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The Rug Metaphor by Farzan Navab

In the East and in Persia in particular, rugs were once the only decorative item in the room. In Persia up until the late 18th century, furniture as we know it in the West, did not exist. The rug was the entire attire of a room. Everything happened and to this day, (notwithstanding the presence of Western furniture ), continues to happen on the rug. Praying five times a day, eating, sleeping, holding ceremonies and naturally making love was done on the rug. In this way the "rug underfoot" meant a great deal more than what we might consider it to be in our daily lives. Besides functioning as a floor covering, Persian rugs represent the finest example of artistic expression. The fineness of the weave, the range of magnificent colors and the intricacy of patterns reflect the cultural appreciation of a hand made rug. So much so that the rug often becomes the only valuable possession one would choose to have. Not unlike jewelry, gold and silver, at times of need, people exchange their rugs and carpets for hard currency. It is rather common for a Persian to remark that "-- so and so sold everything he/she had even the rug under his/her foot."

"I know how to pull my Kilim out of the water!"
Another common saying refers to one's survival power by one's ability to "pull the Gelim (Kilim) out of the water". The flat woven Gelim (Turkish pronunciation Kilim) is commonly used in many Iranian homes. Water can cause irreparable harm to any rug or kilim, so if someone can pull his or her Kilim out of the water, meaning from harm's way, it symbolically means that one is able to survive hardships.

"He fell from the sky onto the rug!"
"Earthliness" has a particular meaning in the Persian culture. Religious promise of "the other world", meaning paradise, is often tamed by the appreciation of one's existence on earth. Poets and thinkers like Omar Khayyam have been known to advocate a certain type of materialism that forgoes the promise of paradise for more tangible earthly delights:
     "Some for the Glories of This World;
      and some Sigh for the Prophet's Paradise to come;
      Ah, take the Cash, and let the Credit go,
      Nor heed the rumble of a distant Drum!"

And so it is that "Farsh" which is used in Persian for the rug, not only means that which is used as a floor covering, but the earth itself. In this way when we say someone fell from Arsh (the sky) on to the Farsh (the rug) it means that he or she lost everything. Or that one's high idealism can result in one's fall.

The magic carpet ride.
It seems that the first literary reference to rugs and carpets that touched the English language in a broad way, may have come from Sir Richard Francis Burton"s translation of the Arabian Nights also known as "One Thousand And One Night." The idea of "Magic Carpet" comes from one of many stories in that well known book: the story of Aladdin's Lamp. It may be that we can trace the source of common association of a rug with an exotic "eastern" object back to such an imaginative work.
   Accordingly, a "magic carpet" would transport persons who were on it instantaneously or quickly to their destination. The magic carpet of Tangu, (a misnomer) also called Prince Housain's carpet was a seemingly worthless carpet from Tangu in Persia that acted as a magic carpet. It was featured in Aladdin and Arabian Nights.
   Also present in the Arabian nights is a reference to King Solomon's carpet. That carpet was reportedly made of green silk, and Solomon's throne was placed on it when he traveled. It was large enough for his coterie to stand upon, with people on his right and spirits to his left. The wind followed Solomon's commands and ensured that the carpet and its contents would go to the proper destination. The carpet was shielded from the sun by a canopy of birds.

"Sweep it under the rug!"
There are also English proverbs that use the rug as a metaphor. The use may not be limited to Oriental rugs per se. It is hard to imagine however a rag rug or a braided one, being referred to in a proverb. It seems more natural to think of a hand made "Oriental" rug or its machine made copy to embody such metaphorical dimensions.
   In English, we say that someone "tried to sweep it under the rug", meaning that he or she tried to hide something. We may also say that such a person "pulled the rug from under us" meaning such a person did us a disservice. In both cases, the rug as metaphor possesses a very physical component. As a physical item it can be used to hide something or one can literally pull a rug from under someone’s feet as in many Hollywood slapstick comedies. Such physical attributions however can still be traced back to the "Magic Carpet" metaphor. Whether used to hide something or to provide a ground for stability, such attributes remain in some ways magical.

And yes, the carpet-bagger too!
The 11th edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica gives the following definition for Carpet Bagger:
      "CARPET-BAGGER, a political slang term for a person who stands as a candidate for election in a locality in which he  is a stranger. It is particularly used of such a candidate sent down by the central party organization. The term was first used in the western states of America for speculative bankers who were said to have started business with no other property than what they could carry in a carpet-bag, and absconded when they failed. The expression became  of general use in American politics in the reconstruction period after the Civil War, as a term of contempt for the northern political adventurers in the South who, by the help of the Negro vote, gained control of the administration."

  An oriental rug is a part of world culture. It is worth remarking that today more than ever we need to talk about what connects cultures than what separates them. An oriental rug can be regarded as a catalyst. It connects many cultures and as such it is the ultimate metaphor for diversity and coexistence in our world.

 

 

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