Saul Barodofsky on “Camel Flowers”

On December 8, 2012, Saul Barodofsky

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gave a Rug and Textile Appreciation Morning program here at The Textile Museum, in Washington, D.C., on “Camel Flowers.”

Saul, many readers will know, is a rug and textile dealer in Charlottesville, Virginia, who has been traveling to Turkey, the Caucasus,  Central Asia and other places, for 34 years,now, buying rugs and textiles.  He has presented RTAM programs at the TM a number of times, and has a definite “sticht.”  Harold Keshishian used to say frequently that Saul should have been in vaudeville.  And he is entertaining, but he also knows his “rugs.”

Saul has a number of “collections” which he does not sell, including over 300 animal decorations.  The pieces in this show & tell have been selected from this group.  He has been collecting animal decorations since 1978.

It should be noted that there are very few written materials of this subject.  Saul brought 3 books that had some information in them:

Animal Regalia by Moria Broadbent – self published – London, 1985.

Textiles of Baluchistan by M.G. Konieczny – British Museum, 1979

Horse & Camel Trappings from Tribal Iran by Parviz Tanavoli, Iran, 1998

The TM’s Members Magazine promised that Saul “…would show about fifty traditional Persian, Kurdish, Anatolian and Baluch nomadic animal decorations that are used to identify, beautify and protect prized animals…” and Saul delivered.

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He began by discussing how important camels and horses are in tribal, especially nomadic, societies.  Owners of camels and horses want first for their animals to be protected, but also want them to look good, especially for important events.  And they achieve both of these objectives by decorating them, sometimes, lavishly.  Saul’s shorthand for one such decoration was “Camel Flowers.”

“Cowrie” shells, traditional trade goods from the Indian Ocean, are often used in these animal decorations, as are blue beads.  (For a discussion of their implied properties, see Saul’s previous T.M. talk on Nazarlik. also posted on this site.)

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Saul told a story about how such shells have sometimes been, in his experience, implicated in the pricing of animal decorations.

Once, Saul said, driving from Ankara to Konya, he came to a crossroads,  a little south of Ankara, and there was a villager by the highway, selling animal decorations.  He had a great many of them.

Saul looked them over and then asked about price.  The man picked up the nearest decoration, counted the cowrie shells on it and gave a price of $1 for each shell. 

This is not as odd as it might seem, because there was a time when cowrie shells were trade goods, a kind of primitive currency, like the U.S. Indians’ use of “wampum” (also shells).

Saul listed the various components used to embellish the animal decorations he would be showing.

Mirrors to ward off the “evil eye,” which does not like to see it’s reflection.

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Cowrie shells, as we have seen, bring intrinsic value, but are also felt to bring fertility in animals.

Hand-forged metal objects, often shiny, are seen to be protective.

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Dangling things, like fringes and tassels, thought to distract “the devil.” 

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Bells are included because their sound provides another kind of distraction.

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Bright colors can also distract evil.

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Buttons are very common.  Among their advantages is the fact that they are already pierced and so ready to sew on.  And they come in a wide variety of sizes, shapes and colors.

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Coins and found objects (image repeated) are also thought to give protection.

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Saul had arrayed many of the pieces he would treat in three layers on the front board. 

This was the top layer.

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Asked from the audience, he said that the objects on this level of the board were all decorations that went around the camels neck and/or dangled at its throat.

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 This group of Camel Flowers, are all Anatolian.

You’ve seen closer detail images on some of them, above, but here are some more.

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Saul moved to the next level on the front board.

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He began with three baby camel head pieces.

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Saul said these three pieces came from southeast Anatolia.

Next was a large animal headpiece, featuring spun hemp, beads and bells – with spaces for missing mirrors).

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Next was a long ,narrow band, used to decorate the chest.

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Its cowrie shells are arranged in an attractive graphic design. 

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Here, it is turned to let you see it in an even larger version.

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Saul said that these kinds of pieces are meant to decorate the animal is ways that “show them off.”

The next piece was a particularly elaborate example.

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This is complete (connected) neck and head piece with part of what dangles down.  Notice the intense use of cowrie shells.

Here are two closer images of parts of it. 

First, just a slightly closer detail of its bottom part.

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And below, a rotated image of its top part.

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The pieces above are Anatolian, but the next neck piece was attributed to the Baluch of Afghanistan.

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Below is this comprehensive image rotated to increase its size somewhat.

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A second rotated detail takes us closer to the massed button decoration.

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Next, was a large camel neckpiece, by the Taurus Mountain nomads, and found in the old Konya bazaar.

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It may have been made for a small camel.

Heavily embellished with cowrie shells, it also featured distinctive, circular, disk devices in its tassels.  Made from various cloths with twined edges.  These discs are strung on wrapped, vertical strands that pass through their centers.

