Monday, September 30, 2013

Lady Godiva hair

I have a clear childhood memory of the year the movie Lady Godiva of Coventry, starring Maureen O'Hara, was first shown on TV. I recall among the adults in my family there was a good deal of pre-viewing consternation about letting my brothers and me -- such young, impressionable children -- see a movie about a woman riding naked on horseback through the streets.

Fortunately, in the end we got to watch it. The image of Lady Godiva riding horseback with only her long thick hair to cover her pale body has been as indelibly seared on my memory as the villager who had his eye poked out by a glowing fireplace poker for peeking.

Since my hair was then cropped into a pixie cut, after the film I spent hours in front of the bathroom mirror arranging a yellow terrycloth bath towel around my head to emulate Lady Godiva's tresses.

I was reminded of Lady Godiva this past August when I roomed for a few days on a writing retreat with my friend Jackie. Her incredibly long luxuriant hair was mesmerizing, especially each morning as she brushed and brushed and brushed.

"Do you brush it one hundred times a day or something?" I asked.

Her broad smile betrayed her amusement. "I brush it to take out the tangles."

"Oh ... but don't people, like, want to touch your hair all the time, braid it and do stuff with it?"

She shrugged. "Not really."

"Can I, maybe, take a picture?"

Clearly, being around someone with hair as gorgeous as Lady Godiva's was ten times more thrilling for me than it was for her.

Since then, I've done a little browsing around regarding the story of Lady Godiva. It seems it's a canonized myth that has taken many forms, in Greek myth with the story of Actaeon and Diana, and also in the Arabian nights. At Fairy Tale Origins, it says:
In Arabian Nights there are many tales of maidens riding through the city while the citizens are at mosque or at other times when viewing them results in blindness or death, usually physically dealt out by the women themselves, though occasionally by guards. They are not generally naked though, simply outside of their homes without scarves or headdress to cover their hair and faces. Sometimes they ride like Lady Godiva, to exact a promise from a husband. More generally they ride as a moment of freedom from their home and their husband or father is rich enough to force the entire town to stay indoors to grant them this privilege.
Long live Lady Godiva hair, freedom, and the mysteries of womanhood.