Drunken Shopping

ATHENS – We’re back in Greece now. On Friday, we took a tour of the ruins of Ephesus. It was to the small Christian community here that St. Paul directed so many of his letters. It was here, too, where Mary is said to have lived out her life after the crucifixion.

 

antique-caucasian-chelaberd-eagle-kazak-rug-47607-detailA famous type of antique Caucasian nomad Kazak, with the so-called Chelaberd Eagle design. This design was meant to echo the eagle on the Czarist Russian flag. Due to the aniconism of Islam, the weavers avoided depicting an actual eagle, and instead used abstract geometric shapes conveying the essential qualities of the eagle found on the flag.

 

 

ephesusSome of the fascinating ruins at Ephesus. Once Ephesus was the address of a small community of Christians who were pen pals of Paulus, the apostle who was the major Christian missionary to Asia Minor at the time. Formerly Paulus was known as Saulus of Tarsus, a well-educated pharisee who persecuted Christians, until he was converted while on the road to Damascus. According to his account of the event, he was contacted personally by Jesus in the form of an apparition which complained about his persecution activities and temporarily blinded him. He was led to Damascus, where he spent three days fasting and praying, until Ananias paid him a visit and his sight was restored. Incidentally, Paulus was also a Roman citizen. Paulus is actually his Roman name (it was not unusual for Jews who were born as Roman citizens to have both a Hebrew and a Roman first name) and he began to use it regularly after arriving in Cyprus on occasion of his first post-conversion missionary journey, which took him from Antioch to Cyprus.

Photo credit: Svetlana K

 

After visiting the House of Mary, and marching up and down over the tumbled stones of the Roman-era city, we took the bus back to Kuşadasi (next to Ephesus on the western Aegean coast of Turkey). There, our group of amateur archaeologists and retired doctors was invited to sit down in the shade of a rug merchant’s showroom.

“I know you have heard that rug merchants are thieves. And that is true. All my competitors are crooks. I am the only honest rug merchant in the city.

“But I am not going to sell you anything. I just want to show you how good Turkish carpets are made.”

 

Antique_Cloud_Band_KazakC_1880_1890If ever you happen to encounter a Turkish rug merchant, what you should look for are antique (late 19th century) Kazak nomad rugs from the Caucasus region. These are in our book the most beautiful and interesting rugs in the world. The above depicted example is a so-called cloud-band Kazak, woven by Armenian weavers in the Duchy of Khachen. Observe the slight changes in the green background color of the upper cloud-band motive. This is an indication that it is an authentic antique nomad rug – the natural dyes used for coloring the rugs sometimes ran out and had to be recreated in a different location (the nomads would carry unfinished rugs still mounted on the loom around when traveling). As a result, one often encounters such color changes in antique rugs.

 

We were served glasses of Turkish hooch, raki, while the salesman continued.

“There are only three things that matter. The material. The number of knots per square inch. And whether you like it.”

He unrolled one carpet after another – further explaining how each was made… and gradually working up to larger and more beautiful rugs. Finally, a stunning silk-on-silk rug – 9 by 12 feet – was flung open on the ground as our crowd oohed and aahed in appreciation. The raki was taking effect.

“How much is that one?” one of our fellow tourists wanted to know.

“Oh… I better give you another glass of raki before I tell you…”

He was a good salesman. Charming. Informative. Cheerful. And the rugs kept coming… one after another, like waves of infantry onto a beachhead, each one gaining more ground.

People who had no intention of buying a rug when they arrived in his shop were soon raising the white flag, wondering which one would go best with their drapes and furniture back home. We looked around the room. Who was going to pay for this presentation, we wondered?

The rugs were beautiful. But they weren’t cheap. And the shop owner had put his whole sales force on the case. Someone had to pay. The nice couple from Houston, who were building a new house? The doctor and his wife from Pennsylvania? The Englishman? The Frenchwoman?

 

antique-caucasian-bordjalou-kazak-rug-47368-detailA late 19th century Bordjalou Kazak (note how the blue color changes in a few places). What makes these rugs so interesting apart from their vibrant colors are the interlocking geometrical shapes incorporated in their design. These are highly reminiscent of the pictures of M.C. Escher (they are based on the same mathematical/topological principles). We would submit that these are a joy to look at even if one isn’t filled up with raki. Buying them may require some advance fortification of the nerves though, since they are usually not cheap.

 

A Bad Time for Greek Culture

Ephesus was just one of many cities founded by Greek-speaking peoples in the Mediterranean basin. Here, we give you a simplified history:

The islands and the mainland of what is today modern Greece were inhabited by non-Indo European peoples (such as the Minoans) until about the middle of the second millennium B.C.

Then came the Greeks… or proto-Greeks. They developed their Mycenaean culture and dominated the area until about 1100 B.C. No one knows what caused it, but the civilization went into decline. The population went down. People forgot how to read and write.

 

2015-10-13_185819A famous golden funerary mask of a Mycenaean king, discovered by German archeologist Heinrich Schliemann. For some time it was mistakenly believed to be the death mask of Agamemnon. Mycenaean kings were customarily buried with such golden masks.

 

Greek historians blamed an invasion of more barbaric Greeks, the Dorians. Modern historians have been unable to confirm or deny this charge. But 1100 B.C. was a bad time for Mediterranean civilization. The Hittites and Egyptians also ran into trouble. The “Peoples of the Sea,” whoever they were, were terrorizing everyone.

But after a dark age, which lasted about 300 years, the Greeks get rolling again. Homer appears. The Phoenician alphabet is adopted. About 500 years later, Aristotle was instructing Alexander the Great.

 

An Act of Cowardice

But wait… what does this have to do with money? What has happened in the world of money while we’ve been following the footsteps of Ulysses? Well, things seem to have gone okay without us. The Dow is back over 17,000 points.

Bloomberg noted that investors have suddenly gotten richer, thanks to central bank price-fixing:

 

“Global stocks, commodities and emerging-market currencies headed for their best weeks in years, extending a rally that’s added about $2.5 trillion to equities as central banks show no desire to pull back on stimulus anytime soon.”

 

 

central bank jokersGlobal price fixers spreading good cheer to liquidity junkies everywhere.

 

And Ben Bernanke has a new book out with a title that must be the most bald-faced chutzpah we’ve ever seen: The Courage to Act. That’s what he’s calling his market manipulation in reaction to the crisis of 2008.

Instead of letting the markets correct the debt problem, Mr. Bernanke broke out in a cold sweat, panicked, and began the biggest market manipulation in history.

The result of this cowardice is that today the world faces an even bigger crisis. (We ordered a copy of his book. We will refrain from further sarcasm and mockery until we’ve read it.

 

BernankPre-printing panic.

 

Meanwhile, back in Turkey, we left Elizabeth and the other tourists in the carpet shop and walked around town. When we all got back together on the ship we asked:

“Well, did anyone buy a rug?”

“Yes, I did,” said your editor’s wife. “I bought two of them.”

 

antique-tribal-nomadic-caucasian-kazak-rug-47542-detailAnother antique Caucasian tribal rug, made approx. 1900. This one actually has two horses in addition to the abstract geometric shapes, which is rare.

 

Image captions by PT

 

The above article originally appeared at the Diary of a Rogue Economist, written for Bonner & Partners. Bill Bonner founded Agora, Inc in 1978. It has since grown into one of the largest independent newsletter publishing companies in the world. He has also written three New York Times bestselling books, Financial Reckoning Day, Empire of Debt and Mobs, Messiahs and Markets.

 

 

 

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