes applaud at their skill. It made a carpet that seemed white turn green; it changed a background from indigo to rose. I don’t know how they did it, but it was fast, like sleight of hand

I was not just overwhelmed and tired but physically dizzy as if I’d been on a roller coaster. I think it was the heat and the dehydration; I felt ill and all I was doing was sitting down and looking. Feeling sympathetic for the young men doing all the work, I asked the salesman to stop, because I didn’t want to exhaust the poor boys for nothing. He said okay, then showed me two dozen more of the great carpets, including one silk number for $240,000, which he assured me he was having shown to me for my “eyes’ pleasure only.” He could say that again.

He then said that they would start rolling up the carpets again and putting them away, but if there was any one I wanted to ask the price of, I could do so.

I am pretty sure that he knew which ones I wanted, because they were not rolled up as fast as the others. Or maybe I wanted almost all of them, but he left out the ones in my range. The one I thought might be possible, and the colors of which appealed (dark red and dark blue), was a local design from Cappadocia — the very place I’d just been visiting!! and it signified world harmony, in that it had mosques and houses next to each other (neither one bombed out or graffitti-scarred) around the border.  This excellent piece was, he calculated, flourishing a calculator — $687.50 US, rounded down to $680. That included my 13% discount for using Visa or Mastercard, and shipping. To the USA.

Shrewd and experienced bargainer that I am, I walked away. Or, actually, I crawled away. Between wanting to accept the salesman’s invitation to touch and see the carpets close up, and not wanting to put the bottom of my shoe on the new carpets, and what with being dizzy and very hot and very covetous of these carpets, I’d been virtually sprawled atop the piles of carpets, moving on hands and knees rather than put  sneaker on them, and eventually pretty much just lolling on top of the best silk ones, petting them in ecstasy. But when he said $650 was the final price, I sat up, shrugged dramatically and said it was just too high. I crawled back to my water glass, drank from it, and tried to look resigned.

Well. Madam. He could not possibly offer me a lower price. Not for such a fine carpet as the one I’d chosen.

Well. Sir.  He should know that I was not a rich American. I was a writer, working my way around his country.

He laughed softly. “At which motel are you staying?” he asked.

This was a bad turn. I am staying at the best hotel in the most exclusive town in Cappadocia, the Sacred House. I don’t even know what the room rate, is but I’m guessing it’s at least a couple of silk runners per night. I am sure that most of the visitors who come to the co-op from the Sacred House do not ask for deep discounts.

“I’m a guest of the manager,” I said, wondering if his English would allow him to appreciate the nuance of the word “guest” that meant, “non-paying.” In case it was not, I added, “I am a travel writer, and I am writing about the place. They have me stay there so I can write about  it.” And then Allah intervened and sent me an idea. “If you give me a carpet I will write about your co-op, too.”

Technically of course I don’t yet have an assignment to write a feature about the carpet co-op, but who was I to interfere with divine inspiration? The carpet dealer laughed but he seemed interested in the possibilities for promotion. Or maybe he was just pulling the usual car/pet-salesperson stunt, but he went off to consult a higher authority, leaving me with the two boys still rolling up rugs. They understood enough English that they were laughing at my suggestion, but in a nice way. I felt they were on my side since I’d made everyone laugh at the salesman’s dramatic techniques.

The higher authority turned out to be the manager or director or something of the carpet co-op, a stately and patriarchal looking man with a big belly, a gray furry head, and Sultan-like stature. When he walked in to meet me, one of the boys happened to be holding up a rug similar to the one I really wanted, and not realizing it was not my rug, we all three negotiated the deal while looking at that one.

The salesman told the Sultan, in English, as if for the first time, that he’d offered me the rug for $650. “Will you tell him your final price?” the salesman asked me, with the flair of an actor handing over a scene.

“Five hundred,” I said. I was sure there’d be a counter offer, perhaps $600, and I’d take it, but to my surprise the manager said yes. I said “Hum-del-Allah!” the way I learnt in Egypt, and he gave me a big smile and a polite one-armed hug and we were all delighted, especially me since I’d been prepared to pay even more than I was paying.

I signed the back of the rug (so they can’t swap it for an inferior one in the shipping), signed away my first-born child and rights to all future publications, and I was done. The rug should arrive at my parents’ house in matter of weeks.

On the way back to the hotel, I calculated the total cost of the rug – it was $500 plus whatever sum I’d given away as a tip that morning. I decided that I was not going to ask for the tip-money back; it was my own stupid fault for being too lazy to work out the exchange rate. I’d given the tea-man all my money for my time in Turkey, so I’d just have to economize later. No food for a few weeks should help me lose weight anyway.

Later, back in the cool sanctuary of Sacred House, I was greeted by the lovely manager, Ecce, who introduced me to her husband, the man who has designed this incredible hotel, and I showed them the photo of my new rug. I asked their opinions about the price and was relieved when they put it at $1000 or $900 US.  Ecce’s husband, Turan, mentioned that he knew the design — it is local, Cappadocian — and I mentioned to him that it symbolized global harmony, with churches and mosques next to each other — kind of like his idea for Sacred House hotel, which doesn’t glorify any one religion but showcases the most beautiful aspects of many faiths and religious art forms.

I then remembered my question about money then. “Can you tell me about the exchange rate?” I said. “I think I made a mistake earlier.”

Ecce laughed a little.  “I think I know what you mean,” she said. “I meant to speak to you about that later.” She has a soft voice and a lovely gracious nature – daughter of a diplomat, raised in Russia and Switzerland and Germany – and she somehow did not add to  my embarrassment or shame as she explained that when the tea-man had given the money in this morning (as the staff do with all tips) she had thought maybe I’d been confused, as I’d tipped him US $135.00.

“What did you mean to give him?” she asked, and I said I’d wanted to give a nice tip, maybe $10. She very kindly said she’d talk to me later and that such confusion happened often – I’m sure in truth I’m the only person to make such a stupid mistake, but she was amazingly gracious.

Ten minutes later, as I was back in my cool cave, another staff member knocked on my door and handed me a stack of bills – about 135 lire. I now can buy food for the rest of my time in Turkey. Shrewd bargainer that I am, I’m doomed not to lose any weight here…but I do have a lovely carpet to remind me of the importance of conversion rates and the hospitality, generosity, and graciousness of the managers and staff of Sacred House…and, you know, the factory, the city, the area, the country, and the whole world.