As far as I am aware, very few, including my children, know I had a nose job except those who knew me at school and during my first year in the Medical Faculty of the University of Cape Town. I mention my nose change for the first time here. I boasted an Adrien Brody bridge if not the cliffhanger nostrils.
“I think a lot of people (writes a female admirer of Brody’s nose) would say that Adrien Brody’s nose is his one handicap. It’s so large it makes it hard to concentrate on anything else when you look at him…When Adrien Brody kisses or kind of nuzzles a woman’s cheek, his nose sort of bends. Folds over a little bit… that fold-over is just the most damnably sexy thing I have ever seen.”http://megwood.com/archive/adrienbrody.html. At school.
Now, the closest I ever got to a nuzzle was my nozzle.
It was towards the end of my matric year that I had the first good – if that is the right word – look at my profile. Previously, I spent most of my leisure time between learning masquerades like Mario Lanza’s “Beloved” from “The Student Prince” and sideswiping my profile whenever I came near a bank of mirrors in a shop or school bathroom. Here is the first verse of “Beloved.”
Tonight was just a masquerade
Tomorrow just another day
Let come whatever
Tonight or never
I’ll through the mask away
(First verse of “Beloved”)
When I was at boarding school in Wellington, I used to sing this song outside the girls’ residence of Huguenot School, Wellington. I forgot all about my nose. I was Mario Lanza’s voice and Edmond Purdom’s nose.
The last line is intriguing: “I’ll through the mask away.” At first blush, it seems that “through” should be “throw” – as in “throw the mask away” (something I couldn’t do because my mask was my face). It seems that “away” in “I’ll through the mask away” is used as a verb as in “I must away from my mask by breaking through it.”
I never planned to see the world as it really was, but, as Don Quixote and Cyrano de Bergerac discovered, it is difficult to avoid doing so. It happened when I was in a clothes shop on the corner of Strand and Adderley Street, Cape Town. Sonia, my sister, was buying a suit for me. She said to the Jewish shopkeeper, “He’s tall and he’s matriculating.” What had matriculating got to do with being tall? More sense to a tailor would have been “He’s tall and he’s metriculating.” Sonia was so proud that one of the nine Gamaroff children was matriculating. I was given a bottle green woollen suit with black flecks and escorted to a cubicle to try it on. I poked my foremost appendage through the curtains and stumbled into my recurring nightmare: a close coop with mirrors all around. Wherever my eyes turned, I was felled by my profile; all demonic angles of it – the nose wagging the face, wagging the whole body. I piece by piece removed my outer garments to fit on the suit. Lanky calveless limbs, hunched shoulders, bounteous Adam’s apple, loose vest and lax underpants. At any moment, I expect to hear Julio Iglesias and Willy Nelson piping into the cubicle: “Of all the girls I’ve loved before….” If only I could shatter those implacable romantic effigies gloating over me.
I loved the suit. A few years later, I left it behind together with a suitcase including other precious items such as my rebound leather French bible in the loft of Marist Brothers School in Salonike, Greece. I was on my way to Israel and thought I would return to Greece to retrieve the suitcase. I never did.
At the beginning of the post “Bags, bottles and bones”, I mentioned that Golda, Izzy’s mother, died in the 1920s when Izzy was in his twenties. Shaul, his father, married Bertha. They had a son called David.
Howard, unlike Adrien Brody who is purported to have broken his nose several times, is a natural. But I may be wrong. The nose is the most defining characteristic of Howard’s face, not only because it is so prominent, but because it’s a nose. The slightest alteration of your nose radically changes your appearance.
Here is the only existing post-op photo of me, taken a few months after my 18th birthday, at the end of my first university year.
The “before” photos have been lost. I might have thrown them away, but don’t remember doing so.
Adrien Brody has done very well by his nose. If he was around in 1958, he could have been by role model, instead of Elvis, and I wouldn’t have been so frantic to remodel my “Jewish” shnozzel to look like Elvis. Is there, though, really such a thing as a typical Jewish nose? The stereotype of a typical Jewish nose did not match the latest studies in physical anthropology, which “showed that Jews displayed a full range of hair colors, facial shapes, and, most important, noses” (Andrew R. Heinze, “Jews and the American Soul,” p. 151). Only a small percentage sported “the well-defined beaks that comic papers attribute to the entire race, while “nearly sixty per cent of both Jews and Jewesses had that finely shaped staright nose that is commonly found in Greek sculpture” (McClure’s Magazine, quoted in Heinze, p. 151). Perhaps – I’m being perverse now but also cautious – many American and European Jews originate not from the Israelites but from the Khazars. (see my “The invention of Shlomo Sand – a thousand “Jews” make one Palestinian”).
