I want to be a Turkish rug.
Because I am saying it now, it probably seems ridiculous to you. After all, why would I want to be a rug? Even metaphorically speaking?
I often amuse myself by looking at questions in my science book before I read the material. It amuses me because it shows me how reading one or two paragraphs can teach me so many things. The phrase “I want to be Turkish rug,” acts like the science question. It makes no sense now, but after you read my post it will, and I hope you will want to be a Turkish rug with me.
I was reading about Edmond Dantes apartments in Rome in The Count of Monte Cristo, by Alexandre Dumas. It talked about the rugs, the tapestries, the paintings, the vases, and everything else.
“Of course,” was the first thought that came to my mind. The description didn’t surprise or astonish me, because everything was relative. It is not surprising that some of the best composers were German, because of Beethoven, Bach, Mendelssohn, Strauss, Brahms, Schubert, Schumann. French silks, Egyptian cotton, Indian spices. The best glass is, of course Venetian glass. Dutch cabinets are quite common, and Arabian horses are said to be the fastest. All well-plotted and planted gardens must be English. If you wish to describe a richly woven tapestry or carpet, it will probably be Turkish. None of these things surprise or shock us—they are all in their element, especially when put together. It is only right that they should go together.
Let us look at the reverse of the Count’s room. The hovel.
A broken table, three-legged chairs with pieces of rotten wood replacing the missing support. The floor is of dirt, pieces of soiled rags are stuffed in the cracks of the walls. Rain drips from the roof, but there are no buckets to place under it. The children are hardly dressed, the wife has greasy hair and filthy clothes. The husband sits at the table, head in his hands. A rat investigates a broken cupboard, but there is no food. A piece of yellowed canvas stretched over a smashed window pane. Rivulets stream under the door and gather into a puddle underneath the table. The walls are stained, the ceiling is of rancid straw.
This is the way I imagined the poor man’s house in The Idiot. I do not remember his name, but it was not surprising to me. When his poor, ragged clothes were described, it was only right that he should live in a hovel.
But could you imagine the bright, rich, warm Turkish rug in this hovel?
Or could you imagine the dirt floor in the apartment of the Count?
Those two things are startling, when you think about it. If I walked into the hovel, I would not gape in astonishment at the natural surroundings. But if the Turkish rug were there, I would be puzzled, confused. Likewise, the Count’s room would only surprise me if I saw that he had a dirt floor, or a thatched ceiling.
It’s because the Venetian glass and the Turkish rugs, the rat and the broken window are all relative. When the glass and the rug are by themselves, they stand out. When they are put together, they compliment each other. It is the same with the rat and window, but in a more repulsive sense. Yet, if the Venetian glass was set by a broken window, the thing becomes confusing, as does the rat on the Turkish carpet.
The latter combination does not fit, and does not belong. It never will.
If this world were our hovel, then I would want to be the Turkish rug. The bright, cheerful element that lifts the utter depression of the place, and shocks and surprises the onlooker at the same time. But it is a good sort of surprise and curiosity.
“Where did this rug come from?” they would ask.
But I would never want to be the dirt floor in the count’s apartments. I would want to replace the hovel with a mahogany table, French paintings, Venetian glass, Roman marble floors. I would want to make it into the count’s apartments, but I would never want to be the stain on the beautiful.
Hitler was a stain on the beautiful. He destroyed many of the carpets and smashed the Venetian glass, reducing the spectacular elements of the room to more like that of a hovel.
But I am determined to be a Turkish rug, and I want my friends to join me in this. Be something outstanding, be as startling and shocking to the world as the rug in the hovel. Remember that the world is watching you. It will not be surprised if I revert to being the dirt floor—in fact, it might feel a little less uncomfortable if all things remain in their own elements. “Leave Heaven to itself, and let the world be, though it is a hovel.” But I cannot do that. If the world is a hovel with all its proper elements, how can those who enter have any idea of a salvation from such a life?
So I want to be Turkish rug, or the Venetian glass, or a German symphony, or an Indian spice. Join me.