That lake in Myanmar where they row with one leg? There’s a silk factory on stilts in the middle of it. Been there. Russian Market silk sellers in Cambodia? Done that. Chewed the fat with silk farmers in Thailand. Even chewed actual silk worms, deep-fried, with the late-night, off-duty bar girls in Bangkok. Oh, the places you’ll go! (and the company you’ll keep). But I’m no expert, just a fan. Suffice it to say that when I was in India and showed up at the postcard city of Udaipur, ‘Jewel of Rajasthan’, I was keeping an eye open for a nice bit of cheap Indian silk.
I was never one for the patterns, the tartans and the other fancifuls. One chunk of raw color looks better to me, and doesn’t cost much, either, which is maybe why I always like the plain colors so much. I couldn’t afford anything else. I’d buy them as presents. Then keep them.
So I’m wandering through the back alleys of old Udaipur, eyeing the usual merch, and in a dark doorway there’s a sudden flash of deep purple, a really dark shade between navy blue and a very painful bruise.
I stop. I go in and bring the little piece of silk out into the light, followed by the merchant. It’s just a scarf, but deep and rich and shiny. Midnight at sea, sort of thing. These very dark colors are a bit unusual in the silk biz, not particularly valuable, just, you know, a bit off the menu.
- You have a good eye, sir.
- Oh, not really.
- But yes indeed. A very, very good eye, sir.
- I’m no expert.
- I disagree. Good taste is its own expertise.
- Now you’re just buttering me up.
- On the contrary. I understate. A hundred people have passed this silk today and not one has understood its uniqueness.
- I do like it, I must say. How much is it?
- In fact, I was thinking of keeping it for myself.
- Oh yes. We silk merchants can also be seduced by a piece such as this. Quite rare, you know.
- How much?
- Not much, sir. The weave is nothing special. It’s all in the color, you see. But you know that, of course. The balance of the rough warp and the more delicate weft is what creates that sort of liquid effect.
- It is a bit like liquid, isn’t it?
- Mysterious. Profound. Only silk creates such emotions. Only silk. Wouldn’t you say so, sir?
- Me? No.
- We silk merchants can still be moved by our own stuff, you know.
- So how much?
- How much do you suppose?
- Too much.
- Ah. The desire to possess. The fear that you cannot.
He wrapped it around his wrist and fluttered it about in the light. It shimmered like deep, dark mercury. Wow. Now I really wanted it. The thought of having stumbled onto such a piece, in this nowhere of a back alley, was like that dream of finding that old Ferrari in a barn. How high would I go? Fifty bucks? Jeez, I hope he doesn’t ask fifty dollars, the bastard, now that he knows I want it. I won’t pay that. I mean, it’s not even very big.
- Actually, I have just decided to give it away, sir. To you. Yes. I’m giving it to you. You deserve it. An eye such as yours, sir. The eye of an artist. Only silk has poetry such as this. Only silk. So it’s yours. For free. It’s a gift. One silk lover to another. Here. Take it.
He draped it over my arm. I was speechless. I started to yammer and stammer at him to the effect that I could not possibly accept such fine silk as a gift. We waltzed back and forth, I insisting on paying, he slowly being persuaded to accept a token sum. We settled on $25, although I was sure it was worth more, even though it really was really just a scarf, I had to admit. A smallish one in fact. But what quality. I damn near strutted down the street after handing over the equivalent in rupees. Wow.
“Only silk creates such emotions. Only silk.” I kept repeating his words on the flight home. What a score. And what a story to tell.
Back home, I took a long look at it in the bright sunlight of my yard and yes, it really was as deep and rich as I remembered. No doubt about it. A rare piece, he’d said.
Along the edge there was a small bump peeping out almost invisibly from the seam. Closer up I could see that there had been a little tag, but that it had been purposely sewn into the seam, probably done by the weaver herself, not wanting to disturb the simplicity of the little scarf she’d just made. In Myanmar, or Cambodia, for instance, there is almost never any indication as to who made even the most amazingly complex pieces. It’s a sort of artistic modesty, a desire not to interfere with the purity and symmetry of the thing.
Ah, yes. Only silk creates such emotions. Only silk. My god, how beautiful everything to do with silk really is. But I was curious.
So, very carefully, I ran a razor blade over the few small stitches that were hiding the little tab. Slowly I teased it out. Gently I unfurled it. There were words embroidered into it. I put my glasses onto the end of my nose and read them.
They said ‘100% Polyester’.
After many travels and adventures, Alan Platt is now based in Bangkok. He recently performed at The Boathouse Writers & Artists night. From an illustrious career in NYC as a rock critic, club owner and advertising industry Creative Director, he is now having a second childhood ageing disgracefully.