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Saul said that the next decoration was from Central Asia.  It is a hanging chest piece.

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When it was purchased, Saul said, he was told it was Uzbek.  Note the shells and beads and hanging tassels.

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Below it on the board, was this felt neck piece.

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Here is this comprehensive image, again, rotated to bring it closer.

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And here are two more, horizontally oriented, detail images.

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It’s attribution is old Turkish.

On the lower left of the board was this piece.  Notice its use of bells.

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Saul said that the work in this decoration is very fine,

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especially it’s tassels.

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On the sides of this board were two decorative rope whips – used for show.  Cowrie shell and button decorations, in addition to colorful wrapping.

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Here are two additional head pieces from Anatolian nomads and camel herders.

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A detail of the piece above.

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The last piece included on this level of the board.  Smaller and nicely composed.

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An “at the throat” decoration – also Anatolian.

Saul moved to the third level of the material on the front board.

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In general, Saul said, the pieces on this level o are very finely made.

He started with bright orange-red donkey head and neck piece with lead rope, from South East Anatolia.

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He said that this is his “youngest” piece and that it features cowrie shells, traditional beads, wrappings, a length of chain, and pompoms.

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The next  item was a Central Asian head piece – probably made for a Arabian horse.  Finely embroidered and embellished with mirrors.

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A lovely, well-composed little piece.

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Here is a Central Asian donkey chest decoration.

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A closer detail.

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To the left facing the board, were two similar pieces.

First, a Central Asian horse head piece that featured good color and reflective disk decorations.

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Below it was this piece, explicitly attributed to Uzbeks in Northern Afghanistan.  Another donkey chest piece.

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Colorful beads, weaving and “mother-of-pearl” buttons.

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The next pieces were by the Baluch in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran.

The first of these was this piece, featuring tassels with nicely done bead bands.

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The next piece is a single rein from South East Anatolia, and has many hand blown blue glass beads, and tassels.

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photographs a little vaguely.

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Along the lower left side of the board, were three similar camel knee decorations.  These are from the Baluch in the tribal area of Pakistan.

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Here they are, left to right, a little closer.

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Notice the embroidery work on the banding of the tassels.

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Saul had an even more elaborate instance of this fine Baluch  embroidery, used at the top of one of the pieces that he held up. 

Here is a comprehensive image of this piece.  I want to treat it out of sequence here for comparison.

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Here is a little closer detail of the fine work at its top.

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There was one more camel knee decoration, but it has a different embroidery feature.

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The distinctive feature was this small area of embroidered cloth.

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The piece next to it,  had the same embroidery feature.  Same people – different purpose.  Probably used as hanging decorations from the reins.

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Here is is in close-up.

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An interesting decorative feature.

The next piece was a neck piece with carved wooden hangings.

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Saul said it was from southeast Anatolia, and showed the artistic genius of poor artisans, with little ability to purchase beads, cowry shells, or other nazarliks, and had to create their own.  It is one of his favorites.

The next Anatolian chest piece featured horsehair tassels.  Probably West Anatolia.

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Here is a rotated, comprehensive image to give you a little more size.

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But a detail image is best for that.

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The next piece was a slight departure: a plaited and embroidered horse head decoration.  Saul said it was sold to him as  Syrian and is made from mercerized cotton which looks and feels like silk. 

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Nice, crisp, graphic design.

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On both sides of this piece were plaited leather whips.

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Saul took us next to two Qashqa’i chest pieces.

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Here is the top one a bit closer.  Note the set of fortune teller discs, used as decorative nazarlik.

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A half detail, that is closer still.

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Here is the second Qashqa’i neck piece.

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This time a center detail.

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The next piece was donkey necklace nearly solid with turquoise-colored, hand-blown, glass beads.

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Across the top of the board ranged a lovely, long-narrow band with a fringe.  Possibly made for horse or tent.  Saul brought it because it is the finest example he’s ever seen.

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It is maybe eight feet long, and you can’t see it at all in the comprehensive horizontal image above.

For that you need a close-up detail, like this,

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or this, that lets us see its embroidery, plaiting and tassels.

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Saul said this it’s Central Asian, and, perhaps, Turkmen.

He took us, next, to a Taurus Mountain donkey belt on the far left side of the boards,

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with lots of cowrie shells.

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Saul said this piece is a donkey necklace from the Taurus mountains.

Nearby, was a metal-handled whip from the Caucasus.

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Saul ended his presentation with a number of animal decorations too large, and three-dimensional, to place on the board.  They were held up instead.

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This is a Qashqa’i headpiece with interesting features.

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It has areas of intense beadwork.  Persian lions, appear, some with swords in paw.

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Its tassels are luxurious.

One of them even has a design on its top.

