There is a chapter of Zanzibar in which Claire, sometimes called “the patricia,” braids the hair of Aerope, sometimes called “the diana.” This was not any random braiding – I wanted Claire to braid Aerope’s hair into the pattern doodled for Leda by Da Vinci. In order to figure out Da Vinci’s elaborate proposal, so that I could render it in prose, I drew a copy of his drawing into the notebook I was writing the story in, following exactly how one would braid hair this way. Over the course of the chapter, a complete description of the procedure is woven into the text.
From the start of the chapter (Railroad to Zanzibar, I:30), with the copy from da Vinci at the end:
Aerope wore a gown and sat on a stool in a beauty-room before a wide flat mirror made of pounded silver. The mirror sat atop a table made, like the stool, from alternating slabs of white marble and black onyx. These stripes recalled to Claire the striped ramparts of Zanzibar, that face the sands of the numberless desert, disturbed by nothing but trade caravans and the wind, that is ever blowing.
Claire said, “Do you wear your hair as I will braid it to the next gathering of the Circle of the King’s Dinner, which I also will attend. No doubt the strangeness of it will provoke the notice of all, for this style is much favored in Zanzibar, but I have not seen anything of the sort here. It so happens the delicacy of it is well suited to the fineness of your hairs, as it is to my own.”
…she gave to the patricia a comb made from the bone of an enormous animal, carved in teeth, polished to a shine, and stained with age. Claire laid hands on the damp fine hair of the dazzling diana, holding one part near the base in order not to pull, and running the comb through the part that trailed beyond, to order up the hairs in ranks from the bathtime tangle they were in.
Every task has its native speed of execution which bends the inclination of men, howsoever fast or slow they would will the work. Moreover it is clear that while time may flow like a steady river, the sense men have of time varies so much as the sense two men have of a river’s speed, when one gazes at the shore and sees a leaf upon the stream slip swiftly back, and the other gazes at the winding current in the distant center and accounts the river sluggish in its flow. Thus it was that when she combed the fine brown hair of Aerope, Claire quickly settled into the slow rhythm of the task, and the eye of her sense-of-time wandered to the center of the flow of events, far off from any marker. Each moment stretched before her and behind her, and she felt the time which flowed around her flowed so slowly as to seem stilled. Thus she fell into a comfortable half-doze, running the smooth old comb through that sweet damp hair, and resting lightly her other hand upon the warm crown of Aerope. And too the diana slipped into some similar sense of time, for she was borne off from all cares on the arms of that pleasure which all creatures that grow hair feel, when their hair is attended by another.