Belly Blessings: Henna, Dance and Delicious Food

Parties are not my strong suit.

Let me rephrase that.

I -love- catering parties. I like making up beautiful platters of food, and serving it and feeding lots of people all at once. -THAT- is fun and challenging for me. I like planning the menus, and doing the decorations and all of the little details that make parties special. I’ve done many weddings for friends and clients, and I always go out of my way to make the food and decorations reflect who they are and thier own unique personalities.

I also catered both of my own weddings (this is not a course of action I would suggest for most brides or mothers of brides, by the way…it is very stressful to do), and for the first one, made and decorated my own wedding cake–a three tiered confection decorated with icing roses, real ivy and a little cupid dude on top. (I learned my lesson on that first cake–never bake your own wedding cake. So, for the second one, I had someone else do that, though I still did the decorations–fresh flowers, an arbor made of dried flowers and twigs, and fairy figurines made by hand by my Aunt Judy. Not as stressful, but still beautiful.)

So, with all of this evidence to my MarthaStewartness in the offing–why do I say that parties are not my strong suit?

Well, it isn’t the putting them together I am not good at.

It is the delegating others to help put them together, and attending them, particularly when I am supposed to be one of the centers of attention that I am not so good at.

I am much happier ensconsed in the kitchen, making the platters pretty, cooking appetizers and making up punch, than I am being in the midst of the “fun” part of the party.

Social anxiety, I believe, is what such an anti-social attitude is called. It isn’t really anti-social tendencies–because I really want to make people comfortable and help them have fun. I just don’t want anyone congratulating me and telling me how wonderful I am while I am doing it.

WEEELL–to make a long story short, we decided to have a baby shower/blessing party, and that means, as the Mamma-To-Be, that I am going to be the center of attention. Since I have been tired a lot recently, and have struggled just with making food on an everyday basis that is not only palatable to my ever-shrinking palate and nausea-ridden stomach, Zak and his family deemed it improper that I should knock myself out cooking up a bunch of food.

For once in my life, I actually listened, and so Zak and I decided to leave the cooking to someone else.

Who did we choose?

Hilary of Shishah Cafe here in Athens.

You know, I don’t write nearly enough about the great places to eat here in Athens, and so today, I am going to rectify that a bit. Hilary is a great cook, and her new place, which just opened this spring, is a beautiful gem of a restaraunt, tucked away in a brick-paved alleyway. It is a hookah bar, technically, where one can go and smoke Arabic blends of tobacco from beautiful, handmade glass hookahs, but because Hilary is not able to breathe smoke, the ventilation system is supurb, and I have happily eaten dinner there and never been able to smell the tobacco smoke from a hookah just next to me.

The decor at Shishah is fantastic–it looks like a setting for one of the tales of A Thousand Nights, with beautiful Arabic tile and oriental carpets everywhere, in vibrant blues, maroons, reds, and violets, with brass accents. It is so pretty that there is no need, in having our party there, to think about bringing in anything to decorate–it is all there.

And the food–ah, that is the real beauty. Hilary makes the most wonderful dolma, baba ganoush, hummus, tabbouleh and couscous salad in the world, and she garnishes every plate with delicious Moroccan oil cured olives, Kalamata olives and roasted red pepper slices. And then there is the baklava and Turkish coffee–buttery-rich pastries filled with perfectly roasted and ground nuts in a honey syrup, paired with coffee as black as night and sweet as sin.

Eating such gorgeous food is definately a blessing to any belly, but is certainly is a great blessing to the belly of a pregnant woman whose ability to eat anything but vegetables is becoming more and more compromised.

Once we decided on a venue, I had the inspiration of asking Eli, a lovely and talented woman whom I met years and years ago, if she would bellydance for us. Eli, along with some of her friends, dances at Shishah once a week anyway, and I thought that having a dancer would be appropriate, because some believe that the long-ago origins of the bellydance, also called baladi, was as a preparation for childbirth. The sensuous, sinuous movements of the dancer’s hips and belly were not necessarily meant to be sexually inviting; (though one cannot deny the explicit beauty of it) instead, they were meant to imitate the movements of a woman’s belly in childbirth. (In truth, there are as many speculations on the origin of bellydance as there are those who study it–I am only giving one version of the “history” of bellydance–a history which has yet to be thoroughly documented.)

It is said by some that women danced for women, before and during labor, as means of supporting, encouraging and strengthening the laboring woman with their presence and their skill. There are also those who say that the dance was used as a fertility blessing dance before a wedding; this probably is true and is the origin of the modern Arab tradition of having a dancer perform at weddings.

With a tradition like that, how could I not want a dancer to bring her blessings to the party?

Eli was delighted to dance and when Tessa, Zak’s stepmother, suggested we see if we could find a henna artist, I was happy to find out that Eli also does henna. (Which I should not have been surprised by–the first time that I met Eli was at a henna party where she and I and a mutual friend all were doing henna for each other and a bunch of other young women.)