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A second “held up” piece was similar, but is estimated to be older.

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Again, there are areas of intense beadwork, and lions with swords in paws, but there are also elk, a good luck symbol.  And the piece is inscribed. Note the sun rising behind the lion.

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Here are the lower parts of its decorations.

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The next “held-up” piece was a large Baluch assembly.  Headpiece and both reins.

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Again, you cannot really see it in the more comprehensive image above, but, we’re going to work it over, a bit, with details.

This is a difficult piece both to display and photograph.

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First, here is a detail of its very top.  Notice the feathers.

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It is “seeded” nearly everywhere, in its main body, with small, white beads.

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There are also buttons and beads, and plaiting with ending tassels.

The long reins, moving out on both sides are also heavily decorated.

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The next piece was less extensive: Anatolian, without reins.

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But it featured hand-blown glass beads.

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A fifth “held up” piece was also Anatolian.

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It hard to see with the pieces behind it on the board, but it has a red rein at its right side, and a blue on on its left.

Here is another view of most of it.

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A plain blue rein with long tassels.

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A sixth held up piece was also Anatolian.

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Another comprehensive image of this piece.

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A closer image of some of the bells.

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The last of the pieces Saul had brought in was this example from Anatolia.

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This elaborate camel head piece has lots of features.

Here are close-ups of some aspects of it.

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Folks in the audience had brought in some pieces and Saul treated them next.

The first is a pretty spectacular camel headdress.

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Here are a few images of it from different perspectives.  It was shown on a “paper mache” camel head, also the property of its owner.

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This colorful, elaborate head dress is the, dust jacket, cover piece for Tanavoli’s book on such animal trappings.

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The next brought in piece was the one below.

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This is an embroidered fragment of a Turkman headpiece, probably Tekke.  This part would be on the animal’s “forehead” with the pointed end down.

The image below is a detail of a modestly decorated camel girth from northwest India.

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Here is a comprehensive image of a similar one.

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They are about 8 feet long, about 3.5 inches wide and have a palpable thickness of 1/4 inch.  They are/were used to attach saddles on riding camels.

They are made with a distinctive “split ply” technique, done with a needle, but without a loom, and that is a form of plaiting.  The material used is a very hard, scratchy goat hair.

Such camel girths seem crude and primitive, but Peter Collingwood, the late, famous English weaver once invested ten years and several trips to India to document the “split ply” technique.  He came away admiring the skills of the crafts people who make them.  The book he wrote as a result is  The Techniques of Ply-split Braiding, 1998.

The next “brought in” piece was this pile animal necklace attributed to the Luri in about 1900.

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I have turned a detail of it here to let you see it better.

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You may have noticed in the comprehensive image, above, that there are opulent tassels on both ends of this band.

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The next piece was a long, narrow Qashqa’i band that stretched across the entire front board.

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You cannot see it at all in the comprehensive image.  For that we have to resort to closer details.

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That is a little better, but for real closeness we need rotated details.

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You can see that this band is done in mixed technique with pile decorative devices on a flatwoven ground.  The designs on the front are nearly invisible on the back,

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the knots are likely symmetric and tied on alternate raised warps. like Turkmen mixed technique tent bands are.  (I have a Siirt horse cover with the same structure.)

These same owners also had another small, mixed technique weaving, maybe also an animal decoration.

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The next brought in piece seemed Baluch.

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These bands are impossible to really see in these comprehensive horizontal photos, but I want to give you a sense of their length.  This one likely about 8 feet long.

Here is a beginning of seeing this piece: a rotated comprehensive image.

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But we can only see it only, really, in closer, rotated details.  Here are a few.

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A very nice band.

Saul, held up a small neck piece.  Seemed Central Asian.

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Opened up and oriented vertically, it looked like this.

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Here is a, marginally, larger detail.

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The last piece of the day was this one.

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Another band that you can’t really see in a comprehensive, horizontal image, except to note that is has a tassel system.

Here is the comprehensive image above, rotated.

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It was suggested that this is a “chest” piece.

Here is an, additional, horizontal detail of it.

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Saul took questions

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and brought his program to a close.

People moved briskly to the front, and the after-session activity was more vigorous than usual.

You can eavesdrop.

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I want to thank Saul for this interesting session on formats we don’t usually see in such profusion.  It permits comparison, and an in depth evaluation of the genre.

Thanks, are due, too, to Michael Spencer, Saul’s buddy,

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who always appears to assist, when Saul speaks at the TM.

Thanks, also to Saul for permitting the production of this virtual version of it and for his editing, which in this case, was very much needed.

Amy Rispin, again, took a good set of notes for me.

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I hope you have enjoyed this virtual version of Saul’s RTAM on “camel flowers.”

Regards,

R. John Howe

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