Schnurrbarts & Curlicues

Photo by Rimas Zailskas

Damian Domingue / Photo by Rimas Zailskas

The lord of war

The Lord of War

Men, we need to have a serious discussion. Ladies may read on, but we will be discussing a subject one presumes is repugnant to ladies, which is facial hair. For men, however, moustaches and beards are heavily symbolic items in the meager collection of accessories available to the male of the species. Clean-shaven metrosexuals may sport their well-cut suits and sparkly bling, but those are mere male versions of existing female paraphernalia. Men have little else to work with, as Damian Domingue was pointing out the other day.

“Men’s only accessories are facial hair and belts,” Damian says, sitting on a brilliant spring day at a picnic table at the Flat Rock Playhouse, where he has worked since 1993 as one of its “resident creatives,” doing everything from acting to writing music for productions. One would like to add that Damian’s hair was ruffled by a light spring breeze as he spoke, but Damian is bald, a career-related result of once appearing in a production of The King and I; and, besides, a full head of hair would have detracted from the splendid moustache and muttonchops that grace the lower portions of his facial anatomy, a bold accessorizing statement if ever there was one. (Disclosure: this writer has what might be considered by the more charitable as a beard and moustache, paltry compared to Damian’s, but possibly injecting a faint note of tonsorial jealousy into this article.)

Categorizing Damian’s moustache as a handlebar yields only a weak and unmasculine impression of its impeccable shape and clean lines. Its curving ends are authoritative and definite, their movement up and down as Damian speaks providing emphasis to his words. Then, too, there is the contrast between the clipped and waxed certitude of the moustache and the bushier cascades of beard along his jaw line, dissolving into a tinge of gray as they nearly, but not quite, touch on his chin. “I started shaving in the seventh or eighth grade,” said Damian, who is 39, “but I can’t remember when I had my first moustache. I don’t think I had my first real moustache until I was in my early 30s.”

Damian’s moustache is more properly identified as a schnurrbart, a fact he discovered during a visit to Innsbruck, Austria, after attending the 2005 World Beard and Moustache Competition in Berlin. “There was a little shop selling all kinds of grooming tools and shaving items, and when I walked in, the shopkeeper complimented me on my schnurrbart,” Damian remembered. “I don’t speak German and I’d never heard the term before, so I asked all about it.”

We must briefly digress at this point to a short German lesson, courtesy of Damian. While “schnurrbart” is the German word generally used for moustache, its etymology is more descriptive. “Bart” means beard, and “schnurr” means nose; so Damian’s moustache is a “nose beard,” and to beard devotees, a schnurrbart is a particular kind of moustache characterized by those curling tips. Austria’s Franz Josef had one; Mark Twain occasionally arranged his white moustache into one; and one of the champions of last year’s World Beard Competition had one whose ends were so long, they nearly touched his ears.

“The shopkeeper also thought I had nice zwerbels,” Damian added, “which turns out to mean, roughly, “curlicues.” But mostly my schnurrbart reminds me of that little Monopoly man, or maybe Snidely Whiplash.” Damian’s arsenal of grooming implements includes a finely made bone comb for his beard, carefully stored in its carrying case, that he bought at the shop in Innsbruck, along with little tubes of beeswax for grooming, which he often mixes with Clubman moustache wax, an old standby found for generations in barber shops and drug stores. “I don’t spend any more time with it in the morning that any guy does with his hair,” Damian said. “Sometimes the schnurrbart tips get crooked while I’m sleeping, but that’s about it.”

The World Beard Competition that Damian attended in Berlin is held every two years, the next one being held in 2009 right here in the United States, in Anchorage, Alaska. The United States will be fielding a team of hopeful beards, among them San Francisco’s Jack Passion, a 23-year-old musician whose ZZ Top-inspired full beard won the Full Beard/Natural category at last year’s competition in Brighton, England. The “natural” category is considered the most difficult, because contestants can apply no wax or spray and judges can dig their hands into the beard and tug to make sure it is, in fact, natural. Damian’s moustache and beard, on the other hand, would fall into the Styled categories, where symmetry and appearance are judged.

California has the highest number of American beards, 133, registered with the National Beard Registry, which says it was established in 2002 to encourage men to “resist conformity, corporate culture and androgyny by embracing the beautiful, unique and utterly personal habit of growing a full beard”. North Carolina has 53 registered beards, seven of them from Black Mountain, 15 from Asheville, and one from Brevard. Damian’s schnurrbart, alas, is not among them; but then again, he has little time for such luxuries with a full season ahead of him at the Playhouse, including roles in Meet Me In St. Louis and in the Christie mystery And Then There Were None. His ready-made facial adornments will save time in makeup. Then, too, there’s a part for him in December’s Dear Santa that’s a perfect complement for a schnurrbart. “I’m playing an elf,” Damian says.

BATTLE OF THE BEARDS

The World Beard and Moustache Championships will be held in May of 2009 in Anchorage. Visit

www.worldbeardchampionships.com for details. You can bring your beard to competition level by visiting www.beards.org, which offers information about growing and grooming along with a gallery of beard styles. The National Beard Registery (www.nationalbeardregistry.com) points out that ninety-nine Civil War generals and admirals wore beards, and that three of them went on to become President of the United States. More helpfully, it offers an on-line form for you to register your beard. Finally, you can join the Organization for the Advancement of Facial Hair at www.ragadio.com/oafh/ and make your voice, and your beard, heard.

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