Monday, March 17, 2008

He'd Walk a Mile...

For the swimsuit competition:
This time of year, when the weather is still cool and comfortable and the desert is strewn with flowering plants and shrubs, a man's thoughts often turn to his camels.

Indeed, says Fowzan al-Madr, a camel breeder from the Kharj region southeast of Riyadh, there are few pleasures in life greater than a long, late-winter afternoon in the desert in the company of beautiful camels.

To the uninitiated, it might seem that the beauty of a camel is definitely in the eye of the beholder. Actually, camel aesthetics are evaluated here according to a series of precise and exacting standards.

"It's just like judging a beautiful girl," said Madr. "You look for big eyes, long lashes and a long neck." Maybe, he added, 99 or 102 centimeters, or 39 or 40 inches.

As he spoke, Madr was surveying the offerings at Saudi Arabia's largest camel market, on the outskirts of Riyadh. He comes here each week, he said, just to look. The souq al jamel, as the market is called in Arabic, sprawls over the open desert for so many acres that it's handy to have a car to drive from pen to pen.

The days are long past when camels were used for transportation. Today, they are raised more for their milk and meat, for racing and, yes, for their beauty. Camel beauty pageants, in which camels are judged on their looks and dressage, are held all over Saudi Arabia. They have become so popular in recent years that a respected Saudi cleric recently issued a fatwa against them, saying that they encouraged pride.

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