The type of memento that we bring home these days is of a more discerning variety. Instead of collecting trinkets or trophies our traveling has become we feel more mature over time. Sometimes we will go to a destination and bring nothing back but photos and memories, sometimes we may get a unique gift for a friend and in very special places we find expressions of the culture, place or experience that are just perfectly embedded in an object. Rather than souvenirs we bring home memories, unique expressions of a place that tell a story.
So isn’t a memory just a fancy or more expensive souvenir you might be asking? It can be but it doesn’t have to be. Being free of the idea that we have to bring something home enables us to be more discerning about what we want to bring home. These days it is all about the story behind the token, how it gave us an insight into a place or an experience, that is how we decide to bring something back.
A recent purchase of a hand woven carpet in Azerbaijan highlights this approach to our travel memories. We were so impressed by the beauty of the city of Baku. It is extravagant with graceful stone buildings, modern skyscrapers, organized living and a just a splendid quality of life. The modern city is impressive, but their roots are carefully preserved too as the ancient walled city sits protected with all of its wonderful designs.
As we walked the streets of the old town we saw ancient mosques, unique homes and millennia old city walls that transported us back to ancient times. The stage was set, Azerbaijan makes a deep and lasting impact with the attention to detail and handwork evident in its cultural expressions. We encountered a store in the walled city with rugs displayed outside and went it to look at the charming handicrafts. We knew Azerbaijan had a long history of carpet weaving but besides that we were novices.
What happened next was unexpected. The shopkeeper began to explain to us in half- English half Russian the differences in the type of carpet making. One type is from the Northern border with Russia, and another type comes from the Southern region where the traditions of Iran are prevalent. The rugs are ornate expressions of artwork which can be painstakingly long to make. The sharper the image and the softer the fabric the more elaborated the task.
In a very short time we got an entire history lesson about rug making Azerbaijan, about the craftsmanship, the market, the skills needed. It was a class given in the context of conversation. The carpets were lovely so we proceeded to negotiate prices. The thrill began as compromises and deals of all sorts were expressed. After some good haggling we arrived at a consensus and then immediately the shopkeeper invited us to have tea with him and seal the deal.
This is the beauty of a travel artifact for us, it has a story, it reminds us about the intricacies of everything we saw in Azerbaijan, it reminds us of its patrimony in trade across the ages and the creativity of its peoples. Most of all it reminds us of a moment of cultural exchange, learning about the country, having a conversation with a local person and being shown gracious hospitality.
We want to share our experience of Azerbaijan with you as well:
From now until June 14th 2017 you can get this handcrafted rug from Azerbaijan for free! Simply Like our page in Facebook we will select a lucky winner and ship the carpet to any destination.