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Subject  :  Dr. Kabistan
Author  :  R. John Howe mailto:%20rjhowe@erols.com
Date  :  10-22-2001 on 12:41 p.m.
Dear folks -

What follows here does not fit under the rubric of Steve's salon title. But in his description he has, perhaps inadvertently, allowed for other "literary" efforts. This is "daylight" of which I mean to take full advantage.

This post is not one in which I display my creative writing abilities. As my feeble effort at a limerick here, shows, the little I have to offer in this vein, was exhausted in a couple of "roman a clef" offerings in Jerry Silverman's recent "murder mystery" salon. One of my efforts there was either so scurrilous, or mirrored life so transparently, that it has not seen the light of publication.

Anyway, this is a post based on "research," and demonstrates why one should never divest oneself of any rug publication that one encounters.

First, some background. In 1980, Louise Mackie and Jon Thompson published their fine catalog, "Turkmen," to general and deserved applause. There is reason to believe that, on balance, it may still be the volume on Turkmen weaving to own if one can only afford one.

In this volume, a number of readers will know, Thompson declared a new attribution group, the Imreli, and placed in it some rugs most would have thought previously to be Yomut.

(One of the rugs given this designation in this book in a two-page spread is currently part of a Textile Museum Turkmen bag exhibition curated by Richard Isaacson. It is seen by Isaacson to be an "eagle group" piece. Here is a detail of the image on those two pages.)

Questions and criticism of this declaration followed and Thompson, rather quickly, joined the critics, saying that his proposal had in fact been largely jocular. Some rug scholars still harbor bad feelings over this sequence.

Come with me now to the days when the "Oriental Rug Review" was being published, not as the full-color magazine it eventually became, but in its earlier incarnation as a tabloid-shaped newspaper in black and while only. It was the kind of fun rug journal that Hali writers sometimes described, with their noses sharply elevated, as "whimsical."

ORR had a feature called "Ask Doctor Kabistan." You could write the good doctor about rug questions that had perplexed you, the more perplexing the better. And the doctor would give your question serious consideration and treatment, as is evidenced by the following exchange taken verbatim from the February, 1987 issue of ORR, page 19.

First the letter.

"Dear Doctor Kabistan,

"I have just experienced that kind of financial and emotional trauma that cries out for professional help. This is the sort of thing that should only happen to my fat, loudmouthed neighbor on Long Island who bragged about owning the first available Edsel. Disillusionment is just not a strong enough word. My friends, those that I have left, tell me that it is all my fault, that I am a victim of my own hubris. My wife makes veiled comments about poetic justice.

"I was a true believer and my belief was in the Imreli attribution. I had a good run with "S-Group" so when Dr. Thompson published his ideas on the Imreli label, I bought it book, line and sinker. Having a soft spot for underdogs everywhere, I could almost see the Imreli tribespeople in my mind, imagining them vastly outnumbered by other Turkmen tribes, but retaining their identity and dignity through their characteristic weavings which have come down to us in such small numbers. The little bits of silk they used seemed to tell me something about their character, not ostentatious but noble in some sort of secret way that did not immediately meet the eye. I learned to identify Imreli rugs from across a crowded room, usually an auction hall. I began buying; three fine examples, sturdily defiant small tent bags, cover the wall over my bed. When, at auction, a piece labeled Imreli reached that rarified place in bidding called "above estimate," the room would buzz with speculation that I was the mysterious phone bidder. Among the local collectors I was called the "Imreli man," always in hushed tones and with the deepest respect. There were just a few others who had reached this same status in the rug world through the Imreli door. Now one such person hangs up on me everytime I call and the other two have moved, leaving no forwarding address. I was fully on board the Imreli train, arguing their attributes and justifying their cost, like Charlie Brown supporting the baseball skills of Joe Shlobotnik. I invested my soul in these rugs and their attribution.

Imagine the hollow feeling in my stomach when I learned that the issue came up at a recent ICOC in Vienna in such a way that Dr. Thompson had felt moved to respond that he had advanced the Imreli attribution as a "provocation." What does he mean "provocation?" Was he perpetrating some kind of joke? Were there others in on this insider status, or was it Dr. Thompson's private jest, solitarily savored over cognac late at night? Sometimes I think that I am the only one who didn't know.

