Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Getting Bikini-Ready in Olden Times

Historians are good friends to have because they are always finding the most bizarre things. Via Geoffrey, a passage on cross-cultural grooming history from this book:
We had with us a bath-keeper named Salim, originally an inhabitant of al-Ma'arrah, who had charge of the bath of my father (may Allah's mercy rest upon his soul!). This man related the following story:

'I once opened a bath in al-Ma'arrah in order to earn my living. To this bath there came a Frankish knight. The Franks disapprove of girding a cover around one's waist while in the bath. So this Frank stretched out his arm and pulled off my cover from my waist and threw it away. He looked and saw that I had recently shaved off my pubes. So he shouted, "Salim!" As I drew near, him he stretched his hand over my pubes and said, "Salim, good! By the truth of my religion, do the same for me." Saying this, he lay on his back and I found that in that place the hair was like his beard. So I shaved it off. Then he passed his hand over the place and, finding it smooth, he said, "Salim, by the truth of my religion, do the same to madame [al-dama]" (al-dama in their language means the lady), referring to his wife. He then said to a servant of his, "Tell madame to come here." Accordingly the servant went and brought her and made her enter the bath. She also lay on her back. The knight repeated, "Do what thou hast done tome." So I shaved all that hair while her husband was sitting looking at me. At last he thanked me and handed me the pay for my service.'
Relatedly, I heard Bernard Lewis speak tonight. He does not anticipate a future of bath-time bonding for Muslims and Westerners.
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