Dear Old Clasmate,
Your book, Chief Complaint, stirred a bit of cognitive dissonance that has been rattling around in my head for a long time.  I meant to ask a question, but while scoping out some numbers I wasn’t sure of, I found the answer.  It has to do with the word “alcohol.”  I was recently chatting with a woman I like very well and I happened to mention that the word came from Arabic.  She dismissed the idea scornfully.  Her husband did nothing to sweeten the mood of the moment by checking it out on Google, and behold I was telling the truth.  We all survived as friends but when I later read your book kohl, the name of the eyeliner, came up more than once and lethargically my brain formulated the question.  What I had read was that kohl was purified by distillation.  What I also knew, approximately, that it can contain various things including (with their boiling points):
Boiling points:
Camphor                       399.2 o F
Menthol                        413.6o F
Ghee                              482 0 F (Smoke point.  It doesn’t boil.)
Zinc                               1,665o F
Lead sulfide                  2,338o F
Antimony                      2,888o F
Aluminum                              4,566o F
Iron                               5,184o F
Carbon                          8,721o F

Then there are a number of things you can make the pot of in an alembic still.  Some melting points are:
Melting points:
Glass                             1,400o F to 1,600o F
Brass                             1,650o F
Iron                               2,800o F
Clay                               3,275o F

You see the problem.  If you tried to distill those things the pot would melt.  Particularly carbon is refractory to heat, and carbon has to be the sine qua non of traditional eye shadow.  And above 2,230o F a glass pot will absolutely vaporize.  Ah, what lost extra-terrestrial technology could be at work? 

More mundanely, as I looked around, it turns out that the important component is soot.  And sure enough, the physical setup for collecting soot is kind of like a primitive still: a heat source, a sample to be converted or vaporized (the lamp oil and wick in the case of kohl) and a way of collecting the airborne product.  So Arabians used this to create beauty and us Scotch Irish used it to make whiskey; you just have to put a glass of beer in the right place, and glasses of beer were doubtless ubiquitous before we settled on the distilled product. 

Making kohl at home looks kind of fun.  I am thinking of getting the parts of the apparatus for my brother’s Christmas present.   He doesn’t wear eye shadow.  Seems people think it’s sissified.  Jack Sparrow wears it, and he isn’t the manly-man cowboy sort. 

But nay.  Back in the day when we were young and at HMS I would motorcycle between Boston and Florida.  Even with goggles the glare of the sun on a thousand miles of pavement in the summer could be noticed.  So I would take a cork, burn the end and do my cheekbones.  It was a great help, but nobody said it made me look beautiful.

I would think over desert sand, and lacking goggles, it would also be a help rather than simply being “traditional” as my sources all agree for its use in men.  I wonder if it reduces exposure of the cornea and retina to UV. 

So your wonderful book continues to charm my brain.  I am on the lookout for pomegranates when they come to the grocery store.  I was going to buy some grenadine, but it turns out that its use in drinks is neither common nor traditional and besides, what sells as grenadine in the US has no pomegranate at all.  So enjoy the real thing for me sometime.

All the best,

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