Al-Jamal – Olive Oil Soap

“Infinite Impression”

This is a Palestinian Olive Oil soap, made in Nablus. It's a medium sized square, almost a cube, of fairly heavy, dense soap that's kind of pale yellow or beige, and is very irregular. There is a round indentation stamped on one side, but it's impossible to see what it says. The soap is very soft and lathery, and seems to be gentle, I guess what you'd expect from olive oil soap. It's also very dense and after some use hasn't diminished in size at all. There is no added scent, I don't think, but it does have its own particular smell—I'm presuming the smell of the olive oil and whatever ingredients are used, but no added fragrance. There are no ingredients on the packaging, at least not in English. It comes wrapped loosely in a waxy paper cover with a blue and orange design, with a drawing of a camel in the middle that looks like the Camel Cigarettes camel. The name Al-Jamal and description is in English, and an address and TelFax number, and the rest of the packaging is in, I presume, Arabic.

I bought this at the Holy Land Grocery & Bakery, in Milwaukee on S. 27th and Ramsey. It's a great store—I wish it was in my neighborhood. The Palestine Online Store sells this soap and has a nice description of how it's made—poured onto a floor and then cut into cubes, stamped, then stacked in towers, to dry. The only ingredients are olive oil, water, and a sodium compound. It's been made like that for centuries. “It is said” that Queen Elizabeth of England liked this soap, and I wouldn't be surprised if the Rolling Stones did, too, so I'll start that rumor right now. Thinking about the ingredients got me to thinking about where does olive oil come from? I guess from olives, which come from olive trees, and thinking about the parts of the world where there are olive trees makes me feel a little wistful. And all the trees that produce nuts and things like olives, from which we get oil—when it comes down to it, is there anything more interesting in the world than food based oil?

So... the smell of this soap—I'll try to describe it. Well, I can't describe it—there is no smell, really. But there is—and it evokes something, but I can't put my finger on it. Maybe it's just the smell of unscented soap—I'm sure that's something I've smelled before. Maybe that's what it's recalling. I'm wondering if my parents used some kind of cleaning soap when I was a kid, and that's what this is bringing back, now. I suppose that is the case, but there's no one to ask, so I've just got to dig deep into my memory. And I did... and that yielded nothing, not even demons. It's many months later as I still try to describe this soap. It's no smaller now than when I started it. Now it's years later, and it still has not been diminished. The soap has been passed down from my father, and his father before him. It's generations old soap. Still the same size. It's been passed down for epochs, and eons. Eons! Same size. It's probably clear, at this point, that I'm exaggerating.