Henna is another ancient art-form that is intimately tied to women and women’s experience. It is a beautifucation treatment for the skin which uses finely ground dried henna plants, sifted and mixed with an acidic ingredient and essential oils into a thick paste, which is applied, most often to hands and feet in artistic designs. The paste dries, and as it dries, it forms a stain, variously colored deep burgundy, blackberry brown, pumpkin, cherry red or maroon, depending on the type of henna used and the other ingredients added, which lasts, depending on where it is applied for a few days to several weeks. Henna art is practiced in Muslim countries, and is a tradition all over India, among people of many faiths, and is used to celebrate holidays, weddings, and yes, the birth of children.

I have been enamored of henna for years, and have had it done on my hands off and on for over a decade. My favorite henna artist, who also happens to be a scholar on the subject who is writing a PhD thesis on it, is Catherine Cartwright Jones, who lives up in Stow, Ohio, of all places. Check out her website to see some amazing work with henna, woad, indigo, and turmeric, all natural plant-based dyes, on skin, and to read the history and cultural significance of henna. Eli, like myself and hundreds of others, has learned from Catherine, and so she, too, has become a very talented henna artist who is very comfortable with her medium and makes beautiful, joyful symbolic art to beautify women of all ages.

Henna has been popularly done on pregnant bellies in the US for a decade or so now–and I have been present at festivals where many pregnant women had their bellies hennaed as a symbolic, artisitc blessing over the years. Henna doesn’t stain very darkly on the skin of the belly–it is very soft and thin there–the darkest stains take on the thicker, dryer skin of the palms and soles of the feet, with the tops of the hands and feet taking stain the next best.

Eli was happy to do my belly, and as you can see, she did a lovely lotus flower to bless both Kat and myself, and she even utilized the newest fad in henna from India–glitter and glued on jewels to enhance the paste while it dries. After that, she did henna for all of the women who requested it and I was thrilled to see both my mother and Tessa avail themselves of one of the most lovely body arts in the world. Morganna, too, along with most of the other female guests, also sat for henna on their hands, so she will have a pretty look to go to school with tomorrow.

It was a lovely party, and my belly was blessed in every way. Our friends and family were there, having fun, and listening to and making beautiful music (Zak and Dan played flute and drum for Eli to dance to) and we all ate food that was a joy to both look at and consume. Everyone complimented us on how much fun they had and what a great idea for a baby shower it was, and all went home satisfied.

As for me–I went about the entire party with my hennaed belly on display, and did not succumb to any thoughts negative body-image thoughts, ate, talked and had a great time.

Not bad for someone who prefers to be anonymously in the kichen, making beautiful platters of food and sending them out with minons who keep me from having to circulate and be told what a lovely party I have thrown.


RSS feed for comments on this post.

  1. What a fun way to celebrate! Your belly looks gorgeous! I am sure Kat is swimming in the warmth of all the blessings and the cooling effects of henna! FWIW, I think a pregnant woman is one of the most beautiful sights ever! Think about it: you personify life!

    And what a coincidence your post on henna is! It’s a great supervised activity for kids and we had a blast with it recently. None of the glitter or jewels for us though; the girls were lucky to have some semblance of a drawing on their hands!!

    Comment by Manisha — August 21, 2006 #

  2. Wow! Beautiful!

    I’m glad your blessing/shower was such a wonderful success as well as a joyous event for you. My wish for you is a productive and efficient labor that is best for you and your baby.

    Comment by M Smith — August 21, 2006 #

  3. Oh, how fun! Wish I could be there!

    Comment by Hadar — August 21, 2006 #

  4. It’s not letting someone else cook that’s fearless. It’s not getting the henna done on your belly that’s fearless. It’s PUTTING THE PICTURE ON THE INTERNET! Good for you!

    Comment by Alanna — August 21, 2006 #

  5. This made me very happy. I’m a bellydancer, and it’s nice to see someone not only enjoying the art, but understanding that it’s not a dance of seduction.

    You look radiant. Blessings to you and your family.

    Comment by Missy — August 21, 2006 #

  6. Gorgeous!

    Comment by Charlotte — August 22, 2006 #

  7. I think your belly looks great, too. I remember loving my own pregnant bulge, even though I felt I wasn’t supposed to.

    Comment by lucette — August 22, 2006 #

  8. Beautiful! And you look so happy… what more could you ask for! I’m sure Kat is doing her own happy dancing in there.

    Comment by Erika — August 23, 2006 #

  9. You glow with beauty and happiness. Great party – thanks for sharing.

    Comment by Maureen — August 23, 2006 #

  10. You know, in all the years I’ve known you, and all the pictures I’ve seen of you, I have NEVER seen you smile like you are in that last picture with you and Zak.

    But who can blame you? It was a GREAT party.


    Comment by Dan — August 27, 2006 #

  11. Your henna tattoos look gorgeous! And the food pictures have just made my stomach rumble. It looks like it was a fun, tasty party and I’m glad to hear you got a chance to sit back and relax!

    Comment by risingsunofnihon — August 28, 2006 #

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