I’ve been sick the last couple weeks. I never get sick. It started with a sore throat. Sore doesn’t describe it. Raw, maybe. Inflamed, perhaps. Ground by a wire brush, torched by a flame thrower, sand blasted by arid desert winds…if I had gargled razor blades it would have been less painful.
Oh, you are mortal, my daughter said early last week, as I sat at the kitchen table struggling to breathe. All week I got up to do my bus run, came home and slept till the afternoon run, then back to bed. By Friday I couldn’t take it anymore and went to see the doctor. He laughed at me. You’re never sick he said. Thank you captain obvious. I got a script for antibiotics and am slowly improving–although now I’ve lost my voice. But today I picked up a book (one of my many special books I’m saving for just the right moment). It’s called “The Root of the Wild Madder” about “chasing the history, mystery, and lore of the Persian carpet”.
It took me back to my post university backpacking trip through Europe. I had desperately wanted to travel to Israel. I wanted to work on a kibbutz, harvesting grapefruit or feeding chickens or something old fashioned and agrarian. My father just as desperately did NOT want me to go to Israel. Being young and defiant I was bound to go anyway. As luck would have it I ran into some disillusioned young people who had just returned from a sojourn on a kibbutz. They had spent an idyllic few months painting shell casings. WHAT!!! I heard the flush of that dream disappearing down a gurgling drain. No way was I going to admit defeat though. I would simply travel somewhere else I found fascinating and my father disapproved of.
I was always a fan of history and Hannibal crossing the Alps on his elephants drew me in. Tunisia it would be, more specifically the small village of Hammamet on the Mediterranean. This was the early 80’s. It was a popular destination for German/Austrian tourists. I felt completely safe. Culture shock hit immediately on arrival at the airport. Arabic men in robes sitting on carpets in the arrivals hall. I think there were even camels inside. The driver who met me in Tunis to take me to my hotel spoke no English. Thank goodness I spoke French as North Africa was a French colony. My favourite history teacher in uni was Tunisian, another reason I wanted to go.
We headed out, just he and I. I had no idea where he was taking me. I spoke French. I had no idea what he was speaking but I wasn’t a bit alarmed. He could have been taking me to sell in a white slavery ring but I didn’t care. My mind never ever went there. As it turned out I think he took me to a “cousin’s” juice stand. He bought me a large delicious glass of freshly squeezed orange juice and on we went. He dropped me off an hour or two later, at my hotel. I scored a front room, with a balcony, and listened to the call to prayer in the mornings. It was awesome!!
But what I really remember is a visit to a carpet weaving workshop just around the block from the hotel. I really don’t remember who organized this, just someone from the hotel I think, and it was just a visit to a work room. There were several looms, I can’t remember how many and about ten or twelve young girls/women weaving there. They sat on curious round bottomed seats, rockers almost, to rock their way across the loom. Their fingers flew with the knots, wrapping, tying, cutting. All following an incomprehensible (to me anyway) pattern on a piece of paper. They were all shy and giggling, telling me how much their brothers would like a blond blue eyed wife (ha, I bet they would!!) They showed me how to tie knots and let me have a go. This is the part where if I knew then what I know now I would have stayed the whole afternoon. I would have spent all my time with these girls learning, and watching. Not so I could make carpets. But so I could see into their world.
Reading this book took me right back to the looms again. I think for the most part, people don’t really want to be young again. At least I don’t. Young knees maybe. But if I could go back knowing then what I know now how different things would be. Youth is wasted on the young. Priorities are skewed. Action takes the place of contemplation. We need to contemplate more, act less.
And I really should read all these books I’m saving before it’s too late.