Page 2: On Beauty and Foie Gras in Southwestern France

On Beauty and Foie Gras in Southwestern France—Page 2
By Beebe Bahrami

Hiking trail in France

Posing like this horizontal Statue of Liberty, I listened to the conversation in the front room.  The customer wanted to exchange a facial cream and pick out an eye shadow. She said “eye shadow” the moment she looked at me and did a body scan and then went back to the shelf with color options. Good grief.

French architecture

I took my free arm and pulled the sheet over me as far as my throat, avoiding the prepped arm. And just in the nick of time. Suddenly a huge Japanese tour group flooded into the square, all its members armed with cameras around their necks or in their hands, pointing at everything and clicking rapidly at anything exotic.

“Please God,” I closed my eyes, “make me invisible.”

“Sorry to wake you.”

I jumped.

The beautician was back and thought I was asleep.

“Oh, no. That’s fine,” I lied again. She pulled the sheet off again, and then the strip. Rip!

“One more and we’re done,” she said, waxing and adding a fabric strip to my other side. As she did, I noticed she leaned in very closely to study my graying hair. Then, back to the business at hand. Rip!

She next set to work with tweezers, plucking out any reticent unwaxable hairs, scanning my whole body, from legs to bikini to underarm, all in total and concentrated silence. Her body blocked the street view and soon the crowd outside had moved on. I relaxed as she applied a soothing lotion and returned to my underarms for one final scan. Again, she paused and squinted as she studied the gray in my hair. It was now a mere matter of seconds before we got to the hard sell for more beauty treatments. I was so sure of it, I stared defiantly back.

The Beauty Upsell?

“Your hair is graying very prettily,” she began.

Umhum. I nodded, waiting.

“But you still have more brown than silver; the gray cools the brown and your blue eyes add more cool colors. Let me pick a nice lip color for you, but don’t dye your hair. You’ll ruin its texture and thickness and gray hair softens wrinkles as we age. Just have fun with the new colors you can wear but keep the gray. It’s beautiful.”

I lay there stunned. This is what I feared? I no longer felt naked on a table near a window with a view. Instead, I felt beautiful. And very smooth. Bring the tour group back, open the doors! I was Scrooge reborn on Christmas morn. My heart grew ten times larger than it had been before! Moreover, I reeled with possibility. When we speak of gray, we speak of no color and this brilliant woman was teaching me that gray meant a whole new color palette, a whole new way of life and fun.

She was also a clever businesswoman. Once fully dressed, I stepped into the front of the institut and asked her to pick me a lip shade. She studied my colors again and then pulled a mulberry-to-raspberry lip serum off her imposing display. It was a perfect blend of the cool and warm colors.

I walked out that afternoon with a high that lasted for the rest of the week. It was revolutionary to be told that my naturally aging self was beautiful by a woman in the beauty business who dyed her hair and wore a lot of makeup.

March of the Goose Liver

In the days thereafter, the beautician and I greeted each other each day as I came out of my front door. One day she called to me to stop by. She wanted me to know that she was moving her business to a lower rent space just outside of town.

“The overhead here in the medieval town is too much,” she said, “and most tourists are not seeking beauty products in Sarlat, only goose liver and truffles.” As she said it, we began to laugh. “Maybe I’ve missed an opportunity to offer goose liver facials,” she joked.

Geese in France

“Or body massages with goose liver rubs,” I added, “that then also shape the cellulite into delectable forms.”

We wiped the tears from our eyes as she delivered the punch line. “That’s exactly what is moving into this space, a foie gras shop. The space where once I helped women smooth and slim their figures will soon be wall to wall with one of the highest fat content products on the planet.”

Even though Sarlat already had over a dozen foie gras shops, they all did terrific business. No beauty shop, built on the concept of constant diligence, self-improvement, and local service, could compete with the instant gratification of people on vacation loaded up on liver but apparently still in need of a waxing and lip color.

wine and foie gras

We laughed hard again. For me, it was a way to process the irony that soon the table on which I had been de-haired would be replaced with shelves lined with jarred livers. For her, I think it was therapy.

Beebe Bahrami is a frequent contributor to Perceptive Travel and her work also appears in the Pennsylvania Gazette, Wine Enthusiast, Archaeology, The Bark, National Geographic books, and Michelin Green Guides, as well as her two books on Spain, The Spiritual Traveler Spain and Historic Walking Guide Madrid. She has written two travel narratives on life, folklore and prehistory in southwestern France, Café Oc and Café Neandertal.

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How to Accept Your Donkey by Robert Reid
The Naked Truth in Marrakech by Zora O'Neill
The Truffle Hunt in Umbria by Susan Van Allen
A Spanish Death in the Afternoon by Beebe Bahrami

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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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