This fascinating story of body care and the creation of sensual ambiance focuses on customs practised in the Middle East, Africa and India and takes a humorous look at the often converse attitudes towards the body prevailing in the West. [via]
Ancient books of the East are full of the language and lore of sensuality. They praise women's beauty and speak with a bawdy humour about the erotic arts, which included poetry, dance and rituals of beautification. In the Middle East a visit to the steam baths took the entire day and was used as an excuse for festivities, with female dancers and musicians brought in to entertain. From earliest times make-up had a magical, protective element, and many superstitions are still associated with cosmetics. The use of perfume was developed into a fine art, and there were countries which owed their rise and fall to the control of the trade in aromatic oils and spices. When Cleopatra invited Anthony to dine, the floors were strewn deep with rose petals.
Elaborate rituals of beauty and the creation of a sensual environment are by no means a thing of the past. Today, in the most modest homes, incense is still burned to create a soothing atmosphere and guests' hands are sprinkled with rose water as a sign of welcome. Other similar attentions continue to mark out the countries of the East for their legendary hospitality.
The book also includes anecdotes by Western women who were initiated into the secrets of the steam baths and descriptions by contemporary women of customs handed down by their mothers and grandmothers. Some of these customs are now known in the West, especially henna for the hair, kohl for the eyes, and the therapeutic use of essential oils. Yet there are many other body care methods using natural substances which have great appeal today, when many women are abandoning synthetic and expensive products in favour of effective alternatives which do not harm the environment.
A pot pourri of practical information and delightful stories, the book includes extracts from poetry and literature and is illustrated throughout with original sketches and line drawings.