Magic Carpets


Once upon a time, many miles away and many years ago, I sat in the ballroom of the Hilton Hotel in Singapore with several hundred other people.  It was my first carpet auction.

Singapore was famous for these auctions.  Piles of glorious carpets from Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan and obscure bits of central Asia covered the stage.  They were dramatically displayed one by one, each more beautiful than the last, their ages and merits described.  Bidding was invited.  Hands shot into the air, numbers were chanted, another magical carpet unfurled.  I had never attended an auction of any kind and knew nothing about carpets.  But I’d just moved into an old restored house with acres of white tiled floor… I bought six carpets.

It was my last carpet auction. Clearly I could not be trusted in this kind of environment.  They were all so beautiful, my hand just kept jumping into the air somehow.   Finally a friend dragged me out of the room before I could do further damage.

But I loved the carpets.  Each was a distinct work of art, humming with the energy of the many animals and people who’d had a part in its creation.  The sheep whose wool had been sheared, the cotton farmers, the dyers, the designers, the loom makers, the weavers – all had a presence.  The carpets gleamed like jewels on the floors of the old house, adding a rich dimension of colour and elegance to each spacious room.

When I moved to Bali in 2000, the carpets came too.  I knew I’d be moving from a big house to a very small one and that my life would be much simpler – that was the purpose of the move.  But incongruous as they would be in my new life, I couldn’t leave my lovely carpets behind.

A fine carpet, gently used, will last for generations.  After 16 years in Bali, my carpets looked a couple of centuries older.  My house is largely open and there’s no glass in the windows, so over the years dust gathered between the tight knots in volumes that my underpowered vacuum cleaner could not clear. But worse than dust were the dogs.

Dogs have a natural affinity for carpets.  In the daytime they prefer the cool tile but once the sun goes down they head for the nearest carpet.   What harm can a dog do to a fine carpet? Let me count the ways.

The most innocuous substance they leave on a carpet is dog hair.  Of course, dark haired dogs prefer light carpets and vice versa, for maximum visibility of the shed hair.  Then, if the dog happens to ingest grass or bite a toad in the garden or otherwise feel that a good vomit is in order, the dog will head for the nearest carpet on which to vacate its digestive system.

Bali dogs seem to be born housebroken and accidents are extremely rare even with puppies. But in the early days I somehow acquired a dachshund pup.  Gentle reader, dachshund + puppy = disaster for carpets.  It is not a breed that is easy to housetrain anyway and Daisy had spent her first months with a friend whose house had no doors, so the dog was able to come and go at will.  Never having learned to ask to go outside or discriminate between inside and outside, Daisy was hell on the carpets.  If I made her sleep outside she would cry all night.  Our  ten years together were long and pungent.

Over the years anything that could be discharged from a dog orifice found its way to the carpets.  Kalypso, my Kintamani dog, became blind, deaf and demented at the end of her long life but never messed inside the house until her last night on earth.  I woke to hear her convulsing on the carpet beside my bed, and will spare you a description of the type and volume of body fluids which had to be cleaned up after we buried her in the garden.

Then when the puppies arrived late last year we entered the era of bones.  Puppies chew things, and in order to distract them from shoes, pillows and furniture I began to provide them with meaty raw bones.  We must have gone through several pig carcasses in those six months.  And unless I remembered to close the door the pups would make themselves comfortable on the nearest carpet to chew their treats, adding a patina of blood, sinew and marrow to the mix.

Of course all the dogs liked to chew on the fringes and the edges.  Dead rats, birds and sometimes even chickens were brought into the house and laid reverently on the carpet by my bed, which saw the most intense action.  Wayan Manis and I would diligently scrub the grubby bits but as the years went by the carpets dulled in colour and their energy dimmed.  The whole house was getting dimmer, really.  I’d lived here for 14 years and was trying to find the energy to paint again, and get to Klungkung for fabric to re-cover the cushions.  But life was busy and I kept not getting around to it.

A birthday was looming but no plans were afoot.  That was fine with me; I was now in favour of only acknowledging the ones that ended in 0.  A couple of friends suggested going to Amed for a night just prior to the unbirthday and I agreed to go along.  We left at 9 on Friday morning and meandered lazily around Karangasem for that day and the next, sleeping at the new little eco resort Balila Beach outside of Amed.

It seems that at 0905 on Friday a small army of friends, tukangs, electricians and pembantus descended on my humble cottage.  Five weeks of intensive planning, many spreadsheets and truckloads of materials came together in a whirlwind two-day home makeover.  At times there were 20 people beavering away in my little house.  The interior was completely repainted with a new feature wall, lights repositioned and new shades installed, new shelving and curtains fitted, the seating area expanded, reupholstered and loaded with cushions and the bed linen replaced with fine Egyptian cotton and goose down pillows.

I am not particularly observant, especially when 10 of my friends are industriously pulling the wool over my eyes and purloining my keys. I had no clue.  I arrived back home at 8 on Saturday night to find my house utterly transformed and a noisy group of smug, exhausted and slightly drunk friends finishing off the birthday dinner I’d missed.  It was the most gobsmacking, mind-blowingly amazing birthday present ever conceived.  My fresh and delightful new house looked like something out of a magazine.  I still can’t believe the amount of time, planning, designing, shopping, making, work and resources that went into this epic act of love.  How I cherish the dear, mad friends from Ubud, Sydney, Arizona, Barcelona and Macau who made this happen.  You know who you are.

The next morning I wandered the house in daylight, marveling at the lilac bathroom and mirrored kitchen.  But where were my carpets?

I found them rolled up in the laundry shed, deemed too grubby to return to my now spotless abode.  Oh, the shame.  Then I remembered Farah’s, an Ubud shop selling hand woven carpets.  Soon a nice gentleman came and took my shocking carpets to Denpasar where the evidence of canine misbehavior was professionally removed.

The carpets are back, gleaming like jewels again.  They are a little worn after our 25 years together, but so am I.   Another quarter century of dogs and dust will give us all that much more character.

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