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Saturday, June 26, 2010

Creme Al-Tayeh

I delve in a well of memories, back to a time when a die-hard and venerable gentleman never stepped outside his home without a tarboosh on his head. The clear image of one distinguished octogenarian coalesces in my mind. He originally came from Lattakia and settled in El-Khrab, beyond the southern "Bab-el-Hara" of old Tartous. I've never seen him except in a three-piece suit (mostly white) and a polished smile on his face. He opened shop in the 1940's in the narrow Souk and became a fixed feature among the array of butcher shops, Msabbha and Fool joints, rope sellers, tailors, vegetable merchants, pickle peddlers, hardware stores and  blacksmiths. His shop was unique though, a refined bookstore in an agrestic neighborhood. His name was Mustafa Al-Tayeh (1897-1984)  مصطفى الطايع and he didn't only sell books but was also an Attar, the only perfume maker in Tartous.


Mr. Al-Tayeh was fascinated with roses and dedicated his life to extracting their essence and capturing their fragrance. In 1950 he created what eventually immortalized him, a certain balm made from garnered rose butter and aptly called it Creme Al-Tayeh كريم الطايع. Within a few years, it became a genuine Tartoussi household name. Its inventor held that his secret formula possessed extraordinary medicinal properties and that it was a cure for virtually any dermatological ailment. Sixty years later, we still don't dispute his claim in Tartous, Creme Al-Tayeh is a magical balm and anyone lucky enough to have tried it would attest to that.

As a teenager, my first line of defense against pimples was a dab of the buttery balm. That's all it took, a dab or two, once or twice and my skin was clear again. From lip sores to hemorrhoids, burns, bruises, lacerations, eczema, black spots, hair loss, hair growth, bumps, ulcers, irritation and skin rash, Creme Al-Tayeh cured them all. It came in two forms, pink and white, prepared from either red or white rose petals. It was only a matter of preference to choose one color or another but most often everyone ended up buying both. Now as far as I'm concerned the most bewildering quality of the small jar was that it never seemed to run out of balm. During the extensive research in preparing this post (you can tell, can't you?) I asked a random sample of family and friends if they ever bought a jar and used it completely. They all confirmed my initial doubt, it's more likely to have it misplaced, to move out of the house and lose it during the packing and unpacking or to immigrate to another country than to actually consume it all.

 Heyam Younis

Then as luck would have it I ran into a retired ambulance driver who transported patients to larger hospitals in Damascus. I remembered a previous conversation we've had in which he told me that he always ferried cartons full of Creme Al-Tayeh to one store in the Kassaa area of Damascus in his ambulance. There was a huge demand on the Creme and he ran a lucrative business on the side. Then he conspiratorially confided that among the Kassaa store very special clients and regular users of Creme Al-Tayeh were the Lebanese Younis Sisters, Heyam and Nezha. Now I really wonder how many readers actually know who Heyam and Nezha Younis are. Is there a statistically significant correlation between those readers who've heard of both Creme Al-Tayeh and of the Younis Sisters? I suppose this fascinating possibility deserves further investigation. Yet I can't let you (Ignorant Readers) get away with your callowness. To recognize Haifa Wehbe as a Lebanese superstar and not embrace Heyam's beautiful voice (and eyes) is sacrilegious. And what about you, Arabic movies' buffs who've never heard, or daydreamed of Nezha Younis? You should all be ashamed of yourselves.

Nezha Younis

The eldest of Mustafa Al-Tayeh's four daughters inherited the formula and continued in the footsteps of her father. She too had passed away but was able to transfer the secret to her sisters. They still prepare the balm, fill the jars and sell them at home in Tartous. Creme Al-Tayeh is also available in a few selected stores in the city and outside. I have 2 jars in my bathroom and I use them mostly for shaving cuts since, alas, I'm way past getting pimples on my face. If you tried it all but still can't get that perfect Tartoussi skin now you know our little secret. Nature and savvy conspired into making us the beautiful people we really are. Well these and a kindly gentleman from Lattakia...
who once upon a time made the clever choice and moved to the right place.

