Gilded Serpent presents...
Be a Perfect Woman, or Not….
by Najia Marlyz

I was worse than any one of you! I fell in love with a fantasy created from the Hollywood films of my girlhood. ("Yonda lies da castle of my faddah!") He was exotic, with his green eyes and olive skin. He sang to me Arabic songs and in his lovely Arabic accent, translated them with his softly trilling R's, and answered perhaps a million of my questions about the Arabian culture every day. We traveled the Middle East together many times. He "protected" me, explaining endlessly and untiringly, the transactions I observed and oddities over which I exclaimed. It was a dream, well, a nightmare, really, for both of us. He was an Arab through and through, and though I tried, I could never understand his reactions throughout those seemly endless years of marriage. I was "in the dog-house" more times than not. I was told, in all sincerity, about my shortcomings as a woman. It literally took years to convince me that the ten-something years I had spent dancing professionally before having met him were wanton and degrading, and I very nearly bought it. Near the end of our eight year long marriage, I announced to a therapist, "Please help me! I have lost my magic." She was able to help me re-locate the magic, scrape off the rust and tarnish before it was too late. Nobody would have been able to convince me, at that time that our liaison would never work.

I was in love with the fantasy that was not real. I was in love with the "Arabian culture" that I saw in the movies, and worse, the romantic versions I had read in library books during my girlhood-stories about desert love and 1001 nights.

Would that I had also read the description of a perfect woman by Shaykh Umar ibn Mohammad Nefzawi in his essay concerning love written in the 1500's! My romantic conception of Arabic dance and costume stemmed from Orientalist artwork. My love of Arabian arches and courtyards blossomed from my weekly attendance at the movies shown in "The Alhambra Theater" which had opulent plantings in the enclosed garden walls, replete with water-cascades and mosaic tiled walkways, and a little bridge. Tres Romantic! It had palm trees, and in the warm Sacramento summer evenings, the hidden lighting played on the fronds and the dancing water. Darlings, I saw it all in those green eyes!

So here, for those of you who are about to fall, or have fallen in love with the Arabian fantasy love and be literally carried away by your dreams is Shaykh Nefzawi's description. You can try it on to see if it fits.

"She must have a perfect waist, and must be plump and lusty. Her hair will be black, her forehead wide, she will have eyebrows of Ethiopian blackness, large eyes, with the whites in them very limpid. With cheek of perfect oval, she will have an elegant nose and a graceful mouth, lips and tongue vermilion. Her breath will be of pleasant odor, her throat long, her neck strong, her bust and her belly large. Her breasts must be full and firm, her belly in good proportion, and her navel well developed and marked. The lower part of the belly is to be large, the vulva projecting and fleshy, from the point where the hairs grow, to the buttocks. The conduit must be narrow and moist, soft to the touch, and emitting a strong heat and no bad smell. She must have the thighs and buttocks hard, the hips large and full, a waist of fine shape, hands and feet of striking elegance, plump arm, and well-developed shoulders."

As if all that were not enough to convince a fine American girl of the new millennium to forget it, he continues on:

"She speaks and laughs rarely, and never without reason. She never leaves the house, even to see neighbors of her acquaintance. She has no women friends, gives her confidence to nobody, and her husband is her sole reliance. She takes nothing from anyone, excepting from her husband and her parents…She does not try to entice people."

It continues but I think you have the essence. Well, perhaps it is not fair to intimate that the Sheik's image was the one I could not meet, but it is part of the root system.

Just as the reality of the Arabic culture could not fulfill my fantasy, I, the American blond independent woman could not live up to whatever fantasy was his.

However, I saw the Nile, the Holy land, the camels, the dancing and the touching aspects of the Arabic culture and those experiences forever changed my understanding of the music and the sensual movements that became my dance in the second part of my dance career. The price was very high.

The Perfumed Garden, Shaykh Umar ibn M. Nefzawi, Translation by Sir Richard Burton, London: Granada, 1963. Pages 98-99.

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10-22-02 A Story Written with Arabic Idioms; Why it is Difficult to Translate Arabic songs into English, Story by Annonymous, Translations and interpretations by Rima El-Mouzayen, Introduction by Najia El-Mouzayen

“just try to read it in English and at the same time, think in Lebanese Arabic…if you can!"


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