We sat on a too-small seat between the carpets in the Tehran carpet bazaar and drank tea. My Iranian friend was busy talking to the carpet dealer and I was staring at the colorful carpets thrown at my feet. The smell of the wool in combination with the warm tea and the helpers who showed passionate carpets had a calming and stimulating effect on me. When the carpet dealer asked me what I was looking for, I found it difficult to give a good answer. “I don’t know,” I said, “I’ll let you know when I see something.”


Bright red glasses

Suddenly a sturdy, stylishly dressed man, with hip bright red glasses on his nose, entered the shop. He could be the father of the carpet dealers who were already present. “Good day sir, how can I help you?” At the urging of this man, we went to another carpet store. The man claimed that he saw that I wanted. I wanted to know more about carpets and he could help me. “To understand what people want, I study the eyes,” said the man with the red glasses as we followed him.

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We went even deeper into the carpet bazaar, through narrow corridors, stairs, and small doors. There we were, in a tiny wooden room, even tighter than the previous shop. The man gave me an ottoman to sit on and ordered tea from his helper. I was told that if I really wanted to understand the carpet trade, I had to be patient. “Listen, many foreigners who come here are impatient. They don’t have time to understand the meaning of the carpet. It is my duty to help these travellers with the best choice.”


Falling in love with a carpet

The man with the special glasses continued his story: “When people feel good, they are more likely to buy a carpet.’’ ‘’You make use of that,’’ I say. ‘’No,’’ the man says.’’ ‘’My job is to make people fall in love with the carpet they’re looking for, people don’t come to a carpet store by accident. Let me put it differently: the importance of a carpet is what it brings to the owner’s life, not what it means to a textbook. And we all know; you cannot force love.”

Photos: Felix van den Belt

Felix van den Belt

Felix van den Belt

Anthropologist & specialized in the social world of Persian carpets.