Except for a cheap braided oval from a department store in the Bronx, my family had no rugs when I grew up. We kept to worn linoleum and scuffed hardwood floors. The wall-to-wall rugs in the homes of my more affluent friends seemed, to my mind, unsanitary. I was disgusted by the idea of spreading thick wool on the floor, tracking over it with shoes, and living with the dirt I was sure vacuums left behind. The only rug I would ever have, I thought, was one that you could take outside and beat.
My view of rugs changed profoundly 20 years ago, however, when I married. My husband, Haig, is passionate about rugs. His father was Armenian, a culture that for eons esteemed carpets as a form of wealth. As a child, Haig spent hours at the home of his Armenian grandmother.
There, in spaces where most people had one fine rug laid out, she piled several, one on top of the other.
In our marriage, rugs are an arena where extravagance is permitted, where we loosen our well-guarded purse strings to allow ourselves a marvelous work of art. Haig revels in rug stores the way a dog, having been locked indoors for hours, revels when he's set free to leap in a sunny field.
Our home is thick with rugs. A small Baluch brightens the living-room wall. A Tibetan rug mimics a striped tiger skin, edged with multicolored clouds. Small Chinese silk rugs soften the seats of chairs. A Kilim stripes colors across a hardwood floor. Mexican and Persian rugs cover the seats of our sofas. Haig, who is a therapist, even has a mouse pad replicating the rug that Sigmund Freud once spread out on his psychiatrist's couch.
Our most magnificent piece is a large tribal rug that Haig hunted down in New York City years ago when we had gone to visit family. He found it in a dusty Middle Eastern rug warehouse, fell in love, and excitedly asked me to take a look.
We're both practiced bargainers who know how to maintain a stone face. But when I saw the thing rolled out before me, I couldn't hold back a gasp of pleasure. We haggled the owner down. But we knew he'd gotten the better of the deal when, with a satisfied smile, he threw in delivery free of charge.
The rug holds myriad fancies of color and pattern in deep blue, red madder, and ochre. It's a joy to explore, with unexpected butterflies and animals, not to mention a shape that looks like a Pac-Man from Mars.
Ten years after we bought the rug, we went to an Armenian Rug Society exhibit and discovered that the rug had been made in Armenia.
Every morning I like to do a series of morning exercises. These entail descending to, lying across, and rising from our favorite rug. I welcome this excuse to become more intimate with it.
A carpet is the only art form I know that is made to be, not just gazed at, but trodden upon. Striking something with your feet usually abases it. These marvels of tradition and faith crafted for millenniums by the eye of the artist and the fingers of women and children are trampled like the dust of the earth.
I think the opposite occurs, however. I think a carpet elevates the act of walking. Just as the apostles felt raised up when Jesus washed their feet, a rug asserts that even our worn soles deserve softness, color, history, and the fruits of the earth.