The financial consequences of this episode have been immediate and severe. My wife has threatened to leave me unless I divest myself immediately of these three daily reminders of this fiasco. My rug dealer has told me that he has felt the only ethical thing for him to do, under the circumstances, is to notify my insurance company that he has drastically lowered the appraisals on my rugs. He has also notified the local museum that he can no longer support the appraisal he attached to the Imreli piece I donated to their collection last year. I have not been accepting persistent calls from my tax accountant. The local auction houses will not take them with a reserve, so I thought I might float them through a small European house out of the rug mainstream. The person I spoke to there said something in German that I couldn't understand, laughed and hung up. It was the final humiliation. I am at the end of my warp thread.

So, Dr. Kabistan, in my desparation I turn to you, the evenly down, fringed out, rug collector's friend.


Bewildered in Boise

Doctor Kabistan responds:

Dear bewildered,

You are probably the nincompoop (nonkompop in German) who took away that trapping from me at Skinner's a few years ago. So, there are three of these things in Boise. That must mean there are thousands in New York and San Francisco. I have had several call relating to this problem, yours being the worst case. You, at least, are prepared to deal with the reality of your folly, deciding to cut your losses and, though unsuccessfully, have tried to recoup some small measure of your investment in Dr. Thompson's scholarship. I am treating one soul, who, when he is not catatonic, insists that he should hold onto his Imrelis against the chance Dr. Thompson will stand up at the next ICOC and say, "Hey, just kidding, folks."

There are the usual raft of support groups available that always spring up when a particular area of stress is identified and isolated and any number of charlatans who will take your money for phoney cures and false reassurances. You are lucky that you have come to me first. I will come right to the point. Send your Imreli pieces to me immediately. I will send you three nice Ersari pieces in their place. This will mollify your wife while leaving you to slumber under weavings from a tribe with a similar name and as much "noble ancestry" as any.

You will have taken the first brave step to coming back to the real world, but then you will be left with severe withdrawal symptoms. I suggest you salve these by plunging right into collecting some new group of weavings. I understand that Persian dated mosque carpets called "Zilu" are hot now. Dr. Thompson spoke on them in Vienna.

Now there will be some skeptical individuals who will claim that Dr. Kabistan is a literary device, a figment of George O'Bannon's imagination, but the ORR folks, ever alert to the requirements of sound scholarship have provided evidence that this is not so.

Here is a picture of the good doctor, Kabistan, I mean, not Thompson.


R. John Howe

Subject  :  Re:Dr. Kabistan
Author  :  Jerry Silverman mailto:%20rug_books@silvrmn.com
Date  :  10-22-2001 on 06:00 p.m.
Anyone care to speculate on the true identity of Dr. Kabistan?


Subject  :  Re:Dr. Kabistan
Author  :  Steve Price mailto:%20sprice@hsc.vcu.edu
Date  :  10-22-2001 on 07:03 p.m.
Hi John,

Bringing in external material certainly raises the bar considerably. Your post reminded me that there is one (count 'em, one) book devoted to the subject of rug humor, Peter Stone's The Comical Carpet. It's got some great stuff in it, and I trust that Peter would not mind if I offer a few excerpts.

Here are some laws related to Murphy's:

If a rug is rectangular, it will have a more interesting shape after washing.

The seller of a Kurdish rug with a Kazak design will not refer to the rug as Kurdish until after the title has passed.

An ugly rug lasts forever.

The book is quite wonderful, although there's not a limerick in it.

It's tough to compete with the pros.


Steve Price

Subject  :  Re:Dr. Kabistan
Author  :  R. John Howe mailto:%20rjhowe@erols.com
Date  :  10-23-2001 on 06:14 a.m.
Dear Jerry -

About who might have written the Dr. Kabistan column: I had always assumed that it was George O'Bannon.

The good doctor writes a bit like George, and exhibits George's droll sense of humor.

But it might also have been Ron O'Callahan, the owner of ORR. I don't know whether Ron actually wrote for ORR.

Do you know?


R. John Howe

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