Charlottesville's Indiana Jones|
continued from page 1
|Let me tell you a story....
I was in the backcountry, heading toward Kars - Kars is a city in Northeast Turkey in the
Caucasusu Mountains, close to the Soviet border.
So I'm travelling down a dirt road, and in the middle of nowhere there's this famil of nomads, walking.
They've got a donkey, loaded with their things. There's a man. The ladies are all hand-spinning wool as they
walk - they're all walking. But as I'm driving past them in the car, I see, sticking out from under the bedding,
there's a saddlebag - and it looks really nice. So I say "Stop the car."
I get out, and walk over to them. I pass out American cigarettes. We talk about where they're going, how nice it is
to be here, where I'm from - they're very impressed that I live in a small village of seven houses - I live in
North Garden. They can't believe that I live in a smaller house than they do. That's a big deal in Turkey - the size
of your village.
So I've made all my original moves, and I ask if I can see their saddlebag. The say "Sure!" They pull it out,
show it to me, and I really want it - it's a very good saddlebag: well-made, a clear,crisp design, pretty.
"Who made it?" I ask.
"She did," they say. It's and older woman among them.
"When?" I ask her.
"Oh - two generations ago. I was a young girl."
"I like it," I say. "I'd like to buy it."
"No, not for sale."
"Because," she tells me, "what am I going to put the stuff that I've got in it in? I'm using it."
Now I had jusg come through Germany, and while I was waiting at the airport I had gotten myself a present -
I was feeling down and I wanted something to make myself feel better. So I got one of these new Casio
calculators that's also a watch, a clock, a calendar - it's got messages in it, the whole bit. They're about
seven inches long, sleek, very thin, and I kept mine in my shirt pocket.
So, I take it out of my pocket. And I show it to these people.
I say "Look! Look what it does!"
And I say "I will offer you this... for your saddlebag."
The man, he looks at me for a minute. Then he reaches slowly into his pocket, and he pulls out....
the same calculator, only the next model up. His plays music.
I'm amazed. This is in the middle of nowhere. I ask him, "Now where did you ever get this?"
He says "Oh, my cousin - he works in Germany. He brought this as a present...But isn't it wonderful? Calculate,
calendar, music - it's much better than yours."
This attempt to trade the dazzle of silicon for a handmade saddlebag, though unsuccessful, might nevertheless
seem perhaps... unscrupulous? Like offering "magic beans" in exchange for the family cow. Not so says the merchant.
"I never buy anything that somebody doesn't want to sell," Barodofsky says. "For one thing, they're going to want too
"Besides," he adds, "when you do business with somebody and they're trying to steal from them, on some level they
perceive that. You may 'succeed,' but my attitude is that when I go back to places, I want people to look at me and
think: This is someone I did business with, someone who did not try to cheat me, this is an honorable man.
"Honor is very important. The cigarettes aren't a bribe - nothing to do with bribery. It's a sharing; you're establishing
a trading relationship.
"And you always get a better selection from your friends."
One of Barodofsky's test of his understanding of local trading custom is this: Can he buy an object in a city and, in
the same city, sell it at a profit? And, although you can fo far with a few gestures (or a translator), the respect
that comes with knowledge of languages can have remarkable effects
"I speak a little Arabic, and a little Turkish," he told me.
"Enough to get into trouble.
"Some Turkomans I met, they were amazed that I knew Turkish. I watched their prices drop - not by half, but by 95 perent -
because of that. Prices on some things became so low tht it was embarassing - but you do have to bargain a little, just to
Barodofsky describes himself as one of only five "round-eyes" merchants operating in Turkey who buy carpets not from the bazaars
of capitals, but from original sources - tribal villages and nomads. He returns to Turkey several times a year, and with
his merchant friends from the city of Konya (the ones who sent him his picture in the scandal sheet), he follows
a regular trade route. They travel together across the Anatolian countryside - his friends serving as translators, he
perhaps providing American cigarettes and mysterium Americum - bargaining for traditional nomadic art.
At this point in our conversation, there are several things Baradofksy requests that I omit from my later retelling
"This business is very secretive," he confides. "Nobody wants to reveal what their resources are."
I did not like Kars. Only place in Turkey I did not like. The vibe there was palpable. Tense. The City's right
on the Russian border, and from the citadel they were flying the red flag, the communist flag, but no one - including
the police - had the guts to take it down. They were terrified of riots. The Kurds there want an independent Kurdistan -
many of them are very unhappy with the way the Turks treat them - and there's a lot of talk of revolution
And they don't like foreigners.
So we're hanging out, having tea. It's a little coffeehouse, and I'm just asking around - "Does anybody know someone
with old stuff for sale?"
One man stands up. He says, "My uncle has some old Caucasian rugs."
I say, "Rugs. Good. Where are you from?"
"Tekelera. South of here."
We all gt in the car. As it turns outk this is a family that came across the Russian border during the civil war, in 1921.
Now they're very prosperous. They have a big farm: lots of produce, lots of animals. There's plenty of food on
the table, a TV set.
"We've never had to sell our stuff," they tell me, "we've always had plenty of food. Our things are not for sale -
but we'll show them to you."
Well the "old Caucasian rugs" turn out to be 20-year-old rugs like the ones they're now weaving. I'm not interested.
but they do have a fantastic saddlebag. Much better thatn the other - 20 to one, it's the most beautiful saddlebag
I've ever seen, anywhere, in my entire life. It's Caucasian - a Verney, which means it's Weft-float brocade. Gorgeous, bright
colors. And it's in perfect condition. And they also bring out a bashik - a cradle bag or bedding bag - of similar
construction, similar style. Beautiful.
So I'm interested.
They have to call the great-grandmother in - these pieces, they're hers. She comes hobbling in. She doesnt' want to
But then the husband comes out.
"I'll sell them," he says.
So there's a big argument going on within the family. he and the sons are all talking, arguing. Now, the Turkish that they speak in that
region is a variant - it's a strongly varied dialect - so my friend, who's acting as my driver and translator, he
doesn't quite understand what's going on.
But, obviously, they're having an argument>
I ask my friend, "Are they arguing about price?"
"No," he says. "Not price - they're arguing about whether to sell them at all."
I lay some money on the table: "This is what I'll pay."
The great-grandfather looks at me, scoops the money up, gives me the pieces.
"Good," I say to my friend. "Let's leave."
"No," he says. "Let's stay a minute."
I want to leave. "But why?" I say.
We stay. The great-grandmother comes back, throws the money back on the table, grabs the pieces, walks off
Argument completed. I look at my friend - the pieces are gone. He just says: "Trust me."
A minute later, great-grandfather comes back out again. He takes the money, puts the pieces back in front of me. He looks
at me and waves us out.
My friend says: "Now we leave."
But, as we're starting up the car, great-grandmother comes out of the house. She's go two young men with her. They've got
rifles. They are firing at our car.
We stop the car.
Great-grandfather comes back out and starts yelling. There's a huge brouhaha. Finally everybody starts going back to
the house and the great-grandfather looks at us and yells "Go!"