Above the market stalls, where the pigeons nest and the sun sets with some delay, Rahim inhabits a tiny workshop piled up with fabrics from somewhere else. He is silent and patient and hard to find in the midst of shops and sellers that noisily populate the corridors of Vakil Bazaar. Everything can be found here, everything bought and sold. You can choose your favourite shade of black or adorn your hair with the brightest of colours, equip your new kitchen with chinese gadgets or choose the souvenirs that will travel in your suitcase back home. You can walk and get lost. And you may find yourself or anything else, but the makers of all things will be absent, far away from the stacks of stock.
Marta roams the scrumble of passages buffled and confused, admiring the beauties and asking everywhere in broken words for the makers of scarves, carpets, pillows, wooden boxes or ceramics. Everything that is beautiful in this market seems to come from very near but from far away. How is that possible? “A special ceramic plate from Shiraz” – says one seller. ” So, is it made in the city?” – “Well, some 70 km away”. Each piece comes from farther and farther, some fabrics from Firuzabad – a place that still appears in our map, others from Kashgai – far away from our route, blue crafts from Esfahan – we can only hope to find them later on, many shiny things from India, Pakistan, China. The market sellers offer tailored trips to their contacts in the village, to the factories in the outskirs of town, and Marta writes in her “englishized” farsi any details she can catch, names, phones or addresses of the hidden artisans.
While she walks for hours, Boris sits and reads. The feeble breeze in his face, shadowed from the heat, above the stalls where the Iranian spring cracks the concrete stairs and the walls. He finds a corner among the birds and among the artisans. And Marta searches for what he has long found. A carpetenter saws pieces for fine marquetry, a miniaturist gives human beauty to ostrich eggs, two leader workers rush for a large order of belts and Rahim, in a corner, sips tea while he chats to them all during one of his breaks from assembling cushions that will be on display somewhere below his shop. The fabrics from Firuzabad meet his artisan hands and become anything the bazaar sellers wish for, anything they order, whatever is in vogue this tourist season. He sits among scraps of cloth collected for 15 years, the time it has taken to learn the trade by himself, and pushes his sewing machine for 12 hours every day except Fridays.
With drawings and signs Rahim gets that we are doing something special. That a letter will deliver anything from this workshop to some unknown destination. Europe is far away, but the post reaches everywhere. And he searches his jumble of treasures for some fabric to reuse. He changes his cup of tea for the sound of his machine and gets on with a special order : two cushions that he managed to finish before sunset came and the mullah filled our ears with his daily chant.
Rahim Azari, Vakil Bazar, Shiraz (Iran)
This post is part of the series Snail Trails – Handmade in Asia – a roving initiative to document, collect and share crafts from the places we pass by and the artisans we meet on our way East. Because there is a life behind the souvenirs and we are curious to see what it looks like. If you also want to know more click here for artisan’s and craft stories.