Paulaji (puabi) wrote in shawneen,

From the Diary of Anaïs Nin

A few months ago, I & my two good friends (one of whom is in this community) went to one of our favorite bookshops, where I purchased Fanny Hill: Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure by John Cleland, and the Anaïs Nin Reader. You may infer that I hoped there would be erotica in the latter -- there was not. What there was, what I enjoyed, I shall post in the lj-cut below. But first, may I say that I truly love the name Anaïs? It is exquisite. I have just decided that when I have children, I will name my daughter that. Of course, my son's name will be Francis, after Francis Crawford of Lymond (see The Game of Kings by Dorothy Dunnett).

Here is the excerpt, which I am undoubtedly copying out illegally. I can only hope that the estate of Anaïs Nin will not come over and clobber me.

What I love about the following passage from Nin's diary is her warm, passionately interested nature; her willingness to see beauty in many ways and things.

I tried to edit it, to make it shorter...I hope I've not ruined it...

April 1936
A trip to Morocco. A short but vivid one. I fell in love with Fez. Peace. Dignity. Humility. I have just left the balcony where I stood listening to the evening prayer rising over the white city. A religious emotion roused by the Arabs' lives, by the simplicity of it, the fundamental beauty. Stepping into the labyrinth of their streets, streets like intestines, two yards wide, into the abyss of their dark eyes, into peace. The rhythm affects one first of all. The slowness. Many people on the streets. You touch elbows. They breathe into your face, but with a silence, a gravity, dreaminess. Only the children cry and laugh and run. The Arabs are silent... They are weaving, they are sewing, baking bread, chiseling jewels, repairing knives, make guns for the Berbers in the mountains. They are dyeing wool in vast cauldrons, big cauldrons full of dye which they dip their bunches of silk and wool... One Arab is asleep over his bag of saffron. Another is praying with his beads while selling herbs... Little boys are beating copper trays with small hammers, beating a design into them, beating copper lamps, Aladdin's lamps. Little boys and old men do the work. They hold the tray between their legs... The younger men walk down the street in their burnouses, going I know not where, some so beautiful one thinks they are women. The women are veiled. They are going to the mosque, probably. At a certain hour all selling, all work ceases and they all go to the mosque. But first of all they wash their faces, their feet, their sore eyes, their leprous noses, their pockmarked skins at the fountain. They shed their sandals... To make way for a donkey loaded with kindling wood, I step into a dark doorway. A choking stench overwhelms me...It makes you feel nauseated at first. It is the smell of excrement, saffron, leather being cured, sandalwood, olive oil being used for frying, nut oil on the bodies, incense, muskrat, so strong that at first you cannot swallow food. There is mud on the white burnous, on the Arab legs. Children's heads shaved, with one tuft of hair left. The women with faces uncovered and tattooed are the primitive Berbers from the mountains, wives of warriors, not civilized. I saw the wives of one Arab, five of them sitting on a divan, like mountains of flesh, enormous, with several chins and several stomachs, and diamonds set in their foreheads...

The layers of the city of Fez are like the layers and secrecies of the inner life. One needs a guide.

I loved the racial nobility of the Arabs, the pride, the love of sweets instead of alcohol, the gentlness, the peace, the hospitality, the reserve, pride, love of turquoise and coral colors, dignity of bearing, their silences. I love the way the men embrace in the street, proudly and nobly. I love the expression in thier eyes, brooding, or fiery, but deep...

I met the Arab women walking to their baths. They went there always in groups, and carrying a change of clothes in a basket over their heads. They walked veiled and laughing, showing only their eyes and the hennaed tips of their hands holding their veils. Their full white skirts and heavity embroidered belts made them heavy and full-looking, like the pillows they liked to sit on. It was heavy flesh moving in white robes, nourished on sweets and inertia, on passive watches behind grilled windows. This was one of their few moments of liberty, one of the few times they appeared in the street. They walked in groups with their servants, children, and bundles of fresh clothes, laughing and talking, and dragging their feet in embroidered mules.

I followed them...I entered [the building] with them. The first room was very large and square, all of stone...Here the women laid down their bundles and began undressing. This was a long ceremony, for they wore so many skirts, and several blouses, and belts which looked like bandages, so much while muslin, linen, cotton to unroll, unfold, and fold again on the bench. Then there were bracelets to take off, earrings, anklets, and then the long black hair to unwind from the ribbons... So much cotton fallen on the floor, a field of white petals, leaves, lace, shed by the full-fleshed women, and as I looked at them I felt they could never be really naked, that all this they wore must cling to them forever, grow with their bodies. I was already undressed and waiting, standing, as I would not sit naked on the bench...

An old woman was waiting for us, completely shriveled old woman with only one eye. Her breasts were two long empty gourds hanging almost to the middle of her stomach. She wore a sackcloth around her waist. She gave me a little approving tap on the shoulder and smiled. She pointed to my finger nails and talked but I could not understand, and I smiled.

She opened the door to the steam room, another very large square room all of grey stone...All the women were sitting on the floor. The old woman filled pails of water from one of the fountains and occasionally poured one over their heads, after they had finished soaping themselves. The steam filled the room. The women sat on the floor, took their children between their knees and scrubbed them. This water flowed all around us, and it was dirty. We sat in rivuelts of soapy, dirty water. The women did not hurry. They used the soap, then a piece of pumice stone, and then they began to use depilatories with great care and concentration. All of them were enormous. The flesh billowed, curved, folded in tremendous heavy waves. They seemed to be sitting on pillows of flesh of all colors, from the pale Northern Arab skin to the African. I was amazed that they could lift such heavy arms to comb their long hair. I had come to look at them, because the beauty of their faces was legendary, and proved not at all exaggerated. They had absolutely beautiful faces, enormous, jeweled eyes, straight noble noses with wide spaces between the eyes, full and voluptuous mouths, flawless skins, and always a royal bearing... I sat in admiration of their faces, and then I noticed that they looked at me. They sat in groups, looking at me and smiling. They mimicked that I should wash my hair and face. I could not explain that I was hurrying through the ritual because I did not like sitting in the darkening waters. They offered me the pumice stone after using it thoroughly all over their ponderous bodies. I tried it but it scratched my face. The Arab women's skin was tougher...I could not bring myself to was my face with the soap they all used for their feet and armpits. They laughed at what they must have thought was a European woman who did not know the rules of cleanliness.

They wanted me also to pull out superfluous eyebrows, hair under the arms, and to shave my pubic hair. I finally slipped away to the next room where pails of cooler water were thrown over me.

I wanted to see the Arab women clothed again, concealed in yards of white cotton. Such beautiful heads had risen out of these mountains of flesh, heads of incredible perfection, dazzling eyes heavily fringed, sensual features. Sometimes moss-green eyes in dark sienna skin, sometimes coal-black eyes in pale moonlit skin... But these heads rose from formless masses of flesh, heaving like plants in the sea, swelling, swaying, falling, the breasts like sea anemones, floating, the stomachs of perpetually pregnant women, the backs like cushions, the hips with furrows like a mattress.

They were all watching me, with friendly nodding of their heads, commenting on my figure. By counting on their fingers they asked was I adolescent? I had no fat on me. I must be a girl. They came around me and we compared skin colors. They seemed amazed by my waist. They could enclose it in their two hands. They wanted to wash my hair. They soaped my face with tenderness. They touched me and talked with volubility. The old woman came with two pails and threw them over me. I was ready to leave, but the Arab women transmitted messages of all kinds with their eyes, smiles, talk. The old woman led me to the third room, which was cooler, and threw cold water over me, and then led me back to the dressing room.

Sorry for typos!
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