17 comments:

Isobel said...

Ah! What a great story!! A miracle creme. You know this story reminded me of the father in the movie "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" who used Windex to cure all ailments. :) But somehow a rose based creme is much more appealing. Thank you for sharing with us such a sweet piece of Tartous history. :)

Gabriela said...

Each time I see you have a new post, I run into your blog to read it. If I happen to be about to do something else... well, that something else has to put in line and wait until I finish reading your exquisite words.
This balm you tell us here seems wonderful. To me, the most magical part was never ending feature of the balm.
Do you think a journey to Lima would be way too long for such wonderful substance?
;)
All the best, my dear Abufares.
¡Saludos desde Lima!

Karin said...

That seems to be someting magical ... I try to imagine - it smells like roses?

There are such kind of miracle cremes as well in Germany ... I remember that my mother used "Penaten Creme" more or less for everything ... from diaper rash of her babies (my sister and me of course) to cuts, burns, pimples, ANYTHING open, ANYTHING not wanting to heal ... and the funny thing is, it worked! When my own children were born, I successfully continued this tradition ... but with the years it faded off.

You made me curious about this creme ... and one day I will find out, I am sure!! ;-)

Thanks so much for this interesting story!

Neetu said...

Wow I wish if i can also have one never ending bottle of this magical cream. As I think i need it the most right now. ( for my pimples and black spots). :)

Anonymous said...

Never runs out ... sounds similar to the Tabasco bottle. Someone once called talk-back radio and said that he married twice before he had to buy another Tabasco bottle!!
Anyway, of course I heard of Heyam & Nezha, but not of Creme Al-Tayeh. Sounds like something my son would love to have. You know, he is eighteen and he's got pimples which he is forever trying different things to get rid of them. So, I would not mind if you can send him a bottle or two, or at least tell us how to get it.
Question : how come you have not written about the World Cup :)
Abu Abdo

abufares said...

Yes Isobel
When I saw the movie, the Windex old man reminded me immediately of our Creme Al-Tayeh :-)
I'm glad you enjoyed this light post. I needed to have some fun to get back in the mood for writing.
Thank you for being here. Please take care.

abufares said...

Gracias Gabriela
Knowing that a sweet girl like you is reading me from Lima gives me purpose and makes writing so much fun.
How about I come to Lima myself and bring it with me :-)

abufares said...

Hi Karin
It does smell like roses.
Your Penaten Creme is just the same I'm sure. You know what.... I enjoy your comments as much as I'm enjoying the World Cup 2010 game I'm watching right this minute and its current scoreline:
Germany 4 - England 1

abufares said...

@Neetu
Ohhh Neetu I really wish I could send you a whole carton. I'm so glad you are here, always.

abufares said...

Abo Abdo
So glad to see you here.
What do you mean Tabasco??? I don't think a bottle lasts more than 2 weeks in my house. Between me and Fares... no way!!!
So Abboude is at that stage in life now :-)))))
Sigh!!!
Remember???

Karin said...

Germany 4 - England 1 ??? YEEEEAAA!!!!!!!!!!

Karin said...

... sorry - my condolences to England of course! I know there it is considered a national disaster ...

Karin said...

... one more thing - about Penaten Creme ... it is NOT the same, not even close as it is white, has zink as basis and doesn't smell at all!
:-)

Abu Kareem said...

"from Lattakia...
who once upon a time made the clever choice and moved to the right place"

Well, obviously, he moved because Ladkhani skin is not in need of constant remediation...it is perfect!

abufares said...

@Abu Kareem

Akhhh Ya Lad2ani...
Well I have to call them as I see them. I was in Lattakia last week and they sure looked lovely... those college girls :-)
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PS Most college students in Lattakia University are from Tartous!!!

fantasia Lillith said...

Will i ever have some to try (as I nurse a bad bad sunburn)? or do I have to visit you in Syria my friend! Lovely post.

abufares said...

@Fantasia

Perhaps both :-)
Glad to see you here