On Beauty and Foie Gras in Southwestern France


On Beauty and Foie Gras in Southwestern France
Story and photos by Beebe Bahrami

How a first-time experience in waxing leads to deeper lessons in French beauty, goose liver, and gray as a world of color instead of shade.

French umbrellas

After weeks of passing the store front of l’institut de beauté, the beauty shop and spa that occupied the ground floor of the same building that held my rental studio, I finally drummed up the courage to inquire about the sign in the window for different prices of waxing, depending on which body parts and how many you wished to de-hair. Curiosity at last won out over timidity. I wanted to have the French experience of silky, stubble-free skin. If I managed to muster enough courage and pull the door open and make an appointment, it would be my first waxing experience ever.

I was in southwestern France, in the town of Sarlat-la-Canéda, in the Dordogne. It’s a region known as much for its inordinately high concentration of human prehistoric sites as for its 1,200 castles and chateaux, and for consuming more ducks, geese, and foie gras than most reasonable people can imagine. My intention was simple: to deepen my French, and to write.

French Cathedral

I’d rented a studio in the smaller of Sarlat’s two main medieval squares. My neighbors were the 12th century cathedral dedicated to a local saint, Saint Sacerdos, and across the square, the 16th century home of Étienne de la Boétie, one of France’s most celebrated humanists and writers who was born, lived, and died here.

After long winter hikes, language circles, library visits, and writing sessions gazing out toward La Boétie, the fact was, my reclusive, semi-wild life in the depth of a cold and wet winter had made me very hairy. Something had to be done. I took a deep breath, stepped inside, and made an appointment to wax my lower legs, my underarms, and my bikini area. It was remarkably easy and the beautician didn’t even flinch at the errors I made in French. Neither did she try to get me to remove more fur than stated.

In truth, the thing that had held me back had been the worry about what else the beautician would suggest I do once she had me in her clutches. I now had gray hairs mixing in with my brown. I wore glasses. I didn’t wear a lot of makeup. Thankfully I didn’t have cellulite problems, even if I was always striving to check my weight when it fluctuated over the duck fat-based diet. I was sure she would still suggest a professional massage to smooth out the fat and redistribute it to better parts, just as I had seen in those funny posters in beauty shop storefronts all across France of reclining twig women with weird machines and smiling beauticians pounding and tenderizing their buttocks into perky patties.

More confident than I, Madame inked the date into her tabletop calendar. Tomorrow, three o’clock in the afternoon. Voilà.

I breathed out. She’d said nothing about my graying hair or middle-aged skin. She hadn’t even batted an eye at my trekker’s pants and hiking boots.


Ready for My Confrontation

The next afternoon I returned. A beautiful woman greeted me. She was not the same beautician as the day before. Like her counterpart, she was perfectly coiffed and made up but her maintenance was more involved, which sent warning jolts through me to be on the alert. She had perfectly frosted and blown dry, silky blond, and light brown hair. Her lashes were thickly coated and elongated with several artfully applied layers of mascara, accompanied by a perfect sheen of flawless makeup elsewhere. She smiled warmly with her outlined and lush ochre lips, took me in back, and told me to take off all of my clothes but for my underwear and then to lie on the table.

She left and I stripped as instructed and took the fresh folded sheet she had set on the table and covered myself as I lay down. It was as much a shield of protection against the cold as for the anticipated pitch I knew was to come with the waxing, about the benefits of hair color, skin peels, makeup applications, and special fat massages. The hairs on my arms stood up straight and I hoped she wouldn’t also ask if I wanted a fuller body waxing to take care of those.

French Beauty parlor

Moments later, the beautician enthusiastically flung back the curtain and entered. She left the curtain open and pulled the sheet halfway down. I turned to look at her and noticed that behind her, I could see the front of the shop and beyond through the glass front door to the cobblestone square outside. I saw Saint Sacerdos. I saw La Boétie. It was only logical then, that they too could see me, or worse, so could the next group of tourists to enter the square. Don’t be silly, I said to myself, it’s winter. There won’t be any groups today. Laying there topless and exposed, I further reminded myself that toplessness was okay in France, even if I’d only seen the norm on the beaches and nowhere else.

I closed my eyes. When in doubt culturally, don’t do anything. Or, as a favorite Iranian saying goes, ‘Don’t touch it or it could get worse.’ I didn’t want Madame to think I was a prude.

Lady on a Table Exhibit

“Let’s start with the bikini area first,” She cheerfully said and gently pulled the sheet entirely off. No longer exotic exhibit A, I now felt like a cadaver on the metal table pulled out from the morgue wall.

“Okay,” I said meekly, trying to relax.

“I’m just going to gently tie your underwear leg elastic together in the middle with this tissue.” She took a facial tissue and twirled it into a long tube and slipped it under the front of my underwear and tied the tissue’s two ends into a bow knot, all pretty and dainty and allowing the perfect exposure of hair to remove from the bikini area but still allowing for a woman to keep most of her natural protection. I actually succeeded in relaxing a bit because it was so elegantly done, especially considering the vulnerable region in which she worked. I didn’t feel quite the same after she ripped both sides following the wax and cloth strip application. But soon, thank goodness, the sheet was back on and no tourist groups had yet arrived outside. She next went to work on my legs. I took that opportunity to pull the sheet up to my neck.

“Are you cold?”

“Yes,” I lied.

“It won’t take much longer.” She went deftly to work on knees, shins, calves, and ankles and soon it was time for my armpits. Down came the sheet again, but we were almost done. Except that a customer walked in the front door. “Excuse me a moment,” she said and went out, leaving the curtain open and me again perfectly placed for topless bathing in front of La Boétie and all of his admirers with my right arm above my head prepped with a wax strip.

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Also in this issue:

Books from the Author:

The Spiritual Traveler

Buy The Spiritual Traveler—Spain: A Guide to Sacred Sites and Pilgrim Routes at your local bookstore, or get it online here:
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Buy Cafe Oc—A Nomad's Tales of Mystery, Magic, and Finding Home in the Dordogne of Southwestern France at your local bookstore, or get it online here:
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Buy Cafe Neandertal—Excavating Our Past in One of Europe's Most Ancient Places at your local bookstore, or get it online here:
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