No one is sure when the “typically Jewish” nose became a scientific object of study. Two scientists have been credited with initiating such a study: The German, Blumenbach and the Scot, Knox, two 19th century scientists. Johann Friedrich Blumenbach claimed that Jews had a prominent nasal bone. Robert Knox, a prominent surgeon and zoologist with a nose as prominent as his reputation, described the Jewish nose as “a large, massive, club-shaped, hooked nose, three or four times larger than suits the face. . . . Thus it is that the Jewish face never can [be], and never is, perfectly beautiful.” Is that the prominent scot calling the shtetl black?
Robert Knox said that human races were different species of the human “genus”. For example, the Anglo-Saxon race was a distinct human “species”. Also, within species (races) there existed “sub-species” (sub-races), which could be identified by national type. For Knox, the English Anglo-Saxon sub-species was the most superior of all. That superiority logically extends to the English nose as well. What, though, is so superior about Robert Knox’s nose? He’s not English but Scottish. Perhaps Knox meant the “British”, not the English, race, because Scots are British, not English.
In 1914, Audrey Scott, a young North American woman hated her nose. Beth Preminger, writing in the Journal of the American Medical Association, reported that the woman sought the advice of a surgeon who described the nose as “fairly long, has a very slight hump, is somewhat broad near and the tip bends down, giving somewhat the appearance of a Jewish nose.” On the basis of this race-based “deformity”, he recommended a nose job.
A 1996 plastic surgery manual stated that the “Jewish nose” requires “a classic rhinoplasty with lowering of the dorsum, narrowing of the bony pyramid, refinement and elevation of the excessively long hanging tip.” (Rhinoplasty – Greek: Rhinos, “Nose” + Plassein, “to shape”). More than half a million people in Europe and the US consult plastic surgeons about changing the shape of their noses.
What did the surgeon, Dr Davis, do to my nose? First, he made incisions inside the nose to gain access to the bone and cartilage support system. Next, he removed, added to, rearranged underlying bone and cartilage. There was no problem with the tip of the nose or the nostrils, so he didn’t have to sculpt in this area. The problem lay with the hump on my nasal bone. He sawed off the hump, made a new frame and then redraped the tissue and skin over the new frame, and closed off the incisions. He then applied a splint to the outside of the nose to help retain the new shape while the nose healed. Some soft, absorbent material was placed inside the nose to maintain stability along the dividing wall (the septum) of the air passages. This is removed the morning after surgery. I was in the hospital for a few days. On the day I was to leave the hospital, I leaned towards tmy attractive nurse with (my) swollen purple eyes and mummy face to kiss her goodbye. My first kiss! She shrieked and clouted me on my raw bandaged nose. I was hurt. So did my nose. I would have to wait another six months for my first kiss. Here is something: I had never heard the words “I love you” addressed to me in any shape or form. The first time I heard it was from the girl to (from?) whom I gave (received) my first romantic kiss – Karen. But the kiss only came months after Karen’s “I love you.” I can’t say how much my new nose had to do with it; what is certain is that with the old nose, the only creatures that were attracted to me were the flies hovering around my sticky toffee lips. I wonder to this day whether I really had a Jewish nose, or a Roman nose, or a Greek nose – or a a a Palestinian nose.
When I was teaching French at Westerford High School in Newlands, Cape Town (1977 – 1979), I taught Cyrano de Bergerac, who everyone nose. I jumped on the table in front of the class brandishing my imaginary sword. There was something in my demeanor that just didn’t cut it. I don’t think any of the matrics noticed – except maybe the tall one, who, naturellement, was also matriculating.
What really matters is what you are, and not what you look like, which is what Shakespeare means by “A Rose by Any Other Name would Smell as Sweet.” But it’s all very well saying that with my nice newish – and arguably non- Jewish – nose. But I think that some of the Jewish has over the last 50 years been progressively growing back. You just can’t keep a good Jewish nose down.
My father, Issy, didn’t only not object, he paid for the op. Business was improving, but he wasn’t that flush in 1959. Thank you Izzy.
I changed my biggish nose. The biggisher question is: “Did I change inside; did I “behave” differently? If John Watson, the Behaviourist was right, “we can change the personality as easily as we can change the nose.” I can’t say whether my new did change me radically. What I do know is that I felt much happier; and, oh, not long after the post op swelling came down, the girls at varsity started chasing me. What I’m sure didn’t change though, was my total obliviousness to what was going on around me, for many decades later, someone, who was at varsity with me told me about the girls. “Why didn’t anybody tell me!”