Turkmen carpets

I visited a carpet super store at the weekend and spent about an hour looking through endless swatches on the theme of beige. Altogether a rather dull experience. But it brought to mind the time when the Natural Theatre Company was performing in Turkmenistan.

Turkmenistanis absolutely bonkers about carpets. There’s even a carpet channel on TV. What’s more, when we were there it was National Carpet Week. Our hotel, a soviet era monstrosity, had corridors the length of an airport runway, the shiny floors of which were adorned with rug after slippy rug. A dangerous obstacle course when one arrived back at night slightly tipsy. ‘Too many carpets!’ I cried as I fell over for the third time. And then hoped I hadn’t been recorded on the ever-present security cameras.

Posters everywhere proclaimed ‘I would rather cut off my right hand than insult my dear president’. I suspect the same went for insulting carpets.

One day our hosts took us out into the desert to a combined camel and carpet market. Fabulous hand-knotted carpets in every hue known to man were stacked in the sunlight as far as the eye could see. Scowling ladies in traditional costume, said to be the weavers of these exquisite items, haggled over prices and refused to pose for photographs until we had actually made a purchase. Then it was all smiles.

I bought a beautiful richly coloured rug in countless shades of red and maroon. Years later, it is still on my bedroom floor. It looks as pristine as when I first got it…and still vaguely whiffs of goat. Or is it camel?

At one point there was a huge kafuffle just outside the market gates. A crowd of excited Turkmen women were gathered round a van. We pushed through to find the object of their awe was a roll of machine printed, rubber-backed fitted nylon carpet of the sort last seen adorning the cheaper kind of Blackpool B&B in the seventies. A more swirly swirly carpet has never been seen!

This lurid purple and cream nastiness was the very thing these ladies would have preferred to have gracing their yurts. None of that old fashioned knotted stuff. Leave that for those daft tourists!

‘It’s from Belgium’ explained one of them with a sigh of admiration.

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