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My Life's A Trip

Luxury Without Snobbery*

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Magic Carpet Ride

“For you, special price,” the carpet salesman told me. I didn’t believe him for a second, and I had been duly warned — if you go to Morocco, you will return with a carpet. My tour guide in Marrakech led me into a carpet store at a moment when I needed a respite from the sun, and he heard the call to prayer. As I stepped into the shop I was handed a glass of mint tea and the store workers led me down the stairs to a lair of beautiful rugs.

The carpet show that followed was highly entertaining. Moroccan carpet salesmen are some of the most charming and friendly people on the planet. Sales assistants unrolled multiple tribal rugs for me to see, and quickly nailed my taste. The rugs that didn’t do it for me immediately disappeared from view. My mint tea was constantly refreshed and I found myself really enjoying the whole experience. Who knew I had such strong opinions about carpets? Ten minutes into the show, one rug stood out to me. When I asked hold old it was, I was given the extremely vague answer: “Last century.” Before long I was haggling over the price of a beautiful orange carpet most likely woven in 1999.

I am not a good haggler. The whole process makes me highly uncomfortable. Never do I want to insult the vendor, nor do I want to pay the “tourista price” and feel like a sucker later. I knew enough to let the salesman throw out the first number. He suggested a price higher than I was I was willing to go but not out of striking distance. After a few minutes of back and forth, I knew that the rug was coming home with me, and so did the salesman. Rather than drag out the negotiations, I shook hands once he named a price that I could live with. I signed my name on the back of the rug with a marker so I would know the correct rug was shipped to me. The assistants folded and wrapped the carpet and hand-stitched the package with surgical precision while I paid the bill.

I was extremely pleased with my new purchase — until I walked into the gift shop at Amanjena. They had a very similar rug for sale for a couple hundred dollars less than I had just paid. I had a laugh about it, and my “sucker’s remorse” disappeared the second I returned home and unrolled it on the floor of my den. It really ties the room together.

A few years older and (presumably) wiser I returned to Morocco, this time to Fez, the country’s handicraft capital. With over 5,000 labyrinthine streets and alleys barely wide enough for two donkeys to pass, Fez’s medieval medina is best seen with a local guide. Taking in the sights and sounds of this ancient souk, which sells everything from snails to Shakira CDs, Morocco once again seduced me. I bought a pair of leather slippers and admired Fassi pottery. When I told my guide I needed to find a bathroom, he lead me to a spotless one — in a carpet store.

Again a cup of mint tea was thrust into my hands. And then the rugs started flying. Since I knew I wasn’t coming home with another rug, I decided watching for a few minutes was the polite thing to do before claiming poverty and making a graceful exit. Then two very different rugs caught my eye: one reversible silk, the other tribal. I asked how much the salesman wanted for the silk rug and he threw out a number that was shockingly high. He made me walk on the rug and asked which side I liked better? Stroking the carpet, and loving both sides, I told him I didn’t have enough cash on me. The salesman was happy to take the money I had as a deposit, and have my tour guide bring back the rest from Riad Fès, where I was staying. My guide would bring me the receipt tomorrow. A good solution, I thought, because I could walk away without asking a single question about the other beautiful rug I had admired.

The next day my guide showed me more of Fez and around noon he mentioned he forgot to pick up my receipt. “Let’s go get it right now,” he said. We turned a few corners and I barely noticed that once again, I had stepped into Aladdin’s crack den of carpets. While the salesman got my receipt, a more experienced “closer” chatted me up while the sales assistants unfurled the other rug that I admired yesterday. The closer was exceptionally good. He assured me that since I had bought a carpet yesterday he could offer me an exceptional deal on this rug. “For you, special price!” Curious, I asked to see the store’s sales ledger and he showed it to me. I was shocked to discover that the shop only sold two or three of these beautiful carpets per week. He threw out a number for the second rug, and I volleyed back with an unbelievably low counter-offer. The closer shocked me by accepting it.

One of those carpets is now in the entryway of my home and I smile every time I see it. The other is still wrapped up, because I’m a little embarrassed about being the sucker who bought three. Magic carpets actually do exist. I know for a fact the ones in Morocco make cash disappear from your wallet.

We’ve got thirty-five extraordinary Moroccan hotels to choose from, including twenty-seven in Marrakech alone.