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Chandeliers Still Sparkle In Iraqi Homes

Post Time:Mar 02,2009Classify:Industry NewsView:339

Standing near glass — not to mention sitting in a shop brimming with it — used to be a death wish in bomb-riddled Baghdad. Just ask Muthanna Jabouri, who had to replace the windows of his chandelier shop five times after explosions tore through the street outside.

“The strange thing is, no chandelier was ever damaged,” Jabouri said, sounding awe-struck by his good fortune.

Although the bombings have diminished, Baghdad remains a city where electricity woes make lavish lighting a luxury, especially the lighting favored by Jabouri’s chandelier-crazy consumers: opulent, ampere-eating fixtures with gold-plated arms laden with bulbs — the more bulbs, the better to show off the crystal drops and pendants.

But everyone needs some shine in their lives, Jabouri said, explaining his country’s fascination with chandeliers despite the difficulty in keeping them free from Iraq’s ubiquitous dust or the sudden power outages.

The shopkeeper has spent time in Britain, and he noticed that people there prefer table lamps and sconces. Not so in Iraq, where it’s hard to get through a day without confronting at least one sparkly chandelier. They’re in mosques, churches, Saddam Hussein’s old palaces, government buildings and homes. And they’re getting bigger as customers demand fancier finery .

“It’s in their nature. Iraqis just like big things,” Jabouri said. “They like to show off what they possess. There might not be any electricity, but they just like to hang it and look at it.”

With the middle class earning more and the country’s violence at its lowest since the US-led invasion of March 2003, business is the best it has been since before the war, Jabouri said.

“Selling chandeliers is very dependent on the general situation,” said Jabouri, who has had his tiny shop, Al Harith, near the Tigris River for 20 years. “They’re accessories, and people don’t buy them unless they feel comfortable and happy.”

The atmosphere in Al Harith, and in the other chandelier stores lining this stretch of road, could not be more different than the scene outside: Down the street, police and soldiers man a checkpoint marked by grim blast walls. A multistory building lies in a heap at a nearby corner, destroyed in the war and never repaired. Coils of razor wire signal an entrance to the Green Zone 400 meters away.

Passers-by can’t help but glance inside Al Harith, at what appears to be a crystal rainstorm.

Jabouri settles visitors into a rich red-and-gray velvet-and-satin love seat and offers them something to drink as they gaze upward, toward the sparkling ceiling. Bulbs glow soft white or mellow amber. Pendants dangle like icicles.

Most of his chandeliers sell for $250 to $300 apiece, but there are exceptions. A massive sparkler in the front window that extends from ceiling to floor goes for $3,500. An even bigger one in the middle of the room, whose 6,556 pieces took three days to interconnect, is $2,500. (It’s less expensive because the lead crystals dripping from the gold-plated chassis are simpler.)

Jabouri, ever the salesman, makes each customer feel special. “We usually sell it for 250,000 dinars [$217], but for you, 200,000,” he told a man who came in to look at one of the smaller models. After making the sale, he pressed a gift of turquoise-colored glass worry beads into the new customer’s hand.

Where Iraq’s biggest chandelier is is debatable. When the outgoing commander of US forces in Iraq, Gen. David H. Petraeus, handed power to Gen. Ray Odierno in the rotunda of Hussein’s former Al Faw Palace in September, soldiers and journalists along an upstairs marble railing circling the massive chandelier did a little speculating on the matter. Some soldiers insisted that the fixture was the largest in the country and the second-largest in the world.

According to a history of the palace provided by the US military, the Al Faw fixture boasts 256 lights.

“People who view the chandelier suspension decide never to walk under it again,” said the document, attributed only to a “military historian.”

One of Jabouri’s competitors, Haider Majed Hussein, sold a 24,000-piece fixture to the Imam Kadhim shrine in Baghdad’s Kadhimiya district. It took 12 men 10 days to construct that chandelier, which is 8 meters high and 2.5 meters wide — slightly bigger than a shipping container.

Throughout the Middle East, mosques and churches are adorned with lavish light fixtures, paid for with endowments from governments or wealthy worshipers. The Sheik Zayed mosque in Abu Dhabi claims to have the world’s largest chandelier, at
15 meters high and 10 meters wide.

Hussein said he knows the location of Iraq’s biggest because it came from his shop. It hangs inside the palace of Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, measures nearly 8.5 meters high and 4 meters wide and has about 100,000 pieces of crystal, Hussein said proudly.

Business plummeted after the US-led invasion, when many wealthy Iraqis closed up their homes and fled the country, he said.

“Our business relies on rich people, not poor,” he said. For a while, Americans were among his customers, coming over from the Green Zone entrance across the street. But they stopped after violence soared.

Like Jabouri, Hussein has never been injured in a blast and never lost a chandelier. A large blue glass vase was broken in a bombing, however, and he keeps it on display at his store’s entrance as a reminder of how things used to be.

These days, most of the chandeliers he and Jabouri sell are made in China because regular customers can’t afford the Murano glass or Bohemian crystal made in Europe.

Jabouri says his customers, too, have changed since the war. Much of Iraq’s new moneyed class has no taste and wouldn’t appreciate a fine European-made fixture, he said. He is suspicious of where they get their money, hinting that crime and corruption may be involved.

“It’s hard to explain. It’s something about the way they dress, and their language. They always look for the biggest ones, and they like colorful ones,” he said. “I have to make money, but I hate to sell to these people.”

He has far fonder memories of the customer who showed up at his shop years ago, before the war, along with his family. Too poor to buy anything, the man asked if they could simply stare at the chandeliers and enjoy their glittering magic.

Source: The Jakarta GlobeAuthor: shangyi

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